The Falling Away

By Cecil Hook

While clearing out a thick underbrush, I noticed that I had lost my wristwatch. So I searched for a long time for it. Finally, in the very last place I looked, I found it!

Even a listening child would probably respond, “Why would you look further after you found it?”

After we have found “the answer” to a Biblical question, why look further? Too often, I have learned to my dismay that I had “found” the answer in the last place I searched, but I should have searched further! That is true concerning my conclusions about “the falling away” mentioned in the Scriptures.

Many times I have taught lessons on “The Church: The Falling Away and Restoration.” I would chart out on the blackboard, indicating the beginning church, the falling away through the development of Catholicism, the Reformation bringing denominationalism, and the “Restoration Movement” in which we presumably restored the original church. Because reformers pointed to the Catholic religion as the apostasy and the pioneers of our movement were so confident of that also, I needed to look no further. Who was I to question the historical answers!

I had two dependable proof-texts. The first: “Now we beseech you, brethren, by that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that as God he sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Etc.” (2 Thes. 2:1-12 – KJV).

Adding to my “proof” was: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their consciences seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:1-3 -KJV). Since the popes claim to be vicars of Christ, are called “Holy Father,” require celibacy of those in holy orders, have restrictive regulations about foods, and have offered signs and wonders supporting their claims, why look further for fulfillment of Paul’s predictions? The search stops when you find the answer.

After the Lord’s patience with me for decades, however, with some surprise I recognized that Jesus himself had spoken of this falling away. Reluctantly admitting that his explanations were more authoritative than the spin we had put on the subject, I began to see that I should have looked further in my search. In fact, I should have accepted his word on the subject as the original source of information which was reaffirmed to Paul by the Spirit.

For sake of brevity and emphasis, Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 (RSV) will be abridged and highlighted… “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age? And Jesus answered them, ‘Take heed that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ (Messiah), and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet … And then many will fall away … And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray … most men’s love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved…. And then the end will come. …. For false Christs (Messiahs) and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. …. Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heave, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. …. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Please read v. 1-35 with special attention to the highlighted parts.)

WOW!! How could I have been so blind? All along Jesus has been telling me that the falling away would take place before the generation of his listeners passed away! I had his own word for it but did not comprehend it. I had chosen to listen to the spin of commentators instead of him! Even though I may be blind to his word, it will not pass away or be proven untrue.

What was this “falling away”? It is the apostasia, meaning revolt or rebellion, from which we get the word apostasy. Look into your more recent translations of the Bible. The word is translated the rebellion in the RSV, NIV, and The Living Bible. The TEV has final rebellion. The Phillips’ Version renders it a definite rejection of God. In the NEB it is the final rebellion against God .

Long before Paul wrote concerning that falling away or rebellion, Jesus had warned, “They will lead many astray,” “Many will fall away,” and “false prophets…will lead many astray” … “so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”

Jesus was asked about “the sign of your coming and of the close of the age.” He used terms like, “but the end is not yet,” “He who endures to the end,” and “then the end will come,” accompanied with “a loud trumpet call.” Later, Paul referred to it as “the coming of our Lord,” “our gathering together unto him,” “that day,” “the day of Christ,” and “the latter (later) times.”

At this coming of the Lord in vengeance upon his rebellious people, Israel, their entire system was to fall, being pictured by Jesus in apocalyptic language as the upheaval of heavenly luminaries. Such figurative language of dramatic upheaval was common among Hebrew writers. In predicting overthrow of nations, it was used by Isaiah about Babylon (Ch. 13), Damascus (Ch. 7), Ethiopia (Ch. 18), and Egypt (Ch. 19; Ezek. 32). Joel used such materialistic descriptions (Joel 2:28-32) and Peter quoted them as relevant on Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21). We may address this further at another time.

In these happenings they would see the sign of his coming,. They would “see” (discern) him in heavenly visage in the clouds according to his promise in the Olivet Discourse quoted above. (Relate these passages also: Matt. 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69; Acts 1:10-11; Matt. 10:23; 16:27-28; Mark 8:38, 9:1; Luke 9:26-27; 21:12; Rev. 1:7.).

What is the time setting for all these dramatic events? The end of time? The Bible does not indicate that time will ever end, as though that were possible! Is it the dissolution and end of this physical universe? The Bible does not speak of such! Jesus stated plainly when it would happen: “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till ALL these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” “Heaven and earth” would pass away at that time, but he was not speaking of the physical universe, but of the then-present system through which God had dealt with Israel. The nationalistic status of Israel, ruled by their luminaries in high places in the political kingdom and their religious system, would reach its end. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus made it clear that this upheaval would occur in the events culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. In the texts cited above Jesus repeatedly informed his listeners that these things would take place in the life-time of some of them.

Do we have to verify the fulfillment of Jesus’ predictions historically, that is, by identifying names, places, and events involved. Absolutely not! We have his word which will not pass away. Shall we trust uninspired historians more than Jesus’ own words?

It is true that Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived at the time, verifies many things by supplying specific names, places, and events, but my trust is in Jesus’ own words rather than the respected historian. Historians can be inaccurate, and we tend to pick and choose from ancient records, accepting that which substantiates our own notions.

The rebellion of the Jews against God was not altogether new, but rather it was climactic and final in that generation. God-defying men displaced the priesthood and took over the temple and instigated revolt against Roman rule at the same time. In that time of terrible upheaval in their nation many Jews abandoned their faith, as did many disciples of Jesus also. The passages under study do not indicate that there was ever to be a total abandonment of the faith by disciples. None of these passages indicate that the church would disappear or be obliterated. The kingdom of the Messiah is eternal and indestructible. It would never need restoration! There would always be saved people – those who constitute the church. The church is not an organization that can be traced historically. However, since the church is erring people saved by grace, it will always be in need of reformation.

Must we identify those who would forbid marriage and require abstinence from meat? Certainly the Catholic church does not forbid all marriage or command total abstinence from meat. Some of those restrictions were a part of the Law of Moses and also a thorny problem of early Christians. In the first century, the Essenes, as an example, were ascetic, promoting celibacy over marriage and were very restrictive of diet. This is not to say they are the ones Paul referred to necessarily, but it indicates that we do not have to wait hundreds of years to find people who would fit Paul’s description. The Gnostics, or some similar philosophical sect, might be considered. Unless Jesus and Paul were predicting two different “rebellions” or “fallings away” (and there is no evidence to that effect), we will have to take Jesus’ word that this development was in the life-time of some of his listeners.

In passing, here is another note of interest. On the Mount of Olives, Jesus declared: “…then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” That would be experienced by some of that generation. Many years later, John repeats Jesus’ prophecy, saying, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, every one who pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (Rev. 1:7). This destructive visitation upon the Jews (tribes) came upon that generation. This is a clear indication that John wrote Revelation before the occurrence of the things Jesus predicted for his generation.

If the falling away/rebellion occurred in the first century as this treatise proposes, how can we defend our claim of being a “restoration of the New Testament church”? If it was not obliterated – a time when there were no saved people on earth – restoration of the church is a mistaken concept. It is usually based upon the concept of an organized system of religion. No group of disciples can trace itself historically to the apostles.

It is difficult to accept that the falling away occurred during the lifetime of Jesus’ listeners. That is not due to lack of clarity of the statements of Jesus and Paul. It is difficult because we have built so many wrong ideas around our traditional misconceptions.

