Applying 1 Cor. 14: Exchanging Ideas without Spiritual Confusion
Chapter Twelve ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Feedback Box:
"Managing Bible Discussions"
Summary: There are baby steps you can take to pull your "church" into compliance with 1 Corinthians 14: bulletin boards, financial cooperation, a simple Church Directory, and a publication. There are baby steps you can take, in your assemblies, to inch towards Bible Discussion. Bible Discussion is such a forgotten art that the rules which previous generations have had for it are forgotten. But secular groups use Robert's Rules of Order; perhaps they contain principles we can adapt. Surely, if godless, greedy, hateful enemies can come up with rules which enable them to work together in an orderly manner, Christians drawn together by the Love of God can come up with a way to do it!
Discussion topics should be relevant to how we live. Our goal is to do the "works of God". Which are sometimes actions, sometimes words. Biblical topics include a vision of action, Faith-building, and challenging each other. Permissiveness can be disastrous. You can't start a local church. It already started in your city, unless you are the first Christian in your city. But you can preach the Gospel, and encourage the Church of your City to meet Biblically.
APPLYING 1 CORINTHIANS 14
What must a church be like whose pattern is in harmony with 1 Corinthians 14?
I have thought a lot about how inter-member communication could be opened up, in a traditional "church", with the least possible disruption of long-cherished comfortable habits.
These proposals are arranged in order, from milk to meat. Several of these proposals have actually been tested in real "churches"! I have presented them to dozens of pastors who found them not so objectionable, so that even pastors of churches I did not attend were willing to try one or two of them.
I don't think any of these experiments resulted in anything like the flow of communication described in 1 Corinthians 14, but I think any of them had the potential for moving a long way in that direction, had there been the understanding that inter-member communication is God's ideal for our fellowships.
FOUR PATHS TO INTER-MEMBER COMMUNICATION
My proposals are in four categories: (1) a "Saltshaker" Bulletin Board, (2) a church directory of members expanded to include a little (optional) personal information, (3) rules for a fellowship newspaper or magazine, and (4) rules for fellowship gatherings.
"SALTSHAKER" BULLETIN BOARD
No more than a few square feet of some obscure church wall is necessary for this 1 Corinthians 14 implementation. The following policy fits on a single page and could be placed on the bulletin board. It is comprehensive, to address every imaginable problem or question. Your church may prefer a condensed policy.
SALTSHAKER BULLETIN BOARD POLICY
1. PURPOSE. This space is for inter-member communication, such as member-initiated opportunities for Christian service. This church, as a body, does not necessarily "endorse" anything placed here, and will not necessarily participate in anything offered here. This is an information service by and for individual Christians, who are encouraged to individually and prayerfully determine what they will endorse and support. This space is available to help anyone who is not serving our LORD to capacity by sharing the diverse Gifts He has given, 1 Corinthians 12; anyone whose talents are not invested at 100% interest, Matthew 25:14-30; anyone who wants a fuller life. (This policy is photocopied on paper, not etched in stone. Proposed clarifications or simplifications of it are welcome.)
2. SCOPE. You may advertise opportunities for Christian service or study in any arena: theological, financial, social, educational, civic, or political. These opportunities may take the form of public works, private study, public awareness, or charity. Please use this space to locate others who share your concern and who will work, study, and pray with you in your chosen area of service. Please become the eyes and ears of our church in your area of concern, and suggest announcements about events or opportunities that concern the entire body.
3. Only service and study which is in Jesus' Name, is for "the least of His brethren", or is for a Biblically defensible purpose, may be advertised here. Activities which do not glorify God, or are unjustifiably contrary to the spirit of Philippians 4:8, may not be advertised.
4. FINANCIAL FELLOWSHIP. One example of a Biblically defensible purpose is non-profit commerce within the congregation, whether conducted with dollars, barter, hours, or pledges to similarly serve others.
(Matthew 21:13 should not be interpreted as a restriction against the ultimate financial interdependence of Acts 2:42-7. Jesus did not actually say the moneychanger's sin was that they were exchanging money, but rather that they were "thieves". Moses had outlined certain sacrifices which needed to be purchased at the temple, Deuteronomy 14:23-26. But the moneychangers whom Jesus scourged were extorting "what the traffic would bear" for goods necessary for worship! Jesus did not say he was concerned about the location of the commerce, but rather about its integrity. Nevertheless we are not encouraging financial transactions on church property, but are only enabling members to practice Acts 2:42-7.)
If you have money to invest or save, consider an investment in Christians! (Leviticus 25:35-38 and Nehemiah 5 would suggest that loans be interest free, with only cost-of-living adjustments to the principal.)
5. POLITICS. Another example would be appeals to government officials (1 Timothy 2:1 probably means communication with human authorities, as well as communication with God about them; 1 Corinthians 12:28 lists "governments", which is the root of our word "gubernatorial", as a "Holy Spirit Gift") regarding Biblically defined issues.
6. POSTING PROCEDURE. Anyone may post information on this board. Include your name, complete address, phone number, and how long you desire the information to remain posted. (Option instead of the previous two sentences: Anyone may submit information for this space to a pastor or to a volunteer(s) authorized by the pastor or the board.) If, by the above criteria, any information does not seem suitable to the person(s) responsible for maintaining this space, they will explain why, and work with you to rephrase it if possible. Their decision may be appealed to the pastor or the church board. Information not posted because of space or any other reason will be kept available in the church library for at least a month, as a double check against overlooking anything worthwhile.
7. HANDLING CONTROVERSY. If you feel anything here is incorrect, one sided, divisive, or otherwise contrary to the interests of this Body, talk to the person(s) who posted the information, and to the person(s) responsible for maintaining this space, with the goal of attaining mutual understanding. If discord remains, the Board may hear the matter. Not in a spirit of confrontation, but in a spirit of eagerness to seek God's Word together, and gratitude for the opportunity to study with others who really care what God has to say, and are willing to submit their opinions to the authority of God's Word! Competing (mutually critical) information may be advertised simultaneously, but its proponents are urged to study and pray together towards Biblically-based consensus.
