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Written by: C. W. Booth

Thursday, August 14, 2008

No Compromise

"I am shocked and disheartened by the actions of the early church in Acts 15. When they compromised with the Judaizers and wrote to all the Gentile churches that they still had to obey four of Moses’ rules, they set a principle and model of legalism that still plagues the church to this day. They should have stood on their principles and told the Judaizers that the Gentiles were completely free from the Law of Moses." (Bible teacher, name withheld)

The above speaker was a teacher of the Bible, whom I have heard often strongly support the Word of God. But in this case, he has misread the outcome of the Acts 15 council in Jerusalem. When the letter that the elders, prophets, and apostles of Jerusalem sent to the Gentiles is read properly and is understood accurately, it becomes clear that their real message was, "No circumcision! No more Law of Moses! NO compromise!"

However, when it is erroneously assumed that the "four abstinences" that the Jerusalem council endorsed are four vestige laws from Moses, it is assumed that the church leaders compromised so as to win peace and unity with the Judaizers. This leads to the thinking that doctrine can be compromised for the sake of peace and unity (in this case the doctrine is: the Gentiles must obey four remnant rules from Moses). Suddenly, doctrine is flexible and subject to culture and circumstance, and so, situational ethics prevails. Since doctrine is subjective, the Law of Grace has no genuinely definitive rules, and every Christian is free to do and live "as the spirit leads." This, such persons argue, must be true because Paul later repealed several more of the prohibitions when he wrote to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 10), and so they conclude that doctrine and truth are not absolutely right or wrong, but are molded by the need of the moment. As a final result, they proclaim that the only necessary belief is that Christ is Savior, and all other matters of faith are secondary, negotiable, and subsequently, entirely up to the individual to judge.

Oddly, it fails to gain notice by so many Bible teachers that the Acts 15 letter is never called a compromise by its authors. Nor does it gain attention that the prophets in Jerusalem credited the letter’s authorship to the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28), making the demands of the letter into God’s commandments. And since the Holy Spirit called the "four prohibitions" of the letter "these essentials" for the Gentiles (Acts 15:28) and not "these optional compromises" it would be sin to think of them as anything less than God’s obligations on the believing Gentiles.

Of course, acknowledging that the four essential Holy Spirit-imposed prohibitions are binding on Gentiles leads to the obvious conclusion that they are not really leftovers from the Law of Moses. In fact, they are not remnant rules from the Jewish Law. The four essentials derive their origin and their importance from their being part of the new Law of Grace / Law of Christ, and not part of the obsolete Old Testament Law.

The four essentials all fall under one heading: abstain from practicing idolatry. Consider the four essentials under that one category and it becomes clear why they are indeed called "essential." One cannot choose to worship Christ and idols as a lifestyle and still be a Christian. So the church in Jerusalem, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, told the Gentiles to stop eating (in public, since to be seen doing these things was to be seen as participating in the ceremonies) anything being sacrificed to idols, including the strangling of animals in honor of idol-deities, the drinking of the blood of animals killed to honor idols, and participating in the worship of fertility gods via soliciting temple prostitutes.

These same "four essentials" are just as binding on us today as they were to the 1st century Gentiles. We must still abstain from participation in idol worship.

Far from "compromising" with the Judaizers, the Jerusalem council permanently dispelled the notion that the Gentiles were obligated in any way to be under the Law of Moses, including its most important and most defining rule, circumcision. The Holy Spirit has told Gentiles that they may not worship idols and other false gods in any manner; but that "commandment" from the Holy Spirit is the very core of the concept of faith in the Lord God, and originated long before the Law of Moses. So to be clear, the council in Jerusalem declared with one voice, "NO compromise: no circumcision, no Law of Moses, no other god but God!"

Amen! No compromise!

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To read a somewhat more in depth exploration of the "four essential prohibitions" I invite you to read the article "These Essentials: Abstain from Idols, Blood, Strangled Meat, Sex--Understanding the Prohibitions of Acts 15" at http://thefaithfulword.org/acts15copy.html .

 

 

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Journey of Understanding the Emerging Church

In recent weeks I have begun studying the Emerging (Emergent) Church (Movement). When I am done, I will have more to say, I think, on this subject. For now, I wanted to share one thought about a metaphor Leonard Sweet used.

Leonard Sweet has authored a number of pieces that are very supportive of the Emerging Church. One aspect of life that has already been impacted by the movement (as the church becomes immersed in the emerging culture of postmodernism) is that it now likes to use metaphors (short narratives) instead of propositions (or so they say, though I have noticed no shortcoming of propositions flooding out from Emergent authors). Images, even verbal images, are preferred over prose. Therefore, Sweet attempted to use a metaphor to explain how it is that the message of the church can and should change (emerge) over the centuries just as the Christian faith is changing (emerging).

In his book, The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives, page 26, Sweet cites Matthew 16:18 and notes that the rock (of faith) of which Jesus spoke, must inevitably change. Just as water rushes over any other rock and sculpts it into a new and wonderful shape, even in these new shapes it is still a rock by nature. The water of culture pours over the rock of Christian faith and sculpts it into new forms.