When the gospel is preached, believed, and obeyed, the church is being produced, for the church is the saved people. The Lord does not form an organization but creates a fellowship of those reconciled. It is a “here and now” relationship in any age or nation without dependence upon any historical connection.

In speaking of the kingdom, Jesus stated that “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). In view of that, I once composed this little rhyme which has won me no “Pullet Surprise” for obvious reasons:

Christ’s church is sparkling new,
Yet we’re nineteen centuries old,
Like wheat which this year grew,
And has for years untold
Tough time may kill each crop,
Another fills our need,
Not by perpetual plant,
But by life-giving seed.

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The Physical Made Spiritual

By Cecil Hook

In the last issue of Freedom’s Ring I wrote about our lack of perception of spiritual entities. We can relate to them only by giving them some physical or material dimension perceptible through our senses. Because of that, God communicated to us in accommodative ways employing physical concepts to reveal the unseen. The tendency of many, however, has been to accept the literal, fleshly, earthly, materialistic accommodation as the real thing.

This manner of interpretation has prevailed in visualizing the nature of those in the heavenly realm in spite of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15. There he wrote, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality” (v. 52-53). This “change” of which Paul speaks is generally thought to be a perfecting and immortalizing of the fleshly body, but an entity cannot be corporal and incorporeal at the same time…

A friend lent me his copy of Hank Hanegraaff’s much publicized new book, Resurrection, which I scanned hurriedly. Especially in the area of apologetics, there is good material in the book, but I challenge his materialistic concept of heaven. Before I get to the main point, I will side-track to two other matters which I consider amusingly amazing.

Will there be sex after the resurrection, he asks? In answer to that question, he conjectures that, since God created sex in Eden, in the Eden restored (heaven) he will not remove it but redeem it – whatever that means. He explains that, even though there will be no marrying or giving in marriage, our risen bodies will still be male and female. Thus sexuality will still be a part of our nature so that men and women will enjoy each other, not in a mere physical sense, but in a metaphysical sense – whatever that means. After playing up the higher nature of our heavenly sexuality, however, he does state that there will be no physical sexual acts.

Even with such enjoyable spiritual sexuality, he does not reveal if the children who died before sexual maturity will miss out on that. Nor does he let us know if persons with same-sex attraction will have that inclination eternally. Nor if sexuality will allow for temptation. Nor if special privilege will be allowed former mates including those who had multiple mates. I suppose we will have to wait to find the answers but, in the meantime, I suggest that you not set your physical expectations too high!

Will we have our pets in heaven? Hank Hanegraaff offers “scriptural basis” for his assumptions that animals have souls by explaining that God created them “living creatures” (Gen. 1:20, 24; Rev. 8:9). Also, “Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down to the earth?” (Ecc. 3:21). What does that prove?

He conjectures that, since Eden had animals, there is reason to believe Eden restored will have them also. He further assumes that there will be green plants and flowers in heaven; so if God can raise grass to life again, why not cats? He (Hank, not God) definitely gives hope that one’s pets may be raised! That is about as logical as saying that since the Garden of Eden was on the Euphrates River in Iraq, restored Eden (heaven) will be in Iraq.

He does not explain if all animals will be raised, or what a poodle must do to qualify for eternal life! Will they be raised on the basis of having been loved by a human? If being the pet of a faithful individual qualifies them, then we may have an abundance of “immortal spiritual” cats, dogs, parrots, mice, skunks, snakes, horses, elephants, dinosaurs, porpoises – and even Keiko! If the nice monkey was the much-loved pet of an atheist, would that disqualify it from heaven? If a cat can be raised to immortality due to the love of a Christian woman, do you suppose she might get her unbelieving husband in by her love also? J Not much evidence is required to “prove” something you want to believe!

Enough foolishness! Let’s get to the main point. Will we have “flesh and bones” bodies in the resurrection? Hank says we will have such fleshly bodies made spiritual and immortal, and I would suppose that most believers accept that view.

He reasons like this: Jesus had a fleshly body that was crucified, buried, and raised from the dead. In his transformed, spiritual body of the resurrection he demonstrated that he was still physical in the same body of his crucifixion. He consumed food. He invited them to see and touch his body with its scars, saying, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself, handle me, and see, for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). Later, the disciples saw him ascend bodily into a cloud. So Jesus is in heaven in a body of flesh and bones. Because it was a spiritualized body did not mean it was not material also, he maintains To illustrate that point, Hank states that the Bible is a material book but it is also a spiritual book at the same time. That is a poor illustration, however, for the spiritual quality of the content of the Bible is not comparable to the spiritual nature he attributes to the risen body.

The concept of a glorified physical body like that of Jesus would lead us to believe that fleshly imperfections like his scars and nail prints would be with us eternally.

Being the slow one in the class, I seem always to miss connective logic and that gives rise to questions. In the three manifestations of divinity – whether you call them the Trinity, the Godhead, or Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – do they not all have the same nature?

“God is spirit,” Jesus said (John 4:24). “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God…,” (Col. 1:15; see 1 Tim. 1:17). “No one has ever seen God,” John asserts in John 1:l8. Again, Jesus told them, “…a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see me have.” So God, being spirit, has no flesh and bones. Since the heavenly realm is spiritual, Paul confirms, “I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Cor. 15:50).

Jesus’ pre-incarnate state is described by John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). Paul tells how he was in the form of God, with equality with God of which he divested himself in taking the form of a servant being born in the likeness of men in human form (Phil. 2:5-8). The Jews wanted to kill Jesus because he called God his Father, making himself equal with God (John 5:18). As he was about to become obedient to death, he prayed, “I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now, Father, glorify me with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made” (John 17:1-5). Jesus was to be restored to his pre-incarnate state divested this time of his human nature in which he had manifested himself to man… Otherwise, we have a “flesh and bones” King who cannot enter his own kingdom, for “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Added to that is the popular expectation that Jesus will return to earth in a physical body to reign as king over a literal kingdom on earth. Talk about Nicodemus being confused about physical and spiritual things!

Failure to recognize that he is spirit would leave us with the concept of two unequal Gods with different natures. Do we have one spirit God who is invisible and omnipresent and another who is “spiritual flesh and bones,” visible, and limited in presence to that physical body?

“He was manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16), even as God manifested himself in a burning bush and the Holy Spirit manifested himself in tongues of fire. The risen Christ is no more flesh than God and the Holy Spirit are fire. Throughout Bible history we read of God revealing himself through physical accommodations to which man in his physical state could relate.

What ultimately happened to Jesus’ “flesh and bones” body? Maybe you know. I don’t! It is not revealed. I admit with Paul, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up to glory” (1 Tim. 3:16).

We are informed, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Man, which included both sexes, was not made in a physical image of God, for God is Spirit. Of the Christ, it is written after his return to the Father, “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). To disciples awaiting his soon coming again, Paul wrote, “But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body…” (Phil. 3:10-21). The realm of our citizenship in heavenly rather than earthly. To other disciples expecting his appearance in their time, John assured, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him (with scarred fleshly bodies? -ch), for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2-3). Since the divine is invisible, seeing him evidently means to discern him as is also indicated when Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

With these things in mind, let us look again at Paul’s word about the risen body: “If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, so we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Cor. 15:44-50).

What God does with our bodies, whether returning them to the earthly elements forever or giving them an eternal earthly nature, will not be determined by our understanding, imagination, or expectation. He will take care of that!