COMMERCE AND WORSHIP COMBINED IN FIRST CHURCH
Prosperity, financially and spiritually
Is sacrilege your word for the preceding idea, of encouraging church members to have commerce with one another instead of having commerce exclusively with secular businesses? Isn't that why Jesus whipped the money changers, to stop Christians from doing business with one another?
Acts 2:44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all [men], as every man had need. 46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
Does verse 45 say "they sold their possessions and goods", encouraging us to assume ALL of them, and then say "they parted them to all men as every man had need"? Which would be quite a feat, to part them to all men, after they had already sold them! If we force the words to mean they sold everything for cash, and then gave the cash to every man as he had need, that would be a pretty inefficient way to help each other; if someone needs a bed, for example, think how inefficient it would be to sell your near-new $300 bed at a garage sale for $20, and then give the $20 to your friend and see how nice a bed he can get for it! How much more efficient to simply give him the bed!
The more sensible way to interpret the clause order of verse 45 is to assume the final clause modifies both previous clauses, not just the middle clause. In other words, they "sold their possessions and goods, (as every man had need) and parted them to all [men], as every man had need."
Or, "According to the needs of every man, they either sold their possessions and goods for cash, or they shared them."
Thus the net result was not everybody owning nothing and living in hotels. It was the rich continuing to own as much as the needy, but being willing to share their excess when they saw a brother truly needy; while the needy owned a little more than they did: what the rich gave them to take the edge off their neediness.
Jesus did not say "If you have two coats and your brother has none, sell both your coats and give your brother the money." But rather, John told those who came to be baptized,
Luke 3:11 ...He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.
Newer versions are similarly ambiguous. That is, the clauses may be read either way, in the Living Bible, New English, RSV, Phillips, and Jerusalem. The NIV leans the other way: "Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need." The NIV punctuation (the original text had no punctuation, or even spaces between words) clearly alleges they sold ALL their possessions and goods.
The Interpreter's Bible says "The tense of the verb sold is imperfect, 'used to sell', not in one great sale, but occasionally as the need arose. Possessions and goods are properly 'real estate' and 'private possessions'; the meaning probably is that they sold the former and divided the proceeds, while they distributed the latter."
But they could not have sold ALL their real estate. They must have kept their houses and their bread, else how could they have broken bread from house to house? Acts 5:14 tells us some property was sold, but that there was no pressure on anyone to sell, other than peer pressure. They probably sold off a few big screen TV's and fishing boats. The unnecessities.
It is true they "had all things common", which must mean the use of all their possessions was a matter of group discussion and determination. But if they were that willing to share their possessions, we may assume they were more than willing to share their time, labor, and talent.
These puzzle pieces, fitted together, form a picture of an economy so simple, so logical, so vibrant, dynamic, and healthy, that such an economy should thrive though the worst financial disaster crashes around it. God's economy cuts straight to the heart, the essence, of how wealth is produced, and completely avoids the limitations of the paper money system, and even of the gold standard.
Economists speak of the GNP, or Gross National Product, as the main indicator of the vibrancy of an economy. The GNP is the total amount of money which changes hands in a nation. The assumption is that the money flow is the heart of an economy.
Although, at least in the American economy, money flow is certainly the easiest economic indicator to count, money flow is only the indirect effect of the flow of true wealth.
If you want a car, a house, and a big screen TV, and a plumber to come over and unplug your sink, do you consider yourself wealthy when you have the money to buy these things, or when you have these things? If you could have them with little or no money, would you feel any less wealthy?
Well, some would, and I don't know how to help them. But for the rest of you reasonably bright readers, you can see true wealth creation consists not in money flow, but in the flow of goods and services.
This is so obvious that you may be wondering where is the point. I'm not breaking new economic ground with this concept.
It is still an argument in defense of the paper money system over the gold standard: that true wealth consists of the exchange of goods and services, so if that exchange is tied to an exchange of gold, then a shortage of gold can artificially hamstring the economy even during an abundance of goods and services, and demand for them. Another concern with the gold standard is that if the United States were still on it, then African gold-producing countries might be able to purchase goods and services from us out of all proportion to the intrinsic value of gold.
Hence, paper money may be better, because its supply can be easily increased or decreased to match the flow of goods and services.
Nevertheless, so few goods and services are exchanged, in America today, without a corresponding flow of money, that flow of money is routinely equated with creation of wealth, and the GNP is routinely equated with a measure of prosperity.
Indeed, the distinction between flow of money and exchange of goods and services appears insignificant, unless it occurs to someone to practice Acts 2 economy. Then the difference suddenly becomes vast. For there is unlimited exchange of goods and services, yet almost insignificant exchange of money; thus God's system completely avoids the limitations of either the paper money system or the Gold Standard.
THE TRUST STANDARD v. THE GOLD STANDARD
A Fiscal Refuge in any Tribulation
The modern movement calling itself "patriots" makes the point that the Gold Standard is far superior, far more reliable, than Federal Reserve Notes backed by nothing but trust. That is very true, as long as the trust is in the Federal Reserve. But Acts 2 outlines an economy incomparably more vibrant than the gold standard. Not only is it sound, but it is so flexible that it can thrive amidst any financial turbulence in the world around it. The system is so simple, and so logical, that through any coming economic crash, God's economic system will support all those who submit to it. The more within a local area who participate, the more comfortably they will be supported. (Of course those who don't participate will stop producing goods and services, which will hurt everybody. But those who do participate will sow seeds of economic healing for everybody.)
