OriginalChristianity

Not Traditional, Original

Did Jesus Really Break God’s Rules by Healing on the Sabbath?

I want to preface this article by saying I had a hard time writing it because I love pastors and Bible teachers even when they teach opposing doctrines. They’re dedicated, hard-working, sincere, loving people who sacrifice much of their lives for their people. But it hurts my heart when I see teachers teaching different things about a topic in the Bible.  One thing that hurts is that these teachers often present these doctrines as clear and absolute when in fact there are probably people in the pews who have been taught the opposite of what they are now being presented. I can feel the pain that conundrum causes in those people when they must ask themselves whether this teacher is right or was their old teacher right? That does not serve to strengthen their faith.

Like most of you I talk to people about my faith in Christ. While I have been blessed to have lead someone to Christ on a few occasions most the people I talk to do not change their beliefs after we talk. From time to time I have asked why they don’t believe. Of course there are many and varied responses from things like “I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny either”, to “I believe in science” to “look at the corruption in the Catholic Church. I don’t want any part of that”. But a response that I have heard on a regular basis is that people don’t believe because it’s obvious that anybody can take anything out of the Bible to say anything they want it to say.  Then they cite examples of how Southern preachers in the past used the Bible to enforce slave practices, how Mennonites use the Bible as say that anything modern is sinful, how white supremacists use the Bible to reinforce their ideology, and how you can go from one church to another and hear different teaching on the same topic.  How can the Bible be truth if so many people say it says so many different things?  This last witness is true. And it is at the heart of this discussion.

This brings up something that I’ve talked about in another article, Yo-Yo Christianity. Not everyone stays in the same church all their life, in fact, most people I know, for different reasons, go to at least several different churches over the years. Yo-yo Christianity is what happens as people move from church to church, and are forced to accept different teachings then they were taught previously.     I personally have been in churches that have taught that Jesus broke God’s rules by healing on the Sabbath day and that Jesus never broke God’s rules by healing on the Sabbath day. Agaon, Yo-yo christianity works against strong faith.

I want to add that I’ve also talked to pastors at different times about various teachings and the differences between denominations and so forth and what I have heard is that seminary doesn’t delve that deeply into a lot of the topics that I talk about here on this website. In fact, several pastors from different denominations told me the same thing, that is, that seminary is a rigorous curriculum where topics are covered quickly in a lot of cases and moved on. They say that theology is only one of the many things covered. Moreover, theology is almost uniformly presented from whatever denomination or doctrinal school founded the seminary. In other words, they may have been taught that a certain doctrine is different than Catholic doctrine or some other denomination but there was not an in-depth look at all viewpoints on the topic. And for the most part the last thing you want to do in seminary is disagree with your church’s teaching. And lastly, seminary for almost all of the pastors that I have talked to is more about preparation for leading a church including certainly preaching, but also administration and all the different programs in a church than it is about in depth theological training into Christian doctrine.

Some people teach that Jesus was able to break God’s rules. In my experience more teachers have taught that Jesus always obeyed the Law but was only accused of breaking the Law by religious leaders. Of course christian doctrine is not a democracy where the most votes win, it just appears the former viewpoint is in the minority.  As one writer put it, “One common misconception regarding the behavior of Jesus is that, on occasion, in healing the sick and performing other benevolent actions, He broke the Sabbath in order to accommodate the higher law of love. This viewpoint leaves the impression that law is sometimes, if not frequently, antithetical to being loving. It implies that sometimes breaking God’s laws is necessary in order to be loving.”[i]

There are a number of records where the Pharisees point out that Jesus is breaking the law of the Sabbath.  Here are a couple of them:

One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”  (Mar 2:23-28 ESV)

Here we see the Pharisees pointing out that it is against the law to pluck grain on the Sabbath.   I have heard preachers say that Jesus here was breaking the law of the Sabbath but it was okay because of who he was.   Let’s look at another section:

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them.  (Joh 9:13-16 ESV)

Again, some have taken verses like these to say that Jesus broke the law (or God’s rules) and we have him as an example that it is okay to sometimes break God’s rules.  I mean it looks like Jesus broke the Law, right?    The Pharisees were Israel’s guardians of the law.   And we know that breaking the Law is sin:

Through the law is the knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20b ESV)

If Jesus really broke the law then he would be a sinner but we know that sin was not found in him.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  (2Co 5:21 ESV)

How can this be reconciled? 

