Rediscovering NT Christianity – New Wine in Old Wineskins

This article is available for download in pdf format here

Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matt 9:17)

Last Sunday I was moved to share this in our meeting (oh by the way, I don’t “go to church” on Sundays. The church “meets” in our house on Sundays. I hope you get the difference. If not, keep reading). In our shared personal perusal of the New Testament, I have come to appreciate how the above applies so appropriately to us, and I’ll explain why. However, one thing I’ve learnt over the past few years is that religious people are also the people who are the most ignorant about the history of their religions, and are bound to repeat the same mistakes their predecessors made.

Look around in every major religion in the world. You will find three things which almost always runs through all of them. The first is sacred offerings i.e. sacrifices, second is sacred spaces aka temples and the third a sacred priesthood that offers these sacred sacrifices in the sacred spaces. Hinduism, Budhism, Judaism, Islam, Greco-Roman paganism, you name it. There is always a combination of all or some of these. Even Christianity has these as well, however, there are some things that sets Christianity apart from the others. We’ll start off by looking at sacred offerings.

Sacred Offering

We as Christians believe that there is no need for us to perform any sacrifices, be it of any animal, human or other form. We believe that Christ is the ultimate sacrifice which was offered once for all, and does not ever need to be repeated.

Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sin, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Heb 7:27)

Therefore the only thing we need to do is to “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Heb 4:16). However, this was not always the practice. In the hay days of the Roman Catholic church, Christians lived in the understanding that the bread and wine that was termed the “Holy Communion” represents the actual body and blood of Christ – a concept known as transubstantiation – and that every time that it was shared, Jesus was being re-offered again. I stand to be corrected, but I think this is still the mindset (if not the practice as well) of Catholicism and I dare say some of us Protestants as well. It is because of this need to “resacrifice” Christ, that we see alters in most Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Suffice it to say that historically it has been established that this whole mind frame came from the adoption of purely pagan practices, i.e. Roman, Gallic and Frankish religions of the time.

However, thanks be to God for the work of Martin Luther and the Reformation struggle, which seriously challenged this thinking and has set Reformed Christianity on the truthful path. Nonetheless, I wish they had gone further.

Sacred Priesthood

The Norm

Of course, to perform a sacrifice and to make it pleasing to whichever god you serve, it must be given by “respectable”, “holy” people, right? So, we come to the second pillar – the priesthood. In every religion, there is always the special set of people who have the sole preserve to present sacrifices and make interventions on behalf of the “ordinary” people to their god. It is the same in Christianity, but how profound the differences are!

In the Old Testament, beginning from Aaron, there was always appointed a high priest from the tribe of Levi, who were dedicated and set apart for the service of the temple. In the case of the high priest, not only did he have to be of the tribe of Levi, but he must of necessity originate from the family of Aaron (and by extension Moses, since they were brothers). Ordinary people were only allowed into the temple courts, and not the temple itself, the preserve of Levites. In addition, only the high priest was allowed to go into the section of the temple called the holy of holies once a year, where they performed a sacrifice for the sins of the whole Israel. This form of separation between the ordinary people and the “holy” is one that exists in most of the religions I’ve mentioned.

The Difference

However, in this respect there are 2 things which set Christianity apart from all others.

  1. Christ is our high priest. Unlike other religions including the Judaism, we need no human high priest.

The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man” (Heb 8:1-2).

When Jesus Christ went to heaven, he went and offered his own blood in the tabernacle that was situated above (Heb 9:12). You will note that the tabernacle Moses made was based on very explicit instructions. That was because God was looking at the dimensions of his own tabernacle above, whiles giving the instructions to Moses to make a copy of (Heb 8:5). The above will be come even more important when we come to the third pillar.

However, at the completion of this exercise, he now sat down at the right hand of God, and received the power to send down the Holy Spirit to the church. This is exactly what Peter said about Christ when the Spirit was poured out on them.