My concern is that believers tend to be too earthly minded and materialistic in perceiving spiritual truths. God began with fleshly Adam. He formed a literal nation. He ruled them by earthly kings and priests demanding performance of physical rituals. Through that earthly nation he brought forth his Son manifested in flesh in the form of man.

All of this was to reach out to earthly man in a manner he could comprehend in order to lead him to spiritual life. Now, through the spiritual Adam, Jesus, he has revealed The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Those accommodations to our physical perceptions have fulfilled their purpose and no longer prevail. We do not look for a restored kingdom or for heaven on this earth. He has led us from the tentative and physical to the eternal and spiritual.

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My “Restoration” Heritage: Good or Bad?

By Cecil Hook

Several years ago I weighed in (in the feather-weight division) as a crusader for redirection of the people of my heritage from extreme legalism to grace. Because of that, it is not unusual for some new reader to inquire out of curiosity if I have left the “Church of Christ,” or the “church of Christ.” Reacting adversely to my efforts, a few have demanded, “Why don’t you leave the Church of Christ – you hate it so?”

No, I have not “left the church.” I am still in the Lord’s universal congregation, however you may wish to designate it. And I serve locally with a group whose heritage is of the Stone-Campbell Movement…

If we are identifying the Church of Christ as the universal church, why should I want to leave it? Since the Lord is the one who added me to his congregation, I am not sure that I would know how to leave it. If we are thinking of the Church of Christ as one of the splinter groups of the Stone-Campbell Movement, then I will want to investigate in order to make any needed changes that will identify it with the one produced through the Gospel. My heritage is in the Church of Christ, however correct or flawed that heritage may be.

It is somewhat like my parental heritage. Even though, especially as a teenager, I thought I could point out flaws in Mom and Dad, I never really wished to exchange them for new parents. Since there are no perfect groups, I choose to work with the problems with which I am familiar rather than to trade them for unfamiliar ones in a different group.

Your garden is not without weeds, yet it can still produce good food. Because you are constantly pulling and hoeing weeds out of it, you are showing concern for the value of it. There is a difference in weeding and destroying, and between reformation and opposition. My efforts of redirection arise out of my recognition of the great things we have left behind which should be restored.

About two hundred years ago, Barton W. Stone and other Presbyterian preachers fell out of favor with their group because they cooperated with Baptist and Methodist preachers in the Cane Ridge Revival, a tremendous camp meeting in Kentucky in 1801. He was promoting unity, but that was not acceptable to his people.

Thomas Campbell came to America in 1807 and began preaching among the Presbyterians in Pennsylvania. When he tried to persuade the factions of the Presbyterians to commune together, he met with disfavor. His son, Alexander, still in Ireland, was also concerned about the disunity of the Presbyterian factions who would not share communion.

Both Stone and the Campbells were proposing “to unite the Christians in all the sects” not by uniting them in a new church, but by accepting one another in spite of the barriers men had devised. That concept being generally unacceptable among the churches, these preachers, still unknown to each other, soon found themselves making converts to Christ outside existing churches. Their efforts developed into two unity movements which ultimately joined forces in 1832. However, it was much later that the term “Restoration Movement” was applied. Those men claimed to be reformers, not restorers of a extinct church. A damaged work of art would need restoration. Only in that sense of correcting misdirections among disciples did they claim to be restorers. “We are Christians only but not the only Christians,” was a motto expressing their ideal.

Having been schooled in the restoration concept, many times I taught lessons on “The Falling Away and Restoration of the Church.” After the true church supposedly had faded from history, we had restored the “one, true church.” We in our particular splinter groups of the Stone-Campbell unity movement were it! We developed an extremely legalistic system of argumentation to prove it. While pleading for unity and “proving” our particular course of unity by the Bible, we continued to divide. Our very message was divisive. We had made a 180-degree turn from the aims of our heritage. The unspoken motto was more like, “We are Christians only and the only Christians.”

Since our heritage in the churches of Christ is ambiguous and contradictory, which heritage shall we promote and which shall we reject? I have chosen to return to the unity aims of the Stone-Campbell Movement rather than promote the divisive course of the “Restoration Movement.” My heritage is from both conflicting concepts. Finding myself in the latter, I work to redirect us into the former. Ideally, we might wish to do as Stone and his associates did. Having dissolved their newly formed Springfield Presbytery, they aimed to dissolve into the church at large. But the church at large, the universal church, does not exist in any visible, organized form with which we may associate or into which we may be assimilated.

Actually, all who have been saved have been assimilated by the Lord into his one assembly. With the universal Church of Christ in mind (not later converts of his who would wear that name), Thomas Campbell declared with true insight, “The Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct.” His son, Alexander would later observe that, if there are no saved in the sects, then there are no saved on earth. It is vital that those whom he saves by his grace accept others even as they themselves are accepted. When we raise barriers of acceptance, we renounce the wisdom of Christ who made us all one. These concepts are the roots of my heritage.

What does the Stone-Campbell Movement within the church have to commend its existence? It added much Biblical freshness to the religious scene in America. With no claim of scholarly insights, I list here some valuable contributions.

Individual relationship. There was recognition that our relationship is with Christ rather than with an organized system of religion It is reconciliation to God rather than “joining the right church.”

Priesthood of all believers. No disciple is subject to a hierarchy, nor is his worship and service mediated through a clergy or organized religion.

Simplicity of liturgy. The individual disciple or congregation can offer worship that expresses the feeling of the heart without prescribed formal ritual or specially ordained leadership. Although we have made an indefensible dividing issue of unaccompanied singing, we have demonstrated the rich value of accapella singing in its simple expression involving the congregation rather than professionals.

Individual freedom. The disciple is accountable to God rather than to man, to a system of men, or to superiors in rank.

Individual responsibility. Each person is accountable for his own understanding of the will of God. No church creed may be bound upon him. He is free to choose the group with whom he assembles. He serves by his own initiative with no one dictating what he must do in serving God.

Congregational autonomy and independence. Christianity is not an organized system of religion. It must be noted, however, that much of the “power” of our Movement became its weakness, or stumbling block. Like the power of choice given to Adam and Eve allowed them to choose the wrong path, so our freedom has allowed disciples to separate into dissociating groups. The remedy for this, however, is not in taking away individual and congregational freedom and forcing conformity.

Re-emphasis of baptism. Although, eventually, many of us became too legalistic in our views of baptism, our Movement called attention to the Biblical emphasis, mode, purpose, and meaning of the ritual of baptism as a part of the conversion process.

Distinction of the covenants. Alexander Campbell’s “Sermon on the Law” setting forth the distinction between the old and the new covenant was thought to be radical when he delivered it but it added much to the common understanding of the Christian religion. The same is true of Thomas Campbell’s theological treatise, Declaration and Address.

No item above was necessarily a new concept to all Christians and churches. But the freshness of all these combined in a movement appealed to the common man as being Biblical, sensible, and practical… Great acceptance was given across our new nation. The exciting, fast growing Movement could not be ignored nor could outside forces stop it.

Sadly, however, the movement gradually lost its focus, and internal doctrinal disputes fragmented it. It suffered intensely from the divisive effects of legalism, restorationism, and patternism. Unwritten creeds defined each splinter group. The role of shepherds in the congregations developed into that of authoritarian elders. Worship and service of the individual became funneled through and controlled by the organized congregational system ruled by elders. The means of acceptable worship were narrowly defined to five exercises. The emphasis of a works-oriented righteousness developed into an oppressive system which became more burdensome than supportive.

