“Where Two or Three Are Gathered Together…”

I love to travel.  I love to view God’s creation.  The Canadian Rockies, the autumn leaves of  New England, the Great Smoky Mountains, Monument Valley, Big Bend, the Amazon Rainforest – it is all so amazing.  “When we behold the wonders of creation, the flowers that bloom, the raindrops as they fall; the spacious skies and life’s perpetuation, we cannot doubt that God controlled it all” (Song: Lord, I Believe by A.W. Dicus). 

However, when I travel, I especially look forward to being with the saints on the first day of the week.  When it is possible to meet with other Christians, I plan to do so.  It is an encouragement to me.  It is an encouragement to the local church.  The writer of Hebrews said, “Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Sometimes, I get to meet brethren that I have never met. Sometimes, I get to visit with brethren that I know. Sometimes, I have even been reunited with brethren with whom I had lost contact. Sometimes, I am exposed to new songs. Sometimes, I learn a new method, maybe a better method of doing things.  I get to hear God’s word expounded, sometimes with a new thought or insight which helps me.  A few times, I have even been called on to preach at the last minute.

Some brethren do not share my enthusiasm in this.  Some do not worship when they are away from home.  Others take the communion elements with them, and worship with friends and family who are with them, but do not meet with a local church in the area.  A common refrain is, “For where two or three are gathered together…” (Matthew 18:20). 

I want to encourage all to meet with a local church, when possible, even when away from home.  Consider: 

  1. Paul took time, when traveling, to meet with the church (e.g., Acts 20:6-7; 21:3-5).  Granted, Paul was an apostle.  Moreover, he knew at least some of these brethren.  Still, one never finds record of Paul choosing to separately, worship with his travel companions, when he could have met with a local church.
  2. Why wouldn’t one want to assemble with a local church, when it is possible?  If King Charles III was in the area, and was willing to meet you, then wouldn’t you do it?  What about the Governor?  Michael Jordan?  George Strait?  Nolan Ryan?  Tiger Woods? When I have an opportunity to meet with the saints, I take it.  These are people who make up the bride of Christ.  These are people with whom I may be able to work and spread the good news. This same point applies to meeting with the saints on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights.  Why wouldn’t I want to be there if I could be?  What is more important?  TV?  Facebook? Walmart?  “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). 
  3. We should be careful with scripture.  I grant that a local church could consist of two or three Christians coming together for worship.  However, the passage in Matthew 18 concerns church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20).  It was never intended to be used to justify not meeting with a local church when traveling.

May we “love the brotherhood” (1 Peter 2:17).  Current statistics indicate that in the U.S.A. we are losing each month 2,000 members and 9 congregations.  May we do all that we can to help strengthen the church and fill the pews with encouragement.

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Church of Christ: What is Said About Us?

From time to time, I have tried to provide some basic information on a religious group, denomination, or independent church.   I have tried to be fair and accurate.  The aim has been to provide information to you which may be helpful when evangelizing, and when conversing with your neighbor or friend about spiritual matters.

At some point, I will write on the church of Christ.  The plan is to cover such things as: “What is the church of Christ?” “Must one be a member of the church of Christ to be saved?”  Do you believe that you are the only ones saved?”

However, at this time I want to consider what another has said about the church of Christ.  Inaccurate and misleading information is pervasive on the internet.  It is easy to defeat a strawman.  However, I recently came across two sites which sought to accurately represent the facts.  One was an article on Christianity.com by Brannon Deibert entitled: Churches of Christ – 10 Things to Know About Their History and Beliefs.  The other was a Ready to Harvest YouTube video entitled: What is the Church of Christ?  It is the article by Brannon Deibert we consider.  Here are his 10 points:

1.  “The Churches of Christ arose from the Restoration Movement.”   

B.H. – I do not believe that this is completely accurate.  It is true that many churches of Christ in America have historical connection with the Restoration Movement.  However, it does not depend on it.  The Bible teaches that the Lord adds to His church those who obey His plan for salvation (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2). David Roper has written, “Anywhere that is a Bible, there is always the possibility that people will read it and obey it just as it reads – and when that happens, God adds them to the church” (Voices Crying in the Wilderness, p. 94). 

He adds, “Despite being influenced by the Restoration Movement, individuals of the Church of Christ do not consider themselves as a new Church originating near the beginning of the 19th century.  Rather, the whole movement is designed to represent in modern times the church first established on Pentecost, A.D. 30.”

2.  “The founders believed in adhering solely to the Bible.”

B.H. – By “founders” he seems to be referring to men like Barton W. Stone and Thomas and Alexander Campbell.  The true founder is Jesus Christ (cf. Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20). 

He adds, “Churches of Christ seek to follow the teachings on the Bible being the only source to find doctrine (known abroad as Sola Scriptura).”  B.H. – All should.

3.  “The Churches of Christ are autonomous congregations.” 

 He adds, “There is no primary headquarters of the Church, and no organization superior to the elders of each local congregation.”  B.H. – This is how it should be.

4.  “There are over 15,000 individual Churches of Christ.”

