|"A GREAT RETURN TO THE BIBLE" |
by Dr Pence Dacus
(Church History Correspondence Course)
HOW CHRIST PREPARED THE WAY FOR THE COMING OF THE CHURCH
Your study of this subject should be preceded by a study of Luke 24:49-53 and Acts 2.
Just as God prepared the world for the coming of Christ in so many ways, even so, Christ, when He came to the earth made preparation for the coming of the church which as you learned earlier was established on Pentecost, A.D. 33, in the city of Jerusalem, shortly after He left the earth to return to God. This does not means that extensive preparation had not already been made by God for the entrance of the kingdom, the church, even before Christ came. Its coming had been predicted centuries before and the time of its arrival was fixed (Dan. 2:44).
In addition to Daniel, three other prophets talked about its coming -- Joel, Isaiah and Micah -- Joel 2:28, Isaiah 2:2-3, and Micah 4:1-2). From these prophets we learn that it will be established in "the last days" (Acts 2: 16-17), on "the top of mountains" (Jerusalem), and all nations shall "flow unto it" (Acts 2). It was to come to pass when the word of the Lord "went forth from Jerusalem" (Acts 2). Thus, with some facts about the time of its coming, its nature, and some of the events that were to occur simultaneously with its inception, we now turn our attention to "the last days" -- the time when Christ was on the earth, and ask HOW did Jesus prepare the way for the coming of the church?
Kingdom At Hand
First, we will set the scene before us:
*When John the Baptist preached about the kingdom -- it was always in the future, and "at hand" (Matt. 3:2).
* When Jesus talked about the kingdom it was always in the future, and "at hand" (Matt. 6:10 and Mark 9:1)
* All the prophecies concerning the establishment of the kingdom were fulfilled on Pentecost, A.D. 33. (See Acts 2).
* From Pentecost forward, the kingdom is always referred to as being in existence, or established.
* The church and the kingdom are one and the same.
What Christ Did to Prepare for the Church's Arrival
Christ did more than just tell the people and his disciples about the kingdom, the church, when it would come and how to become a member of it. He, also, told them what it would be like and what its members should be like.
He Showed Us What It Would Be Like
This he did by the use of skillful word-pictures, or parables.
The Preciousness of It
* It was likened unto treasure hid in a field, which a man found, then went and sold all he had and bought the field (Matt. 13:44).
* It was likened unto a merchant man seeking goodly pearls, who found one pearl of great price, and sold all he had to buy that pearl (Matt. 13:45).
Consider: The denominational world says : "Join the church of your choice". "One church is as good as another." "You do not have to be a member of the church to be saved." What Christ had in mind about the precious kingdom -- the church -- is strangely different from these ideas. Jesus was not making reference to a denomination at all -- only to His church -- the kingdom of God. It alone is precious. Christ and the early Christians gave up much for the church. The church exists today and many faithful Christians have and are giving up much for it. Christ taught the kingdom of God was and is important. See Acts 20:28 in order to discover how important it was to Him. He died for it.
The Growth of It
* It was to be like a mustard seed which, though when planted is the smallest of seeds, when grown it is the largest of herbs. This indicates that from a small beginning there will be a great expansion in size (Matt. 13:31-32).
* It was to be like leaven (or yeast) which leavens the whole of the measure of meal. Just as yeast affects all of the meal in the bowl, even so the church was to spread its influence through out all nations and all societies (Matt. 13:33).
* It was to be like seed put into the ground which comes up and we are unable to explain how (Mark 4:26-29). The nature of the mysterious growth of the church is not revealed to us. God says that it is sufficient for us to know that we must plant and water, and He will give the increase (I Cor. 3:7).
* It was to be like a man who went out and sowed good seed in his field, but while men slept the enemy came and sowed tares (weeds) among the wheat. When the wheat and tares came up, the servants asked about gathering up the tares; but, the Lord said, "No, let them grow together until the harvest." At harvest time the wheat will be put into barns and the tares will be burned. Thus, God would not have us root up the weeds in the kingdom because we might destroy the wheat also.