Let’s look at another account:

He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”  (Mat 12:9-12 ESV)

Aha, in this account we see Jesus teaching the teachers, even if they’re not willing or able to hear it, in which case he is still teaching the people around him.  Notice that his point here is that what he was doing was lawful!   Jesus did certain things on the Sabbath day and taught that things like pulling an ox out of a ditch, or eating grain off the stalk, or healing someone is not violating the Law!

There is a section in the Law that requires people to pull a fallen animal out of the ditch:

“You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him. And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again.  (Deu 22:1-4 ESV)

Look at these verses and notice that there is no exception for the Sabbath! By the law of  Moses if someone is walking and sees that a fallen animal in a ditch they are commanded by the law to recover the animal! There is no provision that says not to do it on the Sabbath!

That is exactly what Jesus says in these verses:

The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (Joh 7:15-24 ESV)

Here, Jesus turns the tables on those who accuse him of not keeping the law. He says that none of them keep the law, yet they are trying to use it to try to kill him!  Jesus then uses the example of their own behavior to show that his practices are similar to some of their own practices. He cites the example of circumcision. By law circumcision is on the eighth day. Sometimes the eighth day is on the Sabbath. People perform circumcisions on the eighth day yet that is a form of manual labor! So he asked them why it is okay for them to perform a circumcision on the Sabbath when they condemn him for healing on the Sabbath!

Let’s look at the some of the stringent law regarding the Sabbath in the Old Testament.  Here is one of the commandments:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.  (Exo 20:8-11 ESV)

This rule is reiterated later in Exodus:

And the LORD said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’” (Exo 31:12-17 ESV)

There are some specifics given about the Sabbath:

Moses assembled all the congregation of the people of Israel and said to them, “These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do. Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.” Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the LORD has commanded.  (Exo 35:1-4 ESV)

Okay, no fire kindling restricts cooking, doesn’t it?

What is not here is the rabbinical delineation of definitions that were decided by the Pharisees on what constituted a breaking of this law.  The Israelites interpreted the above law to make a list of forbidden activities.

Here is a breakdown of the forbidden activities from a modern site on Jewish law:

“Sowing, plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, sorting, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, shearing wool, whitening it, combing it, dyeing it, spinning, weaving, making two loops, weaving two threads, separating two threads, tying [a knot], untying [a knot], sewing two stitches, tearing for the purpose of sewing two stitches, hunting a deer, slaughtering it, skinning it, salting it, curing its hide, scraping it, cutting it, writing two letters, erasing for the purpose of writing two letters, building, demolishing, extinguishing a flame, lighting a flame, striking with a hammer, carrying from one domain to another. These are the principal Melakhot – [they number] forty minus one.”[ii]

Do a Google search on Talmud and look for all the rules of the Sabbath.   Here are a few examples: 

“A man may not go out with a sword, nor with a bow, nor with a shield, nor with a round shield, nor with a spear. If he has gone out [with any of these] he is liable for a Chattat. Rabbi Eliezer says: They are ornaments for him. But the Sages say: They are nothing but an indignity, for it is said, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears unto pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4). A garter is not subject to impurity and one may go out with it on Shabbat; foot-chains are subject to impurity, and one may not go out with them on Shabbat. “


“A woman may go out with braids of hair whether of her own [hair]
, or of another woman, or of an animal. [She may go out] with a frontlet [on her forehead], or with bangles if they are sewn [to the cap]; with a cap [under the head-dress] or with a wig into the courtyard; with wool in her ears, or with wool in her shoe, or with wool she has arranged for her menstruation; or with a pepper, or with a grain [of] salt, or with whatever else she [is accustomed to] put in her mouth [to dispel bad breath] provided she does not first put it [into her mouth] on Shabbat. And if she drops it [out of her mouth] she may not replace it. [With regard to a] false tooth or a gold tooth, Rabbi allows [one to go out with it], but the Sages prohibit [it].”