He adds, “the total fellowship of the Churches of Christ is now 2,000,000.  There are over 7,000 men who preach (full-time) publicly.  Membership of the Church is largest in the southern states of the United States, especially in Tennessee and Texas, though there are congregations located in each of the 50 states and in over 80 countries.”

B.H. – His figures seem to be based on U.S.A. figures.  His figures seem too high.  “Attendance in churches of Christ peaked (in U.S.A. – B.H.) about 1985 and has been in decline since about 1990.  As of 2010, Churches of Christ had 1.6 million adherents… and 12,584 congregations… Tim Woodroof and Stan Granberg wrote that Churches of Christ have lost more than 2,000 people and nine congregations a month since 2015” (Non-instrumental Churches of Christ Facing Uncertain Future by Kent Fillinger, Oct. 13, 2021, christianstandard.com; Churches of Christ …New Study Reveals Drastic Decline by Tim Woodroff & Stan Granberg).

B.H. – It is not possible to be exact on these numbers.  Remember there is no hierarchy or earthly headquarters.

B.H – Most congregations in the U.S.A. are small. 91% of all attendees are found in churches of fewer than 250. The smallest 55% of congregations average 34 people (Churches of Christ … New Study Reveals Drastic Decline by Tim Woodroff & Stan Granberg).

5.  “Churches of Christ are governed by a plurality of elders.”   

He adds, “In each congregation, which has… become… organized, there is a group of elders or pastors who serve as governing authority.  These men are chosen by the local congregations on the foundation of qualifications established in the scriptures (1 Timothy 3:1-8).  Serving under the elders are ministers, teachers, and (foreign) evangelists or missionaries.   (They) do not have authority equal to or exceeding that of elders.”  B.H. – So, it should be.

6.  “Churches of Christ believe in a process of salvation.” 

He adds, “The process of salvation… One must be properly taught, and hear (Romans 10:14-17); One must believe or have faith (Hebrews 11:6; Mark 16:16);  One must repent… (Acts 17:30); One must confess belief that Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 8:36-37); One must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38); and One must live faithfully as a Christian (1 Peter 2:9).” 

7.  “Churches of Christ baptize by immersion only.”

B.H. – This is what the original word means. Moreover, it is described as a burial (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12).

8. “‘A Capella’ singing is the only music used in worship.”

He adds, “It is believed that there is no jurisdiction for involving acts of worship not found in the New Testament.”

B.H. – Alas, it is not always this way in every church of Christ.  However, it should be. 

9.  “Churches of Christ have a distinctive plea.”

He adds, “The Churches of Christ have a distinctive plea for spiritual unity based upon the Bible.  In a segregated religious world, they believe that the Bible is the only plausible commonality upon which Christians can unite.  The objective of their plea is religious unity of all believers in Christ following the basis of the New Testament…”  

10.  “Most members of Churches of Christ live outside the United States.”

He adds, “There are more than 1,000,000 members of the Churches of Christ in Africa, roughly 1,000,000 in India, and 50,000 in Central and South America. 

B.H. – These numbers may be under-estimated.  The church is experiencing rapid growth in Africa and India (faster than one can keep up with statistically).  If we do not get busy, they will need to evangelize us one day.  Further, the numbers in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean likely exceed 100,000 (the global status of Churches of Christ by Bob Waldron, missiodeijournal.com).

B.H. – It is not possible to be exact on these numbers.  Remember that there is no hierarchy or earthly headquarters.  Some congregations are very small, meeting in houses. 

                  

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Denominations: Disciples of Christ and Independent Christian Church

The Christians Church (Disciples of Christ) saw its membership fall below 400,000 in 2018.  It is in rapid decline.  Jeff Walton writes, “At the current rate, the denomination will shrink by another 50 percent within a decade” (Disciples of Christ on Track to Lose Half its Membership in Ten Years by Michael Gryboski, CP Church & Ministry August 25, 2019, christianpost. com). It may be the fastest shrinking church in the U.S.A.

The Independent Christian Church reported a membership of about 1.2 million in 2018.  42% of its congregations are in five states: Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, and Missouri.  [By comparison, 46% of all churches of Christ in the U.S.A. are located in five states: Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Kentucky.]  46% of its members are located in five states: Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, and California.  [By comparison 54% of members of the church of Christ are in the U.S.A. are located in five states: Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Oklahoma] (Non-Instrumental Churches of Christ Facing Uncertain Future by Kent Fillinger, October 13, 2021, christianstandard.com). 

History

The two groups share a common history.  The DOC and the ICC both have historical connection to the American restoration movement of the 19th century.