Sadly, Sweet failed to realize the full implication of his rock-of-faith metaphor. For, as water pours over a rock, it erodes as it sculpts, eventually leaving behind only rubble that is insufficient to be a firm foundation for anything, much less the church. If the water of culture is permitted to erode the rock-of-faith, it will eventually no longer uphold the church that is (was) built upon it.

Doubtless, Sweet did not intend to have his metaphor function as a warning against allowing the postmodern culture to erode the Christian faith, yet, it stands as an apropos warning after all.

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[Note: the above essay was originally posted as a blog entry which I wrote and put online August 22, 2008. As such, it was subject to public commentary as is customary with blogging. As a practical matter, I normally delete the comments entered on the blog site when building this essay archive. If you wish to read the comments posted by others about the essays, you are invited to go online, read them, or post your own comments.

However, on a few occasions the comments and perhaps my own responses to the comments are so core to understanding the essay, or the implications of the essay, that I have chosen to incorporate them, as I have done below.]

Comments to the August 22, 2008 post entitled: A Journey of Understanding the Emerging Church

Begin Comment 1 from Commenter One:

Is the Rock in Matt. 16:18 faith or Jesus?  Doesn't "on this rock I will build my church" refer to Peter's words "You are the Christ the Son of the Living God" ?  I agree with you, the Rock does not change--"On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand."

Posted 8/23/2008 9:56 AM

End of Comment 1

C. W. Booth’s Response to Commenter One

Thank you for your observation.  As always, you have a good point.  Jesus is identified as the Rock throughout Scripture, the most poignant being when Moses disobeyed and struck the rock (to get water) the second time instead of speaking to it (water symbolizes washing, becoming righteously pure), and he was therefore banned from entering the Promised Land. 

Did Jesus mean, "I am the Rock, and on Myself I will build My church"?  Or did He mean, "Your faith that I am the Christ is the rock on which I will build My church"?  Or did He mean "On the rock of your confession (of faith) that I am the Christ I will build My church"?  Clearly the rock is a metaphor.  So it either represents Christ, or faith in Christ.

Faith is the internal assurance of a true reality which we cannot see.  To say, "I have faith that Jesus is the Christ," is to acknowledge the reality that Jesus really is the Christ.  Christ is the Rock, that is both true and a statement of faith.  Without faith, there is no church because by faith we become a part of the church since we cannot see the reality of Christ (though one day our faith will be replaced by sight).  So I think the answer probably lies in "both," both that Christ is the rock and He builds His church on His own work of salvation, but also that the faith that expresses that Jesus is the Christ, the faith that makes one a part of the church, was being acknowledged by Jesus.  I feel this way because it was actually a profession of faith to which Jesus made His famous comment.  Nonetheless, I will not categorically rule out the possibility that Jesus was referring strictly to Himself and not to faith.

I appreciate these thought provoking (faith building) observations!

Posted 8/23/2008 1:01 PM

End of C. W. Booth’s Response

Commenter Two

I think Jesus is that rock and HE does not change.  We just want to change Him.  I find the Word so deep and meaningful that I can never plum the depths, so I am cautious with emergent church ideas - coming from the new age and occult, a lot of what they teach and share sounds so much like that, and I think it is too easy to get astray. 

Posted 9/6/2008 11:22 PM

End of Commenter Two’s Comments

C. W. Booth’s Response to Commenter Two

That is a welcomed reminder!!!  Jesus, the Rock, does not change, is not shaped into something new, and never gets eroded away.

I just concluded a month of study in the Emergent Church, having read Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, Erwin Macmanus, Peter Rollins, and others.  They are resolutely against the concept of "doctrine," yet in contradiction to this, they have their own standardized theological principles (doctines).  One EC leader wrote that all church doctrines are "castles in the air" (that means he thinks they are unreal, figments of imagination, indefensible).  Some of their own doctrines include: there is no absolute truth, truth is a matter of one's personal experience and not a reflection of reality, Paul misrepresented the gospel of Jesus, the gospel is not about sinners, repentance, and salvation by Christ's sacrifice, but is about making this world into the final kingdom of God through good works before Jesus comes back.  There are more, but why bother?

What concerns me most about the EC is their view that the Bible is not representative of reality or absolute truths, and therefore, it can mean anything to anybody who reads it.  Studying the Word is harmful because study makes one convinced of a specific meaning of a passage, and (they say) that God does not have a set meaning for any passage of Scripture and redefines it for every person.  Since the Word can mean anything, there is no "right" and no "wrong" meanings.  Therefore, there are also no "sins" because there is always someone who says, "that passage does not mean God forbids that activity..."  All that is left, once the Word has become absolutely meaningless, is a morality based on whatever the person, his friends, or possibly the pastor, says is "moral," with no Scripture needed or desired to "prove" it.

And everyone did right in his own eyes...

Posted 9/7/2008 1:35 PM

End of C. W. Booth’s Response

 

 


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