Now as you can see from reading the above passages that this is a very strict interpretation of the Law just as we see in the records we have with Jesus.  The Pharisees were citing Jesus and his disciples because eating grain from the field requires reaping and reaping is a violation of their codification of the law. But their codification was more than what God specified,and that was Jesus’ point.

There are many valuable lessons here. Obviously, the lesson foremost is that Jesus did not break the law of the Sabbath by healing on the Sabbath day, or letting his disciples eat grain out of the field.

Jesus did not break the law! He broke the Pharisee’s understanding of the law, but their understanding was erroneous!

It is very important when reading the bible to understand that just because people are saying something or accusing something that doesn’t make it true! You have to dig deeper into the context, both the local context and the greater context of the whole word of God.

The bigger lesson here is how misunderstandings, i.e., divisions among believers happened over these teachings like these. There are some that teach that Jesus broke God’s rules, i.e. the law, and that that was okay whereas others teach that the point of the whole topic is that Jesus did not break the law, rather it was the Pharisees who misunderstood and misappropriated the enactment of the law.  How is this different than the issue of righteousness by faith or works? How is this different than the issue of child baptism vs believers baptism! How is this different than the issue of whether it’s okay to drink alcohol or not? The answer is that it is not!

Here we have a clear case of how the divisions among us spring up.  And that is the biggest lesson of all.  We have this example in the Bible of some strict instructions regarding the Sabbath. God worked six days on creation and rested the seventh day. He set that as an example as a guide, not impediment, to us so that we might be able to rest one day a week. When God gave the law he said some strict instructions about not working. But as Jesus pointed out God gave the law for the good of man, not to hurt man.  Yet the Pharisees over time constructed this intensely legalistic definition that completely went against what God had intended for the law all along.

Misunderstanding the intent of Scripture is a big part of the lesson here. 

This legalistic tendency shown in the healing on the Sabbath stories was not just limited to the time of Jesus. We still have that tendency and there are some among us that’s still are under its spell.  Can you see a correlation to some denominational laws and systems? I can.  What other things have individuals and whole denominations misunderstood?

The nature of this discussion is right at the heart of the originalChristianity.net website because misunderstandings have escalated within the body of Christ to where there are tens of thousands of denominations all over the board on a host of issues.

First I want to pray. I pray that God the Father works through the power of the Holy Spirit that touches us all to help break down these barriers between us, these bastions of ideologies and competing religious dogmas that divide us in so many ways to bring us back to the unity of one spirit and one knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But I also want to issue a challenge to all believers to be like the Bereans:

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Act 17:11 ESV)

Be like the Bereans and research! When you search the scriptures don’t just guess what they mean, rather use tools like concordances and lexicons to get to the intended meaning of the words in the verse. Search online to find out what other teachers have written and examine their logic. Has the writer searched out the meaning in the local context and the greater context in the word of God? Have they compared all the sections of scripture that relate to the subject? If part of the support is things written by the church fathers and later writers then read those writings for yourself and decide if those writers are correctly portrayed or are their writings used in a manipulative fashion where they perhaps mention the topic but don’t give the meaning of the topic that is now being presented.

I want to issue a challenge to pastors and Bible teachers everywhere. Teach the same thing. Don’t get so locked into your tradition and denominational background that you are part of this problem. Before you just reiterate something that you heard before from even someone you may have respected very much take the time to check it out, look at the different viewpoints, and be courageous to speak the truth even if it goes against your denominational tradition.


[i] http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?article=5155

[ii] https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Shabbat.7.2?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

March 27th, 2019 Posted by | Divisions | no comments

Love the Believers in All the Churches, Break Down the Walls of Denominationalism

I love all Christians. I have fellowshipped with all kinds of Christians. I’ve gone to Baptist churches, Nazarene churches, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Missionary Alliance, and on and on.  Of course, I have fellowshipped with believers in many “nondenominational” churches. In every setting, in every church, I have found people of faith. These people love God, profess their faith, and give of their time and resources. Perhaps the place where you see the greatest cross denominational sharing is para ministry events like retreats, concerts, and places where ministers with large followings gather in arenas and stadiums in every country and around the world. And of course there are all the Christian media outlets where pastors, teachers, musicians, spokespeople from all kinds of backgrounds speak their message. Perhaps that is why I am so passionate about the goal of breaking the barriers between us.