In 1906, a split was recognized between the Christian Church / DOC and the churches of Christ.  The reality is this split had taken place decades earlier. Tension over the missionary society occurred before and after the Civil War. Tensions over instrumental music occurred mostly after the Civil War. By 1883, some were openly declaring that division was present (Earl Irvin West, The Search for Ancient Order vol. 2, p. 223). J.W. McGarvey wrote in 1883, “I would not hold membership with a church using one (an organ B.H.)” (West, vol. 2, p. 233). In 1906, S.N.D. North, the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, wrote to David Lipscomb, editor of the Gospel Advocate, to ask whether the churches of Christ should be listed separately from the Disciples of Christ/ Christian Church in the religious census. Lipscomb explained that each church is governed congregationally. In some places the differences had not yet resulted in division, but in other places it had. A few months later North visited the Gospel Advocate office and ask J.W. Shepherd, co-editor of the Gospel Advocate to compile a list of know churches of Christ for census purposes. The churches of Christ were listed separately in the 1910 census. Two major issues contributed to this split: The Missionary Society and instrumental music in worship (History of the Disciples, disciples.org).  There were other issues, as well, for example – the role of women in the church (Fred Arthur Bailey, The Status of Women in the Disciples of Christ, 1865-1900). At the time of the split the Christian Church was much larger than the church of Christ.  They had over six times the number of members, and over three times the number of congregations (Bill Humble, The Story of Restoration, p. 66, 79).

In 1926, another split began to occur, which some say was not complete until 1971. The Independent Christian Church (ICC) split from the DOC.  One source says that the “due primarily to disagreements concerning liberal trends and development of denominational structure within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The split occurred as local congregations refused to take part in rapidly developing extra-congregational organizations that eventually evolved into a General Assembly.  They were also disturbed by what they saw as liberal influences within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) concerning Biblical criticism and social justice.  This came to a head at the 1926 DOC convention in Memphis, Tennessee” (Independent Christian Church/Churches of Christ, en-academic.com).  There was also the issue of membership.  In the 1920’s it was discovered that the missionary society’s missionaries were accepting the un-immersed as members, a practice known as “open membership” (Bill Humble, p. 68). Edwin V. Hayden (of the ICC) lists four reasons for the split: (1) Federation in interdenominational activities; (2) The acceptance of “the historical criticism advanced by modern scholars”; (3) Open membership; (4) The limitation of missionary activities through comity agreement (Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 625 ref. Edwin V. Hayden, 50 Years of Digression and Disturbance, p.6). The exact date of the split is disputed. Some say it occurred in 1926, at the Memphis convention. Some date it in 1927, when the conservative of the Christian Church formed the North American Christian Convention (NACC). Some date it in 1955, when a directory of ministers was published of the “Undenominational Fellowship of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ.” Some date it in 1968, when the Disciples of Christ restructured under a General Assembly. Still others date it in 1971, when the Yearbook of American Churches was asked to list Christian Churches separately.

The DOC has continued to digress.  “The leadership of the Disciples of Christ… has now abandoned the concept of restoring New Testament Christianity.  They believe that in the light of modern scholarship it is no longer possible to accept the New Testament as a pattern for the church” (Bill Humble, p. 77). 

Beliefs and Practices

1.  Baptism

DOC: “We believe in the importance of baptism.  We see full immersion as the most symbolic mode and the way that baptism was practiced in the New Testament.  However, we also freely accept members into our congregations who have been baptized by other means: infant baptism and confirmation, or adult baptism by sprinkling” [First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Rogers, Arkansas, fccrogers.org]. 

ICC: “The Bible shows the way that leads to salvation: (1) Belief and confession of Jesus Christ; (2) Repentance from sinful life; (3) Baptism (immersion) for the forgiveness of sins; (4) Receiving the Holy Spirit as guide and counselor; (5) Faithfulness to Christ” (Central Christian Church, Bristol, Tennessee, cccbristol.com).    Ken Chumbley, who left the Christian Church, writes, “Many people assume that all of those involved with the Independent Christian Church baptize for the remission of sins.  However, this is a fallacy.  Common practice among Christian Churches in Australia, and I am persuaded in this country also, is to put off a baptism until the next Sunday or some special service.  To say the least, this shows a light regard for baptism… Further, there was, and is, the practice of receiving anyone who has been immersed regardless of whether they have been immersed for the remission of sins… Mr. Henderson [Los Gatos (California) Christian Church – B.H.] states, ‘I do not teach that baptism is a necessity for the remission of sins, but that it is a public declaration of the inward work of the Holy Spirit…’” (Why I Left the Independent Christian Church by Ken Chumbley, ed. Terry Hightower, Denominationalism Versus the Bible). 

2.  Communion

DOC: “We invite all Christians to participate in the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper together” (fccrogers.org).

ICC: “The Lord’s Supper is the celebration of the New Covenant, in which the Christian community remembers Christ and celebrates the covenantal relationship they have with Him and with each other.  Congregations in this fellowship typically celebrate the Lord’s Supper at least weekly” [Gillette (Wyoming) Christian Church, gillettechristianchurch.com]. Dan Goddard, who was once a preacher at the Bell Gardens Christian Church in Southern California but who left the Christian Church writes, “Partaking of the Lord’s Supper on days not authorized was another practice of concern.  We partook of the Lord’s Supper on any night we chose with the logic, ‘The Lord is here, the Lord is near, so let’s acknowledge this by partaking of the Lord’s Supper” (Why I Left the Independent Christian Church #1, Seek The Old Paths, October 1995). 

3.  Instrumental Music

It is common for both groups to use mechanical instrumental music in worship. It is also common for them to use choirs.  Dan Goddard writes of his time in the Christian Church, “We had our choirs, chorales, rock bands and orchestras – all during the worship services.  Our philosophy was ‘The more you entertain them, the more people will come’” (Why I Left #1).

