Friday, February 15, 2013

The First Century Change Agents

The First Century Change Agents

Departure from the faith is not something new.  Getting people on board the “non-traditional” wagon is not something new.  Promising liberty is not something new (2 Peter 2:18f).  It has always been going on. Among the churches of Galatia Paul was shocked that they were “so soon” removed from Him who called you into the grace of Christ to “another gospel”(Gal.1:6-10).  They were soon tired of the traditionalism that kept them under threat of rejection or persecution.  It was uncomfortable to live in Galatia where Judaism had a large influence and talk like Jesus was the only way.

These change agents were not mentally ignoring the truth that Jesus was and is the Son of God, but they felt that we were making Jews unnecessarily mad at us for teaching that the law of Moses was nailed to the cross and that we are now to be exclusively under the authority of Jesus alone.  They simply wanted to repackage themselves as teaching what a large element of society thought the church of Christ ought to teach if they want to fit in with the rest of society.  A more appealing way to win people over is to make the gospel more appealing to those who want a teaching program that is more accepting of the religious faith of others.

The early change agents were wanting to “make a good showing in the flesh”(Gal.6:12). They were feeling the effects of social rejection and wanted to make the gospel more palatable.  This is also the way change-agents operate in churches today.  The gospel is inclusive of all who will obey Jesus  and exclusive of those who only want to obey certain choice items.  Of the early change agents, there was fear of rejection and persecution that socially comes when you believe that Jesus’ way is the ONLY way.  Consider the spirit of those wanting to “make a good showing in the flesh”.


[A fair show in the flesh.] The Jewish religion was general in the region of Galatia, and it was respectable, as it appears that the principal inhabitants were either Jews or proselytes. As it was then professed and practiced among the Jews, this religion had nothing very grievous to the old man; an unrenewed nature might go through all its observances with little pain or cross-bearing. On the other hand, Christianity could not be very popular; it was too strict. A Jew made a fair show there, according to his carnal system, and it was a temptation to a weak Christian to swerve into Judaism, that he might be exempted from persecution, and be creditable among his countrymen. This is what the apostle intimates: "They constrain you to be circumcised, lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ."(from Adam Clarke's Commentary)

Barnes observes:  If they insisted on entire dependence on the merits of his blood, and renounced all dependence on rites and ceremonies, they would suffer persecution. This verse shows the true cause of the zeal which the Judaizing teachers evinced. It was the fear of persecution. It was the want of independence and boldness in maintaining the doctrine that people were to be saved only by the merits of the Lord Jesus. By attempting to blend together the doctrines of Judaism and Christianity; by maintaining that the observance of the Jewish rites was necessary, and yet that Jesus was the Messiah, they endeavored to keep in with both parties; and thus to escape the opposition of the Jews. It was an unhallowed compromise.  It was an attempt to blend things together which could not be united. One must really displace the other. If people depended on the rites of Moses, they had no need of dependence on the Messiah; if they professed to depend on him, then to rely on anything else was in fact to disown and reject him.  Embracing the one system was in fact renouncing the other.  Such is the argument of Paul; and such his solemn remonstrance against embracing any doctrine which would obscure the glory of simple dependence on the cross of Christ.(from Barnes' Notes).

The first century change agents simply wanted to find ways to believe in Jesus without offending people, and it did not seem to occur to them that they were offending the Lord by making His gospel insufficient for all the truth that all men needed.  Change agents then did not consider how offensive they were to the apostles who stood their ground and engaged “much dispute” in the same matters discussed in Acts 15. The change agents had so leavened the churches in this teaching that it does not hurt to mix a little of the Law of Moses into the gospel since people might be more inclined to accept us if we were not always being so negative about their traditions.  Change agents then and now have a lot of similarity. It may be different traditions that they want to adopt, but it is usually for very similar reasons: to be able to be accepted by the denominations around us.  A fair showing in the flesh does not help to change the world, but always works to change the church so that she looks like a close friend, and Jesus, well, He is such a nice fellow who accepts everyone just as they are. Never mind that it is “another Jesus”, not the One the apostles presented.  Terry W. Benton

Saturday, February 9, 2013

These Things Became Our Examples

These Things Became Our Examples

So much talk about “examples are not binding” is really not helping brethren understand the reason why examples are very important.  It did not matter to Paul about whether the Old Testament contained “narrative” or “story” (who would ever dispute that?).  Yet, as he read the stories embedded in the Old Testament, he found things that “became our examples”(1 Cor.10:6).  The mistakes of Israel were examples NOT to follow in the church.  He said “they happened to them as examples and they were written for our learning”(v.11).  Get this!  Christians are to learn from the examples embedded in the stories of the Old Testament.  That would especially be so in the New Testament as well.  From examples we learn what is NOT acceptable to the Lord, and from other examples we learn what IS acceptable to the Lord. 