God's system may be the only hope of Christians in the coming times when "no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name." Revelation 13:17. Did you ever wonder why the Beast will have to chop off our heads? Revelation 20:4. Why would that be necessary, if the Beast were able to simply starve us to death by our refusal to take its mark?
HOW IT WORKS
When money is the guarantee that sharing one's time, labor, and talent with others will reap a share of their time, labor, and talent, the sharing of time, labor and talent is restricted to the flow of money.
HOW MONEY WORKS: Gary needs Tom's talents, and Tom enjoys using his talents. In fact, Tom enjoys using his talents so much, that he has studied much of his life to master the very skills Gary needs. He loves doing what he does, and even places ads in the newspaper to try to find people who need what he can give them.
But Gary and Tom have a problem: Gary is out of money. Because Gary and Tom are operating under the money system, Gary sits at home, desperately in need, suffering for want of what only Tom can provide; while Tom sits at home, restless, unfulfilled, longing to do the kind of work Gary needs done!
What a system! Gold and paper alike share this limitation. When it runs out, wealth stops moving, regardless of how much of it there is left to move.
HOW TRUST WORKS: Gary needs Tom's talents, and Tom enjoys using his talents. Tom finds out Gary needs help, and he goes and helps him! Gary's suffering is ended, and Tom's suffering is ended!
Of course, for Tom to come out ahead in the long run, he will need a way to acquire goods and services himself, when his time of need arrives. As long as everyone contributes to the common pool of goods and services, it will never dry up. But if folks like Gary take from this pool, and never give back, folks like Tom will suffer.
Consequently God created gold, and invented the Gold Standard, which keeps folks like Gary from taking out more than they put back in. But for communities of folks like Tom, God offers a far better way. The Trust Standard.
God created Gold for folks like Gary to Grub for.
The Theos offers Trust for folks like Tom to Thrive by.
("Theos" is Greek for "God". I just wanted a little alliteration in there to give you a memory peg.)
When the sharing of time, labor and talent can be secured directly by trust, that the recipients of help will gladly return their favors, there is nothing to restrict the flow of services and goods, and civilization prospers!
Although barter overcomes this restriction in some cases, the difficulty with barter is that when one person needs something of little value, and has only something of great value to offer for it, there is no way to make change.
LIKE INSURANCE. A New Testament service-motivated economy flies over these limitations, creating maximum exchange of goods and services, which is the direct gauge of a healthy economy. Sharing is done at the point of every need. It is like insurance, which pays according to need rather than contribution. Even when a participant is for the moment giving more than he is receiving, he feels compensated because:
(1) The peace of mind - knowing that when it is his turn to need, the need will be met - is worth more than money!
(2) Even if he never receives as much as he gives, he is compensated by the joy of giving, which is worth more than money!
(3) Work volunteered for love rather than contracted for money is naturally appreciated more by its recipients. So the giver is compensated by greater appreciation, as well as by the satisfaction that he is really needed, as opposed to being used by some rich stuffed shirt who uses other people for toys with which to amuse himself.
(4) We rejoice that every penny not paid back to us on earth will be saved up for us in heaven!
In a New Testament economy we do not feed people who will not work, 2 Thessalonians 3:10, but we trust God to take care of "counting pennies".
America worships "a job". Something someone else provides for you, taking all the risk and initiative himself, and just leaving you with a fat regular paycheck against which you can take out a loan, so that you can slave away for your creditor as hard as you slave away for your boss.
"A Job" has taken on the majesty of an "inalienable right". Some people are even jealous of the former conditions in Communist Russia, where a job was indeed declared a constitutional right; as a matter of fact, a mandatory "right". At least for those still alive to enjoy that "right". And of course Russians did not have the complication of having to choose their own job. It's amazing what words can be brought forth to make so appealing what only a few decades before was called "forced labor" or "slavery"!
Anyway, the other thing Americans complain about, besides the complaint that there are not enough "jobs", is that when they GET a job, it is unfulfilling. What a surprise!
The more fulfilling "a job" will be, the less it is generally likely to pay, because the most wonderful things you can do for people are things they least think they want. You are more likely to be persecuted, for providing them, than paid. Fulfilling work is already crying for you, if you can trust God for your paycheck.
Prem Pradhan, of Nepal, describes in Chapter 14 how his congregation helped each other. When it was time for a crop to be planted, the non-farmers would help the farmers put it in ahead of all their pagan neighbors! When someone needed a roof, all pitched in, providing poor members with necessities they otherwise would have gone without! Instead of lounging at home, watching TV, or waiting for work, or stewing about how to pay the bills, they were using their free time to put more goods and services in the common pool.
Pradhan described community admiration of these advantages of Christians, similar to Acts' note that the First Church found "favour with all the people". Acts 2:47.
Far from being a formula for destitution, the First Church likely enjoyed unprecedented prosperity! Psalm 49:6 warns against trusting in wealth. But Psalm 112 says the key to receiving wealth is, partly, to trust in giving it away as love requires.
Psalm 112:1 Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments. 2 His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the upright shall be blessed. 3 Wealth and riches shall be in his house: and his righteousness endureth for ever. 4 Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: he is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous. 5 A good man sheweth favour, and lendeth: he will guide his affairs with discretion. 6 Surely he shall not be moved for ever: the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance. 7 He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD. 8 His heart is established, he shall not be afraid, until he see his desire upon his enemies. 9 He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever; his horn shall be exalted with honour. 10 The wicked shall see it, and be grieved; he shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away: the desire of the wicked shall perish.
Jesus said, in our next passage, that the key to wealth, in God's economy, is readiness to give it ALL away, according to need. All Christians I have met who have trusted Jesus about this have indeed experienced the unlimited wealth Jesus promises. However, it is not wealth by the world's standards, where you have legal ownership of things. Rather, it is wealth by a more functional standard: where you have the use of anything you need, when you need it. With legal ownership comes legal responsibility. That is, if you own a manufacturing plant, and you let it fail, the world sees you as a failure.