Because, at the same time that I see this great love of Christ in these people in these various churches and so forth, I also see a lot of pro denominational, pro division, statements. “We are at the Baptist Church,” or we are Lutheran” or “we are Catholic” are all divisive statements. And I have been at a number of churches, where one person claims that this other church down the road teaches this bad doctrine while they teach the real truth.

This is no different than what Paul wrote about to the Corinthians:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  (1Co 1:10-17 ESV)

In the first century the error was to say I follow Paul or Apollos or Cephas or even “I follow Christ”.  Today it is I follow Luther, or Calvin, or the pope. It is I am Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal, or even non-denominational. This is one of the errors of the modern church,

Folks, we are Christians, just Christians.

I pray that people in all Christian churches will recognize that denominationalism is division and something the Apostle Paul charged all believers to stop.  I pray to the God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ that all believers everywhere will look to increase their fellowship with all believers.  I pray all believers will stop doing any and all things that promote division like talking up how great their denomination is, and work to find a way to break down these divisions between us.

This website is dedicated to learning what was originally taught in the first century when our faith began, and how it changed over the years, and with the changes, how churches disagreed and split time and time again.  It is helping me understand how this problem came about.

There are great believers in many, many churches.  Let’s love them all.

May 1st, 2018 Posted by | Divisions | no comments

Neither Baptism Nor Communion Services for Quakers and the Salvation Army

First, it should be noted that not all Quakers consider themselves Christians but many doi, and since they do that is why they’re being considered here. On the other hand the Salvation Army considers itself “an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church” ii, and they appear to be unique as a group that as is purely Christian group that does not acknowledge the practice of baptism, and communion.

While the Salvation Army does allow its members to participate in communion services outside the Salvation Army for the purposes of fellowshipping with other churches, its long-standing practice has been to not hold communion services itself. This stance is based on the belief that communion and baptism are outward signs in the world whereas the real importance is on what is going on spiritually and internally. It is also a form of protest over some of the divisiveness caused by different churches’ stances on the sacramental nature of these practices. I think the following gives an excellent explanation on the position of the Salvation Army – this is right from a Salvation Army site:

The reasons for The Salvation Army’s cessation of the sacraments may be summarised as follows:

1. The Army’s Founders felt that many Christians had come to rely on the outward signs of spiritual grace rather than on grace itself. William and Catherine Booth believed, with the Apostle Paul, that salvation came solely from the grace of God personally received by faith. They felt that much of what passed for Christianity in their day was primarily an observance of outward ritual.

2. Some Bible scholars had pointed out that there was no scriptural basis for regarding the sacraments as essential to salvation or Christian living. Many Christians assumed that Jesus commanded the use of baptism and holy communion. But there are very few New Testament references to these practices and it was argued that none of them showed any intention by Jesus that they (or any other practice) should have become fixed ceremonies.

3. The sacraments had been a divisive influence in the Church throughout Christian history and at times the cause of bitter controversy and abuse.

4. Some churches would not allow women to administer the sacraments. The Army, however, believed that women may take an equal part in its ministry, and did not want to compromise this stance.

5. The Society of Friends (the Quakers) had managed to live holy lives without the use of sacraments.

6. Many early-day converts to the Army had previously been alcoholics. It was considered unwise to tempt them with the wine used in holy communion.
To a large extent this is still the Salvationist’s standpoint. However, it should be stressed that Salvationists have never been in opposition to the sacraments. Indeed, when they take part in gatherings with Christians from other churches, Salvationists will often share in using the symbols of the Lord’s Supper as a sign of fellowship. Furthermore, Salvationists are not prevented from being baptised in other churches should they so desire.”iii

The Quakers, as the Salvation Army notes, have long taken the stand that what happens inside a person is more important than what happens outside. The Quakers see themselves on a mission to go back to primitive Christianity whereas they view Christianity in the modern world as one of ‘Form Without Substance’.iv If you listen to the speaker talk on the site referenced below you’ll hear him talk about the working of the Spirit – being led of the Spirit, and how that was elementary to the primitive church. Their objection is to the use of ritual practices as a sign of what is going on inside.  They, like the Salvation Army, reject the mainline churches position on Sacraments as being too much concerned with what is going on outside, and not emphasizing enough what is going on inside.

