No, this post is not about Isaiah (from Isaiah 1:18). Instead, it is about the early church as described by Luke in the book of Acts.
But, you may be wondering, what does “reasoning together” have to do with the early church? Not only is this related to the early church, but the phrase “reasoning together” is used by Luke to describe what happened when the church gathered together.
Here’s the passage that I’m talking about:
And he [Paul] entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 19:8-10 ESV)
If you would allow me, I’d like to retell this story in my own words. It begins with Paul coming back to Ephesus. He had visited the city briefly, and had returned. As was his custom, his began by going to the synagogue where he often found people who were interested in hearing about God’s kingdom and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Luke says he continued gathering with the synagogue for three months. Now, he may have only met with them weekly on the Sabbath, but many texts from that time period indicate that Hellenistic Jews gathered as the synagogue more often than weekly. Regardless, while Paul was gathered with them, he had opportunities to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some believed and began to walk in “the Way” (one of the earliest names given for following Jesus Christ, i.e., Christianity). However, others became more stubborn and contentious and even began to “speak evil” of the new manner of life in Jesus Christ that Paul was proclaiming.
So, Paul and the disciples stopped gathering with the synagogue and began gathering in “the hall of Tyrannus.” For two years, followers of Jesus Christ in the city of Ephesus gathered daily at that hall (perhaps a school?). (I’m not assuming that the same group of believers gathered every day. I’m assuming that at least some of the believers were there at some point every day.)
What did the disciples of Jesus Christ do when they gathered at the hall of Tyrannus? They were “reasoning.” What does this mean? While the word “reasoning” is a translation of the Greek verb διαλέγομαι (dialegomai). This is the verb that eventually becomes the English verb “dialog.” But, we can’t assume that’s what διαλέγομαι (dialegomai) means – that would be a logical fallacy.
Instead, let’s look at a few other places where διαλέγομαι (dialegomai) is used in Scripture:
But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued (διαλέγομαι – dialegomai) with one another about who was the greatest. (Mark 9:34 ESV)
But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing (διαλέγομαι – dialegomai) about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” (Jude 1:9 ESV)
We can see that this verb is used to indicate some type of discussion (at least in the instances above). It definitely did not indicate one person speaking.
We also find this verb used to describe what Paul did when he gathered with other Jews among the synagogue:
And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned (διαλέγομαι – dialegomai) with them from the Scriptures… (Acts 17:2 ESV)
So he reasoned (διαλέγομαι – dialegomai) in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. (Acts 17:17 ESV)
This makes sense also, since we know that many of the Jews often disagreed with him. We can assume that Paul would not have been allowed to make a prolonged speech concerning the gospel without some response from those who disagreed.
In fact, Luke used the same verb to describe what Paul did in the synagogue in Ephesus, both the first time he visited the city and also in the passage quote above just before he and the disciples left the synagogue:
And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned (διαλέγομαι – dialegomai) with the Jews. (Acts 18:19 ESV)
And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading (διαλέγομαι – dialegomai) them about the kingdom of God. (Acts 19:8 ESV)
We also find this same other verb later in Acts when Paul spent some time with the church in Troas:
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked (διαλέγομαι – dialegomai) with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked (διαλέγομαι – dialegomai) still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. (Acts 20:7-9 ESV)
So, for Luke especially, one of the favorite verbs to describe what happened when the church gathered is a verb that points to some type of discussion… so much so that it can even be used to describe a dispute or argument.
Before you jump on me for my title, I’m using the traditional nomenclature. I’d prefer to simply use the term “elders,” which is the normal term in Scripture. However, for many among the church today, “elders” are different than “bishops” and both of those are different than “pastors.” So, if you feel they are different, then you can assume that I’m talking about all three in this post.
In Scripture, there are only two passages related to “choosing/appointing” bishops/elders/pastors:
When they [Paul and Barnabas] had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14:21-23 ESV)
This is why I [Paul] left you [Titus] in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you… (Titus 1:5 ESV)
On the surface, it looks like Paul and Barnabas personally chose “elders” among the churches of Galatia (in Acts 14:23) and that Paul instructed Titus to personally choose “elders” among the churches (in each town) in Crete. And, that would definitely be a valid interpretation.