4.  Women’s Roles

Both groups use women in public and to lead the church.  The “Rev.” Teresa “Terri” Hord Owens is the current General Minister and President of the DOC. “Rev.” Yvonne Gilmore is Interim Administration Secretary of the National Convention. “Rev.” Lori Tapia is the National Pastor of Hispanic Ministries (disciples.org).  Dan Goddard writes, “We had women choir directors, women of church boards, Women teaching mix adult Bible classes, women educational directors, women youth ministers, and women who filled in for their husbands in elders’ meetings” (Why I Left #1).

5.  Denominations

DOC: It considers itself in full communion with the United Church of Christ and The United Church of Canada.  It is a member of ecumenical associations: World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches of Christ USA, and other interfaith groups.   W.E. Garrison stated in 1952 before the Third World Conference on Faith and Order, a unit of the World Council of Churches, that there should be “union upon loyalty to Christ with full freedom of opinion in regard to doctrines and ordinances.”  “Jesus is Lord” must be the only creedal or doctrinal test. There must be an interchangeable membership. There must be an interchangeable ministry. There must be equal freedom in forms of worship, with no established ritual for all congregations. Varieties of organization and structure must exist independently but harmoniously within one united church. There must be agencies of cooperation. (Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 719-720).

ICC: They tend to reject denominationalism and to consider themselves “Christians only” (4 Beliefs That Set Independent Christian Church From Other Denominations by Jocelyn Mackie, newsmax.com). 

6.  Organizations

DOC: Since 1968 it has had three levels of organization: local (congregational), regional (there are currently 31 regions), and general (Frank Mead and Samuel Hill, Handbook of Denominations, p. 72-74; Our Structure, disciples.org). Each level has its own roles. e.g. The regional level provides leadership in such matters as standing and credentialing of ministers, and the relocation of pastors (Our Structure, disciples.org). DOC General headquarters are located in Indianapolis, Indiana (disciples.org).

ICC: “Every Christian Church is completely independent.  There is no denominational control, hierarchy, or national headquarters… Each church is self-governed and determines its own affairs based on the word of God” (Atlanta Christian Church, What Kind of Church is This?, atlantachristianfamily.org; Handbook of Denominations, p. 75-76).

7.  Designations

This is a bit tricky.  DOC and ICC both may be referred to as the Christian Church. The ICC is also sometimes referred to as the conservative Christian Church. Further, some ICC are referred to as Church of Christ, also instrumental Churches of Christ.  I experienced this once, years ago, while traveling in Michigan.

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The Weeping Prophet

Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughters of my people!” (Jeremiah 9:1).

Jeremiah has been dubbed “the weeping prophet.”  Here he said, “I physically cannot produce enough tears to express my sadness over what awaits my people.”  Jerusalem was about to become “a heap of ruins, a den of jackals” and the cities of Judah “desolate, without an inhabitant” (Jeremiah 9:11).  He saw where their actions were leading.  He reasoned with them, “Hear and give ear; do not be proud, for the LORD has spoken.  Give glory to the LORD your God before He causes darkness, and before your feet stumble on the dark mountains, and while you are looking for light, He turns it into the shadow of death and makes dense darkness.  But if you will not hear it, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears, because the LORD’s flock has been taken captive” (Jeremiah 13:15-17).   

Judeans were oblivious to their true condition.  (1) They listened to false prophets.  “They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14).  (2) They were no longer ashamed of sin.  “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination?  No!  They were not at all ashamed; nor did they know how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:15).       (3) They refused to listen to God’s true prophets.  “Also, I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not listen’” (Jeremiah 6:17).  (4) They trusted in the physical temple (or church building).  “Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place.  Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD are these’” (Jeremiah 7:3-4).  They trusted in the house itself (Jeremiah 7:14).  (5) They trusted in their external worship of the LORD.  “Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit.  Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations?’  Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of thieves in your eyes?” (Jeremiah 7:8-11).

Many preachers, elders, and concerned members can see what so many seem oblivious to seeing.  They see that God expects total devotion.  Yet, many conduct themselves as if half-hearted devotion will be acceptable.  They see that we are to be evangelistic.  Yet, many feel no personal responsibility.  They see parents sending a message that school and sports are more important than worship and Bible study.  Yet, their warnings are written off as out-of-date and unrealistic.  They see that if things do not change there may be no local church in a location in a few years.  Yet, they are considered fearmongers.  They warn that few will be saved.  Yet, many live as if almost all will be.  Could it be that those who warn are not trying to be fearmongers, or Chicken Littles, or unnecessarily negative, but are in truth concerned about souls?  Are you concerned about your soul?

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Fire in My Bones

Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name” (Jeremiah 20:9a).

