The Roman Catholic view of the church sees God establishing a divine institution, which was given certain “sacraments” (like baptism and the communion) to dispense to the people. These blessings were integrally linked to the institution itself; the church dolled out these sacraments and the church could take them away. But why did they believe they had such authority? Because God established a divine institution and that institution was the church and, in their mind, that church was the Catholic Church.
It goes further. No one else had the authority to interpret Scripture and dispense the truth that sets men free except the Catholic Church. According to the Roman Catholic view, no “ordinary” or layman had the mental capacity to actually teach someone the saving truth; they had to be trained and ordained by, you guessed it, the Catholic Church. The point is, the Catholic Church believed they had the authority to prohibit such “dullards” from teaching. In short, all of the manifold blessings of God, including the sacraments, could only be enjoyed through the institution of the Catholic Church. If you weren’t part of that institution, you couldn’t have a relationship with God.
The flawed perspective of the church grew into what it is today, where special circles of men believe they have the authority to determine what is doctrine and what isn’t, as if they purchased the church and have the authority to "make rules" for her. So what we end up with is a stream of interpretations of Scripture, whether or not they are correct is irrelevant, that the members of that institution are expected to learn and follow. If they don’t, the church labels them as heretics.
This thinking perverts our view of accountability. If we measure the Scriptures by the church and its various definitions then we are answerable to the church. That is precisely the picture that church history paints; a whole bunch of people who felt they were answerable to a smaller group of more educated people (see the Inquisition). But if we measure the church by God-breathed Scripture, the revolutionary concept of the Reformation, then suddenly we are answerable to God. That certainly changes things. That is exactly what God teaches us in the Bible: every individual must obey God from the heart through the teaching of His word.
So how do these things apply to us? As we discuss the Restoration movement and use terms like the “true church” or the “Lord’s church” to distinguish it from other institutions we should take some personal inventory and ask ourselves an important question, is the church of which I am a member the “true church” because it came from what we understand to be the “true church?”
If so, we are falling prey to the same erring logic of the Roman Catholic view and building our hope on shifting sand. If we follow this line of thinking we will be looking to an institution for salvation and not God, we will be loyal to a party instead of being loyal to God. We will be looking to the institution of the church for divine approval instead of looking to the Scriptures and God Himself.
But if we believe that the church of which we are a part is the “true church” because it conforms to the teaching found in the Bible, then, I believe, we are standing on solid ground. God’s word is the only firm foundation to build upon (Mt. 7:24-27).
The church, God’s divine institution, is not a little red wagon that’s going to heaven and all we have to do is “jump in.” The church is not a vehicle that leads to eternal salvation. Rather, the Bible tells us that the church is the product, the result of individuals being saved (Acts 2:47). Jesus, the head of the church, is the savior of the body (Eph. 5:23) and each member of that body looks to Jesus alone for authority in his/her life (Col. 3:17).
So let us put off party loyalties. Let us put off seeking divine approval through other local churches of Christ and let us put on seeking the Lord Himself. If we encourage loyalty to Christ, respect for his word and genuine love for one another we will be striving to be His “one body” (Eph. 4:4).
You haven't really sung “Never Grow Old” until you’ve done so with a room full of people in their 80’s and 90’s. Many of you know that Raymond Breuer (95) has been teaching a Bible study every Thursday night at Boone Landing Retirement. Before we begin the class Jim usually leads us in a few songs. But last Thursday, as the sun’s rays crested the front of Lowe’s across interstate 63 and shone through the westerly windows, the singing was particularly spirited. And it wasn’t because everyone was on key, we rarely are.
Paul says that when we sing these hymns, we are “addressing one another” and the melody that takes place isn’t so much perfectly harmonized sound waves but rather a melody that only the Lord can truly appreciate, a special melody that takes place in the heart (Eph. 5:19).
He says in another place that the singing of hymns to God is connected with “teaching and admonishing one another” (Col. 3:16). How do these songs teach and admonish? In what way are we addressing one another? I can say I felt keenly addressed and admonished last Thursday. I was being taught an important spiritual lesson hearing those gravely, veteran voices sing "Where We'll Never Grow Old."
When one lives in this world for the better part of a century one learns the lessons of loss and suffering. The aged live in a world where their parents are gone, their friends are departing, their health is failing, their mind isn’t as sharp as it once was, and aches and pains are the new normal. The daily existence of the elderly is one constant reminder of the brevity of life. Who understands better than those rich in years that life is but a vapor, “that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away”?
So to those who understand how fleeting life is, songs like “Where We’ll Never Grow Old” take on special significance. Solomon the wise stated, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…” (Ecc. 3:1-2). Why did God make our minds and bodies to decay? The cycle of life seems so unfair, too short. By the time one gains the wisdom of life he lacks the energy to employ it and enjoy it. One Proverb says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Prov. 16:31), but how can that be when vitality is stolen away in the “gray-headed years,” in the very twilight of life?
The decay of the body, every twinge of pain, every long night of tossing and turning, every fourth trip to the bathroom, every embarrassing episode of forgetfulness, every case of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, mental failing, cancer, tumor, or any other debilitating disease is a reminder of man’s separation from God, the curse that Adam ushered in. Paul says in Romans 5:12-21, that when we think of Adam and his trespass, we are also to think of Christ and his act of righteousness. Where one brought condemnation and death, the other brought justification and life. This feeling of pain isn’t right. God never wanted His image-bearers to experience it. Yet, here we are, living in a fallen world where even the earth itself is thrown into chaos.
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:19-22)
The pain and suffering of this world and the pain and suffering of our bodies are connected. They are God’s reminders that what sin has crippled and corrupted, God will make new and incorruptible. When the final trumpet is blasted, Paul says, “we shall be changed” and death will be swallowed up in victory and our hope and faith will be realized. Those sons and daughters of faith, those "of Christ" and not "of Adam," will inherit a new body and a new dwelling place.