Also, it is significant to note that the protests of these groups is only on the outward ritual, not on the inward experience what happens to us when we become Christians.

ihttps://www.fgcquaker.org/explore/faqs-about-quakers#Christian

iihttp://www.salvationarmy.org.au/en/Who-We-Are/About-Us/FAQ/

iiihttp://www.waterbeachsalvationarmy.org.uk/what-to-know-more/why-does-the-salvation-army-not-baptise-or-hold-communion/

ivForm Without Substance – https://www.fgcquaker.org/resources/form-without-substance

August 14th, 2017 Posted by | Divisions | 2 comments

Autonomy of the Local Church

The autonomy of the local church is an aspect of the division in Christianity over which is the best form of church government.  (See Church Government for more).  I am addressing it in particular because this element, while it was used to keep all churches united by a carnally minded, hierarchial Catholic Church that insisted it ruled every church and believer in the middle ages,  to this day it actually fuels division within the church as much or more than any other element.

How Congregationalists Integrate Local Church Autonomy with the Biblical Teaching that the Church is One Body

There are a number of places in the Bible that the body of Christ is discussed. In Mark chapter 14, in an account of the last supper, Jesus tells the disciples to eat of his body, represented by the bread. First Corinthians chapter 12 is an in depth discussion of some elements of the body of Christ. Paul writes,

For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit.  (1 Corinthians 12:13 ASV)

Paul writes later in the chapter that there should be no division in the body, that we are all members one of another, and that there are many gifts given to build up the body like apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, helps, and others. Because of the way that the body is constructed he emphasizes that we are all to care for each other in the body, each and every one of us doing our part.

In Ephesians chapter 4 Paul writes further on this topic.

And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11-12 ASV)

Here Paul talks about how the purpose of these gift ministries is to perfect the Saints, and build up the body of Christ.

From these verses we get a wonderful picture of an assembly of believers working together as a unit, supplying one another’s needs, building one another up.

In these sections we see numerous talents in the body: apostles, prophets pastors, evangelists, teachers, helps, administrators, healers, and more. We see verses that say that everyone is put into the body to play their role, and that every part of the body is crucial to the functioning of the whole body.  We see that Christ is the head and overseeing all. So this looks like a picture of how the whole body of Christ functions on earth under Christ.  There is an emphasis on ONE body of all believers with no divisions.

Then, you may ask, how does this topic fit in with “the autonomy of the local church”?

A proponent of local church autonomy is Henry Blackaby.  Blackaby is a powerful Bible teacher and a strong Baptist.  He put together a course called Experiencing God, which is a wonderful course if you want to gain some good insight into exactly what the name of the course, and accompanying book, implies: experiencing God.

But just because I have recommended the book does not mean that I believe that everything in it is true. On the contrary, Blackaby, in discussing the above points, says some things that are quite surprising to me:

“A church is a body. It is the body of Christ (1Cor. 12:27)…A local church is the body of Christ.  It is not part of a body. It is a body. ”[i]

In his book Blackaby does not teach that all believers everywhere on earth are the body of Christ. He focuses on the local church. He says that the local church is not part of a body.  He makes the local church the body of Christ.

Somewhere Blackaby has determined the body of Christ does not refer to all believers on earth under Christ.   To Blackaby and other congregationalists each and every local church is a body under Christ.  Blackaby is following congregational teaching which emphasizes the autonomy of the local church.

Now in his book, Blackaby makes these distinctions in a section where he is talking about how God speaks to people. In this particular content he’s talking about how God speaks through the church. He wants people to trust the other people in their church, and he uses these verses to reinforce the concept that they will be led to God through the other people in their local church.  Those are admirable exhortations.

But in the process, Blackaby is rewriting what Paul wrote. Paul didn’t write that the local church is the body of Christ. Paul never talks about the local church in this context.  Paul talks about all believers, all of us, being the body of Christ.