By the same token, if Paul “ordained” things in “all the churches” (1 Cor.7:17), one of which was to learn from examples, then what we see in the uniform practices of the early churches would be examples for us to follow.  Paul urged the Corinthians “not to think beyond what is written”(4:6). That means to get all your ideas and information from this source and don’t even desire to listen to something if it is beyond what is written.

One thing that is written is “imitate”(follow the example of) Paul (1 Cor.4:16), and let yourself be reminded of his “ways in Christ”(which includes his approved examples)(v.17).  The reason we can follow the apostles “ways in Christ” is because they had “the mind of Christ”(2:16). The wisdom of God was revealed to them by the Spirit (2:10).  These men were led by the Spirit and they were “ministers of the new covenant”(2 Cor.3).  The Old Testament had been a ministration of death, but the New Testament was a ministry of the Spirit and of life.  As we follow the examples of the apostles we learn things that we can “prove are acceptable to the Lord”(Rom.12:1-3; Eph.5:11; 1 Thess.5:21).  What Paul taught in one church, he also taught “everywhere in every church”(1 Cor.4:17).

When the church at Corinth got off track with the Lord’s Supper and made it into a meal to feed their appetite, Paul reminded them of the EXAMPLE of what Jesus did the night of His betrayal when He SHOWED what He wanted done (1 Cor.11:23).  Jesus showed them what He wanted (example to follow), and He told them what He wanted (command). “Do this in remembrance of Me”.  From the command and example Paul also drew some necessary inferences: 1)When you partake of the Lord’s Supper you are “proclaiming His death till He comes”, and 2) when you do not take it with the focus on the body and blood, you do it in an unworthy manner and therefore are guilty of the body and blood.(v.26,27).

When did the early disciples come together and partake of the Lord’s Supper?  We learn from the examples in Acts 2:42 and Acts 20:7, that they did it “on the first day of the week”.  Nobody questions but what that is “acceptable to the Lord”.  The same thing done in one church with apostolic approval is what all churches did.  Those who follow that same example are no doubt doing what is acceptable to the Lord.  But, what of those who want to do it on Thursday?  They cannot “prove it is acceptable”. They have no statement or example after the Lord “drank it new IN THE KINGDOM” except the examples of doing it on the first day of the week.  Thus, if you cannot “prove it is acceptable” you have no business doing it. It should be that simple since even the uniform practice of the early disciples “became our examples” and are written for our learning.  The apostles showed us things that were acceptable to the Lord as well as told us. They even showed us how they reasoned from examples and came to the necessary inference that Gentiles do not have to be circumcised (Acts 15). That gave us an example of how to use statements and examples and come to the “necessary conclusion” or judgment of what the will of the Lord is.  Using the model of settling issues and questions by this process shows us how to go about “proving what is acceptable to the Lord”.  These things also became our examples in how to “test all things, hold fast what is good”(1 Thess.5:21).  Some examples are incidental and do not form a uniform pattern.  But, some examples clearly show us what we can prove is right and cannot be wrong, and those examples ought not be dismissed in favor of something you cannot prove.  The stories and narratives of scripture are to show us examples of what we can safely follow and of things we should avoid.  Terry W. Benton

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Jeroboam's Mistakes

Jeroboam’s Mistakes

There were many different factors that led up to the division in Israel that left that nation split in two. We read of this split in 1 Kings 11-12.  There were the usual attempts to make the northern ten tribes to be convinced that they were right. They were wrong, but they tried to justify their new divided state and what they were now doing.

In the New Testament John mentioned that those that “went out from us were not of us”. In other words, they had been in a mental and spiritual drift away from us long before they decided to relocate their bodies away from the faithful brethren.  There are brethren today like that.  Some have left for liberal churches, and some have left to join denominations. Some are still physically among us but their heart is not with the authority and teaching of God’s word and with brethren who seek to maintain the authority of scriptures and the commitment to “prove what is acceptable to the Lord”.  They will be leaving soon but they want to see if they can take whole groups with them.  Please notice the parallels to be seen in the division in Israel and the divisions among spiritual Israel today.