Jeremiah was tired of the fight.  He was mocked by what seemed like everyone (Jeremiah 20:7, 10).  He was in derision daily (Jeremiah 20:7-8). He was alone (Jeremiah 15:17). The message which he preached was not popular, and it was in general rejected (Jeremiah 6:16-17). His preaching was considered too negative, and even unpatriotic [Jeremiah 20:10 (cf. 6:25; 20:3; 46:5; 49:29); Jeremiah 37:11-16; 38:1-4]. He was threatened by men in his own city of Anathoth (Jeremiah 11:21 cf. 1:1).  They said, “Do not prophesy in the name of the LORD lest you die by our hand” (Jeremiah 11:21).  He once wished that he could leave His role as a prophet/preacher and open a hotel in the wilderness.  He said, “Oh, that I had in the wilderness a lodging place for travelers; that I may leave my people, and go from them!  For they are all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men” (Jeremiah 9:2).  He genuinely cared about his people and wept over the path they had chosen to follow (Jeremiah 8:21; 9:1).  He was tired of dealing with such weighty matters.

This preacher (probably, most preachers) can, at times, relate.  There seems always to be some controversy or difficulty.  There are those who will not listen and amend their ways.  There are critics, and sometimes scheming opposition.  Maybe I could open a gym.   Maybe I could be a hotelier.  Maybe I could be a landscaper.  Perhaps, only other preachers fully understand.  It hurts when brethren are lukewarm.  It hurts when brethren do not attend.  It hurts when members gossip and criticize and misrepresent.  It hurts when you seem to be more concerned for a brother’s soul, than he is.  Moreover, when you take a stand, it hurts to feel like you are on an island by yourself.  It is easy to burn out.    

But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back and I could not” (Jeremiah 20:9b).

The word of God motivated Jeremiah to continue his work as a prophet of God.  Robert Taylor Jr. comments, “God’s word was not an impotent force in his life.  Quite to the contrary, God’s word was a burning fire.  It was shut up in his bones.  He could no longer contain it.  It had to burst forth from his heart, from his lips” (Robert R. Taylor, Jr., Studies in Jeremiah and Lamentations, Vol. 1, p. 157). 

Preachers (and all Christians) should stay in the book.  It “effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).  It provides not only information but motivation.  The wise meditate on God’s word day and night (Psalm 1:1-2; 119:15, 23, 48, 78, 97, 99, 148).  “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.  Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16). 

Love also motivates. Garland Elkins suggests, “It was his deep love and compassion for his people that made him cry out” (ed. B.J. Clark, Major Lessons from The Major Prophets, Power Lectures, p. 78). Johnny Ramsey has written, “Jeremiah yearned for the word of God (15:16), and it burned within his heart (20:9) to such an extent that he wanted the entire earth to hear it (22:29)” (Johnny Ramsey, The Message of Jeremiah, Gospel Advocate, April 1990). If we truly love others, then we will be compelled to proclaim God’s word to others.

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Negative As Well As Positive

Behold I have put My words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9).

The LORD addressed these words to Jeremiah.  The prophet was to speak God’s word.  It was not his duty to entertain the people.  It was not his duty to please the ears of the people.  It was not his duty to make people feel good.  It was his duty to proclaim God’s word to the people.

This remains the duty of those who would preach today.  Paul told Timothy, “Preach the word!  Be ready in season and out of season.  Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).  The word translated “preach” (kerusso) means “to be a herald… to proclaim” (Vine’s). 

See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the Kingdoms” (Jeremiah 1:10a).

The prophet had authority.  His authority was based on the fact that he was preaching God’s word, which has authority.  If a prophet (or preacher) proclaim some other message than God’s word, he has no authority from God to do so.  He abandons the only authority that he has. 

Jeremiah’s jurisdiction extended beyond Judah.  He prophesied concerning gentile kingdoms and cities (Jeremiah 46-51).  He did this because God’s authority is universal.  It still is (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47).

To root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10b). 

It was not all positive.  Tom Wacaster comments, “Before Jeremiah could ‘build and… plant’ he must first ‘root out… pull down… destroy and throw down.’  In order to build, it was important for Judah to know, ‘You can’t get there from here!’  Before progress could be made it was essential that the rubbish be cleared away.  The heart and soul of Judah needed to be changed.  Jeremiah could not reform that which was corrupt – he could not get Judah to where God wanted them to be from where they were!”  (Article: Getting There from Here by Tom Wacaster).  Robert Taylor Jr. comments, “Evil must be rooted out; strongholds of sin must be pulled down; widespread iniquity must be destroyed; rampaging idolatry with all its shrines, altars and high places of lascivious actions in the name of so-called fertility rites must be thrown down…” (Robert R. Taylor Jr., Studies in Jeremiah & Lamentations, p. 13).  [Note: These six words are repeated elsewhere in this book (Jeremiah 12:14-15, 17; 18:7-11; 24:6; 31:28; 42:10; 45:4).]

Two illustrations are given.  (1) A farmer needs to sometime remove unwanted plants before he plants wanted seeds and plants.  (2) A builder needs to sometimes demolish before he builds.

Even so, it is with preaching.  Sometimes it is the case that before there can be productive growth (build, plant) things which stand in the way need to be removed (root out, pull down, destroy, throw down). The negative is needed as well as the positive.  Do not despise the negative.  Sometimes such is necessary for positive results. [Note: I do not think that the instructions given to Jeremiah is unique. Compare instructions given to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:10) to instructions given to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Timothy 4:2). Both contain negative aspects. A case can be made that both are 2/3 negative in content.]