When you look at it, in spite of Blackaby’s motive to exhort church members to work within their church, Blackaby’s analogy doesn’t really line up with what Paul wrote.  Now, of course, if you are in a church that is populated with people who have the spirit, and are given gifts, you should be edified there.  But to limit where you should be edified to just the local church subverts the greatness of what Christ has accomplished.

What’s amazing to me is that, as far as I can see, Blackaby doesn’t even acknowledge a lot of the gifts that he implies are available within the local church, namely, apostles, prophets, and other like gift ministries, as available in the church today as he is a cessationist and believes those gifts died with the appostles (See The Argument that Tongues and other Gifts and Manifestations have Ceased).  But, in Blackaby’s model every local church has all of the apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists, teachers, helps, administrators, healers, and so forth, that is needed for the people in that church.

All of this is part of the concept of the autonomy of local church. To be autonomous means to be self regulating. The concept of the autonomous local church means that it rejects outside authority and influence in the way that it operates.

The local church, according to this model, is self-sufficient. It doesn’t need outside teachers, administrators, or help in any way.

The autonomy of the local church concept is important in history, because it enabled churches to break away from the dominating rule of Catholicism, where, in particular, the Roman Catholic Church holds that its hierarchy of bishops holds absolute role in the running of each and every church and believer.  In order for churches to justify that they had the right to not be subject to the Roman Catholic Church, they had to put forth the right of self-determination in order to reject orders coming down from the Vatican.

I’d like to suggest that neither model is absolutely true. When the hierarchical church is being run by non-spiritual, carnal administrators it is certainly true that there is no fit spiritual leadership there. But to reject the benefit of being ministered to by legitimate, spirit led and appointed ministers outside of the local church is throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

In practical terms, certainly, there are a lot of needs completely met within the confines of a local church.

But also in practical terms, some of the most adamant autonomous churches do not really practice complete autonomy. I mean, even in the example of Blackaby, Blackaby is a teacher outside of the local church that is edifying the local church.  When the young people in this autonomous local church listen to Christian music on the radio, they are being edified by members of a body greater than their local church. When the married couples in this local church go to a marriage seminar they are being pastored by members of a body greater than their local church.  When the pastor gets counseled by another pastor, he’s being ministered to by a member of church greater than the local church. Every person in that local autonomous church who read The Purpose Driven Life or any other Christian teaching material was being ministered to by the whole, all-encompassing, body of Christ.

In order for the church to have autonomy, someone, or some group within the church needs to have absolute rule over what is taught and practiced. This is can be accomplished through the use of the membership agreement. I have seen membership agreements where it is spelled out that the pastor (or in other cases, a church board) has absolute authority over biblical teaching.  When you apply for membership you agree to always abide by whatever the pastor (or church board) teaches.

(It also needs to be noted that many churches do not take an adamant stand on every issue.  For example, a church may promote tithing, but acknowledge that “abundant sharing” is a legitimate doctrine to many.  But typically, in my experience, most churches, at least, promote one position over another, and usually are adamant about a number of issues.  It is these issues over which churches are adamant where the divisions occur, and where many members acquiesce rather that challenge something they believe to be erroneous.)

But this agreement by members to agree to the complete doctrinal authority of the pastor or board allows for division in the church in the worst way. In this model each individual church has set itself up as autonomous meaning that there is no outside influence that can tell a church that is making a doctrinal or practical error.  Within the church it only allows membership to those who agree not to question what they teach and practice. If every person really heard the spirit of God and taught it completely accurately, there would be no problem. But as we know, that is ridiculously untrue. There are tens of thousands of different “denominations”, meaning that there are that many disagreements over what is “true” or right doctrine.

Some “assemblies” teach that they allow for this because the pastor subjects himself to the direction of the greater assembly. The Vineyard, and Assemblies of God are two groups of churches that do this.  But we have seen that, in practice, even within these groups of churches there is wide variation of beliefs.