If this is the case, then I’m tempted to ask where the concepts of General Overseers, Moderators and Presidents come from. Are we trying to replace the High Priesthood of Christ? Are we not just going back to the other religions of the day, especially to Judaism? Hmm.

  1. We Christians are now priests of the Most High God. And i mean ALL OF US. Unlike other religions including the Judaism, we need no separate priesthood.

But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi’, for you have only one Master, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father’, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher’, for you have one Teacher, the Christ.”(Matt 23:8-9)

Ask any modern day preacher the meaning of this passage, and you will hear a million and one explanations. However, it is very clear from the context that Jesus was making this comment because of the pharisees and teachers of the law who now “sit in the chair of Moses” (v 1-2). By this statement of Christ, he has leveled us all onto one ground. There is none higher than the other, and our only Master, and Teacher is Christ, and our only Father is God.

In fact, this is the motivation for passages like 1 Pe 2:9, 1 Cor 14:26, Ro 15:14 etc.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”(1 Pe 2:9)

To him who loves us … and has mad us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father …” (Rev 1:5-6)

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” (1 Cor 14:26)

I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another” (Ro 15:14)

There is a problem in the Christianity today, and it’s called the clergy – which translated means “heritage” or “inheritance”. Interestingly, the rest of the church is called “laity”, translated “people”. Ironically, God has always described his “people” as his “heritage” or “possession”. Where did the division come in? You see, because of the concept of priesthood of all believers, it is imperative that we allow others to express what God has given them to give to the body in more ways than even 1 Cor 14:26 above here envisages. It is of the utmost importance that we don’t let our practice become a one-man show, as it pertains today.

Someone asked a question that for all their over 30 years of being a Christian, it never occurred to them to ask why it is that Christianity is the only place where people are not allowed to ask questions after such an “important” thing as the “sermon”. I know most of the reasons that will be given, but I tell you the answers never address the core of the problem. Infact, we are practicing the Levitical priesthood all over again, though we claim to be under a new law – New Testament law.

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come – one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when there is a change of priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.” (Heb 7:11-12).

In the NT, there are about 58 verses that talk about being priests to one another, just like the examples given above. I tell you, the priesthood of all believers has more mention than elders and pastors that we so revere today. I hope to do a little discussion of them as part of this series on Rediscovering NT Christianity. Although elders have an indispensable role to play in the growth of the church, they are only guides, not gods.

The usurping of the role of Christ as the High Priest of his church, and the continuous division between the clergy and the laity leading to a non-functional, apathetic priesthood are unfortunately still with us, a demon which still begs exorcising, and one which unfortunately the Reformation left untouched.

Sacred Space

The Norm

Having a holy sacrifice and a holy person to perform that sacrifice, what is left is the holy place to perform it. This brings us to the third and final pillar – sacred spaces.

As we’ve already mentioned before, Moses was given explicit instructions to build the Tabernacle of the Testimony, which he did. Therefore the tabernacle became the place for the offering of sacrifices to God, and where the Ark of the Covenant was, on top of which God was supposed to dwell (in the mercy seat between the Cherubim). This was then carried about everywhere the Israelites went during the Exodus.

When Israel settled down, David wanted to build the Lord a temple, and finally Solomon did build the temple. It is very important to note that unlike the tabernacle, though God gave his approval for the building of the temple, he gave no instructions as to how it should be built. And God did make manifest his presence to them through his Spirit descending in glory over the temple. However, God never meant this temple (or any subsequent ones) to be his abode, and therefore we find that the Spirit never stayed in the temple for long. This is what Stephen referred to when he reminded his accusers that “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men” (Ac 7:48), quoting what the Lord himself said in Isaiah 66:1-2. Unfortunately, the Jews had taken the temporary interest of God in temples to mean that he could be camped in a thing of man’s making.

However, this is not entirely their fault, because every major religion before, in and after their time had temples. There is always an attempt to house a god in a certain man made location, be it in Mecca, the Temple of the Dome in Jerusalem, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre also in Jerusalem, Buddhist temple in China or Kweku Bonsam’s shrine in Ghana.