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The Crossroads

Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).

Robert Johnson

There is a legend in the world of blues music.  The story goes that sometime in the 1930’s, at the modern intersections of U.S. Highways 61 and 49, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for musical talent.  Eric Clapton understood this to be a metaphor.  He said, “the crossroads is about choosing which path to go down.  It’s about the moral decisions you make everyday” (What Eric Clapton Thinks About Robert Johnson’s Devil Legend by Rafael Polcara, rockandrollgarage.com).  Another theory is that the story was created to explain how Johnson went from being a mediocre blues player to a highly skilled blues musician in a short period of time.  Johnson died in 1938, at the age of 27.  Let us understand that nothing is worth one’s soul (Mark 8:36-37).

Judah   

The text in Jeremiah is about a crossroads.  Judah was at a spiritual crossroads.  The LORD tells them: (1) Stand in the ways and see.  They needed to carefully consider which direction they would travel.  (2) Ask for the old paths, where the good way is.  God has a plan for how man is to walk (cf. Psalm 17:5; 23:3).  They were to “ask for,” that is, seek God’s ways.  (a) It is called “the old paths” (Jeremiah 6:16; 18:15).  God had long ago by Moses told them how to conduct themselves as His people (Jeremiah 7:23).    (b) It is called “the good way” (Jeremiah 6:16).  It is the way that God promised the bless and not curse (Deuteronomy 28).  (3) Walk in it.  This refers to obedience (Jeremiah 7:23).  They were not to direct their own steps, but they were to allow God to direct them (Jeremiah 10:23).  (4) Then you will find rest for your souls.  Spiritual rest is found in following the way in which God leads (Jeremiah 6:16 cf. Matthew 11:28-29).  Adam Clarke comments, “A traveler is going to a particular city; he comes to a place where the road divides… (he) gets proper directions -proceeds on his journey – arrives at the desired place – and reposes.”  There is a rest to come for the faithful (Revelation 14:13). 

Alas, Judah refused to walk in the ways of God.  They said, “We will not walk in it” (Jeremiah 6:16).  Wayne Jackson comments, “One writer notes that God had provided three incentives to walk in the old paths: History (v. 16); Prophecy (v. 17); the Law (v. 19), but the people rejected the testimony of all three” (Wayne Jackson, Jeremiah and Lamentations, p. 19).  The consequences of their rejection did not bring rest.  The LORD declared, “Hear, O earth!  Behold, I will certainly bring calamity on this people – The fruit of their thoughts, because they have not heeded My words nor My law, but rejected it” (Jeremiah 6:19). 

Us

We face many choices in life.  Some of these choices have spiritual consequences.  Consider: (1) Stand in the ways and see.  Do we thoughtfully consider which way we should go?  (2) Ask for the old paths.  Do we consider what God’s word says?  Do we consult the scriptures?  (3) Walk in it.  Do we seek to order our lives according to His will?  (4) Then you will find rest for your souls.  Are we following a path that will lead us to heavenly rest?

Consider: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).  “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119: 105).  “There is a way that seems right to a man but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25).  “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by in.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 cf. Luke 13:23-24).

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Missed Opportunity

The harvest is past, The summer is ended, And we are not saved!” (Jeremiah 8:20).

These are extremely sad words.  Judah was not in a saved condition.  There are two common interpretations of this verse.  Wayne Jackson comments, “This may suggest that opportunities for repentance were now wasted and now hope is gone, or else: ‘We expected deliverance – time and again – but none came’” (Wayne Jackson, The Prophets, p. 132).  I lean toward the second.  They clearly had expected things to turn out differently than they did.  “We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and there was trouble! (Jeremiah 8:15).  Hananiah, a false prophet, proclaimed that the captives would return within two years (Jeremiah 28:3, 11).  They did not.  Then came the siege of Jerusalem.  It lasted for two years (2 Kings 25:1-3).  No deliverance came.  Adam Clarke comments, “This seems to have been a proverb: “We expected deliverance… none came.  We hoped for it… we were disappointed.”  Keil & Delitzsch comments, “As a countryman, hoping for a good harvest, falls into despair as his chances, so the people have been in vain looking for its rescue and deliverance. The events, or combination of events, to which it looked for its rescue are gone without bringing any such results… From Jerusalem 8:19 we see that the words are spoken by the people while it pines in exile.” 

Is there no balm in Gilead, Is there no physician there?  Why then is there no recovery for the health of the daughter of My people?” (Jeremiah 8:22).

Gilead was known for its medicine (cf. Genesis 37:25; Jeremiah 8:22; 46:11).  Robert Taylor Jr. comments, “Gilead lay east of Judah and the Jordan.  It produced a balsam highly valued by the ancients for medicinal purposes.  Is there no balm, no physician?  Yes, there are but Judah had rejected both balm (God’s truth) and the physician (Jehovah).  There could be no spiritual recovery when both the medicine and its Dispenser (Deity) had been adamantly rejected and forthrightly refused.  Today our balm is the Gospel; our Physician is the Christ.  Too many want no part of Him or His balm.  This is sad, it is immeasurably sad” (Robert Taylor Jr., Studies in Jeremiah and Lamentations, Vol. 1, p. 76).  Wayne Jackson comments, “Figuratively speaking, a healing remedy was so near – yet so far.  Why had Judah not been healed?  Because the sickness was of the soul, and she sought not the Great Physician” (Wayne Jackson, The Prophets, p. 152). 

