Paul's Passing Thoughts

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

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

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

Part Two  •  Part Three >


 

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

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

 

A History of the Synagogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Worship in the Synagogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of this for some vague notion of worship.

But what did God have to say about worship?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notice how Jesus answers her question. Verse 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…


Part Two  •  Part Three >

Church Re-Crucifies Christ and Puts Him to an Open Shame

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on June 17, 2016

ppt-jpeg4My original salvation experience was very powerful and full of joy as I sought to add to my faith with much zeal. Initially, a lot of sin that formally enslaved me seemed powerless, and many of the former sinful desires had disappeared. Then church happened.

While seeking for the “right” church to “worship” in, my interim experience between saving faith and seeking out a place of worship, as aforementioned, was marked by joy, zeal, and power. As I invested more and more in church; more and more confusion, doubt, and fear ensued. Church made me a pathetic, joyless, and broken person. And by the way, most churches will tell you that is a good thing! In fact, most churches are clear in regard to that being their very goal! This makes you see your need for more salvation. They say it plainly all of the time.

As I read my Bible more and more…more and more of my church experience failed to add up; particularly, the incessant weekly re-visitation of the gospel. And keep in mind this was well prior to the Neo-Calvinist movement. “Why are we always talking about the gospel at church? Aren’t we already saved?” I would often ask myself. If I would have only known way back then that the answer to that question is, “NO.”

Yes, according to orthodoxy, Protestants aren’t saved. Church is a “race of faith” and the prize for winning the race is salvation. And, the race only takes place at church. Sure, sure, they will tell you that you are already saved according to the Protestant doctrine of, “already—not yet.” What’s that? IF you are entered into the race by being faithful to church, you have hope that you are already saved, but not yet because you have not finished the race of faith alone in which the prize for winning the race is “final justification.”

If you are a freewill churchian, you earn your salvation by “continuing in the gospel” by faith alone. If you are a Calvinist churchian, you do the same for some measure of comfort, but you will only persevere in faith alone if you are God’s elect. Those in the church who do not persevere are only “the called” who do not persevere in faith alone. So, sure, churchians are “already” saved, but “not yet”: one must wait for the final judgement to obtain “complete salvation.”

This, in and of itself would be humorous if not so sad, but it gets better. Pastors, and this according to their own precious orthodoxy; in black and white, and in no uncertain terms, have authority to proclaim you an alreadian. Yep, this is the “power of the keys” doctrine that will bind in heaven whatever the church binds on earth, and the same for the loosing stuff as well. Do adults really fall for this stuff? Yep. Is this why pastors are so revered in the church and placed on a pedestal? Ya think? Ultimately, they decide where you spend eternity, and they are your wildcard that bypasses the uncertainty of Protestantism’s “already not yet.” Supposedly, there are two things standing between you and a wrathful God that hates humanity: Christ and His “undershepherds.”

Well, this is nothing new. Church is a mirror image of every foul thing that God’s prophets fought against as documented in the Scriptures. Before we go on, what is “church”? Church is the institutionalization of Christ’s assembly that occurred in the 4th century. Simply stated, it moved the temple of God from the bodies of believers to brick and mortar temples making worship a place, not a practice of truth wherever a believer is breathing. The fellowship of Christ’s body was replaced with authorities other than Christ operating in corporate temples. Authority replaced leadership, and membership replaced fellowship. “Follow me as I follow Christ” was replaced with “Obey God’s anointed or we will take your salvation away.”

So, there is a reason why you go to church and hear about the same gospel that saved you week, after week, after week. Whatever you might be instructed to do is “by grace” or in truth minus the nuance, “by salvation.” There is a reason why the Lord’s Table is a solemn ceremony marked by self-denigration. There is a reason for alter calls. There is a reason why the pastor speaks from a fancy podium on an alter raised above where the congregants sit. I like the alters where the other important dictators of the church sit in gaudy chairs behind the podium. It’s crazy; this stuff does not cause people to ask what in the heck is really going on.