The Difference

Herein lies the difference when it comes to NT Christianity. God’s ultimate plan is revealed, and his disinterest in all man made abodes made clear, when we are told that God’s temple is not a building, its a people.

Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with Him‘” (John 14:23).

But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness” (Ro 8:10).

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Co 3:16)

Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God” (1 Cor 6:19)

All these point out how different Christ’s ministry in the NT is from the OT. No longer do we need to make an appearance in a certain building before we consider ourselves in God’s presence. God is in us (note, I didn’t say we are in his presence). And whenever we meet together, he dwells in us. We are his temple.

It is no wonder then that archaeological evidence shows that no church buildings existed until 100 years after the death of the apostles. The earliest church buildings can be dated to mid AD 200, in the time of Emperor Constantine.

It is not because they were poor. In fact, the Christians of Achaia (i.e. Corinth) were quite the contrary, and were rather putting money together to help their brethren in Jerusalem.

It is not because they were in small numbers, because the language of Acts 21:20 says “thousands of Jews had believed” in Jerusalem.

It is not because they were persecuted, because the Roman empire was one of the most religiously tolerant empires, until the times of the Emperor Neros and Emperor Domitians who came way after Christianity was established. In fact, Gallio’s refusal to deal with religious arguments in Ac 18:12-16 is only representative of the attitude that the Roman leadership took to their subject colonies – freedom of worship.

And don’t misconstrue Ac 2:46 saying “they met in the temple courts” to mean they met in the temple. Don’t forget that it was only Levites that were allowed to directly worship in the temple. And worst of all, the Jews had just killed a man they considered a blasphemer – I don’t think they’d take kindly to his followers sharing the same temple with their Judaic worship. That would have to be over the dead bodies of the Pharisees and the priests of the temple. Just as it says, the temple courts were open spaces outside the Jerusalem temple where people could meet. Period.

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Like I stated previously, the Reformation led by Martin Luther helped rid Christianity of the hegemony of man-made sacrifices, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. However, the concept of the clergy – which stands starkly against the priesthood of all believers, and the church building – a paradox when compared to the people being the temple of God – seem to be so ingrained in the modern Christian mindset that it’s difficult for us to admit that there is something wrong with them.

For some (mostly the laity) the status quo suits their lifestyles, and don’t want to be ruffled by getting too deeply into active participation in the body of Christ. After all, “that’s the pastor’s work, right”?

For others (especially the clergy), that is all they know to do, some having even attained PhDs in theology. Its the source of their daily bread. They dare not touch these historically, archaeologically and scripturally unfounded institutions, for they do so at great personal peril.

Even though it’s been established historically that early Christianity was the first religion to practice a system of equal priesthood and non-temple based worship, we have however abandoned that and gone for old testament based Judaic and Greco-Roman pagan practices. Would it not be right to say that we have put new wine in old wineskin?

My only personal pain is that Christianity is not judged by what it was meant to be, but what it is now (which is only natural). We live in a world where people have become increasingly cynical, if not hostile to the message of Christ, simply because of what they see us doing. Maybe we in Africa don’t see it much, but it’s so visible in the western world. However, I can already see signs of it creeping into the African society.

Are we willing to change the old wineskin for the new?

Religion – An Endangered Species?

“I just saw ‘Angels & Demons’ and this is my questions, if religion is flawed due to man’s imperfections then why do we still believe”?

This is in answer to the above question that a friend asked, and I’ve quoted them here verbatim.  You can download this article from here. Since Angels & Demons is a fictional story about events in the Vatican during the election of a new Pope, I will seek to make comments only in the light of Christianity. I cannot and will not hold brief for any other religion.

Let me start off by asking a question of my own to this one. When you say “why do we still believe?” the question I ask is “believe in what”? Are we talking about believing in Christianity as a religion, or believing in the church or believing in Christ? Answering this question well is critical to the whole discussion, and must not be trivialized. Therefore in that direction, I’ll digress a little bit by talking about the basis of the Christian’s faith – Jesus Christ.