In application to today, time and opportunity to be saved will one day run out.  Some seem to think little about the matter (e.g. The Rich Fool – Luke 12:16-21).  Some procrastinate and neglect opportunities before them ( e.g. Felix, Acts 24:24-25).  “‘Almost persuaded’ harvest is past! ‘Almost persuaded’ doom comes at last!  ‘Almost’ cannot avail; ‘Almost’ is but to fail; sad, sad, that bitter wail – ‘Almost but lost!’” (Song: Almost Persuaded by P. P. Bliss). 

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Two Evils

My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, And hewn for themselves cisterns – broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

The bulk of the book of Jeremiah concerns Judah’s final years before Babylonian captivity (Jeremiah 1:2-3, apx. 626 B.C. – 586 B.C.).  There is a post-script which refers to a later development (Jeremiah 52:31-34, apx. 560 B.C.).  It concerns events that occurred long ago.

However, the nature of man has not changed.  Man continues to commit the two evils mentioned.  Let’s notice…

1.  They had forsaken the LORD, i.e. Jehovah.

He was/is “the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 2:13 cf. 17:13; 18:14; Psalm 36:7-9; John 4:13-14; 7:37; Revelation 21:6; 22:1, 17).  He is the source of life.  He is the source of blessings (Psalm 35:7-9; Matthew 5:45; James 1:17).  He is the source of eternal life (John 4:13-14; 7:37-38; Revelation 21:6; 22:1, 17).  Man depends on God as crops do the rain.  Man depends on God as sheep do water (Psalm 23:2), or deer do water (Psalm 42:1). 

Judah had forsaken the LORD (Jeremiah 2:13 cf. 1:16; 2:17, 19; 15:6; see also, Judges 2:13; 1 Samuel 12:10).  How had they forsaken Him?  (a) They had done so by turning from the way that He led them (Jeremiah 2:17-19), and going backwards (Jeremiah 15:6).  (b) They did so by turning to idols (Jeremiah 1:16).

Why do men turn from God?  (a) One reason is that they do not want to listen to Him (Jeremiah 6:16-17).  Aldous Huxley admitted, “I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently, assumed it had none… the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation… liberation from a certain system of morality.  We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom” [Aldous Huxley (1966) Confessions of a Professed Atheist quoted by Bert Thompson in Rock Solid Faith, Vol. 1, pp. 81-82].  Julian Huxley told Merv Griffin, “the reason we accepted Darwinism, even without proof, is because we didn’t want God to interfere with our sexual mores” (quoted by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, p. 163).  Former atheist Lee Strobel has written, “I was more than happy to latch onto Darwinism as an excuse to jettison the idea of God so that I could unabashedly pursue my own agenda in life without moral constraints” (Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith, p. 91).  Some “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).  They do not like to retain God in their knowledge (Romans 1:28).  (b) Some have the wrong priorities.  The rich young ruler is an example (Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23).  Demas is an example (2 Timothy 4:10).  If He is not Lord of all, then He is not Lord at all in one’s life. 

2.  They had created broken water pots.

What is meant?  It is explained in the context.  The LORD said, “Has a nation changed its gods which are not gods?  But my people have changed their Glory for what does not profit” (Jeremiah 2:11 cf. 2:8; 7:8).  They had rejected the LORD for idols.  They had rejected truth for lies.  They had turned from living water (running water) for pots of their own creation which held no water, i.e. which did not profit.  They had turned from God from whom all blessings flow to false gods that contained no blessings. 

Man tends to be a worshipping being.  “Although all known societies have religious beliefs and practices, religions vary greatly from society to society” (Religion by Stephen D. Glazier and Carol R. Ember, May 24, 2019, hraf.yale.edu).  Notice the words “all known societies have religious beliefs.”

What do men do when they do not like the message of the God of the Bible?  (a) Some live as if there is no God (Isaiah 29:15; Ezekiel 8:12; 9:9).  This may describe some in Judah (Jeremiah 23:23-24).  (b) Some listen to another message (e.g. Isaiah 30:10-11; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12; 2 Timothy 4:1-5).  This is what many in Judah did (Jeremiah 6:13-14; 6:16-17; 7:8; 8:10-11).  (c) Some change gods.  They turn to other gods, and create idols.  Some recreate the God of the Bible into what they want Him to be.  Some in Judah changed gods (Jeremiah 2:11-13).  It is possible that part of the reason that they did this was so that they could follow their own desires.  Steven Lloyd tells this story: “Phil Donahue asked his TV guest, who by the way had five wives, ‘If God said polygamy was wrong would you stop practicing polygamy?’  The guest with five wives said, ‘Oh, I’d change gods.’”  (Steven Lloyd, Coping: A Biblical Approach, p. 93).  So it is with many.

