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Replay: Hypothetical Situation… what do you think?

Posted by on Jun 18, 2011 in definition, discipleship | 7 comments

Replay: Hypothetical Situation… what do you think?

Two years ago, I wrote a post called “Hypothetical Situation… what do you think?” I think this “hypothetical situation” reveals some major weaknesses in the way that many understand the church. And, by the way, you probably won’t have to read very long before you recognize that this isn’t actually a hypothetical situation. It is based on a real (and true) story.


Suppose that you and some friends were traveling through a foreign city. While you were there, you met a group a people who invited you to a religious ceremony. You go with them.

At this ceremony, you realize that these people believe in God, but they do not know about Jesus Christ. At the end of the ceremony, the leader gives anyone a chance to talk. You find the courage to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the people gathered.

Some of the people are very interested. As you leave the ceremony, they follow you and ask you more about Jesus. In fact, they encourage you to stay with them for the next several days and continuously ask you about Jesus, your beliefs, your lifestyle, etc. Many people confess their desire to follow Jesus.

The people are amazed at the way you interact with your friends, with them, and with the other people in the city. They ask you about your lifestyle, and you explain that the gospel not simply a message to be believed, but it is a life to be lived.

The religious leaders invite you back to their next ceremony. Once again you are given the opportunity to speak, but this time the leaders are ready with some questions and concerns. You explain as well as you can, and after the ceremony a few others ask if they can learn more as well. Again, many confess their desire to follow Jesus.

Others who are not religious begin to show interest, and some of them confess their desire to follow Jesus. It seems like everywhere you go in the city, people are talking about your group and about Jesus.

By the next week, when you have once again been invited to the religious ceremony, the atmosphere has changed. The religious leaders are angry and begin to threaten you and those who have began to follow Christ because of you. You are not given the chance to defend yourself or the others at this meeting, and the new believers become concerned.

That night, after the ceremony, the new believers convince you that it would be best for you and for them if you and your friends left that night. You agree, so you pack up your belongings and drive away.

As you are driving away, and as you think about what had happened over the last few weeks, you begin to think about that little band of disciples back in the city.

So… here are my questions for you, my readers: 1) What things do you think are most important that you would have taught them over the last few weeks? 2) What concerns would you have about this group of disciples? 3) Would you consider this group a church? Why or why not? 4) Do you think you left them with everything they need after only a few weeks? 5) If so, how could this be enough? 6) If not, what is missing?

(By the way, this “hypothetical situation” is based on a true story.)


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 6-18-2011

    Has it been two years since we first discussed this post? Amazing.

    I remember the interesting discussions regarding this…to add another wrinkle what if like Paul, you cannot even give them a bible as there were none available, so you cannot even tell them to study the written scriptures?

    I love how this makes me think, what would/should we teach new brothers and sisters as first importance?

  2. 6-18-2011

    1. a) The gospel of Christ, who He is and what He did through His life and on the cross. b) That those who are in Christ are indwelt by the Counselor/Holy Spirit/Spirit of Christ who will teach them, lead them into all truth and bring to remembrance all that Jesus said. c) What Jesus commanded/taught-love God, neighbor, brother and enemy etc. d) That they are gifted by the Holy Spirit to build each other up and teach each other as led by the Holy Spirit. e) How to listen to Christ and hear from Him through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

    2) That a legalistic/religious Nicolaitan would try to place them under a yoke of religious bondage and rob them of their freedom in Christ -and/or- that someone would woo them away to follow another Christ.

    3) Yes. Paul did.

    4) Yes. If they have embraced the gospel they are born from above and indwelt by the Spirit of Christ and they have everything they need.

    5) Can’t think of a better teacher than Christ in you, they have He who is everything.

    6) Nothing is missing.

  3. 6-18-2011


    Apart from adding that I would leave them my own Bible,my answers are the same as when you posted the first time.

  4. 6-18-2011

    What dangerous questions you ask, Alan! I like it! 🙂

    I believe Hutch has given a good answer. Judging from Paul’s ministry, it would seem the kind of things he placed most importance on for the instruction of new disciples were…

    1)The reality and experience of Christ within, and that they are complete in Him,
    2)Loving one another and caring for each other’s needs in practical ways,
    3)To keep in mind that they would be called upon in one way or another to suffer on account of their entrance into the kingdom of God,
    4)Practical tools to guide their living and meeting together as Christ’s Body

    I’m sure there’s a lot more that could be said, but these are the first things that come to mind. Could such a foundation be sufficiently laid in a matter of weeks? I don’t know. If anybody could do it Paul could, but even in the case of Thessalonica, where he probably only spent a few weeks or a month before being ran out of town, he confessed that he was not able to give them everything he saw fit for them to make a good beginning. And yet despite this it seemed like they were thriving, even in the midst of hardship.