When He was leaving his disciples he gave them a command to go to the ends of the world and “make disciples” (Mt 28:19). Note that he didn’t say “believers” but “disciples”. And what was the cardinal standard and evidence of this discipleship?

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34-35).

Another thing which Jesus himself said will mark his disciples out is that they will always be in the minority. It has always been, and will always be the case, that the righteous who live by faith are always a remnant, and not part of the larger norm. Doesn’t that remind you of what Jesus Christ said about the narrow and wide gates (Mt 7:13-14)? Or that out of the 600,000 (counting men only) people who left Egypt to go to the Promised Land, only 2 out of that generation made it? And yet, were they not all saved by the blood of the lamb used to mark their doors during the passover night? Jesus said “many are called, but few are chosen”. Ah, guess what James said about the same calling – “Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself” (Ac 15:14), not “taking all the Gentiles”. Interestingly, it matches perfectly with what God told the Israelites when he set them free from Egypt – “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Ex 19:5)

A third characteristic that he gave of his disciples is that they will be a people of much suffering because of their faith. (Mt 10:24-25;Lk 9:23-24; Lk 14:25-27). This came to existence in the lives of the early disciples and they were never under any illusions about it (Ac 14:22), and neither should anyone who lives by faith. Abraham lived by faith, yet neither did he nor all the great men of faith who came after him receive the promise of an eternal city in the eternal kingdom in their lifetimes, a promise to all who are of the faith of Abraham (Heb 11:13-15). Were they living for a reward on this earth, or living like strangers on this earth, they looked forward to their inheritance – “a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10)?

I could go on and on about what Jesus himself said, but then you will get bored. So let me cut to the chase – we must always be mindful of the fact that religion which becomes institutionalized, highly formalized and increasingly hierarchical always exists for the purpose of self-perpetuation. As a result, such religion seeks to exert inordinate control even outside its own bounds and instead of serving as a conduit for expressing a certain faith, becomes the faith itself. It becomes more enthralled in outward symbolism and pretence, pride and hypocrisy. Like the Laodicean church of Rev 3:14-22, it becomes so naked that those who do not belong them even see this hypocrisy, yet they themselves will deny the existence of such a state. Ultimately, such religion moves away from its original purpose and becomes full of man-made rules and regulations. A classic symptom of such religion is that it begins to court the attention and support of the state and the world and abandons it’s simplistic focus on the original basis for its existence.

In this light, let’s look at a portion of Wikipedia’s definition of religion which I find interesting, and note my emphasis.

‘Religion’ is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘faith’ or ‘belief system’, but it is more socially defined than personal convictions, and it entails specific behaviours, respectively”

As stated above, although we may interchange faith with religion, we can see clearly that religion is more encumbered in the social and not in personal convictions, which rather defines faith. There will always be a conflict between faith and religion, and it is increasingly more difficult for faith to triumph over religion when religion has become a conduit for achieving man’s dreams, not God’s.

And that is why I welcome a movie like “Angels & Demons”. Unlike its precursor, which was purely sacrilegious because it distorts historical fact which all historians and archaeologist will not dispute (by saying Jesus had wives and children), this is one that makes you stop and ponder what we as Christians belong to and associate with all the time – the church. In this movie, a group called the Illuminati is deemed to have originated within the Roman Catholic church when the latter stood against Galileo’s observations that the earth was round. According to the same Wikipedia article on “Religion” under the section “Religion and science”,

The Roman Catholic Church, for example has in the past reserved to itself the right to decide which scientific theories were acceptable and which were unacceptable. In the 17th century, Galileo was tried and forced to recant the heliocentric theory based on the medieval church’s stance that the Greek Hellenistic system of astronomy was the correct one”