To have the use of whatever you need, subject only to God's permission, without the burden of responsibility, is really not the life of a common man. It is the life of a king's son.
Mark 10:29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, 30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. 31 But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.
Oh, I nearly forgot to mention a big reason, probably, why the government hated this system which everybody else admired: it wasn't taxable. Even barter is supposed to be taxable: the IRS says you are supposed to declare the equivalent value of the items bartered, as income, and pay them their share. But how can you declare the value of friends coming over for a painting party? Or a Bible Study under a transmission?
Not only would you have much to gain in a New Testament economy, but much to give. How many of your talents do you wish were being used? How restless are you in a job that only wants 10% of your potential? Would you like to use those talents to benefit those who would deeply appreciate you for them, in exchange for goods or services which you could never afford to pay money for?
Fortunately God miraculously makes His economy work even if you are the only one for miles around participating in it. But think of the benefits of your whole church participating!
Yet economic sharing between church members is actually discouraged by churches today, who think they must choose between obeying Matthew 21:13 and Acts 2:44-45. No, we can obey all Scripture. Let's do it!
CHURCH DIRECTORY -- SURVEY
Many churches already have a "Church Directory", containing names, address, phone numbers, and sometimes photos of every church member. These directories enable church members to communicate with one another off church premises. But of course they do not tell members anything about each other about what they might have in common. The following expanded Church Directory would solve that problem.
With this directory, a member could see a friendly face in a pew, find the matching face in his directory, learn "Oh, she likes to play chess! Great!" Or "Oh, he has a woodworking shop! Maybe he can help me build my cabinets!"
The Expanded Church Directory: the Paper Icebreaker.
This is a model survey for your church. The remainder of these instructions apply both to this survey, and to the model survey proposed for your church. Actually I once got approval from a Methodist church council, of about 40 members, to offer this survey to the general membership. But, lacking any Scriptural basis for believing such shared information is crucial to Biblical Fellowship, only two responded! You have no lack of Scriptural basis as you present this project. May God help you succeed where I failed.
Text of Proposed Survey Form
Let's have fellowship! Let's find out about each other!
Directions: Share what you would like your fellow survey respondents to know about you. Answer in no more than 75 words per question. (Optional: When printed, the Fellowship Directory will be distributed only to those who have submitted this survey.) Your return of this survey constitutes your invitation for others who have returned it to communicate with you.
1. Talents you like to use
2. Favorite recreation
3. Skills you have learned
4. Services or products you would like to buy, sell or trade.
5. Your personal, social, and/or political concerns.
6. Education or experiences.
7. Bible-based ideas or issues important to you.
8. Anything else
9. Name, Address, Phone
The following is culled from bylaws of The Partnership Machine, Inc. This was the original vision of the Prayer and Action News. It was never supposed to be a magazine where one editor does virtually all the talking. Subscribers were supposed to become so involved that they participated in its management.
It didn't work out that way. But it still should. For reasons which I hope will become clear to you as you read the details of this vision, a subscriber-owned and operated news service is literally the only way to end the devil-infested media monopoly America suffers today.
Subscriber ownership would do for news what "we the people" ownership of their own government is capable of doing for government. It would transform the P&A into the printed counterpart of a real 1 Corinthians 14 Fellowship. There is no reason the P&A could not provide all the fullness of fellowship available to assembled warm bodies. What is lost in spontenaity and speed of communication would be made up for in thoughtfulness of expression and convenience in selecting the most interesting and useful information for study.
Any church of 100 members could easily support a newsletter guided by some of these principles, and could thereby satisfy some of the vision of 1 Corinthians 14. Perhaps you would like to help revive this vision for the P&A, to make it more of a vehicle for 1 Corinthians 14 fellowship.
From the bylaws:
NEWS YOU CAN TRUST
There are several reasons you may trust this newspaper:
1. You will be told how you can check controversial facts yourself.
2. After we finish an article, we show it to anyone with an opposing view whom we anticipate may want to respond. After publication, we gladly reprint any reasonable rebuttal. (Even some that are unreasonable.)
3. As a subscriber, you may participate in the management of this newspaper through subscriber elections. (Actually the P&A discontinued this ceremony after subscriber responses only exceeded 10% after much pleading and cajoling. But it should have worked, and who knows but that it may yet?)
4. We don't just tell you our spin on a court case or piece of legislation. We unlock their "mysteries" by quoting from them, with explanations of unusual terms, and with "citations" (footnotes telling you where you can look them up) so you can easily check the facts for yourself.
5. Any subscriber who disagrees with the editor on a policy may, in addition to submitting a "letter to the editor", initiate a referendum on that policy, (at his own expense), or even an election for a new editor.
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? It means it is owned by its subscribers, not its advertisers or investors. It means individual subscribers have a far more articulate voice in the operation of their newspaper than to merely cancel their subscriptions.
WHAT DOES THAT INSURE? It insures that no fringe minority will ever grab its reins and deny us the information we need, as has happened in our present media situation. It insures not just "Freedom for the Printers", but a free flow of public information. It insures a level playing field for ideas.
HOW DOES IT WORK? Elections among subscribers establish a steering committee to oversee day to day operations. The influence allotted individual steering committee members will take into account their investments of time, money, and talent (or the investments of organizations they represent, including blocks of subscribers) as deemed of value by the subscribers. Subscribers may even organize coalitions to promote specific Public Information philosophies.
NEEDED: NEWS MAKERS! If you are helping solve the problems that oppress people, in ways that involve or could involve others, you are news! Get in touch with us right now!
NEEDED: NEWS GATHERERS. We want to know about any new developments in areas that concern our subscribers. Let us know of your willingness to gather information, and we will send you some reporting guidelines.