When we turn to later Christian writings, the interpretations become muddled:
Therefore, choose for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord… (Didache 15:1)
Those [elders] therefore who were appointed by them [apostles], or afterward by other men of repute with the consent of the whole church… (1 Clement 44:3)
In the Didache, the author(s) definitely expected the church to choose “bishops” for themselves. There is no mention of bishops, elders, or deacons being appointed by others for the church.
Clement, meanwhile, seems to say that apostles and then later others appointed “elders.” However, he adds that little phrase “with the consent of the whole church,” which again muddles the answer. Was the just the apostles who chose “elders”? Was it later just “other men of repute” who chose elders? What does it mean that the whole church consented?
(Interestingly, while Ignatius has alot to say about “the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons,” he does not mention who appointed or chose them. Likewise, Polycarp mentions “elders,” but he does not say who chose them.)
Of the four texts above (Acts, Titus, Didache, and 1 Clement) written by four different authors, is there any way that all four authors related the same way of choosing “bishops” and “elders” (or “pastors” if you prefer, although that term wasn’t used until much later).
If Acts 14:26 and Titus 1:5 indicate that ONLY Paul and Barnabas and ONLY Titus picked people to be “elders,” then we have to conclude that the Didache strays from that position.
Is it possible, though, that Luke did not intend to indicate that ONLY Paul and Barnabas were involved in appointing elders for the churches of Galatia? Is it possible that Paul did not intend to indicate that ONLY Titus was to appoint elders for the churches of Crete?
(By the way, within about 100 years of the texts listed here, the standard practice was for ONLY bishops to appoint bishops and elders, a practice which became known as successionism. But, as you can see, it was not that clear in the earliest Christian texts.)
As I mentioned last week in my post “Gathering with the church at the beach again,” instead of gathering as we normally do on Sunday, we spent yesterday at Wrightsville Beach, NC (near Wilmington, NC).
Most of the people were from this area and meet with us regularly. One family moved from here to the Atlanta area about three years ago. A couple of families spent Saturday night in Wilmington. Most of us drove to the beach Sunday morning. Some began arriving around 9:00 a.m., while the others arrived between then and about 1:00 p.m.
We helped each other carry coolers, and chairs, and boogie boards, and other assorted stuff from cars to the beach, and we helped each other find parking places. (Parking was awful!) We hung out in the shade of a pier, played volleyball, and played in the surf and sand. (Okay, full disclosure: I hurt my knee running a half marathon a couple of week ago, so I didn’t play volleyball or play in the surf or sand. I just hung out under pier.)
There was no sermon. No one gave a formal “teaching.” We didn’t sing any songs. We didn’t stop to take prayer requests. We didn’t pass an offering plate.
So, how can I call this “church”?
Well, it’s “church” because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ (children of God) and we were gathered together. That is “church” – based on the Greek term “ekklesia” associated with followers of Jesus Christ.
Being “church” (ekklesia) is not about what we do or don’t do – although some things may help us grow in maturity in Jesus Christ more than other things. Being “church” (ekklesia) is about who we are together in Jesus Christ.
We started disbanding around 2:00 p.m. Others stayed until after 6:00 p.m. Some came back home to the Wake Forest / Youngsville area; others drove to Myrtle Beach or the Outer Banks; still others stayed in the Wilmington area. And, of course, our friends who moved away three years ago drove back toward Atlanta.
While we’re separated, we remain children of God and followers of Jesus Christ. But, when we come together (anytime we’re together with any other brothers and sisters in Christ), we become “ekklesia” (church) in Jesus Christ – wherever we are and whatever we’re doing.
This is the 265th passage in “Scripture… As We Live It.”
And Judas and Silas, who were
themselves prophets visiting preachers, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words were mentioned and acknowledged from the pulpit during the pastor’s sermon. (Acts 15:32 re-mix)
Six years ago, I wrote a post called “Jesus is the Great High Priest.” He is called “the great high priest” in the book of Hebrews, and when we start to examine what that author says about Jesus as priest, it is amazing. I enjoyed working through the various passages and determining the promises and presence that we have through our high priest. I learned so much from this exercise; I hope you find it beneficial as well.
I was tagged by Bryan at “Charis Shalom” to post five things I dig about Jesus. Besides the fact that I have never used the word “dig” in this context, I enjoyed thinking through this meme (it was groovy). In fact, I’ve decided to blog about each of my five things. The first thing that I dig is that Jesus is the Great High Priest.
