Christian Universe ™
The Way Forward
May 16, 2010
Liberal Churches of Christ are fast becoming a mainstream denomination. Conservative Churches of Christ are drying up and dying. Are we doing everything the way that we should? I believe part of the answer lies with the fact that we have not mastered the godly concept of "Love your neighbor as yourself". If we look at the pattern of assistance and giving in Old and New Testaments, we see that this love is shown when we meet the needs of the poor and needy among us, and in the community around us. As the early Christians found "favor will all of the people", might we do the same by practicing this universal law of God?
The Way Forward
By Bernie Parsons
Presented to Globe church of Christ on 05-16-2010
Presented to Load church of Christ on 05-23-2010
We have studied a series of lessons on the freedom in Christ. We see that God has given us freedom that we might serve Him by serving one another. This is what it means to love your neighbor as yourself – help your neighbor in time of need. And who is your neighbor?
Luke 10:25 "And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
26 And he said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise."
Here we see that we are a neighbor to whomever is in need of our assistance, and not necessarily someone that we know well, have come to appreciate, or who is in the same religious body as are we. We saw this eternal concept established under the Law of Moses, in that strangers were to be cared for, as well as the Israelite widows and fatherless. This was done by several methods and in several ways, and at different times.
This included: tithes gathered into and disbursed from a central storehouse, crops deliberately or accidentally left in the fields, deliberately leaving olives and grapes on the vine, the sabbatical year debt forgiveness, the 50-year jubilee land return, loans without interest to their Israelite brethren, sharing with those in need, etc. This is the pattern of loving your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus promoted this concept of helping the chronically poor and the suddenly needy, as did the apostles. Loving your neighbor as yourself is a universal law of God. From the start, the believers in Christ were known for actually practicing the command to love one another.
Why does the Church of Christ insist that we not help each other, and others, who are poor and needy? Why do we teach that it is a sin to help a non-believer, and to support preachers of the gospel and elders in the local assemblies, when the scriptures teach the exact opposite?
The Church of Christ is presently in two general schools of thought. The more liberal among the Churches of Christ are becoming a mainstream denomination, adopting and absorbing all manner of denominational doctrine and practices, becoming more of a social gathering. On the other hand, the conservative Churches of Christ, of which we are a part, are dying. Our membership, for the most part, is aging and dying, with few to no younger members to replace us. Something is obviously wrong.
I have thought about, and wrestled with this, for years. I studied the scriptures, and feel that I have seized upon at least a part of the problem, and that has to do with God’s instruction that we love our neighbors as ourselves. As we have clearly seen over the past few sermons, we are to help both the chronically poor as well as the suddenly needy among us, and that includes non-believers who are also in the local community. This is the love of God manifested in us.
Acts 2:41 "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.
44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
46 And 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,
47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved."
Notice in verses 44 and 45, the writer of the Acts of the Apostles – thought to be Luke – records that the first Christians pooled their resources and disbursed to all, as needs arose. He saw fit to record in the very next sentence that they had favor with all of the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. There is no doubt in my mind that this writer of Acts saw a connection between the practice of the saints, and the favor that they found with all. This apparently resulted in others being added to this assembly of Christians on a daily basis. After all, putting “Love your neighbor” in practice as God intended, had a positive effect on the non-believing community.
John 13:34 "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."
What if we, the modern conservative Churches of Christ, who love to boast of our love for the truth, and who love to say that we practice everything just as the first Christians did, were to actually practice what those first Christians did? What if we were to share with one another, meet one another’s needs, and try to lift our poor out of poverty? What if we were to accomplish that, and then reach out to our needy and poor neighbors who are non-believers? Is there a chance that we, too, would find favor with all of the people, and Christians would be added daily to the church? Is this the way forward? Is this how we turn things around?
Acts 4:32 "And 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.
33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
35 And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.
36 And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus,
37 Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet."
As I stated in the last lesson, the pattern is “Love your neighbor as yourself” in all of its iterations, and not just 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, as many proclaim. Let’s look at some of them.
Matthew 19:21 "Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
25 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?
26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible."
This man, who loved his riches, was told to sell all that he owned and give it to the poor.
Luke 19:2 "And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.
3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.
4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.
5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.
6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.
7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.
8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.
9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham."
Rich Zacchaeus vowed to give half his goods to the poor, and was told that he was righteous.
2 Corinthians 8:12 "For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.
13 For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened:
14 But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality:
15 As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack."
2 Corinthians 9:6 "But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.
7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver."
One rich man was told to give all, one rich man gave half, the first Christians sold their lands and properties and pooled resources to meet needs, and later, when these same Christians were in deep poverty, the Gentile Christians rounded up resources and sent to Jerusalem to meet their dire needs, and to try to lift them out of poverty.
The pattern is to love your neighbor as yourself. The ways that it may be done can be diverse, and not one of them alone is a pattern to follow. What we must do is examine them all, and follow the examples of loving one another as set forth by those righteous people.
To me, that is the way forward – to actually put into practice the love that God has shown us, and tells us to show each other – charity, or love that is not earned or even deserved. It is love for love’s sake – love because it is the right thing to do.
Hopefully, such a pure, fervent display of love will attract the attention of others around us, and draw them to this love of God.
Whether that is successful or not, this I know – as it stands, the conservative Churches of Christ are dwindling in number, our members are aging and dying, and we are going away.