Here was a church that was basking in the glory of state support, and at the height of it’s power. As a result of Emperor Constantine’s explicit support, Christianity had become state religion and all men in the Roman Empire were required to convert (what happened to “called out”?). Instead of being a suffering church, they were busy ruling over worldly affairs and enjoying the best the world had to offer. They had replaced a priesthood of all believers (“you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood” – 1 Pe 2:10) with an unscriptural separation called the “clergy” and “laity”. They had appointed for themselves a capital on this earth (what happened to “our citizenship is in heaven” – Phil 3:20, and “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem … to the church of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven”?). They had been given their own country and city, the Vatican (Abraham must be having second thoughts – “why did I live like a stranger when I arrived on the promised land”). They were busy acquiring property for the clergy through active taxation of both business and their membership, yet the poor membership were left to their own means. They were not feeding the flock, they were feeding on it. They had become the faith. How different were and are they from the Pharisees of Jesus’ time? Oh, and don’t take this as a “Roman Catholic Church” bashing, because I believe majority of the church is guilty of this Laodicean self-deception. The RC church has only been at the forefront of the general march in the wrong direction, that’s all.

Granted that they were not even supposed to be ones deciding on what the scientific world should accept or not, simply because that has never been the mandate of the church of Christ in the first place. If they were not so obsessed at defending their worldly acquisitions and power, they would have been led by the Spirit of God to simply commission a study into the word of God to know what the Word which we Christians believe to be complete and final said about that. They would have noticed in the first place that there is nowhere in the Bible that states the the earth is flat. On the contrary, there is rather Biblical evidence that suggests that the earth is round.

He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.” (Is 40:22).

And to digress a bit further into the topic of science and religion, as someone said, the fact that the Bible does not mention insects, does not mean that God didn’t create them. The fact that the Bible did not mention dinosaurs does not mean that from the Bible’s standpoint, they did not exist. In fact there is evidence to suggest that the Bible does talk of certain huge animals in Job 40 & 41 and the Psalms (Behemoth and Leviathan). In Job 40 the behemoth is described, and a few of those descriptions are captured below.

He moveth his tail like a cedar” (Job 40:17 KJV)

Behold, he drinketh up a river, and hasteth not: he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth.” (Job 40:23 KJV)

I’m not too sure how many hippos and elephants have tails “like a cedar” or trust they can draw up the Jordan. But we might want to take a further look at these chapters and an even more critical appraisal of our Bibles that we keep under your pillows instead of in our hearts henceforth.

But I’m not here to be the apologetic, so I’ll leave my digression here. I believe that the most endangered species of people in this day and age are not those who don’t believe in God and think life is just a passing thing and science will explain all and solve all problems. No, those who need to be preserved are religious Christians, who claim a faith in God but actually only claim a faith in religion.

Because we who claim a faith in God have absolutely very little knowledge of Jesus Christ and what he really stands for, much to the joy of the devil. We are educated Christians with Bachelors, Masters and PhDs in “Rocket science”, and yet cannot discern the simple fact that it is about knowledge of God himself, something that if we will submit to His Spirit, the latter will reveal to us.

This is what the Lord says: Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me …” (Jer 9:23-24).

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” (Eph 1:17)

Because if God does not give us this, then in spite of all our advanced education and knowledge, the prophecy of Isaiah will be very true of us.

For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll. And if you give the scroll to someone who can read, and say to him, “Read this, please”, he will answer, ‘I can’t; it is sealed.’ Or if you give the scroll to someone who cannot read and say, ‘Read this, please,’ he will answer, ‘I don’t know how to read” (Is 29:11-12).

It is good to have watched Angels & Demons, and I guarantee you personally that you should expect even more books and movies that question our “religion” in the future. The only question is whether we are ready for the onslaught that exposes our duplicity, or if we’ll do the soul searching ourselves before the Mighty Searcher himself arrives, whose eyes like blazing fire (Rev 1:14), already see through us.