These charges do not apply to every individual and every congregation. There have always been those who enjoy their freedom in Christ. In too many communities, however, our people have painted their own self-righteous portrait as the only ones with a chance of going to heaven.

Having formerly identified with that image of our movement, with chagrin and grief, I renounce it and seek to identify with the original image of our movement. This is not a matter of my “changing churches” but of changing direction. I can also report with much satisfaction that the number who are taking this course is growing rapidly. Realizing our misdirections, our people are recognizing their treasured heritage and are finding great joy in embracing it again.

There is reason to believe the renewal of our original message will ignite another unity movement in a nation tired of religious division. The phenomenal reception given to the unifying, Christ-centered writings of Max Lucado are undeniable evidence of this. His books remain on the best-seller list in the category of religion year after year. What a shame and tragedy that all those in our movement do not join in proclaiming such a basic message! God has raised up a nationally-recognized and loved leader in redirection. Thank God, many are on that road with him.

Due to the fallibility and errant tendency of man, local communities of believers will always need reformation and redirection. This point is evident in the apostolic epistles. To resist or oppose any corrective change from the status quo in any generation is to fail to see that most vital message. Those who think to have found all the truth may denounce reformers as change agents in a most bigoted manner.

Whether we are considering our heritage or any newly perceived concept, it is most important that we “…test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thes. 5:22).

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Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ – or Who?

By Cecil Hook

This is no big deal, but it amazes me that people still indicate that the Corinthian disciples had formed quarreling parties claiming to follow Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ (1 Cor. 1:10f). There were divisive quarrels among them for which Paul was giving reproof, but the contentions were not centered around any or all of those mentioned.

Paul adapted a literary style intending to deal with this most serious problem as tactfully as possible. Dealing with the issue rather than the persons involved, he substituted his own name and those of other non-involved parties for those who were guilty. This would enable them to make correction with the least humiliation. Attacks on issues arouse less defense than those on persons. Putting one’s self in a suspect position also takes the glaring light off the person who needs the message.

In discussing the matter on into Chapter 4, Paul inserts himself and Apollos particularly into the scene. Then, in Chapter 4:6, he explains, “I have applied all this to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brethren, that you may learn by us to live according to the scripture, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.” The ASV expresses it more clearly as “Now these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes… .” It was a literary device.

The Corinthian problem was not in exalting Paul but it involved disparaging him! In the remainder of the chapter, he reproaches their arrogance in displacing him. They were not building a party around him but were putting him down. He claimed his rightful place among them, declaring with sarcasm, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (v. 15). Those “countless guides” were discrediting Paul’s apostleship in order to establish themselves as authentic teachers while they misdirected the disciples.

The specific issues over which they were dividing the people are not enumerated, but we can well suppose that the corrective teachings in the epistle addressed some of them. And since Paul always opposed by the ever-present Judaizers, we may speculate that they were the chief culprits in Corinth.

After addressing some of their problems in the next four chapters, in the ninth chapter he begins again a defense of his own standing among them. Evidently, the heretical leaders were unmoved by Paul’s letter, so he wrote another. In it, though he still did not make it a personal issue by naming the guilty parties, he was much stronger in his portrayal and denunciation of them. We will not be so tedious as to mention all of Paul’s defense in the epistle (the point does not deserve it), but much of the letter is a self-vindication.

For our purpose here, it will be sufficient to read 2 Corinthians 11. In biting sarcasm, he chides, “For if some one comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough. I think that I am not in the least inferior to these superlative apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not in knowledge; in every way we have made this plain to you in all things” (v. 4-6).

Then Paul unleashed his severest denunciation: “And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond with their deeds” (v. 12-15).

There is much more, but the point is clear. Paul was not the icon of one of the destructive parties in Corinth but he was demanding their unity and seeking to reclaim his place as their father in the gospel “that you can be proud of us as we can be of you, on the day of the Lord Jesus” (2 Cor. 1:14).

In a literary device intended to make his medicine easier to swallow, he had substituted himself, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ as icons in the place of the false apostles.

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The Pentecost Sermon

By Cecil Hook

The birth of an heir is usually a joyous and exciting occasion. The happiness that it brings, however, may be diminished if the birth was out of great pain and endangerment to the mother.

That is an inadequate illustration introducing the exciting events reported in Acts 2. What an earthshaking development is pictured as the gospel was proclaimed and Christ’s kingdom on earth was inaugurated on the first Pentecost after Jesus’ atonement. It has always been thrilling to review those happenings with listeners. However, there is something foreboding and threatening that overshadowed the joyous occasion…

As years have flown by, some different insights into the Pentecost sermon have enriched its meaning for me. I am honored if you let me share some of them here.

“Salvation is from the Jews,” Jesus told the Samaritan woman (John 4:22). It was they who looked for the Messiah to restore their political/religious kingdom, reestablishing the throne of David. Affirming his primary mission to the Jews, Jesus told the Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). Earlier, “These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, ‘THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND ’’” (Matt. 10:5-7). In harmony with this, the Pentecost sermon was to a truly Jewish audience concerning that kingdom. Peter’s address was particularly to the Jews who had called for Jesus’ death. The gospel was “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).

“To them (the apostles) he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and SPEAKING OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD” (Acts 1:3). Jesus instructed them to stay in Jerusalem until the power of the Holy Spirit would come upon them. In anticipation of that, they asked their burning question of expectancy, “Lord, will you at this time RESTORE THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL?” They were inquiring about the political/religious kingdom being restored. Jesus did not give a definite answer. He only told them to wait in Jerusalem.

They had to wait only ten days until the Spirit was sent to the amazement of “Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.” As a spokesman, Peter began his sermon by quoting Joel 2:28-32, a prophetic and apocalyptic passage so full of meaning: “…this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and you old men shall dream dreams; yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth beneath, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon into blood, BEFORE THE DAY OF THE LORD COMES, THE GREAT AND MANIFEST DAY. And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” This prophecy by Joel which Peter quoted certainly gives meaning to the events and sermon of Pentecost.

Several exciting developments would identify the “last days.” The Spirit would himself bear witness to the fulfillment of Joel’s words and would choose and endow spokespersons without distinction of nationality, age, or gender. There would be dramatic upheaval described in cataclysmic terms. The day of the Lord, the great and manifest day, would come. Salvation would be given to those who would accept the authority of the Lord. We will observe that two aspects of salvation were offered – salvation from SIN and from PHYSICAL DESTRUCTION with the disobedient nation.

Peter’s quoting this message from Joel should have revealed nothing new to his listeners, that is, if they were familiar with Jesus’ Olivet Discourse given less than two months before. Concluding his pronouncement of woes against the scribes and Pharisees, he offers this dire prediction for those last days: “Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, ALL this will come upon THIS generation” (Matt. 23:34-36). Then, in deep emotion, he laments, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate.”

Continuing his record, Matthew tells that the disciples asked, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of YOUR COMING and of the CLOSE OF THE AGE?” Jesus did not speak of an end of this physical universe. His listeners could endure to the end that he was talking about. “But he who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.” The gospel began to be preached on Pentecost and went to all nations in their lifetime (Matt. 24:29-31; Mark 13:10; Col. 1:23) before “the end”. Jesus emphasized that all this would be in the lifetime of some of his listeners (Matt. 24:34). In the next chapter (25), Jesus directs three judgment parables to the Jews who would give account at his coming.