What happens in practice is that in autonomous churches the pastor or the board, whoever has authority, becomes a doctrinal dictator(s) and acts as  a doctrinal policeman.  There is no questioning the churches’ doctrine.  There is no outside authority that the church recognizes unless it is a member of some greater assembly or convention, and then that group’s only power is in deciding on whether to allow them to remain within their group.

It is important to say here also that most Christians believe that God  works with each believer so that no matter what problems there are in churches or anywhere else,  people do get saved,  they get closer to God personally, and they experience to some degree the more abundant life that Christ came to make available.  Still, this principle of the local autonomous church that Blackaby teaches and a lot of churches practice  works to make for a lot of Yo-Yo Christianity where people go back and forth in their beliefs while shopping for and attending churches that they believe are most compatible with their needs and theologies.

In the next article we will look at some alternatives and ways of dealing with avoiding having to go back and forth on the principles of Christian theology in attending different churches.


[i] EXPERIENCING GOD: KNOWING AND DOING THE WILL OF GOD, Henry T. Blackaby, Claude V. King, Lifeway Press, Nashville, 1997, p 105-106

©copyright 2012 Mark W. Smith, all rights reserved.

May 30th, 2012 Posted by | Divisions, Modern Christianity | one comment

War

Christians are divided on Jesus’ message regarding participation in war; joining the army, even self defense.

Many Christian denominations believe in the concept of a just war including the right of countries to maintain armies.  The Roman Catholic Church has maintained this position for ages.  They have specified conditions that are required for a war to be just:[i]

“The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.”[ii]

Other Christian groups have issued statements against war without requiring all their member to abstain from participating.  Here is a Methodist statement:

We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy. We oppose unilateral first/preemptive strike actions and strategies on the part of any government. As disciples of Christ, we are called to love our enemies, seek justice, and serve as reconcilers of conflict. We insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to work together to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them. We advocate the extension and strengthening of international treaties and institutions that provide a framework within the rule of law for responding to aggression, terrorism, and genocide. We believe that human values must outweigh military claims as governments determine their priorities; that the militarization of society must be challenged and stopped; that the manufacture, sale, and deployment of armaments must be reduced and controlled; and that the production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons be condemned. Consequently, we endorse general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.[iii]

The Methodists claim to speak only for the UMC, and in fact say in their website that within the UMC are groups that believe in a just war and those that reject it, with a variety of positions in between.

Mennonites and Amish are two Christian groups that totally reject war.  Here is an excerpt from the Mennonite website:

“Rejection of the Sword

One of the foundational teachings of the Mennonites from the very beginning was rejection of war and use of the sword. Conservative Mennonites do not join peace marches or try to dictate to governments what they should with regards to war. Mennonites recognize that God has given human governments the right to use the sword in punishment and in defensive wars. But they believe there is a distinction between citizens of God’s kingdom and citizens of this world.

Jesus commanded His disciples: “I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. . . .Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:39,44). From the very beginning, Christians understood Jesus’ commandment to rule out Christians going to war. The entire Church held to that position until the time of Constantine in the fourth century.”[iv]

As these groups must serve in  some capacity rather than serve in armed services there are organizations that do Christian “peace” work.    Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is an organization that provides peace mission opportunities for pacifist Christians.

Biblical Discussion

Verses that seem to reject the use of force and war

Pacifist groups like the Mennonites and the Amish focus only on verses that promote peace and there are many.  Here are some of them:

Matt. 5:39,44 are included in the Mennonite discussion above.  These verses specifically say to turn the other cheek and to not resist the evil person.

Jesus praised peacemakers:

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.   (Matthew 5:9)

Jesus’ mission was to lead people in the way of peace:

Yea and thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High: For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to make ready his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people In the remission of their sins, Because of the tender mercy of our God, Whereby the dayspring from on high shall visit us, To shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death; To guide our feet into the way of peace.  (Luke 1:76-79)

The golden rule says that we should do as we would want others to treat us.  Does anyone really want to have war declared on them?