NEEDED: NEWS USERS. The purpose of this newspaper is to provide you with the information you need right down to phone numbers of people working in your area of concern, so you can get involved and "make a difference". We will also have articles which you can photocopy and pass around in support of your project. Of course you can save photocopy $ by simply selling subscriptions!
WATCHDOGS WANTED! When politicians worry about corruption in government, their solution is to create a government-funded bureaucracy to watch it. We don't need more government-funded watchdogs to watch government! Watchdogs only look out for their masters! Mass media likes to think it is the watchdog of government. The only problem is that they have no master. Without a master, no dog, no matter how intently he watches, may properly be considered a watchdog, but merely a wild dog, or a stray defending its own garbage can. If "we the people" want a real watchdog that will faithfully bark at the faintest smell of trouble, that can't be quieted by throwing it a bone, that will charge any enemy without fear for its own interests, "we the people" will have to establish our own information service, including a subscriber-owned news outlet, owned, operated, and especially, fed, by "we the people". In other words, if we want a news service which will serve us more faithfully than any news service we now have, we will have to become involved in gathering and verifying news.
CONFLICTS. Varying projects shall be organized according to the needs or concerns of members. These projects shall be called "Concerns" and may each have their own internal structure.
The Partnership Machine, Inc. may receive as members two or more "Concerns" that are at cross purposes. For example, one "Concern" may organize to reduce taxes, while another "Concern" may organize to expand government services.
However, concerns at cross-purposes must make available to each other at least 5% of their inter-member communications, or 100 words each month, whichever is less, in the hope of working towards informed consensus.
In the case of multiple groups at cross purposes, the 5% or 100 words shall be apportioned among the groups on each side according to their memberships.
In the case of a smaller group qualifying for space in the communications of a larger group, the 5% or 100 words shall be multiplied by the fraction created by dividing the membership of the smaller group by the membership of the larger group. (Example: a group of 500 members qualifying for space in the newsletter of a group of 1,000 members would get 2-1/2% of their print space.)
Accuracy shall be expected. Concerns shall be permitted to question the spokesmen for conflicting "concerns" about documentation for specific allegations. And of course, each group may use the remainder of its publication space to critique the small statement from its adversary. But all concerns are encouraged to exceed these minimum requirements in the interest of truth.
REPORTS. Each Concern shall make monthly reports to the corporation newspaper, which shall reprint a minimum of 200 words of each report for Concerns with few members, or 10 words for each member of that concern up to 500 members, whichever is greater.
ENDORSEMENTS: disclaimer. "Working with each other" is not "endorsing each other". No Concern's activities or purposes or theologies shall be represented as reflecting or being associated with the activities or purposes or theologies of any other Concern, or of any other Partnership Machine, Inc. Member, Participant, or Administrator, except as each shall officially resolve. It shall be understood that each participant in The Partnership Machine, Inc. has joined for their own reasons, and ordinarily for more complex reasons than to merely endorse each other.
Membership in the corporation shall be available without regard to race, political party, sex, looks, age, or musical talent. However, no member shall be expected to imply through silence his respect for any other member's spiritual or philosophical differences, but shall have full freedom of expression to constructively address them to the extent they manifest.
However, all members with greater goals than the discussion of such differences are reminded to be sensitive to the capacity their targets may have for a thoughtful challenge before they will pick up their marbles and go home, and refuse to work with you again.
On the other hand, members who find themselves the targets of criticism, for their spiritual or philosophical differences, are urged to welcome thoughtful criticism, even though responding to it may require time and energy. It will always be time well spent, for it will sharpen your own grasp of your own beliefs, and may persuade your challenger; and in every case, fellowship is deeper when fellows permit each other to discuss the things of God.
Newspapers, websites, chat rooms, bulletin boards, and church directories are ways to partially satisfy 1 Corinthians 14:3, which says church should be a place of mutual edification. They are excellent supplements to a worship service built around a Bible Discussion. And they are excellent baby steps towards a Bible Discussion, before your church is ready to allow a full Biblical Bible Discussion in the place of your current Lecture Series.
But unabridged edification requires spoken words.
An English dictionary defines "edify" as "to instruct so as to improve, uplift, or enlighten morally and spiritually". "Instruct" is defined as "to communicate knowledge, facts, directions, or orders". "Communicate" is defined as "to make known, generally something intangible, as intelligence, news, opinions, or facts."
"But", you ask, "that doesn't say anything about spoken words. Couldn't church members edify the church by communicating through some other means? Like a church bulletin board? Or by turning the church bulletin into a newsletter in which members can express themselves? Or by having a church web page and theological chat room? Or at the least by having a church member directory with not just names, pictures, and phone number, but job skills, special interests, ways members would like to interact commercially with each other, political concerns, etc.?"
A well rounded program of inter-member communication would surely utilize each of these forums. Each have their contributions, and their limitations. But all these technological wonders, added together, cannot replace, for most people, the primitive spoken word. Written words (in a newsletter) are not a solution for everybody, or even for very many. Only a minority are articulate through writing, and even for those who are, published dialogue is excruciatingly slow. The time lapse between writing and distribution is so long (except in a "chat room") that by the time people can respond, and their response is distributed, readers have to be reminded what the response is to. (This duty usually falls to an editor.)
Written dialogue is ideal for something like discussion of some complicated point of theology. It has an advantage over face-to-face spoken words: it can be re-read and pondered. Complicated information can pass over many heads during a discussion, and be quickly forgotten by those who do understand it. But a web page, newsletter, church bulletin, or bulletin board is nearly useless for discussion of, say, how to get the church garage painted next weekend.
"But wait a minute", you ask. "Why the concern for dialogue? I thought all you wanted was to let everyone up to the microphone. That need could be met, couldn't it, at least for writers, by letting them contribute opinions to a web page, like a newspaper's 'editorial page'?"
