THE FELLOWSHIP OF FAITH
You are: THE PEOPLE OF GOD (1 Peter 2:9,10)
OT LESSON: Deut. 29:2-15
NT LESSON: 1 Thess 4:14-18;5:6-11
God uses ORDINARY PEOPLE to accomplish EXTRAORDINARY tasks
When Catherine the Great of Russia invited the Mennonites to come to Russia, she wasn’t interested in their faith, she was interested in their vocation. They were farmers by and large, and among them were the Dutch who had reclaimed vast areas of land for farming from the sea. They knew how to build dykes and manage agriculture, and they were not scared to work. [2. Troyat, Henri, translation Joan Pinkham, Catherine the Great, New York, E.P. Dutton, 1977] They had internalized Ephesians 6:7,8 “working as to the Lord and not unto men.”
The early history of the church has those kinds of stories. In Acts 2:42-47 they started by putting the emphasis on caring for the needs of everyone. James describes the response to faith in James 2:14-17 “Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything?… Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?” (MSG [6. Peterson, Eugene, The Message, Colorado Springs, NavPress, 1993])
We are justified – that is put right with God – by faith alone, but it is a faith that is not alone. Genuine faith results in actions that are appropriate expressions of faith. Jesus said that “the work of God is to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29) “whoever believes in him shall have eternal life” (John 3:16) “Go and [and as you go] make disciples… baptizing and teaching…”Matt 28:19,20.
The early church was a society of believers devoted to growing in Christ’s life and he was the standard. They were practical. (see Titus 2:1-3,11, and the book of James). It taught how to live on a practical level. It concerned itself with proper teaching. (for and example see Colossians 1:15-2:23). They had a set of beliefs that were based on the Word of God as revealed by the Holy Spirit. The church described in the New Testament emphasised Spiritual wholeness (see 1 Thess 3:13;5:23; 1 John 4:17,18). It emphasised the freedom that comes from knowing God personally and intimately. [1. Stafford, Dr. Gilbert, Theology for Disciples, Anderson, Warner Press 1996. This is the major source of organization for this material.]
There was also an emphasis on the health of the relationships in the church (see I John 4:19-21)
“When Constantine declared Christianity to be the state religion in 312 AD, it also came out of the fact that a majority of people in the Roman Empire had become Christians. Evangelism had come about, not because of big evangelistic crusades but because of the very strong Christian families and bodies of believers that modelled Christianity. Their neighbours and acquaintances wanted to have what they had.” [7. Richards, Lawrance O., Church Leadership, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1980]
But the Bible also tells of the ‘warts’ of the early church. (see 1 Cor 3; 5:1-8; 11:17-13:13) Paul talks about immorality, people doing personality cult stuff; they were having parties where some went home hungry and others got drunk at the same time. The church in the first century wasn’t perfect, but it was a people in the process of becoming what God wanted it to become.
The early church attempted to follow the principles Jesus had used. Eddie Askew describes Jesus’ treatment of Matthew this way:
“When Jesus sat down to eat with him and his friends, the critics thought that He was condoning Matthew’s behaviour. Jesus was neither ignoring nor accepting the way Matthew had lived, but was underlining that Matthew’s only way out to something better was with Jesus. He didn’t say, “Matthew, you reform, you change your life and then I’ll think about taking you on.” He offered his help to Matthew, then and there, held out an invitation to him to examine and change his life.
“If Matthew was to be kept on the edge of acceptance until he’d changed, there would have been no change. Change depended on his growing nearer to Jesus. He made no excuses for Matthew’s past life. He didn’t say “Everybody’s doing it, it doesn’t matter.” He answered the critics “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Luke 5:31) [3. Askew, Eddie,Cross Purposes, Leprosy Mission, Middlesex UK, Brentford, 1995]
Max Lucado describes it in the title of his book- “God loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way,. He wants you to be-‘JUST LIKE JESUS’ “. [8. Lucado, Max, Just Like Jesus, Nashville, Word Publishing, 1998]
“If the New Testament is permitted to convey its full message to us about the church, we will learn that although the church has a high calling in the economy of God, it is made up of people who have not yet reached eternal glorification. The church is the body of Christ, but it is also in the process of growing up into Christ (Eph 4:15). The church is the new humanity, but also it has to be reminded not to “satisfy the desires of your lower nature” (Gal. 5:16 – Barclay [4. Barclay, William, The New Testament, Louisville, Westminster John Know Press, 1968, 1999]).
The church is the people of God, but it is required also to persevere in order to be saved (Heb. 6:1-8; 10:26-39 see also Luke 9:23)
“The church is a society of people with a new identity given to it by the grace of God, but it is also a band of pilgrims traversing the deserts and rivers of life, climbing mountains, walking through valleys, sometimes falling by the wayside, sometimes failing to follow the signposts, sometimes becoming discouraged and tired and weary, and sometimes forgetting the goal. It is because the church is a band of pilgrims –perhaps we should even say, a ragtag band — that is needs to be schooled well in its new, divine identity given to it in Christ. If it is not so schooled, it will, no doubt, lose heart along the way. In order for the church to keep on keeping on, it needs to hear again and again the message of who it is by grace, namely, the body of Christ, the one new humanity, “God’s ‘chosen generation’, his ‘royal priesthood’, his ‘holy nation’, his ‘peculiar people’ — all the old titles of God’s people now belong to you. It is for you now to demonstrate the goodness of him who has called you out of darkness into his amazing light.” (1 Peter 2:9 JBP[5. Phillips, J.B. The New Testament in Modern English. London, Geoffrey Bless, 1960])
“It is as this new identity is preached and taught patiently, lovingly, and endlessly that the church will be kindled and rekindled in its desire to be continuously re-formed by the Word and re-renewed by the Spirit to be Christ’s new kind of ekklesia. Only then will it be strengthened as the interpersonal network of those whose hearts and minds are captivated by the Lord Jesus. Only then will it take fuller advantage of it’s inheritance as heirs of the ancient promises fulfilled in Christ. Only then will it be in earnest about growing up into the fullness of Christ. Only then will it be the sacramental community of God’s grace and the missionary task force which makes disciples of ;whosoever will’ Only then will the church truly be ready for the coming of the bridegroom.” (Stafford pp 166-167)