Here are a couple of thoughts: (1) May we not be guilty of shaping God into our image.  May we seek to be like Him.  (2) May we not twist the scriptures to mean what we want them to mean.  May we seek to conform ourselves to His revealed will.

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The Gods Perish and It Is Not in Man

Thus you shall say to them: ‘The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens” (Jeremiah 10:11).

Man tends to be a worshipping being.  Nearly every culture that has existed on this planet has worshipped something.  Even those which claim not to do so, do so (e.g. nature, state, self). 

In context, some looked to creation for guidance, i.e. astrology (Jeremiah 10:2).  Some created their own gods out of wood and metal (Jeremiah 10:3-5, 8-9, 14-15).  False gods could not save.  Created idols could not even save themselves (Jeremiah 10:11 cf. 10:15).

On the other hand, there is the LORD.  There is none like Him (Jeremiah 10:6).  He is the true God (Jeremiah 10:10).  (1) He made the earth by His power (Jeremiah 10:12).  (2) He established the world by His wisdom (Jeremiah 10:12).  (3) He stretched out the heavens at His discretion (Jeremiah 10:12).  (4) He created the hydrological cycle which man and life on earth depends (Jeremiah 10:13).  The “gods” did not do these things.  He is the true God (Jeremiah 10:10).  He declares, “Before Me there was not God formed, now shall there be after Me” (Isaiah 43:10).  Again, “I am the First and the Last; Besides Me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6).  Again, “I am the LORD, Who makes all things, who stretches out the heavens all alone, who spreads abroad the earth by Myself” (Isaiah 44:24).

It is worth nothing that Jeremiah 10:11 was written in Aramaic and not Hebrew (see also Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26; Daniel 2:4b – 7:28).  Why?  Wayne Jackson comments, “This seems to be an oracle addressed to the Babylonians in the form they could read” (Wayne Jackson, Jeremiah and Lamentations, p. 28).  It seems that He wanted the Babylonians to be able to see this point.

   What is it that we truly worship?  In what do we put our trust?  In what do we turn for guidance?  If our ultimate trust is in anything or anyone other than the LORD, it is misplaced. 

O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:24).

This is not a completely distinct point.  While some look to creation, and others to man-made gods and religious systems, others look to themselves for guidance.

This too is the wrong place to turn.  Robert Taylor Jr. comments, “No verse in all the 1,364 penned by Jeremiah in this prophetic product is more familiar than this one.  It should be memorized by all and then never forgotten.  Man is totally void of having the inbred wisdom to chart his own course and plan his own path.  He needs God’s word as a lamp to his feet and a light for his path (Psalm 119:105)” (Robert R. Taylor, Jr., Studies in Jeremiah and Lamentations, Vol. 1, pp. 87-88).  Wayne Jackson comments, “One of the great truths in the book of Jeremiah is that the ‘way of man’ is not within himself. This is a mortal blow to subjectivism.  Man does not have the intellect and spiritual resources to direct his ways” (Wayne Jackson, p. 29).  When every man does what is right in his own eyes, chaos follows (Book of Judges).     Have you considered the implications of man being his own subjective standard of right and wrong?  Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek tell this story.  “The professor, who was teaching a class in ethics, assigned a term paper to his students.  He told his students to write on any ethical topic of their choice, requiring each student only to back up his or her thesis with reason and documentation.  One student, an atheist, wrote eloquently on the topic of moral relativism.  He argued, ‘All morals are relative; there is no absolute standard of justice or righteousness; it’s all a matter of opinion; you like chocolate, I like vanilla,’ and so on… After the professor read the entire paper, he wrote on the front cover, “F, I don’t like blue folders!’  When the student got his paper back, he was enraged… ‘That’s not fair!  That’s not right!’… The professor calmly retorted, “…Let me see… wasn’t your paper the one that said there is no such thing as fairness, rightness, and justice… Didn’t your paper argue that it’s all a matter of taste?  ‘You like chocolate, I like vanilla?’  The student replied, ‘Yes, that’s my view.’  ‘Fine, then,’ the professor responded.  ‘I don’t like blue.  You get an F!’ Suddenly the lightbulb went on in the student’s head.  He realized that he really did believe in moral absolutes.  He at least believed in justice…  If Moral Law doesn’t exist, then there’s no moral difference between the behavior of Mother Theresa and that of Hitler.  Likewise, statements like, “Murder is evil,’ ‘Racism is wrong,’ or ‘You shouldn’t abuse children’ have no objective meaning.  They’re just someone’s opinion, on par with ‘chocolate tastes better than vanilla.’” (Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, pp. 173-174, 178-179).

God had earlier pleaded with His people.  He said, “Stand in the way and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls.’  But they said, “We will not walk in it.’  Also, I set watchmen over you, saying, “Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’  But they said, ‘We will not listen.’” (Jeremiah 6:16-17).

Whose words do we follow?  Who is it that truly directs our steps through life?  If is anyone or anything other than the LORD, it is the wrong voice and wrong guide.  “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 16:25). 

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