Scriptural examples abound, but this post is about Hebrews 6. Let’s set the table. As Christ’s assemblies meeting in private homes (because we are God’s family not members of a corporate temple named Salvation Inc.) moved forward in true discipleship, they endured persecution from the pagan-state and Judaism. In essence, they were getting flak from every angle in regard to the culture of that time, but primarily from Judaism which was clearly salvation by temple ritual. And by the way, most of the persecution from the pagan-state was instigated by the Jews politically.

Hence, many Christ followers were hedging their bets and playing both sides of the fence. Like today’s institutional church, excommunication meant the loss of salvation, and in many cases, difficulty in obtaining financial income. Be sure of this; likewise, as the economy weakens in the U.S., many cling to the institutional church for career connections, viz, financial security. There is absolutely no new thing under the sun.

This is what the Hebrew writer was addressing specifically: the continued sacrifices for maintaining salvation versus the sacrifice of one’s own holy body in love (Rom 12:1). A return to the same gospel that saved us denies the new birth and the holiness of the believer. The holiness of the believer is part and parcel with “moving on to maturity” (HEB 6:1). A return to the basic, or elementary principles of salvation harkens back to the shame of the cross which Christ despised (Heb 12:2) and denies the purpose for which he endured it: the glory which was set before; ie., bringing many sons to glory. By striving for maturity and adding love to our faith, we fulfill the purpose for which Christ endured the cross. But, returning to the cross…

“seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”*

Shockingly, in spite of Scriptural clarity on this issue, many Protestant scholars brazenly endorse a return to what Christ despised, and make that the replacement of the very purpose for which He endured the cross; to make many holy for purposes of offering themselves in love many times as opposed to worshiping what Christ despised. Offering our own holy bodies in love is our worship, or our “logical service.”

Hence, worship is redefined by returning to the basic principles of salvation in a temple, rather than the worship of offering ourselves as holy sacrifices in sanctification wherever we are found breathing. We then meet together to encourage each other in this worship (Heb 10:25). The Hebrew writer addressed those who ratcheted back from meeting in the home fellowships because of persecution from the temple worshipers.

And that’s church. And that’s what you do every time you go there: you sing praises to what Christ despised, and disparage the purpose for which He endured the shame.

And for some insane reason, you pay 10% of your income for the privilege.

paul


*”Those who cannot be restored to repentance” pertain to that time when they witnessed the power of the Spirit being manifested firsthand. Being exposed to the full light of the truth in such dramatic fashion and then afterward returning to a ritual of re-justification made it doubtful that they would ever be fully persuaded.

 

Our Goal

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on February 1, 2016
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Whatever Happened to the Bible, Part 2: My Reply to Pastor McKeever’s Reply

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on June 30, 2011

Joe McKeever said, on June 29, 2011 at 11:20 am (Edit)

Utter nonsense, my friend? You attack my article in your blog. Why didn’t you send your thoughts to me? You attack it for being directed to laypeople, but if you had bothered to check out my blog you’d see everything on it is directed toward pastors and church leaders. Crosswalk (and others who picked it up from my blog) put the spin on it they chose. In fact they called it “7 things we get wrong about worship” when there are no 7 things in there we get wrong. I had named it something like “Worship: Getting it all wrong.” — There is a mean spirit in your attitude, my brother.

Joe,

My missionary daughter whom I am very close to sent me the article thinking that I would be impressed with it—I also suffered the wrath of her displeasure as well. But remember, my article is addressed to “WE.” I reread the article, and if there was a place where I said “Joe is ridiculous,” rather than a reference to your statements, I missed it. I do not mean to say that stupid ideas equal stupid people; “we” all espouse stupid ideas from time to time (however, I retract the statement regarding the idea that you are “clueless,” I simply don’t know that about you based on the one article you wrote and would definitely ask your forgiveness accordingly).

Though my use of words reflects my frustration with the lack of practical application that leads to hopelessness in our day—I meant nothing personal toward you. BUT, the fact remains, that in our day, instruction has been replaced with spiritual sounding truisms that only address symptoms and not the core problem. In my own life just the other day, I was counseling with a pastor who was laying the ground work in regard to a trial in my own life. I found myself thinking: “Ok, I feel better, BUT WHAT NOW? Feelings don’t last, but new ways (specifically, God’s way) create a new path that’s perpetual and produces peace. In fact, good instruction did come, and the effects of the application have had a profound and powerful impact in the lives of my family.