The Importance of Purpose & Process

I talked with a friend about the Gospel of the Kingdom the other day, explaining what it was and how our preaching of the gospel had deviated from what the apostles preached. However one argument of hers was that people should not come to God with the idea that he will reward them with co-heirship in the kingdom, but should just serve him because he is God who created us and who has forgiven our sins and therefore demands our service. I disagreed though and attempted to articulate the importance of Purpose and Process in everything that God does (though I’d never fully though of this separation before this discussion). Finally we came to a consensus that the gospel of today was fundamentally flawed and that Christians needed to take a second look at what we preach to avoid what I call a “heavenly disappointment”.

I’m currently reading the book of Exodus, and I find it interesting the exact measurements that God gives for the building of the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Testimony etc. all the way down to the way the priests should be dressed. I’m a New Testament Christian and definitely do not live according to the Law. But from Heb 8:1-2; 9:24, God was really mirroring the tabernacle above. He knew what he was seeing above and his purpose was to replicate that here on earth, though in a less perfect way.

Heb 8:1-2 The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.

Heb 9:24 For Christ did not enter a man made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

And if we believe in an unchanging God then we’ll understand that He is very purposeful about whatever He wants. And to conform to that purpose God always gives the process to attain it. But when a people begin to revere the process more than the purpose, we get legalistic righteousness – this is on the Pharisaic side of things. On the other hand when people totally ignore the process, then I wonder if they even know what the purpose is in the first place – and I believe modern Christianity is on this side. No wonder we’ll end up with disappointment when our work is tested against the purpose for it.

Much of Christianity today has become of two extremes; either of institutionalisation or emotional sentimentality. The former demands a by rote obedience to certain principles, a lot of them man-made and unscriptural. The latter an unrestrained display of ignorance all in the name of “Holy Spirit” guidance. Although principles and emotions definitely have their place in a Christian life, the important thing is whether that is what God really wants us to be doing.

To understand my argument with this friend, lets look at who Jesus is. I think that this is the most important characteristic of Jesus Christ – he is a King, a Priest, and a Prophet. Some other terms that could apply is “righteous ruler” or “royal priest” (1 Pe 2:9). Note Heb 6:20.

Heb 6:20 … He has become a high priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Ge 14:18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High.

Lk 1:33 And he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end.

Next who are Christians destined to be?

Ro 8:17 Now if we are children, the we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Lk 22:29-30 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Eph 1:4-5 For he chose us in him before creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.

By Romans 8: 29, Christ is our senior brother and a pattern that we are to conform to. If He is king, priest and prophet, what will you his disciple be?

For His promises on our kingdom kingship, check out Mt 19:27-28 and 2 Pe 1:10-11 as well.

The destiny of Christians is to be the people of God, sharing in the nature of Christ – as kings and priests. Simple. That is the purpose of Christianity. The process is what we call discipleship (a transformation process beginning with the new birth). From hearing the gospel of the Kingdom and submitting to it’s message for salvation, to baptism by water and Holy Spirit to bearing fruit in service to God till the end of our physical life or till Christ comes for His church. Therefore in all the examples that the New Testament gives about how the apostles preached (eg. Ac 2:14-40 and Ac 13:13-48  )  the fact was always mentioned that Christ was coming to rule over the world as promised to David and reiterated by the prophets. In fact it forms the central part of these messages, with the call to repentance and faith as describing the first step of the process. And if whoever is preaching really knows what he’s doing, he will go on after people have repented and believed to teach the foundation messages (Heb 6:1-2).

The Gospel is the entry point into the purpose of God. And I believe in all sincerity that every unbeliever must know right from the start what they are getting themselves into, the rewards of it and the righteous requirements (Ro 8:4) that need to be fulfilled for that reward. Then the preaching of the gospel becomes purposeful. This is not about motivating people to become Christians because of a certain promise of a kingdom, as my friend had a problem with. God’s covenants with people of the bible have always been purposeful and motivating. When God called Abraham, the first statements out of God’s mouth after he told him to leave his father’s land were promises to make him into a great nation. He didn’t just tell him to leave his father’s house because “I’m God” or because “I have forgiven your sins”. Even Abraham with these promises, faltered along the way by going for Hagar to get a child. Even he with the greatest motivation to serve God in the world failed along the line to be faithful to God. That is why when God calls you, he gives you hope. And this hope has been the foundation of the Israeli nation over all these generations. If we are children of a better covenant, will God not do the same?