I’ve grown to love the book of Hebrews. I love the way the author of Hebrews shows that the way of Jesus is far superior to the way of the law and ritual. In fact, Hebrews argues that Jesus is not only superior, but that the “former things” were mere shadows of the real things, which were initiated by Jesus himself.
One of the comparisons made by the author of Hebrews is between Jesus as High Priest and the priestly system that began with Aaron. The priest was responsible for offering bulls or goats as sacrifices, which were actually ineffective at removing sins. (Heb 9:13; 10:4) The priest was appointed to act as a mediator between God and man, but he had to offer sacrifices for himself and for his sins first, then he could enter the holy place in the tabernacle or temple. (Heb 5:1-3; 9:1-4) These ritualistic sacrifices had to be carried out continuously. (Heb 7:27) But, if these rituals were ineffective, then why did God command that they be carried out? Because they were a shadow (an imitation) of what was to come through Jesus Christ! (Heb 8:5; 10:1)
Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, has now come. He has offered the perfect sacrifice (himself) once for all. (Heb 9:11-14) He does not need to offer this sacrifice continuously, because his death is sufficient. (Heb 7:27; 9:27-28) Now, Christ has entered into the very holy place – that is, into the presence of God himself. (Heb 9:24)
But, beyond what Christ did for us, Jesus as our Great High Priest continues to work on our behalf. Our Great High Priest does not die as other priests, but he lives forever! First, he mediates between us and God. (Heb 9:15; 12:22-24) Jesus intercedes on our behalf. (Heb 7:25) Finally, Jesus prepares the way for us to enter into the presence of God with him. (Heb 10:19-22)
Also, Jesus is not a high priest who is cold and distant. He is a high priest who came to us, who identifies with us, who suffered and was tempted as we are, and who is compassionate and sympathetic toward us! (Heb 4:15) This is the Great High Priest who ushers us into God’s presence, presenting our petitions when words fail us, mediating when we fail, lifting us when we fall, carrying us when we are too weak. This is the Great High Priest who will reign forever!
What does it mean for Jesus to be my Great High Priest? When someone tells me, “You can’t do that,” I just smile inside and remember the Great High Priest. When someone whispers, “God will not like you if you do that,” I nod and recognize that Jesus is mediating for me. When someone points out my sin and reminds me that I’m a loser, I remember that Jesus cleansed me of my sin and won on my behalf. When God seems distant because I have wandered far away from him, I remember that Jesus prepared a new and living way into the very presence of God, and He has given me permission to enter.
And, when I remember that I can’t do enough, and I can’t think enough, and I can’t say enough, and I can’t love enough, and I can’t serve enough… the Great High Priest reminds me that he did it all – once for all – and there’s nothing left for me to do, except to enter his rest – to abide with him.
This is the Great High Priest – the better priest who offered the better sacrifice in the better sanctuary to establish a better covenant over a better house. The shadows are no longer necessary because the light of the Son – our Great High Priest – has come and has conquered and is here.
Yesterday, a commenter named Carlos left a comment on my post “But what do you do when you get together with the church.” While I know that God is not leading everyone to make the exact same decisions that Carlos is making, I love the heart of his comment. So, I wanted to share it to a wider audience (i.e., I’m hoping more people will read this post than would read that comment).
While there are several parts of Carlos’ comment that I appreciate, I really love what he says toward the end about “talk.” My favorite times of gathering with my brothers and sisters in Christ is when we get together to serve someone.
Anyway, here is Carlos’ comment:
You seem to have a real good grasp of what church is supposed to be Alan. I wholeheartedly want to encourage you to continue being a voice for truth in this area through your blog. God knows how much voices like yours need to be heard.
I myself have entirely ceased to “go” to Sunday services. I’ve had enough. If I never step into another “church” foyer as long as I live that will be just fine by me and as far as I can tell just fine with the Lord.
Instead I have decided before the Lord to begin reaching out to others through my natural relationships, through flyers, or whatever other means I can where I live (San Diego) to gather anyone interested in discussing what the Lord meant church to be at a local McDonald’s.
The Lord has led one Christian to join me for discussions and although we have only met once so far, it was very good (we’re meeting again tomorrow morning). My prayer and hope is that others might come out of the woodwork to join us.
I do wonder sometimes how effective this is going to be as most Christians are in churches already. I mean the Sunday thing type of church.
As such I would think that most will not want to go discussing things at a McDonald’s with others. I mean church for them is this convenient thing that happens on Sundays. Something many are quite content with.