Joe, your counsel to Christians who go to a church that has weak leadership is: “You can still bring your offering.” What does that mean? It sounds good, but how do we bring an offering (and what exactly is the offering? Worship? What’s worship? Today’s Christians don’t even have a working definition of what sanctification is—do your own survey) in the midst of a bad church situation?

Dr. Jay E. Adams, the father of contemporary biblical counseling, often shares his experience regarding the reaction of many Christians in our day that come to realize their biblical role in sanctification: “You mean, there is something ‘I’ can do?! I didn’t know, I thought all I could do is pray and hope for the best.” Which “hoping for the best” usually leads to HOPELESSNESS.  We live in an age where following God’s instruction is supposedly an affront to the instructor! That is why your implication that all actions

(“Evangelism & Discipleship, Giving & Praying, Grow Out of Worship; Not the Other Way Around”) flow from “worship” is VERY upsetting to me. Joe, what in the sam-heck does that even mean? If we have to do worship before we do truth—we better know exactly what worship is. You are making “worship” something other than doing truth, so what exactly does worship look like? You don’t say—you just throw the term around like an idol that means anything to people that they want it to mean. That’s what idols are all about—they’re nebulous and open to our own self-serving interpretations.  This is a HUGE problem among Christians today: spiritual sounding truisms that mean all things to all people and affect a fill in the blank yourself teaching prism.

Joe, as far as going to you privately: you made the statement publicly. With all due respect, you have no problem with the thirty-plus comments that were also public and were not addressed to you privately. I am the only one that had a problem with your post, and that should be private? Forgive me if I am uncomfortable with that. Besides, it’s not a Matthew 18 issue—it’s a 2Cor.10:5 issue.

Joe, I deeply appreciate you referring to me as a brother and I gladly return the same to you, but let us bring in-depth, practical God-breathed instruction that is full of hope back to the church, and not the spiritual neo-novelties of the day.

Paul

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Whatever Happened to the Bible? Part 1

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on May 26, 2011

The apostle Paul said it is the mind of Christ; but we really struggle with that—don’t we?  Christ said we live by two things: bread; and every word that comes from the mouth of God, but we really struggle with that—don’t we? The apostle said that we are to demolish every thought that is contrary to God’s wisdom, but gee—sounds harsh doesn’t it?

It happened on the way home this morning; I hadn’t done it in a along time, so I thought I would give it a try. I reached down, manipulated the necessary radio knobs, and tuned into “K-love.” First thing I hear is a (if I remember the name correctly) Kathryn Graham espousing a ministry moment. It went something like this: “When we are in the midst of suffering, we often feel like we need to do something. But God will lead us out of our suffering in His time and in His way.” Sounds good, but is it true? No, it isn’t. My readventure with K-love lasted about 30 seconds. Throughout Scripture, trials are a call to many specific actions; and in the face of what we REALLY feel like doing: nothing!—except maybe wrong thinking, which can be a worship service of the baser sort.

Speaking of worship, I got home and logged into Facebook because my daughter texted me (via FB auto-text) with a link to an article written for Crosswalk.com by a Dr. Joe McKeever (hereafter “DJ”) entitled, “7 Things We Regularly Get Wrong About Worship.” At this writing, there are 32 comments praising the article up, down, and even sideways: “SO TRUE!” etc., etc. Really? Well, let’s see:

It’s Sunday around noonish. As the congregation files out of the sanctuary heading toward the parking lot, listen closely and you will hear it.

It’s a common refrain voiced near the exit doors of churches all across this land.

“I didn’t get anything out of that today.” “I didn’t get anything out of the sermon.” “I didn’t get anything out of that service.” “I guess her song was all right, but I didn’t get anything out of it.”

Sound familiar? Not only have I heard it countless times over these near-fifty years in the ministry, I probably have said it a few times myself.

This is like dry rot in a congregation. Like a termite infestation in the building. Like an epidemic afflicting the people of the Lord, one which we seem helpless to stop.