No. 1 Corinthians 14 does not merely mandate giving everyone the micropone to say anything they like, without correction or criticism. There has to be dialogue. There has to be interaction. v. 29, "Let the prophets speak two or three [at a time, such as in a panel discussion], and let the other[s] judge." V. 32, "And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." A mere "opinion page" would create the same confusion and exasperation for churches which newspapers create for their readers by their editors neither responding to incorrect statements, nor acknowledging points well taken. V. 33 "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints."
Published information is ideal for a mass of information which has been more carefully prepared than could be done by someone talking extemporaneously. It is ideal for distributing to people for study at their leisure, in a larger chunk of time than would be feasible for a large group. It is ideal for distributing comprehensive information in a package from which individual readers may study portions they need, without reading the rest.
Published dialogue is great for carefully prepared statements that should be remembered. It is lousy for brainstorming, or tentative discussion. It is great for recording conclusions. It is an inefficient way to sift through tentative proposals, or to relate tidbits of personal news. It is great for presenting relatively short messages, from a few people, to a very large number of people. For assemblies numbering in the thousands, it could become an important supplement. But it is a cumbersome forum for a free exchange of ideas between a very large number of people.
For dialogue which is not "timely", such as theological debate, an internet web page, which can keep the same information available for a long time, is better than a magazine because it can post ideas and responses side by side, whether the response followed by minutes or months. It can edit new responses in with the old dialogue. (With a magazine, new responses don't make any sense unless you go dig out an old issue to see what the response is to.)
Another limitation of a web site or newspaper is that there is little sense of whether there is group consensus on anything, as there is where all members are physically present and able to participate. In the case of newspapers, we know who got one, but we have no way of knowing who read which articles. In the case of a web site. we have no idea who logged on, much less who read what articles.
In a face to face meeting, there is some sense of whether there is consensus just from facial expressions. There is more by asking for a show of hands, or by asking if anyone has comments or objections.
Consensus is necessary to keep the congregation from falling, to establish projects, and to attack sins. Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6.
Consensus is not possible with only 20% of the group present! Talking computers enable many more to join a written dialogue. But so far, a majority of church members are excluded from interaction through the web for these reasons:
* Most people are not fluent in writing; even fewer are fluent in typing.
* Computers require money; nearly $1,000 for a computer and printer new enough to handle software currently available, and which can transcribe your talking.
* Computers have a mind of their own. Sometimes they don't follow directions, and they never tell you why. You have to sit there and experiment with variations of the directions in the book, until something finally works. Not everyone has the patience and creativity for this, not to mention the intelligence to decipher the book.
* We haven't mentioned privacy. Phone lines are randomly tapped by government agencies whose attention is triggered by a long list of words. Chat rooms can be easily monitored by anybody. By contrast, a discussion in a church building cannot be monitored by any government agency unless an agent physically plants a bug in the room, or is present during a discussion. But electronics are available to "sweep" a bugged rooms, and spiritual vigilance can minimize the risk that church members may be agents.
At present, (I am writing this at the end of 1999), I don't think church discussions would attract sufficient interest from agents to warrant bugs. But even mainstream media seems to acknowledge virtually all phone lines are routinely tapped. Most Christians are not gravely concerned about this, but it is an irritation, on the level of a stranger walking up and listening intently to your intimate conversation with somebody.
The fact is that the only way humans have for communicating intangibles like intelligence, news, opinions, facts, knowledge, directions, or orders, is through words. And the only efficient way for a group to exchange such information, between all its members, is through spoken words.
RULES FOR FELLOWSHIP GATHERINGS
The vision of fellowship services in 1 Corinthians 14 is of a combination Bible discussion/Social hour/Board meeting. (See Chapter One of this book.) People got to know each other, people studied the Word together, and people conducted business. Not necessarily with the emphasis on bu$ine$$, but people got things done. People worked together. People scrutinized each other. There were "pastors", but their job was not to do all the talking. One of their jobs was to keep things organized, but organization doesn't require monopolizing all communication. Today's role of "moderator" is essentially the role of an organizer, even though almost everybody else does more talking than the moderator.
FROM MILK TO MEAT
Rate your Sunday School class, on the following scale of 1 to 7.
What do we mean by "Bible Discussion"?
That phrase can cover everything from...
1...the Sunday School teacher reading from a published lesson outline and asking the published questions of those in attendance; to
2...the Sunday School teacher throwing in a few of his own "rhetorical questions" in addition to the published questions; ("rhetorical questions" are questions requiring no answer since everybody already knows the answers to them, or which any dimwit can figure out. But answering them anyway offers insecure members the opportunity to show off how smart they are and build self esteem); to
3...the Sunday School teacher actually planning and researching his own Bible study from scratch, and asking lots of rhetorical questions; to
4...the Sunday School teacher doing his best to research his topic, but realizing the brainpower of the class may be able to help him, and accordingly asking the class questions he doesn't know the answer to, but which answers he longs to know; to
5...the Sunday School teacher asking the class to select its own topics of study, and drawing out of members those questions they long to see answered; to
6...the Sunday School moderator helping the class select an agenda for study, and helping the group assign various topics to various individuals or committees, and designate future class time for such individuals or committees to make their reports; (or, at a less formal level, simply coordinating a spontaneous discussion and ensuring that no one who wants to speak is excluded, and keeping the discussion on the subject desired by the group); to
7...the coordinator not only coordinating Bible discussion, but learning the needs of individual members, both through knowing members individually and through giving members opportunity to express their needs before the group. And linking people with needs, with others able to meet those needs, individually or as a group, depending on the need; and discussing, approving, and taking action affecting the community: from TV ads, to pressuring Sin Centers to close, to recruiting and supporting political candidates.