All those things happened but the universe was still intact. Rather than this being an end of this material universe, it would be the ending of the covenant with Israel “imposed until the time of reformation” (Heb. 9:10). At the same time the new and different covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah (to the Jew first and also to the Greek) was being implemented. The old covenant based on law regulated a political nation ruled by a religious system. The new covenant was personified by Christ himself. Through the offering of himself for all mankind, those who would submit to him would receive forgiveness of all sin, and they would become his spiritual kingdom. They would be ruled by his spiritual law, that is, his principal of loving action, written in their hearts.

The Jews generally, even including the disciples of Jesus, were looking for the restoration of the earthly kingdom with the throne of David reestablished. The Messiah, the anointed one, would be their deliverer from Roman rule. This mistaken concept prevailed even until Pentecost.

Peter dealt with this issue in a forthright manner. He declared that they had killed “by the hand of lawless men” him whom God had sent and attested. He was the very one God raised from death to sit on David’s throne. God had now made him both Lord and Christ (Messiah)! The evidences were overwhelming.

Being cut to the heart, they cried out in desperation, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter’s answer expressed the good news of the new covenant. By change of heart and submission to the new king implied by their baptism, they would be forgiven of their having rejected God’s son individually and receive the approving presence of the Holy Spirit whom they had seen manifested that day.

Peter’s sermon was not directed to the disciples of John for they had prepared for the approaching kingdom. His specific target was those who had rejected Christ and helped to bring about his death. Neither was Peter calling for repentance from prevalent personal sins like lying, stealing, drunkenness, adultery, hypocrisy, slander, and greed. The repentance he called for was a change of conviction about Jesus. Once they would submit to his spiritual direction, in their maturing process they would deal with all those specific unspiritual activities.

Those who accepted Christ that day were saved from their sins – a spiritual salvation. Yet there was another danger to their lives – the loss of their lives at the time of the physical destruction to be brought on their city and nation coming upon that generation. So Peter exhorted them at length, “SAVE YOURSELVES FROM THIS CROOKED GENERATION.” He was pleading that they not go down with the doomed ship. All of the exciting changes mentioned by Joel were not completed on Pentecost because the period of about forty years would be the “last days” of Joel’s prophecy. THE DAY OF THE LORD, THE GREAT AND MANIFEST DAY was the time of the parousia, the coming of the Lord which would complete and fulfill all that Joel and Jesus had spoken.

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Thursday is the Lord’s day, too!

By Cecil Hook
Taken from Free to Accept

Although the first day of the week became a special day for assemblies in the early centuries, it was not in response to a command or an explicit, binding example. Our inclination toward legalism has led us to try to bind it as a special day to be given to God. We have demanded certain activities on that day and limited their practice to it. This conviction is based upon supposed inferences.

In pre-Christian times in the Roman Empire, kuriakos (the lord’s) signified imperial or belonging to the lord, the emperor. As the empire became Christian, it is not surprising that they would modify belonging to the lord to relate to Christ as a part of their protest against Caesar-worship.

As time went by, many of the rules of the Sabbath were transferred to the first day of the week, but this was rejected in the Reformation by Luther and Calvin. Calvin even proposed to adopt Thursday in the place of Sunday. (See International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, V. 3, p. 1919- 1920).

May we rightly consider Thursday as the Lord’s day? Yes, Thursday is the Lord’s day!

At the end of the persecutions in 325 A.D., because the first day of the week was so special to the Christians, Constantine, the Emperor, made it a holiday (holy day) throughout the empire. That accommodation has greatly influenced the Western world and has been a blessing to the disciples through succeeding centuries. The wide acceptance of that holiday has given it a respected authenticity. As with other accepted practices, efforts to authenticate it by the Scriptures came after the fact through scholasticism. The term Lord’s day is used only once in the Scriptures (Rev. 1:10), and in that instance it was not referring to the first day of the week but to an epoch.

There are two questions that we must ask and answer. First, do the Scriptures demand that the first day of the week be a sanctified day for disciples? Second, was the first day referred to in the Scriptures as the Lord’s day?

The first day of the week is mentioned in inspired church history only two times. That point should arouse enough suspicion about its sanctity to cause us to reexamine the matter. When Paul made his way to Troas, the disciples had a gathering and meal with their honored guest (Acts 20). There is nothing to indicate that this was more than a special meeting or that it was, or became, a regular practice. It is recorded that they met to break bread. To break bread is translated from a Hebrew idiom which means to partake of food as in the eating of a meal. There is nothing that would indicate that this meal was the communion. An uncertain premise destroys the validity of any conclusion based upon it.

The other mention (1 Cor. 16:1f) does not relate either to a ritual or to an assembling of disciples on that day.

Since no law concerning a certain day is given in the New Testament Scriptures, it is only by specious logic that men try to make an ordinance of it. Such is an effort to define laws so that we may be justified by keeping them.

Not only were the apostles silent about obliging us to keep certain days, they actually warned us about observing days. “You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years! I am afraid I have labored over you in vain” (Gal. 4:10). Read the entire context of “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (Col. 2:16). Paul did not add, “Except for the Lord’s day which is the first day of the week.”

True apostolic teaching puts keeping of days and the eating of foods in the realm of indifference along with circumcision. Paul permits the weak brother to respect days but not to bind his scruple on others or condemn others who do not hold his conviction. He writes, “One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:5f). Paul does not permit either side of the day-keeping controversy to pass judgment on the other. It is the whole person, not certain days or hours, who is sanctified. Every day is raised to the highest plane making us no closer to God or more priestly at one time than another.

If the Lord’s day is a specific day, then we would have to say it is the Sabbath because of Jesus’ own claim, for he himself declared, “For the Son of man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:8).

There are numerous instances in the Bible where the day of the Lord is used to denote, not a specific day of the week, but his coming in judgment, wrath, vengeance, or retribution to offenders or in deliverance for his people. This term is translated into the possessive form in only one place in apostolic writings, making it the Lord’s day (Rev. 1:10) rather than the day of the Lord. Both terms mean the same thing.

In the Spirit, John the apostle was transported in vision into the future to see the things that would transpire in the epoch of the Lord’s day or day of the Lord. This was not a day of the week, but it was the manifestation of the Lord against the Jewish nation who had rejected him, and it was the time of his vindication of his saints. This judgment was about to transpire — ”what must soon take place” — indicating that Revelation was written before 70 A.D. John was seeing in vision what is referred to as “the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25).

If you are having difficulty in accepting this, let me ask you a few questions. Is Sunday holy? Is one day spiritual and another secular? Are some obligations bound on one day but loosed on the next? Are some actions holy if performed on a certain day but profane if done on another? Recently, Stephan Bilak gave me a wallet calendar from the Ukraine. They number their days downward instead of across and have the seventh day in red instead of the first day. In the Ukraine would disciples sin in keeping the seventh day instead of the first day?

Our real problem has related to binding the communion on each first day of the week and limiting it to that day. Is the communion sanctified or is it the day? Our limitation of the communion to Sunday only is without command, precedent, or inference. There is no clear example of the disciples’ communing through partaking of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. At Troas they met to break bread, but there is no proof that it was the Lord’s Supper instead of a common meal. It was after midnight before the bread was broken. That was Monday morning. Paul intended to depart on the morrow after the first day. After daybreak he departed. This was the morrow after the first day of Roman time. If they were following the Jewish time, it still would have been the first day and not the morrow. Besides, Jesus initiated the communion on a weekday evening in an indisputable example. The premise is too weak to imply a lawfully bound conclusion as we have inferred from that text.