But let’s try. Let’s see if we can make a little difference where you and I live, in the churches where we serve and worship. We might not be able to help all of them, but if we bless one or two, it will have been time well spent.

 

No, it’s not helpless—it’s a leadership problem. The premise of DJ’s article is totally wrong. This article shouldn’t be addressed to parishioners; it should be addressed to pastors. The student looks like the teacher, that’s what Christ said, so if we change a few leaders—we change a bunch of parishioners, not just a few.

1. You are Not Supposed to ‘Get Anything Out of the Service’

Worship is not about you and me. Not about “getting our needs met.” Not about a performance from the pastor and singer and choir and musicians. Not in the least.

Stop right there. Again, the very premise of this article is in error. It targets the wrong audience, and it feeds a gargantuan misconception among contemporary Christians—the Sunday morning assembly is NOT primarily “worship”; that’s like calling an automobile a “hubcap.” The Lord said that we are to worship God in spirit and in TRUTH. Therefore, every time we tell somebody the truth—that’s worship. Every time we teach our children a correct biblical principle and how to apply it to their life—that’s worship. Furthermore, Christ prayed to the Father that we would be sanctified by the truth, and then he said, “Thy word is truth.” Our role in all of sanctification is worshiping God via truth. When we say a kind word to our wife—that’s worship. When we speak words properly fitted for the occasion—that’s worship. When we stop to help a broken-down motorist on the way to church—that’s worship (more so than the supposed “worship” SERVICE, as we call it). And by the way, if we confront parishioners that we hear talking that way (as DJ describes) when we’re leaving church—that’s worship too.

Moreover, this statement: “You are Not Supposed to ‘Get Anything Out of the Service’” is blatant biblical error. The apostle Paul made it clear to the Corinthians that EDIFICATION is one of the primary purposes of gathering together.

2. Worship is About the Lord

“Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name.” That Psalm 29:2 verse atop our article today is found also in I Chronicles 16:29 and Psalm 96:8. It deserves being looked at closely.

a) We are in church to give. Not to get.

Again, this is only half true, and if pastors teach their students how to worship during the week, they will know how to worship when they come to the Sunday morning assembly. Parishioners who don’t know how to worship on Sunday, don’t know how to worship on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. But in this article, DJ offers “biblical” support for how Christians should do ‘Sunday worship.’ DJ doesn’t get it.

c) We do so because glory is His right. He is “worthy of worship.”

This is the theme of the final book of the Bible. 

  • “Who is worthy?” (Rev. 5:2) 
  • “You are worthy…for you were slain, and have redeemed us” (Rev. 5:9). 
  • “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” (Rev. 5:12).

No it isn’t; worship is NOT the theme of Revelation—that’s utter nonsense. “The” (theme) is a definitive article, but there are many primary themes in Revelation. Grammatically, THE theme is, “The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.” And, “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” It amazes me how Christians readily accept anything that sounds good, as truth.

3. Self-centeredness Destroys All Worship

If my focus is on myself when I enter the church–getting my needs met, learning something, hearing a lesson that blesses me, being lifted by the singing–then Christ has no part in it. He becomes my servant, and the pastor (and all the other so-called performers) are there only for me. It’s all about me.

This is partially true, but the last thing you ever want to teach any Christian is that they shouldn’t come to church with LEARNING as one of their motives (later, he even writes, “learning the Word” as an example), and an expectation for the teachers of that church to deliver! In fact, husbands / fathers in particular have a duty before God  to expect just that and nothing less. Furthermore, “self-centeredness” doesn’t destroy “all worship,” it creates opportunities for worship if the person is confronted and discipled. In fact, one of the specific purposes stated in Scripture for assembling together is not even discussed by DJ: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

We have strayed so far from the biblical concept of worship–giving God His due in all the ways He has commanded–it’s a wonder we keep going to church. And it’s an even greater wonder that our leaders keep trying to get us to worship.

The poor preacher! Trying to cater to the insatiable hungers of his people, even the best and most godly among them, is an impossible task. One week he gets it right and eats up the accolades. Then, about the time he thinks he has it figured out, the congregation walks out grumbling that they got nothing out of the meal he served today.