MODERN FORUMS THAT MIGHT FILL THE BILL
The preceding scenarios would be appropriate for either small groups or large assemblies. The smaller the group, the less need for structure. Large assemblies attempting to assure fair access to the microphone for everyone need some agreed-upon structure, or rules. There are five forums familiar to us today which could accommodate Paul's vision of shared preaching for large assemblies:
(1) a panel discussion, where a limited number of people who have studied a particular topic dialogue with one another while an audience listens, and there is limited opportunity for audience members to ask questions of the panel; (this matches the scenario of two or three speaking at a time, 1 Corinthians 14:27-30, as if a committee had been designated to explore a certain issue, and now it makes its report to the assembly.)
(2) a public speaker who takes audience questions one at a time; people line up at microphones to await their turn, and then may ask questions, and follow-up questions, constituting a dialogue between two at a time;
(3) Robert's Rules of Order provides for someone to take the microphone and ask a question of another member of the body. In the legislature, a senator might ask, "Does the gentleman from Pottawattamie [county] yield?" The senator being asked responds "The gentleman yields." Then the first senator asks his question, which the second senator has agreed to try to answer;
(4) a fiber optic network linking rooms across a state, where each person has a microphone and a button. When a person presses a button, the camera in the room zooms in on that person, and that person's microphone is activated, and people at all the other sites see and hear that person; and
(5) a printed newspaper where major submissions of information come from several trusted sources, and an "editorial page" is set aside for everybody else to briefly respond.
What Paul was trying to get away from, apparently, if we may surmise from unpleasant modern experience, was 200 people in an assembly hall, all trying to raise their hands or start talking whenever a thought occurs to them, regardless of whether the person speaking had finished or whether others had been waiting longer to speak. Have you been in groups of 30 or more adults listening to a guest speaker, where the question and answer period starts and 10 hands shoot up at once and the moderator is disorganized about acknowledging them in order? Or where some patiently raise their hands while others just start talking -- the verbal equivalent of crowding into the front of a line? Paul's guidance would have been an appropriate response to such confusion.
With all our experience of how to exchange information between large numbers of people in an orderly manner, we have no excuse for imagining Paul's commandments, whether applied to disorganized group communication or to a Monopolized Pulpit, must lead to chaos!
Possible Church program/agenda
(These are moderately structured rules for moderate sized groups. A small group needs less structure.)
7 PM Greetings/introductions of guests/orientation
7:10 Discuss agenda. Set tentative agenda on blackboard.
(Learn who has a Scripture lesson, music, news, prayer request about "a long story", solicitation for money or help, or any other matter to present to the assembly. Find out how much time the presenter wants. See who else expresses interest in each topic and thinks they might want to participate in discussion, and ask them to estimate how much time they might desire. Allow time for audience participation.) (Option: this could be accomplished in advance, by having a volunteer take requests to speak by phone.)
7:20 Group prayer to dedicate the meeting, and simple prayer requests.
7:30 Congregational singing of a favorite hymn.
7:35 Begin agenda.
(The time keeper need not bring attention to the time until it goes an agreed-upon percentage over the estimate. If the participants in the topic don't want to stop, the group can voice-vote whether to continue another specified period of time "moved" (Roberts Rules of Order style) by someone in the assembly, or go on with the agenda and come back to it when the agenda is through.
(A certain amount of spontaneity will be welcomed as normal. For example, if someone is moved to speak in tongues, or bring a revelation from God, it needn't be scheduled in advance. If someone thinks of a hymn appropriate to the discussion, time can be taken for it. The agenda serves two purposes: to keep everyone aware of the people waiting their turn, so the group doesn't all go home before theirs comes; and to draw out of each member the things they have to contribute to each other.)
This agenda is offered here, not as the rules under which your group must labor to succeed, but as just one of many possible agendas capable of organizing a 1 Corinthians 14 Fellowship. (Just to assure you God's way might actually be do-able, after all.)
This agenda, easy-going as it is, may be too structured for the tastes of the first group of people you may convene to attempt a Bible Discussion. That is, when you are inviting people to an event they have never previously experienced, it is a turn-off to hand them a page of rules about how to participate, before they even arrive! It may be more agreeable to begin with the very minimum of structure, and adopt rules only as the need becomes clear to the group. Especially since you will start with a very small group. Should a large group actually undertake a Bible Discussion, it could handle structure the way political conventions do: by selecting a small Rules Committee, which will discuss and adopt rules, and make copies of them available to the handful of people who are interested, without bothering the indifferent majority. Such a committee would benefit from the skills of people such as lawyers, parliamentarians, mediators, and Bible students who can find Scriptures relating to almost any issue to help discern God's Will on it.
Political conventions could not proceed without Parliamentarians, individuals who are masters of Robert's Rules of Order, whom the "chairman" can quickly consult when there is a disagreement from the "floor" about whose turn it is to speak, or what subject can be addressed, etc.
RULES OF DISCUSSION
Robert's Rules of Order are a wonderful system capable of coralling the most overbearing, scheming, insincere, pagan, lying members into an organized discussion. A thorough understanding of them is certainly an excellent starting point for any contemplated Bible Discussion. But Robert's Rules are designed to achieve group decisions by majority vote. They are not designed to achieve group consensus through mere discussion. There is a need to go farther with rules to this end.
What if the rules of logic were formalized to such a degree that if someone criticizes the personality of a speaker with a controversial interpretation of Scripture, anyone familiar with the rules could stand up and interrupt with, for example, "Point of fellowship! Personal attack!"
I have analyzed some of the debating tricks people use to defend the indefensible. I know there are formal studies of logic which give names to all those tricks. But I have not taken such studies, so I don't know many of the names.
I also know lawyers have many formal objections which they raise in court to keep testimony to the point, and to stop efforts to persuade by testimony which cannot be documented.