In a sense, all days (all time) are holy because our whole lives are dedicated to God. That sanctification is not segmented into days or time spans. In a more real sense, it is not time that is sanctified; it is the disciple who is holy when he or she can say, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). That disciple becomes a temple of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. A temple can be profaned.

Anything that is holy can be profaned. Being holy, the Jewish Sabbath could be profaned by labor on that day. Can Sunday be violated by labor, travel, or some recreational activity? Since we, rather than days, are holy, how can our sanctity be violated? That is accomplished by our sin which is a breach of our dedication, sanctification, separateness, holiness. But sin is not related to any time span. When we sin, we violate our own holiness rather than that of a day. If missing a Sunday assembly scheduled by men is a sin, it is a lacking of sanctification rather than the profaning of a holy day.

Please do not conclude that I am disparaging the need for assembling with disciples or am forbidding communion on Sunday. We all need the support that we gain from sharing with those of like faith. I am saying, however, that these meetings and activities are no more effective on one day than another.

Man was not made for the Sabbath; so Jesus did not bind the keeping of that day at all costs as a legal obligation. The Sabbath was made for man, for God set apart a day to fill the need of man, not to work against his best interest by its inflexibility. In similar manner, assemblies are designed to meet the needs of disciples, but the day and hour of such gatherings are not specified as a law.

Again, I say that the recognition of Sunday as a secular holiday in our society is a wonderful blessing. That has always made it more convenient for us to assemble and it has given social recognition to Christianity that the earliest disciples did not enjoy. To us who were brought up going to assemblies each Sunday, the day seems to have a special hallowed nature. I can appreciate the piety of those who have refused to call the first day Sunday, calling it The Lord’s Day instead. And I would favor our making better use of those free hours offered to us by the holiday. But Sunday is neither a holy day nor The Lord’s Day.

Looking back to Calvin’s proposal — is Thursday the Lord’s day? Yes! So is Friday, Saturday, and all other days. Thursday is the Lord’s day but not The Lord’s Day.

NOT FORSAKING THE ASSEMBLY

“We are commanded not to forsake the assembly on the first day of the week. When you miss a meeting, you sin.”

Does that sound familiar? Especially in the middle half of this century, Hebrews 10:25 was used and misused by well-meaning disciples to intimidate consciences in an effort to enforce attendance to all congregational gatherings. We came to measure a person’s faithfulness mostly by frequency of attendance and to judge the vitality of a congregation by its statistics.

In our sincere zeal we injected into this passage a number of misdirected concepts. Being legalists, it is not surprising that we looked upon attendance as fulfilling our duty even though the assembly attended might have edified little. Overlooking the emphasis on exhortation, we made the meetings into strictly regulated “worship services” in performing our perceived “five items of worship.” Being accustomed to modern ritualistic assemblies on Sundays, we read those elements into this passage. We made not forsaking to mean don’t miss a service. We demanded that, when the elders set a schedule of meetings, it was a sin to miss even one of them. “They have authority to set them,” we reasoned.

In my childhood the church met only on Sunday mornings. That seemed to have met the requirements. But during my teenage years, the congregation added classes, Sunday evening meetings, and midweek gatherings. Each of these assemblies then became obligatory, or at least our consciences were intimidated in that direction. If failure to attend these extra gatherings was forsaking the assembly, then the elders caused many to stumble by adding them!

By reading our ideas into it we made Hebrews 10:25 into a club with which to beat disciples into compliance with a standard of faithfulness set by fellow disciples.

Let us look again at that favorite proof-text to see what it means and does not mean.

Without being too tedious, let us scan the context of this passage. I trust that you are as familiar as I am with the Hebrews epistle. The Jewish disciples had three special problems with which to deal. First, there was the question as to the validity of their change from their national and cultural Judaism to Christ. Second, they were being persecuted because of their change. Third, there was the impending destruction of Jerusalem which would finalize God’s rejection of national Israel and confirm this new spiritual kingdom. The believers would need much encouragement because these matters would test their faith and tempt them to turn back from Christ.

In view of this we see exhortations dispersed throughout the epistle. They were urged to pay close attention to what they had heard to prevent their drifting from it (2:1). No evil heart of unbelief should cause them to fall away with hardened heart, but they should exhort one another (3:12f). None should fail to enter promised rest as their hardhearted forefathers had under Moses (4:1f). Having learned of the new covenant with its new mediator, high priest, and benefits, to turn back would be unforgivable, willful apostasy (6:16). They needed mutual encouragement to hold on to their confession because the day of God’s judgment against Jerusalem and national Israel was approaching (10:23f). That discipline of God should not become a cause of stumbling for them. By it God was to shake heaven and earth like he did at Sinai to remove the shaken nationalism of Israel and to confirm the spiritual kingdom which cannot be shaken (Ch. 12).

The day approaching was the Lord’s day, but not the first day of the week. It was the time of the coming of the Lord in vengeance upon the Jews for their rejection of Jesus. John was transported into that epoch in the Spirit by vision (Rev. 1:10) to see in panorama God’s visitation. God has no holy days now.

By this brief review we can see how the disciples would need the confirmation, support, and encouragement of each other. So the writer is urging them to have support gatherings. He is not commanding meetings for routine ceremonial worship. Whether those gatherings were to be formal or informal was of no concern. No format is offered. A specific day of the week, being inconsequential, is not mentioned. Frequency and length of such gatherings is left to their discretion. Whether those gatherings were to include all disciples in an area or only one’s closer neighbors and friends is given no hint. We have to inject into the passage our modern concepts in order to say that the writer had regular, organized, systematic, ritualistic assemblies on the first day of each week under consideration. There is no command, example, or inference for such a pattern. Rather than warning against forsaking ritualistic services, he is exhorting the believers not to forsake each other in their times of trial!

Rather than the body being made a mediator, its members were to be intercessors. The assemblies were not to become the route to heaven but way stations along the route.

Let us look at Hebrews 10:23-25 again: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (RSV).

This exhortation is not characterized by specifics of a law. It cannot be fulfilled by adopting our own specifics and then enslaving others to them. Lawful demands may be met without producing love, edification, and encouragement — a point amply demonstrated in our congregations. This is not the inauguration of a scorecard system of righteousness. These associations were not to prove faithfulness but to encourage faithfulness.

God knows that we all need others of like mind and he encourages us not to neglect interactive meetings. But my faithfulness is not altogether dependent upon the support gained in assemblies. Gatherings for mutual edification were much more needed in their day when individuals did not have Bibles, printed materials, mail, telephone, radio, television, tapes, and videos dealing with our needs. They had to depend mostly on person-to-person interaction.

Although I continue to be a part of ritualistic assemblies, the encouragement that I get from them is often minimal, for they tend to begin at 10:00 o’clock sharp and end at 11:00 o’clock dull! I gain more uplift from the “hello-ship” with others than from the routine. But the encouraging letters and calls that I receive from across the country and other countries sustain me more than the formal assemblies. The purpose is accomplished; the means by which it is satisfied is of less importance.