All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets.   (Matthew 7:12)

Jesus admonished that you reap what you sow, ergo, if you sow war you will reap war:

Then saith Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.   (Matthew 26:52)

The OT admonishes against trusting in the army’s might:

Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek Jehovah!   (Isaiah 31:1)

For the Christian, the warfare is spiritual, not physical:

(for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds),   (2 Corinthians 10:4)

We are warned not to seek revenge:

Finally, be ye all likeminded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tenderhearted, humbleminded: not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling; but contrariwise blessing; for hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing.  (1 Peter 3:8-9)

Verses that allow for the use of force and war

The problem for the pacifist is that there are also many verses that allow for the use of the sword and war.  Here are some of them:

The Old Testament

First of all, the Old Testament is scripture also.   When it says that all is scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof , and correction, that not only includes the OT, at that time of the writing of the New Testament books only the OT was considered scripture. In the old Testament:

  • God established the death penalty.  The commandment translated “Thou shalt not kill.” actually should read “Thou shalt do no murder.” The commandment bans murder, not killing.  God provided that those that murdered were to be killed:

And surely your blood, the blood of your lives, will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it: and at the hand of man, even at the hand of every man’s brother, will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.   (Genesis 9:5-6)

  • The prophet Abraham led a retaliatory attack to free Lot.  After the raid he was blessed by the legendary Melchizadek, King of Salem and priest of God:

And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued as far as Dan. And he divided himself against them by night, he and his servants, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus. And he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people. And the king of Sodom went out to meet him, after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, at the vale of Shaveh (the same is the King’s Vale). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth: and blessed be God Most High, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him a tenth of all.   (Genesis 14:14-20)

  • The capture of the promised land was a war campaign
  • Some of the greatest Old Testeament leaders and examples of believing were warriors; David, Gideon, Samson, etc.
  • Ecclesiastes frankly says that there is a time to kill:

a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;   (Ecclesiastes 3:3)

  • Peace was always the goal in both political and civil matters in Israel, but the use of force was regularly required to achieve it

The New Testament

Despite Jesus’ admonitions about turning the other cheek and pursuing peace, he said a number of things that are contrary to the idea that He always meant for us NOT to use force.

He proclaimed that he came to send the sword, the symbol for war and conflict:

Think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.   (Matthew 10:34)

He allowed for a standing army because he didn’t advise soldiers to leave the service, rather he advised the men to be content with their wages and act righteously:

And there came also publicans to be baptized, and they said unto him, Teacher, what must we do? And he said unto them, Extort no more than that which is appointed you. And soldiers also asked him, saying, And we, what must we do? And he said unto them, Extort from no man by violence, neither accuse any one wrongfully; and be content with your wages.  (Luke 3:12-14)

Jesus (and Peter for that matter) ministered to soldiers.  Jesus praised the soldier’s faith:

And Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself; for I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say the word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under myself soldiers: and I say to this one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. And when Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned and said unto the multitude that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole.  (Luke 7:6-10)

The first Gentile to be accepted into the faith was a soldier, Cornelius, in Acts chapter 8.

While Jesus at least one time told the disciples  to get rid of their swords, at another place he tells them to get swords.  In fact the verses speak to Jesus’ instruction that there was a time to not have a sword and there was a time to have one.   There doesn’t seem to be any way that someone with a sword wouldn’t use it if necessary:

And he said unto them, When I sent you forth without purse, and wallet, and shoes, lacked ye anything? And they said, Nothing. And he said unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise a wallet; and he that hath none, let him sell his cloak, and buy a sword.  (Luke 22:35-36)

In conclusion

This is a powerful and emotional issue. No church regards war as a desirable choice, but most churches leave the choice up to the conscience of the individual while a few make nonviolence a core belief.

The bible appears to allow for the use of force when necessary, but this is remains a divisive issue as there are groups on both sides of the issue and in places between.

[i] www.catholic.com/, the U.S. largest “lay-run apostolates of Catholic apologetics and evangelization”, this page located at http://www.catholic.com/library/Just_War_Doctrine_1.asp
[ii] ibid
[iii] The United Methodist Church, the Book of Discipline, seen at http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.1696621/k.8834/War_Overview.htm
[iv]The Mennonites website, http://themennonites.org/, this page at http://themennonites.org/mennonite-beliefs/

© copyright 2011 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.

March 27th, 2011 Posted by | Divisions | no comments