So, my gray-haired crown bearer, what shall we consider this present suffering?
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
Every inward groaning is a reminder for you to anchor your heart more firmly to the hope of going to a place where you will never grow old, where you will enjoy eternity in a redeemed body, a spiritual, glorified body that can endure throughout the endless ages. I encourage you, as Paul encouraged the suffering Romans, to “wait for it with patience” (Rom. 8:25).
Despite our rebellious nature, we need oversight in our lives. Employees need supervisors and the workplace with an effective supervisor is more productive. Students need teachers and the classroom with competant teachers is rich with learning. Little children need mom and dad's oversight and the homes with loving parents are happy indeed. But with all these relationships there exists the ever-present danger of being overlooked. Disgruntled employees who feel underappreciated, struggling students who feel left behind the rest of the class, and even sons and daughters who feel unloved and alone. We have a great need to be overseen, but all too often we end up being overlooked in the process. In keeping with God's character, He has made abundant provision for us.
When Paul explained his reason for leaving Titus in Crete, he specified that Titus was to “put what remained (or lacking) into order, and appoint elders in every town…” (Titus 1:5). When a church appoints elders based upon the God-breathed qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, that group is blessed. These men aren’t perfect and their word is not divine law but if they are appointed according to God’s plan, a local congregation enjoys the peace and stability that God intended.
One of the greatest blessings of being under an eldership striving to fulfill their duty is the comfort of oversight. Whereas the evangelist is to take heed unto himself and the teaching (1 Tim. 4:16), the overseer is to take heed unto to himself and the flock (Act. 20:28). As the Lord’s sheep, these are comforting words. We have faithful men that are watching out for us, that are there for us to encourage and correct us so that we can have the best possible chance to stand in the grace of God on the Day of Judgment. We enjoy serving the Lord under overseers who are busy “keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17).
When godly men serve as shepherds taking their lead from Jesus (1 Pet. 5:1-5) and saints reciprocate their shepherds' service with Christlike submission and obedience we are acting out the paradigm of Christ and his church. So then, let us rejoice especially when we consider Jesus, our chief Shepherd, the perfect type of overseer, who guides and comforts us throughout the dark valley of this life. As part of his flock, take heart that the Good Shepherd knows his own and his own know him (Jn. 10:14) and there is absolutely no chance of being overlooked.
Meet Max. Max will be 9 months old in just a few weeks. Even this week his momma held the back of his shirt while Max took his first few quick steps. Max is a laid-back, well-mannered little man, perfectly content bringing joy wherever he goes.
But for some reason, Max’s skull is closing too quickly which, if not dealt with, could considerably affect his developmental growth. If Max lived in a previous generation, doctors would have been unable to help him. But now, in 2015, his parents have a choice. Either deal with the consequences and future difficulties of Max’s condition or endure watching their child undergo an extensive and painful surgery but be able to develop naturally and live a completely normal life. At 9 months, Max won’t even remember the process. To his mom and dad, Mike and Beth, the choice was obvious. They opted to endure watching their child being prodded by doctors, stay several days in the hospital, and go to weeks of follow-up appointments with more doctors. Why? Parents understand: “It is necessary.”
I cannot help thinking about Mike and Beth’s predicament without thinking of our heavenly Father watching His only Holy Son endure life among sinful men who rejected Him, beat Him, scourged Him, reviled Him, wagged their heads at Him, mocked Him, blasphemed against Him, and eventually, murdered Him. God the Father did not have to do that. He is sovereign, His choice is always right. Why did the heavenly Father send His only Son to die the death that we deserve? For the same reason Mike and Beth will give over their only child to the steady, practiced hands of strange people: “It is necessary.”
On the road to Emmaus, a risen Jesus in disguise walked with two of His disciples who sincerely hoped Jesus would redeem Israel but watched helplessly as he was nailed to a cross and died. Then they were then confused as to why His body wasn’t found in the grave to which Jesus said, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)
While preaching this good news to the Thessalonians, Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures, “explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”” (Acts 17:3)
For mankind to have a relationship with God “it was necessary” for Jesus to suffer. In Isaiah 53, the prophet gives a descriptive prophecy 700 years before Jesus walked the earth, explaining this necessary suffering. “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:10-11)
Thank God and pray for Max.
While working in fabrication I learned an important lesson with a spiritual parallel: smart folks call it "the fallacy of identity by succession." Perhaps you've learned this lesson too. Have you ever had to cut a certain number of 2x4’s to the same size? Maybe you were building a fence or making studs for a wall. You first must obtain a pattern, in my case, this was supplied by the customer with the exact dimensions of the desired product.
If you cut the first piece using the pattern then chucked out the pattern and cut each successive piece by the preceding one you have learned this lesson. Any little deviation from the second was passed on and increased in the third, until by the end, you’ve got a bunch of odd 2x4’s and you have to run back to Home Depot. To cut a true wall, fence, or any grouping of separate pieces, each piece must be measured on the original pattern.
How does this relate to our faith? God’s word is the pattern by which a true church must be cut. Do you wear the name of Christ? Are you a member of a group of believers who say they belong to Jesus? Then you must prove your right to the name of Christ by appealing to the divine standard, the words that came out of his mouth (2 Jn. 1:9). Our judge is not brother so-and-so but the words of Jesus (Jn. 12:48). If we ever begin to think a thing is right just because a majority of “churches of Christ” teach and preach it, our logic is flawed and we are guilty of measuring ourselves by ourselves (2 Cor. 10:12).
Every generation needs a firm resolve to determine what is right by appealing only to divine truth, not some “definable majority of the churches of Christ in such-and-such an area.”