* It is compared to a net that was cast into the sea and brought up many kinds of fish. The full net was drawn to the shore and the good fish were placed in vessels but the bad were cast away.
Explanation: The last two parables show in a vivid way the coming of a day when the world will be judged, and the good will be separated from the bad. Read Matt. 25:31-46 in connection with them. The parable of the wheat and tares also reveals an additional factor -- that the bad must "grow" together with the good until judgement day.
Consider: Some religionists seem to feel that Jesus is giving support and sanction to unlimited permissiveness in the church of our Lord. In other words, if we are to follow Christ's admonition about not uprooting the tares (or weeds) in the kingdom, we must not seek to challenge false doctrines. However, in I Cor. 5, we are introduced to a problem of adultery in the church at Corinth. Notice that Paul minces no words when he says in verse 13, "Therefore, put away from among yourselves that wicked person." Is the command by Paul for discipline of church members contradictory to what Jesus taught? No, Jesus was not erecting a facade for us to hide behind in order to avoid the perplexing problems of maintaining pure and undefiled congregations of God's people. He must have been saying that it is not within our jurisdiction to pass final judgement on who are the weeds, and who are the wheat -- only God can render that judgement. But, when there are clear cases of fornication, covetousness, idolatry, railing, drunkenness, and extortion (I Cor. 5:11), we must be able to make enough of a judgement not to eat with them. Paul says, "with such an one no not to eat."
Furthermore, notice in I Cor. 5:12 and 13, that God is the one who judges those without -- ye (members of the church) judge those within. Therefore, this must mean that we, as weak human beings, cannot know those who are truly in the kingdom -- many may appear to be, having done all that God has told them to do by way of gaining entrance, but they are not really members. Only God can judge this final matter of who will be saved. However, for those who appear to have gained entrance, and have met all necessary requirements as far as man can ascertain, there is something that can be judged by their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, namely: Is their manner of behaviour consistent with the fundamental principles of Christian living? If not, it is the responsibility of the church to "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person." The church must be pure and spotless before God and the world (Ephesians 5:27).
Note of Caution: The discipline of a church member, or members by other church members such as cited here, is not to be confused with the excommunication wherein a person may be placed under Interdict (all others are required to ignore and reject him under threat of eternal torments) by an official of the Church. In the Bible, church discipline was placed on its own members by its own members, not by some high-ranking church official of that church or another church. Furthermore, it was done as a "last resort' and for the purpose of winning them back, in a spirit of Christian love.
An Open Invitation to It and the Folly of Rejecting It
* The kingdom is likened unto a man who prepared a Great Supper and invited many guests. But, the guests made excuses for not coming, and in anger the master sent out his servants to bring people from everywhere to the feast. The master concludes by saying that the ones who had spurned the invitation would not taste of his supper (Luke 14:15-21).
It is likened unto a king who prepared a marriage feast for his son, but the guests spurned the invitation and treated his servants badly. When they were properly punished, the invitation was extended to all, good and bad. Up to that point in the story, the teaching is the same as in the Great Supper, but one final note is added in the last four verses. This will be discussed later under Preparedness of Its Members. (Matt 22:1-14).
God Will Be the Final Judge as to Who Meets the Requirements for Salvation
The story of the man who hired labourers in his vineyard and paid them all the same thing (a penny) at the end of the day amply illustrates the point. The emphasis appears to be not on how long or hard people labour, but whether they are hired to work before the close of day. Thus, the stress is on "being ready" when the Master comes at the end of day to judge us. In this case, "being ready" would be the same as being a member of the "labour force", or membership of the church. (Matt. 20:1-16).