Still… I am hoping that there are some, somewhere that are disappointed with church as it is, read about a different practice of church in the New Testament, and want more of what they read than what they have experienced of Christ in the church in North America.
You know one thing the Lord has laid on my heart these last few days is how greatly lacking in real love so-called Christians really are. I mean probably 95% of what happens “in” church (i.e. the building connected activities) is…well…TALK.
Nothing but TALK. Sermon talk. Singing talk. Home fellowship talking. Bible study talk. Prayer meeting talk. Talk, talk, talk.
I know people who are in need all over the place! One man I know has lung cancer, diabetes, hepetitus C, doesn’t have car insurance, lives in his car. The cops have told him he can’t stay in the parking lot he was in (a church parking lot no less!).
He is dying and literally has no resources and no place to simply park or even take a consistent shower.
And where are the so-called Christians?
In their buildings having a good ol time. Makes me sick.
The Lord has enabled me to be a wonderful testimony to him and to befriend him but I have no resources to speak of to be able to help him (I sleep in a tent myself – long story).
I know no Christians who would even let him park in their driveways until he dies!
Anyway…yeah. I am all for being the Body of Christ in this world alongside others. People can keep their Sunday churchy thing. I don’t want anything to do with it anymore.
As many of my readers know, we gather regularly with the church on Sunday mornings in a rented facility. We gathered at unscheduled times throughout the week as well. But, we like to change up those scheduled Sunday gatherings as well, to remind us that we are the church whenever and wherever we gather together.
Sometimes we go camping together. Sometimes we gather in homes instead of the rented facility. Sometimes we get together on Sundays at a local lake or park.
But, one of our favorite places to gather is the beach. Once or twice each summer, we spend Sunday at Wrightsville Beach. We talk, play in the sand and sun and surf, eat together, play volleyball, etc. It’s always a great time to relax and encourage one another.
We also always invite other people to join us. We’ve had family members, friends, and neighbors join us at various beach trips. Last summer, Randi (a frequent commenter here) and her family joined us. And they plan to join us again this Sunday!
That’s right, we’re headed to beach again this Sunday, June 16! Several of us will make the trip to the beach that morning, and besides Randi and her family, some friends from the Atlanta area are planning to meet us there as well.
If you’re in the area of Wrightsville Beach, NC on Sunday, June 16, or if you’re willing to make the trip like we are, let me know. I’ll be glad to share the details with you so that you can join us. Simply email me at alan[at]alanknox[dot]net for more information.
When I was growing up, I thought that the terms “disciples,” “apostles,” and “the twelve” all referred to the same group of twelve men who followed Jesus around between his baptism and his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. In fact, I often heard the terms combined as in “the twelve disciples” or “the twelve apostles,” and I rarely heard the terms “disciples” or “apostles” used to refer to anyone other than “the twelve.”
Now, I understand that “the twelve” were “apostles,” but other people were apostles as well. I also understand that “the twelve” and the “apostles” were “disciples,” but other people were disciples as well.
Believe it or not, Matthew only uses the term “apostle” once. He uses the term “twelve” eight times. But, he uses the term “disciple” over 30 times. A few times, Matthew combines the terms: “twelve apostles” or “twelve disciples.” That clarification (i.e., the fact that Matthew occasionally says “the twelve disciples”) indicates that at times Matthew is using the term “disciple” to refer to a group that does not include ONLY the twelve.
It’s clear from reading the Gospels and Acts that many people – not just the Twelve – followed Jesus as his disciples. In fact, we learn in Acts 1, that at least 2 people – but probably more – followed Jesus from the time of his baptism by John and were still with the 120 when they were gathered in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension. (See Acts 1:21-23.)
Here’s a passage from Matthew, for example, that indicates that the term “disicples” was used to refer to more than just the twelve:
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:47-50 ESV)
Why is this important? Well, think about these questions:
Who was in the boat with Jesus when he calmed the storm? (“And when he [Jesus] got into the boat, his disciples followed him…” Matthew 8:23 ESV)
Who did Jesus teach privately? (“Then he [Jesus] left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’” Matthew 13:36 ESV)
Who did Jesus eat ‘the Last Supper’ with? (“He [Jesus] said, ‘Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, “The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.”‘” Matthew 26:18 ESV)
In the same way, we know that other people (besides the twelve) were referred to as “apostles,” especially in Acts and Paul’s epistles. Therefore, when we read that apostles said or did something, we cannot assume that the author was referring to the twelve. (However, as an interesting aside, perhaps Matthais was chosen to replace Judas as one of “the Twelve” in Acts 1:15-26.)