Note: supposedly, the parishioners are the problem. This mentality is not indicative of godly leadership. In an open forum where mid-week small groups were being discussed by a group of pastors, one said he was against small groups because they foster clicks. I suggested the following to the group in response: the possibly of that result is a leadership issue. All self-centeredness isn’t bad; hence, more pastors need to look in the mirror—some don’t even know what a biblical definition of worship is to begin with.

4. Evangelism & Discipleship, Giving & Praying, Grow Out of Worship; Not the Other Way Around

The disciples were worshiping on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled them and drove them into the streets to bear a witness to the living Christ (Acts 2).

Isaiah was in the Temple worshiping when God appeared to him, forgave his sins, and called him as a prophet to the people (Isaiah 6).

It was in the act of worship that the two distraught disciples had their eyes opened to recognize Jesus at their table (Luke 24).

This is a leadership cliché that is presently in vogue in our day—that ALL doing flows from worship (ie., singing with hands in the air, self-depravation, etc., etc.). Again, worship is doing (whatever the doing is, including singing) and doing is worship (James 1:25,26, and especially 27)—the two cannot be separated unless done for wrong motives. Though the verses cited above have what DJ calls “worship” as first in order, these verses do not say: “All doing flows from worship.” That’s an assumption. Besides, just as many verses in Scripture reverse the order (for example, Philippians 4:8,9).

 

5. We are to Give Him Worship and Glory in the Ways Scripture Commands

I don’t take issue with this statement except for the following: he seems to limit “worship” to some kind of emotional experience—“The Lord Jesus told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, ‘Those who worship God must worship in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:24). That is, with their inner being, the totality of themselves, their spirit, not just their lips or their bodies going through the motions.” Nevertheless, in regard to DJ’s point, if you go to a church where the music is taken from Favorite Funeral Songs of All Time, and the praise leaders are hyper-geriatric, how do you get the whole, “with [your] inner being, the totality of [yourselves], [your] spirit, not just [your] lips or [your] bodies going through the motions” thing going? He doesn’t say. These kind of nebulous truisms are the order of our day, and indicative of why instruction / teaching / doctrine cannot be dissected from worship.

No pastor can decide or dictate whether we will worship by the quality of his leadership or the power of his sermon. Whether I worship in today’s service has absolutely nothing to do with how well he does his job.

Common sense should tell one that this is a ridiculous statement. Especially this part: “Whether I worship in today’s service has absolutely nothing [emphasis mine] to do with how well he does his job.” If this is true, what do we need pastors for to begin with? Surely, if they are a “gift” from Christ to the church, they must be more important than that!

When Mary sat before the Lord Jesus, clearly worshiping, He informed a disgruntled Martha that her sister had “chosen the good part,” something that “will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). That something special was time spent in worship. Such moments or hours are eternal.

Lest someone point out that Martha could have worshiped in her kitchen by her service for Christ, we do not argue, but simply point out that she was not doing so that day.

 

Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus being TAUGHT. It was a teaching session. I thought DJ said people shouldn’t come to church with an expectation of being taught—which is it? DJ likens it to worship, soooo, I’m getting confused—but I guess that’s my fault!

Even if a church has no pastor and has to make do with a stuttering layman or some inept fill-in, I can still bow before the Lord, offer Him my praise, and give Him my all. I can humble before Him and I can bring my offering.

 

Offering? In that situation, explain, “offering.” It sounds good, but what in the world does DJ mean by that? In this article, we have seven things we get wrong about worship, but the fact that DJ doesn’t add corrective instruction is the hallmark of contemporary teachers. What, and maybe some why’s, but no how’s. The article made the readers feel good while saying, “amen!”—but what now?

Lastly, when one interacts with the Christian landscape around us, a constant flow of contradiction in music, speech, conduct, and wisdom is perceived when compared to the mind of Christ. Whatever happened to the Bible? Whatever happened to the light unto our path? Whatever happened to what makes us fully equipped for every good work? And whatever happened to the ability to apply biblical truth to real life?

paul

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