Jeroboam made the following mistakes:

1.       Trying to appear legitimate by outward honor of special historical places. 12:25

2.       Cutting off the house of David. V.26

3.       Cutting off exposure to truth. V.27

4.       Making his religion more appealing, liberated, and convenient. V.28

5.       Ignored the “example” of David, the nature of “specific authority”, and hated the idea of seeking authority first before acting. V.31,33; 13:33-34; 14:7-10

6.       Employed the doctrines and commandments of men. V.32


How can the people be led to worship with a different place of worship, with a priesthood that is not from Levi, and in the manner so different?  How does such a change become accepted?  I can see that all it would take is to lead the people to question the “old hermeneutic” and those who interpreted the scriptures incorrectly all this time did so because of “traditionalism” and “legalism”. The change agents can keep criticizing the old practices as “traditionalism”. The old “traditionalism” of worshipping at Jerusalem was because the “legalists” had been very arbitrary in WHICH examples they followed.  Because of “traditionalism” and the blindness of the old hermeneutic and being so arbitrary in which examples to follow, they had neglected these important places like Penuel and Shechem.


The 10 northern tribes can say, “We will not be legalists and traditionalists that think their traditionalism is the only way. If others were more open-minded they would realize that we should have never neglected places like Shechem, Penuel, and Bethel. Here are some examples that they have not been keeping. They are so inconsistent with which examples are binding”.  In view of the way change agents today are operating, I can begin to see more clearly how such a large segment in Israel could have gotten swept into the change and justified it in their own minds.

Today there are change agents that use Facebook and other social media to gather “friends”. But, like the northern ten tribes, they then begin “cutting off” brethren who might question their views on this media. These brethren grow their number of friends, appealing to the weak and undiscerning, cut off dissenting  voices as “traditionalists”, “Pharisees”, and” legalists”, gathering sympathy from the undiscerning, blocking friends who do not agree with their views.  By cutting of dissenting voices and keeping only those who approve or will say nothing negative, and feeding prejudice against faithful brethren by such terms as “legalists”, “Pharisees”, and “traditionalists”, the crowd they keep on their list are now swallowing the Kool-Aid. Those are points two and three in Jeroboam’s program of justifying his promoting and maintaining the division in Israel he was now leading.


Look at the six mistakes listed above again.  Point three is cutting off exposure to truth.  To maintain a sense of legitimacy, Jeroboam could not afford to let his people be exposed to the truth taught by the old traditionalists in Judah.  So, he cut off the opportunities for his friends to see and hear discussions where his views could now be challenged.  It is easy to say the Levites in Jerusalem were “traditionalists” using a faulty hermeneutic, but that cannot hold up well is actual discussion where the change agents have to prove their own hermeneutic is correct and where they are actually called on to “prove what is acceptable to the Lord”.  Prejudice does not work as well when someone can answer them.  So, the change agent must always back away from actual discussion and debate with the old “traditionalists”. They could never stand up in the kind of discussion and “much dispute” seen in Acts 15. They know it too, and so their mode of operation must always be to cut off those voices of truth that might expose them.


The modern change agents cut off any on their “friends” list who might expose the weakness of their teachings, or those who might give their readers a different impression of the change agent. Thus, they create a cult of personality and use the old “promise liberty” routine that false teachers have long used in the past (2 Pet.2) to “allure” people into the changes.  The change agents promise liberty from misguided, hypocritical “traditionalism”, and they have their “friends” swallowing the bait and regurgitating it to each other as they now have little or no voices on their list who might reel them in and provide a needed scriptural rebuke and effort at correction.


Look at the list of mistakes Jeroboam made again.  We have seen parallels in those first three items. There is an amazing similarity between the mistakes of Jeroboam and the modern change agents. I hope you can see what is happening now and how it is moving among brethren in so many congregations. The bodies may still be together, but soon those who have influenced them the most through social media will have convinced them to change the local church or move out from those close-minded traditionalists.  The devil has been at work.  He is seeking to devour you and any church that still believes in “proving what is acceptable to the Lord”.  We will consider the last three items on the list in our next post.  Please, give it careful attention.  Terry W. Benton