Do you think that I am overplaying our misdirection, or that we have outgrown it? A few weeks ago I read this in a church bulletin: “Sister Hayes was a faithful Christian here for many years until ill health prevented her from attending services.” How horrible! Yes, we all need association with other disciples; however, to miss does not mean to forsake! And in the case of this poor woman, any forsaking would be on the part of her fellow disciples who abandoned her when she needed their encouragement, the very attention which our text was intended to foster.

It is proper to review the New Testament writings and see how little attention is given to assemblies other than to correct abuses in them. There is no command for us to assemble. But in our penchant for law, we have tried to make this persuasive exhortation of our text into a law. We tend to revise the meanings of passages to accommodate centuries of tradition. The scriptures emphasize our personal relationship to God in Christ with his Spirit ruling in our hearts and working through us.

There is only one mention of the church meeting on the first day of the week, and there is no indication that it was a regular practice before or after Paul’s visit there (Acts 20:7). They met to break bread — an idiom meaning to eat a meal. Evidently, the fellowship meal was a common setting for their mutual edification in early times. There is no proof that this breaking of bread was participation in the Lord’s Supper. And besides, it was Monday morning when they broke it. We have built too big a case on an uncertain premise. Any conclusion based upon an unproved premise is invalid.

By this essay I am not denying the value in regular assemblies. I am exhorting us to give proper purpose, direction, and emphasis to them and to recognize the limited, legalistic concept that we developed about them. There is nothing that is done in formal assemblies, however, that cannot be done with others at home or where two or three are assembled in his name.

Accepting that our text with its context sets forth a principle to guide us today, we recognize our need to be involved for the common good. We will enjoy being with those of like faith and hope. We will thrive on mutual encouragement. We will leave those supportive sessions invigorated in faith and more fervent in love for each other. Those periods of nonjudgmental interaction will promote an awareness of equality and the common nature of all disciples. No one will have to beg us to return. It will not be a matter of assembling in order to exhort us to assemble the next time to fulfill a duty. What a sad thing when this happens!

But where do we find such a setting? Improvement is being seen in some congregations, but most of our assemblies are still structured, formalized, and ritualized into a spectator experience where the individual’s painful need at the time may not be addressed even remotely. I am convinced that if we will revise our whole design for assemblies so as to meet the individual needs, we will not have to intimidate disciples in order to assure their return. This would call for meeting customary “whole church come together” at one time concept and practice. It might even prove the professional pulpiteer to be both unnecessary, anachronistic, and burdensome.

Before you consign me irrevocably to the nether regions for trifling with our traditional proof- text and practices, please look at it and them with a renewed awareness and honesty. And you may profit by pondering this observation of Jeroslav Pelikan: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

ACTS 20:7 ONE MORE TIME

In my other books I have challenged some of our teachings based on interpretations of Acts 20:7. It may serve a good purpose for me to treat more fully this text which has been related to the Lord’s Supper at this time.

Why would this text deserve such attention? With our people in the Church of Christ, it has served as a proof-text for several suppositions. It has been used to substantiate claims that we are commanded to partake of the Lord’s Supper each and every Sunday and exclusively upon that first day of the week. This contention and practice has been one of our identifying marks. The related conviction has emboldened our people to reject and condemn those who vary from it.

As you will discern from this treatise, I am emphasizing the purpose and importance of the Communion rather than disparaging it. I want to encourage a richer meaning in participation than is felt in keeping a commanded law or ritual.

Neither Jesus nor any inspired writer prescribed the day or frequency for this memorial observance. In their effort to be correct in every ritualistic detail, sincere disciples have sought to define the required procedures with exactness through command, example, and inference. Let us reconsider the whole matter together now.

As Paul started back to Jerusalem, he determined to go through Macedonia. Seven of the brothers accompanying him went ahead and waited for him at Troas. After the days of Unleavened Bread, Paul came to Troas where he stayed for seven days, hastening to be at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.

Now for our text: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lights in the upper chamber where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus was sitting in the window. He sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer; and being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and embracing him said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’ And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed.”

How could this passage come to have importance in relation to the Lord’s Supper? Without some coaching, the casual reader would see no connection since the communion is not mentioned. But as our people turned toward legalism, they looked to Acts 2:42 as a pattern for four of our “five acts of worship” for our Sunday assemblies. In this passage it is stated that the Jerusalem disciples “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” though neither the first day of the week nor formal assemblies are mentioned there. Our people interpreted this “breaking of bread” to be the Lord’s Supper in spite of the third sentence to follow stating, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46).

The first breaking of bread has been interpreted as being Communion and the second as eating food. To interpret the second mention as Communion would have made the Supper proper on any day of the week. That would have destroyed the pattern for Sunday assemblies. But Acts 2:42 does not mention a time for partaking. So those who would establish a pattern grasped Acts 20:7, which connects the breaking of bread and the first day of the week, to “prove” a certain time that neither Jesus nor any inspired writer legislated.

Looking For A Pattern

If we were under a legal code, then we could rightly look for patterns of technical correctness. If we varied from the patterns, then restoration would be demanded. The pioneers of our movement accepted the New Covenant scriptures as our guide but not as a legal code. In time those of the Stone-Campbell heritage became misdirected into being legalists, patternists, and restorationists. Such a course is divisive by nature, for people cannot agree on what the supposed law requires, when its pattern is violated, and when it is restored properly.

In Acts 20:7 we have found the only mentioned connection of the first day of the week and the breaking of bread. But does to break bread mean to participate in the Communion? There is no proof that it does. The round, flat loaf of bread of the Jews was not cut, but it was broken or torn apart. Breaking bread became an idiom or expression meaning to eat a meal or to eat food. Its use with that meaning is unquestioned (See: Matt. 14:19; 15:36; 26:26; Mark 6:41; 8:6,19; 14:22; Luke 9:16; 22:19; 24:30).

“Now as they were eating (the Passover meal: CH), Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body’” (Mt. 26:26. See similar references listed above). “The bread which we break” and “he broke it” (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:24) relate to the Lord’s Supper, but they are not used as idioms meaning to eat the Lord’s Supper.

There is no proof that the communion is meant by to break bread in Acts 20:7. It can only be an assumption. It does seem more reasonable to assume that they would delay the Communion rather than a fellowship meal until the wee hours of the morning. Any conclusion based upon an unproven premise is invalid. God did not bind on us regulations derived from inconclusive reasoning.

Now, after belaboring that point, we will grant for argument’s sake that Acts 20:7 does refer to the Lord’s Supper. We will see whether it fits the pattern and proves the contentions.

A Precedent?

The text states that the disciples met on the first day of the week at Troas to break bread. It does not indicate that they had been doing that previously or that they continued the practice afterward. If Luke had indicated that he recorded that incident as an example for us to follow, of course, we would be eager to look for what was exemplified. Luke recorded a historical account. Incidental details of it are not examples unless a command or principle is involved. For instance, the jailer’s baptism is not a “binding example” of baptism. The authority for it is in Jesus’ command rather than the jailer’s immersion.

Some make an example of Paul’s travel schedule, asserting that he arranged it to permit his meeting with the group on the first day of the week. But they do not make an example of his staying in Macedonia until after the days of Unleavened Bread or his hastening to Jerusalem for the Passover.

A historical detail may reveal an acceptable way a thing may be done but not necessarily the only way. For instance, Paul traveled by land and sea, but no one would think that his example would exclude air travel today.