    Man, what a gospel Paul preached! What a Christ!

    But to answer your other question, this “group” should absolutely be considered a church. My question would be, why not? They are the believers in Christ in their city, therefore they are the church!

  5. 6-19-2011

    Replaying this episode as a question provides an interesting perspective and helpful insights for me personally on “what do I think.”

    While I want to stop at how badly seminaries, missionaries and church planting programs today might answer these questions, the real benefit you give me is experiencing my honest gut reaction to this story and your questions. Having been outside the norm for the past few decades, and even though I think I know the “biblical” answers, part of me struggles when I consider this as though it were happening today, knowing I would want to provide a more traditional than biblical response to this situation if it were actually replayed in my life.

    I suppose we are all subject to the influences of our flesh and the world around us. While I know better, to this day I still feel a unique sense of God’s presence in the quiet echoes and the faint smells of incense sitting inside a cavernous catholic church building. I have learned to sense His presence in all of my life.

    Of course, my initial reactions remind me yet again that I can’t trust everything I think and feel as coming from God. In order to discern God’s leading and direction, I find it necessary to acknowledge I also have my own passions and thinking. For me, walking by faith often means I have to disregard my emotions and dismiss my natural logic (that often begins in my head as “everyone knows…”) and instead trust God, trust what He has said, trust what I have known and experienced of Him.

    So setting aside my sensual self, and leaning instead on the foundation of God, then what do I think? I read the story again, this time listening for Him.

    One thing I see this second time is the very example that your story alludes to in the curiosity evoked in the people: how Paul and those with Him acted. The behavior and actions of the messenger is really far more critical than we usually consider. Your story mentions “The people are amazed at the way you interact with your friends, with them, and with the other people in the city.” and “It seems like everywhere you go in the city, people are talking **about your group** and about Jesus.”

    Paul said, “Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:” I Thess 2:10 This is important, and this provided these new believers with an unshakable experience to recall and example to follow. This critical foundation is often not laid today.

    Your story underscored the importance of examples and models when you recounted, “They ask you about your lifestyle, and you explain that the gospel is not simply a message to be believed, but it is a life to be lived.” That “life to be lived,” we must remember, has been aptly set before them. More than the frame around the picture of the gospel, Paul’s life was the canvass on which it was painted, as would be theirs for others soon enough (II Cor 3:3) and this foundation provided by example produces reproducing saints (I Thess 1:8).

    As far as what Paul taught, he constantly refers to a set of traditions/teachings that he left behind “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” -II Thess 2:15 (see also I Cor 11:2,23; II Thess 3:6). A study of what the church at Thessalonica knew by looking at things referred to in I Thess gives quite a wide breadth of what Paul taught new believers (he had only been there a few months). Some topics: assurance, believers walk and sanctification, building up one another, conversion, election, Holy Spirit, nature of man, resurrection, second coming of Christ, trinity, etc.

    These traditions/teachings can also be seen in Paul’s reaction to the Corinthians becoming “puffed up for one against another,” where he sent Timothy “who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church” I Cor 4:6,17 I think we have a good shorthand list of some of the guiding things Paul taught new believers in the “faithful sayings” he refers to in letters to Timothy and Titus: I Tim 1:15; I Tim 3:1; I Tim 4:8-9; II Tim 2:11-12; Titus 3:8

    The practical outworking of what Paul taught new believers can be seen in I Thess “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;” I Thess 1:3 and “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.” I Thess 1:5,6

    It seems we need to know a lot less than we imagine to be effective saints, if we see it modeled and then do likewise. And, we need more to remember what we have seen and know than to learn new things (I Tim 4:6)

    As to concerns, Paul knew that new believers would soon be under attack from all sorts of bad examples and bad teachings by “grievous wolves” (Acts 20:29, 30). This is also true today.

  6. 6-19-2011

    Oh, and let me take the opportunity to point out that my long time companion (the KJV) has always been clear that our manner of living is a “conversation” for all the world to hear (ie: models matter)! I won’t belabor the point with all 18 uses of the word “conversation” in the KJV for manner of living, but here’s a few samples:

    “Only let your **conversation** be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;” Phil 1:27

    “Let your **conversation** be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Heb 13:5

    “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” I Pet 2:12

  7. 6-20-2011

    Great “conversation”! 🙂

    I’ve been at the lake with my inlaws, so I was not able to take part. But I appreciate everyone’s contribution.