Col 1:4-5 Because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel.

Col 1:12 Giving thanks to the father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

This is the hope on which the Colossian’s faith and love was based. This is my analogy between hope, faith and love. Hope keeps where we are going in mind. Faith is the walking stick with which we take each step towards that place of hope. Love is the test of whether we really are on track to achieve that hope. When the disciples in Antioch were despairing because of their persecutions, what did the Apostle Paul say to them? How did he encourage them to go on?

Ac 14:22 Strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”.

He reminded them of the hope of a kingdom, stressing that there is no easy way to get there. If there was no real hope in being a disciple of Christ, then what is the whole point of it?

1 Co 15:19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

Certainly the preaching of the gospel today is an explicit example of not following the process – examples of preaching the gospel in the Bible – because most of us don’t even know the purpose of our Christianity. This confusion of purpose is the same reason that most of us don’t understand why God called us into a world visible unified church and why a denominational stance is against the will of God and is simple disobedience. And so we think however we do it does not matter.

Let me give this scenario to put a point across. While in Kumasi, I noticed that so many Methodist churches were named after John Wesley, and this was the case even on most of the Methodist churches I saw on my 5 hour journey back to Accra. My stance against denominationalism aside, I’m here just considering the purpose of the church – the body of Christ. We are called into a family where God is the Father, and Jesus Christ the first born brother. As we have established already, conforming to Christ is the purpose of a true Christian. He (Christ) alone is our purpose and every respect and honour is to be given to Him.

Ro 8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Eph 3:14-15 For this reason I kneel before the father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

Heb 2:17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

In every endeavour the purpose must always supersede the process. But as human as we are we have classically focused on the processes – what they are and how they are brought about. And this is truly a testament to how carnal we’ve become as Christians of today when Paul recognised the same tendency in the Corinthian church, rebuking them for aligning themselves with people who are only part of the process or who are a means to bring about this purpose.

1 Co 3:1-4 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul”, and another “I follow Apollos” are you not mere men?

So I ask the Methodists (and not just them but Christianity in general). Why have they paid more attention and respect to the process or means rather than the purpose? Why have they revered John Wesley more than the word of God? If you don’t believe me speak to a Methodist and he will tell you how proud they are to be followers of the Wesleyan tradition – whatever that is. (Oh by the way, another example is the International Central Gospel Church branches I’ve seen nationwide, who put the picture of their “founder” on all their signboards. I could give a million and one of these.)

John Wesley came to achieve a set purpose for a set time. The word of God is revealed in portions and continues to be additional to what has previously been revealed. Do they mean to tell me that since his time centuries ago, God hasn’t given any other direction/revelation concerning the Christian life that they may live by them as well?

If there is one thing I’ve come to believe, it’s enshrined in 2 Ti 4:2: The word of God is complete.

2 Ti 4:2 Preach the word, be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.

(By the way I have a lot to say about “correct, rebuke and encourage” and I’ll do that by God’s grace in my next post.)

  1. We cannot preach it better than it was preached and written down for us in the Bible. It behoves us to ask for the Spirit’s leading to know the purpose of every word written the way it is so we can preach it the way it is.

  2. We must teach it with the 2 ingredients above – great patience and careful instruction. There shall be no haste about it’s preaching or it’s desired effect will not be realised. It is very easy for us to think that we can preach or teach the word of God anyhow and still get the same results. But the end result of such haste and disregard is recorded in the next verse.

2 Ti 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

I hope none of us become either one of the “great number of teachers” or those who are eager to listen to “what their itching ears want to hear”.