He Showed Us What Its Members Should Be Like
They are to be in a Constant State of Preparedness
* The story of the ten virgins -- five wise and five foolish -- gives the illustration. It was called "wisdom" for the five virgins to have had their lamps trimmed when the bridegroom appeared. It was pronounced "foolish" for the other five who did not have their lamps trimmed. The foolish virgins were forbidden entrance and their pleas for another opportunity were not heard (Matt. 25:1-13). They were unprepared.
* The last four verses of the story about the wedding feast of the king's son (Matt. 22:1-14) mentions a man who came to the feast improperly dressed. He was "cast into outer darkness" -- he was unprepared. Christ's warning is: Watch! for you Know not the day nor the hour when He will come again (Matt. 24:42).
They are to Make Use of their Talents and Abilities
* In the story of the talents, the man who hid (and failed to utilize) his talent was condemned. So, it will be with church members who do not make use of their talents (Matt. 25:14-30).
* The parable of the pounds teaches the same basic truth -- the unused talent, or pound will be taken back and the offender will be condemned (Luke 19:12-27).
* The parable of the two sons -- one who said he would work in the vineyard but did not and the other who said he would not but did later, teaches us the virtue of doing. What we say is very important, but as someone has correctly suggested -- "actions speak louder than words." (Matt. 21:28-32).
They are to be Merciful and Forgiving The story of the servant who received mercy of his master, but who in turn treated his debtor in a cruel manner, and thereby brought the wrath of his master upon himself, teaches an important lesson for members of the kingdom. We must not expect God to forgive us if we are unwilling to forgive our brothers their trespasses. Forgiveness by God is contingent upon our forgiving others (Matt. 18:23-35). Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matt. 5:7).
They are to be as Humble and Innocent as Little Children
Christ says, "For of such (as little children) is the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:16-17). Christ often mentioned humility as a virtue to His disciples. No man can enter the kingdom, in the true sense of the word, unless he has this humility (verse 17). Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3).
They are Not to Seek Rank, or Position Above Others
* Jesus, the Son of God, humbled himself to wash the feet of his followers. Why? "I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him" (John 13:1-17).
* Once the mother of Zebedee's children came to Jesus asking that her two sons be given positions of prominence in the kingdom. When the other ten apostles heard of the request, they were moved with indignation against the two sons. It was here that Jesus spoke a fundamental truth: "Whosoever will be great among you let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant" (Matt. 20:20-28).
Consider: For the above reasons, Jesus said, "Call no man your father (in a religious sense): for one is your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 23:9). The word "reverend" is also a title reserved for God only (Psalms 111:9).
Furthermore, we are not to have respect of persons among members. If a rich brother and a poor brother come to the assembly, they are to be treated equal -- no special attention is to be given to the rich man (James 2:1-6).
Also, the wearing of special clothing is pointed to by Jesus as being indicative of an attitude of supremacy and self-esteem (Matt. 23:5-7). Could Christ have presented it more clearly? Christians do not wear special garments.
Conclusion: These are more than just "good ideas" presented by the Lord to be tried and tested by his followers to see if they work. If the members of the church would keep themselves in constant preparation for His return, make use of their talents and abilities, be merciful and forgiving, remain meek and humble, and seek to serve rather than be served all the problems that arise among religious people would be easily resolved. But, men have forgotten and ignored these simple, yet basic principles. They have shown more concern for their neighbour's state of preparation than their own. They have become so entangled in the affairs of this world that they have failed to use their talents. Instead of being merciful and forgiving, they have been spiteful and full of revenge. Rather than being meek and humble, they have been proud and boastful. They have sought positions of authority and prestige with abandon, catered to the rich, loved special titles (even father which Jesus expressly forbids) and strutted about in all manner of special clothing.
Later (in Lesson 9) we will discuss the "falling away" of the church which came as a direct result of a large scale change in attitudes among church members who trusted their own opinions and preferences to the rejection of Christ's commands.
The lesson is axiomatic -- a change in attitude always preceeds a change in practice. Later, we shall see how a change in the attitude toward the Word of God -- the Bible -- brought about alterations in the plan of Christ for His church.
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