If we are inclined to conjecture as to why Luke recorded the Troas incident, it is more reasonable to conclude that it was in order to tell us of Paul’s greatest miracle, the restoring of life to Eutychus. But we have overlooked the more obvious purpose in our search for proof of an unwarranted contention.

Someone may be wishing to remind me that, just as “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” included every Sabbath, so the mention of the first day of the week meant every first day. I taught that also for many years, having inherited the illogical argument as the rest of us did. It is true that as each Sabbath came, it would be included in the command and should be kept holy. But “on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread” indicates only one specific occasion. Suppose that I should tell you, “On the Fourth of July when the family gathered at my parents’ home to have a reunion, Dad had a heart attack.” Would you conclude that identical events had occurred during each previous year or that they continued each year after that? Certainly not! The account of the gathering at Troas offers no indication that they had been doing it previous to the coming of this special guest. And there is no command or inference that such meetings were to be continued weekly thereafter.

Still granting that they met to commune, they did not do it at Troas on the first day of the week! Paul continued his speech until midnight when he was interrupted by Eutychus’ fall. Then in the early morning they broke bread. That puts the communion on Monday!

Contenders argue that they participated in the Lord’s Supper earlier in the evening and that the breaking of bread after midnight was a fellowship meal! That is an assumption in direct contradiction of what is written. It says they met to break bread and then tells when they broke it. Why reject the plain revelation in order to uphold a presupposition?

If they observed Jewish time in Troas, since the first day would begin on Saturday evening, it would still be the first day of the week after midnight. That would sanction their intention of participation on Saturday night. Would that be acceptable?

But they were following Roman (and our) time with the day beginning and ending at midnight. How do we know that? Our text says Paul was “intending to depart on the morrow.” That would be Monday. After the meal and the conversation until daybreak, Paul departed. So his departure “on the morrow” was on Monday. If the Jewish time was observed, it would still have been the first day of the week, not the morrow. So, granting that this breaking of bread was the Lord’s Supper, we have approval of participation on Monday! There is no escape from that conclusion, as though we should be seeking escapes.

Five Possibilities

In searching for a specified time for participation in the Communion, I find only five possibilities in the Scriptures.

  1. The first day of the week is supported by Acts 20:7, as we have just discussed.
  2. Jesus gave us an approved example of midweek evening participation by his inaugurating it on a Thursday evening.
  3. Jesus initiated the Supper during a Passover meal. As often as they observed the Passover, which was annually, they remembered the passing over of the Lord in sparing the firstborn and their escape from Egypt. In giving the cup, Jesus urged, “‘Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:25f). How would the apostles interpret as often? Relating it to the Passover that they were observing, they would likely understand it to be annually. Is that not obvious?
  4. In the first church they were breaking bread day by day in their homes along with taking of food with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46). The breaking of bread and partaking of food may mean the same thing, but again, they may not.
  5. The time and frequency of participation in the Lord’s Supper were not ordered or suggested by Jesus or inspired writers. One short sentence from one of them would have defined the matter forever. It was a matter of indifference to them. These decisions were left to the judgment of disciples in their different circumstances.

This fifth possibility is abhorrent to the legalist who feels that his right standing before God is attained by correctness of detailed procedures. But this answer is in true harmony with the aims and purposes of the Communion. The Supper is intended to keep the atonement by which we are saved ever fresh in our minds. It is a remembrance of his sacrifice and of his saving us in his one body. Those meanings are reinforced by taking tangible bread and wine representing the body and blood in a ritual ceremony with others. It is a participation, or sharing, in Christ with fellow disciples. It is a declaration that he is coming again.

What possible advantage could a certain time of day or day of the week offer in fulfilling those purposes? Disciples are free to decide whether the communion serves their purpose best weekly, daily, monthly, annually, or at chosen times on no set schedule. It is the purpose and benefit rather than a supposed law that should govern our participation.

Although our sincere people in the Church of Christ have loudly denounced others for their observance of special days, we have ignored the plain fact that we were demanding that the first day of the week be given special observance.

Taken from the chapter titled “Thursday Is The Lord’s Day Too!” and those immediately following.

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Do You Need an Attorney?

By Cecil Hook

Do I need an attorney? Perish the thought! That would mean that I have a problem that I cannot handle myself. It would mean that I am culpable, or in danger of great loss, even to being assigned to Death Row. There must be a gathering of facts in my favor and/or defense for a convincing presentation of my case. The system is so complicated that I cannot stand before the judge alone but must depend upon one more qualified than I. I haven’t enough money in my account to pay for an attorney’s services. Can I even trust the lawyer to devote himself fully in my interest?

Yes, I am in desperate need of an attorney because of my condemning behavior. To my great advantage, due to my poverty, I have a court-appointed defender to stand before the judge in my place at no cost to me.

When he created you and me, he glorified us with some of his own likeness and freedom of choice. We violated that trust, alienating ourselves from our Maker so that now we must answer to him as our Judge. God loves us and wants us all to be reconciled, but his integrity would be violated if he just overlooked our sins. The sting of sin is death. We face that penalty as we stand before the Judge. Added to that, we have no standing before the Court. We are aliens. If we should own the whole world, we would have nothing to give in exchange for our lives. We are penniless in merit.

Moved by his love for his creature, God determined to become a man, taking on himself all the venomous, deathly sting of sin in the place of his creatures. As Son of God and son of man he gave himself as a mediation. He stood before the Father as our proxy allowing his vicarious death to plead our case. Symbolically, we place ourselves with him in that experience in our baptism (Rom. 6:3-4) .

In the presence of the Judge, our Counselor brings his client. He explains to the Court that his client, though a life-long sinner, is accounted as innocent due to the fact that he, the Advocate, accepted the penalty himself. Does not that violate the integrity of God to remit the penalty of sin? It was not disregarded; it was paid in full measure! How, then, can the guilty be dismissed as justified before the Court? Because he, though guilty, is credited as being righteous by the merit of the Mediator, the Advocate, the Intercessor who gave himself for us.

What is the condition or obligation of the one being reconciled? He can do nothing to enhance the atonement made for him. He accepts the free gift of justification by obedient faith and dedication to him who brought him to God.

John assures us, “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…” (1 John 2:1). An advocate (parakletos) is one “called to one’s side.” Vine elaborates: “It was used in a court of justice to denote a legal assistant, counsel for the defense, an advocate; then, generally, one who pleads another’s cause, an intercessor, advocate, as in 1 John 2:1, of the Lord Jesus.” The word is rendered Comforter in references like John 14:16; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7 in which Jesus, our advocate was promising to return to be with them in the person of another advocate / comforter / counselor / intercessor, the Holy Spirit.

The plea of the atonement still intercedes in our behalf else we would be aliens separated from God again. This is not a pleading or begging of the Father on the part of the Son or the Holy Spirit as though the Father is less loving and forgiving than the Son. Must God plead with God? (See Free To Speak, Ch. 1). Jesus himself is our plea, our justification, the one who stand in our place before the Court of heaven. “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14). “Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).

Jesus has gone “…into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly…. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb. 9:24-28).

Because of our guilt, it was appointed that we die and then be judged. But Jesus filled that appointment of death for us and he stands before the Judge in our stead. When he comes to receive us, it will not be to deal with our sin. He has already done that! It will not be to face God in judgment. He has already stood there as our Mediator, Intercessor, Attorney, Counselor, and Comforter and has cleared our case before the eternal Court of justice and mercy – justified and forgiven!

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him “ (John 3:16f).

Do you need an Attorney?

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