This passage by Paul specifically points out this difference:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 ESV)
Did you notice that Paul makes a distinction between “the twelve” and “the apostles”? Notice that we see that Jesus also appears to “more than five hundred brothers (and sisters).”
So, we should be careful when we read these terms in Scripture. Otherwise, we might limit the scope and reference more narrowly than the authors intended.
Mutual edification is more than just another option or a good idea. It is necessary for the church grow in maturity.
What do I mean by mutual edification? “Mutual” refers to each part of the church working together to impact every other part of the church. It doesn’t mean that everyone speaks, but it does mean that everyone has the opportunity to speak. “Edification” refers to our purpose in speaking together and/or serving together, which is to help one another grow (“edification” = “build up”) in maturity in Jesus Christ, which includes knowing Jesus and being united with one another.
In the post, Dan explains why he didn’t gather with the church last Sunday. While he pointed out the specific topic of the sermon that day in the beginning of the post, by the end of the post he gets to the real problem: a lack of mutual edification. Dan writes:
Your story of Jesus has value to me. Not just the pastor’s story, but yours. Mine has value to you too. Wouldn’t it be great if we could hear those stories? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see your story and mine fit within that greater Story?
Yes, I think they would be so excellent to hear. Now if only we could find some time in church on Sunday to squeeze them in.
You see, it has been decided by “the powers that be” that “mutual edification” is not as important or as expedient as one person given a great speech (sermon). (Many times – perhaps most often – this decision has already been made by tradition that is rarely, if ever, questioned.) That’s not a decision that can be supported by Scripture – unless, of course, you take certain passages out of context and completely leave out huge chunks of Scripture.
I sympathize with Dan and many, many others like him who have decided it’s just not beneficial to “attend church” anymore, And, in many cases, they’re probably right. It would probably be much more beneficial for them as followers of Jesus Christ for them to share lunch and their stories with a few brothers and sisters in Christ.
Oh, trust me, if people started doing that they would miss the great singing and the well-crafted and -studied sermons. But, they would get much, much more out of their time spent together.
Last week, I had a great conversation with a brother in Christ on Facebook. That conversation reminded me of another conversation.
A young man started gathering with us on Sunday mornings a few years ago. Soon, he completely understood what we were all about, and he was sharing his life with other people among the church. He began serving people with the many gifts and talents that God had given him. In spite of being part of churches (even famous churches) for many years, he loved and thrived in an environment of mutual edification and discipleship.
He began to explain our understanding of church to his friends. He would explain about sharing our lives with one another – spending time with one another throughout the week – hanging out with each other at coffee shops – going to dinner with one another – helping each other with service projects – and on and on.
Eventually, (he told me) his friends would always come to the same question: “Yes, but what do you do when you get together with the church on Sunday morning?”
He would tell them that we often pray together, sing together, study Scripture together, eat together. They would tell him that they do the same things with the church on Sunday mornings (except eat together). He would try to explain that he’s not talking about the things we do when we gather together; he’s talking about a shared life in Jesus Christ, with a planned gathering as only one aspect of that life.
But, as much as he would try to explain it to them, they would always return to this: “But, we do the same things when we gather with the church.”
See, the thing is, my friend had learned that church is not about the things you do when you get together with other believers. Instead, the fellowship and shared lives is more important than any particular activity. Oh, there will be certain activities. You will want to pray for one another, and you will want to sing along when God has placed a song on someone’s heart, and you will want to understand Scripture, and you will want to eat together…
However, the activities are not the point. In fact, the activities should flow out of our shared lives together. The activities are not a beginning or an end in themselves.
But, until someone understand the importance of fellowship in Jesus Christ – actually sharing lives with one another, not just attending a meeting together – then the activities have to take central stage. (And, thus, we have fights and wars over exactly how to do those activities…)
When fellowship in Jesus Christ becomes central – because Jesus Christ is central – then the activities (and exactly how to do the activities) become less important.
So, “what do we do when we get together with the church?” We share our lives with one another… “No, I mean, what do you DO? What activities?” Whatever is necessary to help one another grow in Jesus Christ.