I think lawyers, logicians, parliamentarians, and Bible Believers, working together, would have at their disposal all the wisdom necessary to develop rules which could keep Bible Discussions involving even thousands of members completely organized and productive -- not to mention thousands of times more interesting and educational than when one man does all the talking!
I offer only a few examples of how such rules might develop. Remember that in Robert's Rules of Order, no one may introduce a new subject except in their turn, which is defined by strict rules; but whenever anyone who is speaking deviates from these rules, anyone may interrupt with "Point of Order". The parliamentarian says "state your point", and the interrupter explains why he thinks the person speaking is not following the rules, and the parliamentarian decides whether this is so. In court, the other lawyer says "Objection: hearsay (or whatever)", and the judge rules whether the objection should be "sustained" or "overruled". Following this model, in my following examples I contemplate the following objections being raised as permissible interruptions of the person speaking:
Errors of cross examination in today's courtrooms, and errors of debate in Robert's Rules of Order, are summarized into a single word, to enable someone raising the objection to easily interrupt a flow of talk which needs to be stopped. Following that style, I title each Discussion Error with the single word I propose a church member interrupt with, followed by my brief explanation, and then followed by supporting Scriptures.
INSISTING UPON REVIVAL
Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door. Besides that, he published his ideas far and wide, the printing press just having become available, making it an inadequate solution just to burn him, although burning was a desirable first step.
What can you do?
You can talk to every ear you can bend. If, of all your local friends, you could persuade six to join with you in Biblical fellowship, you will have accomplished more than I have accomplished as of this writing. (Not counting the fellowship in print I enjoy through our Prayer & Action News.) You can show copies of this book to individuals who are respected by your "church". You can seek a very small but Biblical fellowship, announced by and endorsed by your "church" if possible, while at the same time seeking the next higher level of intercommunication in your "Sunday School" and Church. (Including a bulletin board and a members' survey, and space for editorials in your printed church bulletin, turning it into a newsletter.)
Using your existing church directory, you can mail everybody an invitation to attend your home Bible Discussion. Perhaps you can even leaflet your church parking lot. (Preferably with permission. Church ushers will protect the pastor's monopoly over communication in the parking lot as jealously as in the sanctuary.)
The challenge is to draft a message which lowers as many red flags as possible, so that it is perceived, as much as possible, as inspirational rather than confrontational.
You may learn your pastor is as frustrated as you are! That he doesn't WANT to do all the talking and thinking, but he can't budge his congregation towards sharing it.
Who knows, maybe you can tap into some inter-church organization and get an announcement of your Bible discussion made in its inter-church newsletter, with the signatures (endorsements) of pastors who share your frustration! We might as well dream! And Pray!
FELLOWSHIP DISCUSSION SHOULD BE RELEVANT TO HOW WE LIVE
Titus 3:8 This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men. 9 But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. 10 A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; 11 Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.
Notice that "good works" are "profitable", while that which is "unprofitable" is a kind of intellectual inquiry.
By calling one "profitable" and the other "unprofitable", the implication is that the two are related, that they are opposite ends of the same scale, or the same spectrum. Is that what God is saying? Are "good works" the opposite of "foolish questions"? Are the two related somehow?
Let's pause to go over the concept of an "opposite".
Hot and cold are opposites. When hot degenerates it becomes cold; when cold loses its coldness it becomes hot. Other opposites are light and dark; wisdom and foolishness; wet and dry. Boys and girls are called opposites, although we shudder when one degenerates into the other.
Tigers and water are not opposites. Tigers and water cannot degenerate into each other. Tables and wells, computers and oil, are not opposites.
"Profitable" and "unprofitable" denote two conditions which are opposite of each other. When that which is "profitable" degenerates, it moves towards the "unprofitable" end of the scale. And vice versa.
By calling "good works" "profitable" and "foolish questions..." "unprofitable", is God hinting that good works can degenerate into foolish questions? That the two are opposite ends of the same scale? Is this our everyday experience? Is there more definite Scriptural support for such a concept?
Perhaps, indeed, it is our everyday experience that "good works" degenerate into "foolish questions".
Our first impression would be that the opposite of "good works" is "bad works". That is, that one switches from intensely good actions to just as intensely acting out evil. But if you think about it, such a switch does not occur without a spiritual transformation, an anti-conversion experience. However, such a person would not be the target of Paul's letter. Paul would not have attempted to offer advice to a person avidly committed to wickedness.
Yet it is a familiar, everyday experience for our "good works" to degenerate. We don't need to wholly forfeit our salvation and give ourselves to Satan for our good works to wholly degenerate. But when that happens, the opposite is not "bad works", but something else.
First they become "half-hearted works". Then one becomes inactive; actions, or "works", cease, giving way to talk. And at first the talk which replaces action may seem worthwhile. Profound. Wise. So as to justify the pursuit of wisdom at the expense of action. But the longer one remains inactive, the less able one is to hold wise insights without facing the reality that one should be acting. So one must either begin doing "good works" again, or one must degenerate further, until the pursuit of knowledge is more and more abstract, more and more irrelevant, more and more frivolous. This is a familiar, everyday pattern, in ourselves and in our Christian brothers, by which "good works" degenerate all the way to "foolish questions".
And then just as we have become as irrelevant as it would seem possible, it is also a familiar experience to watch the pendulum swing back again.
When "foolish questions" start to turn around, they may become "reasonable questions" and then "wise questions", but the person finally asking "wise questions" still has room to improve: he can keep on improving until he is not merely thinking about wise questions and searching out their answers, but he is doing something about them -- he is applying what he knows to how he lives -- he is doing "good works".
If this is true, if this is what God means by Titus 3:8-9, then what makes inquiry "foolish" is lack of relevance to how we live. What is the purpose of a doctrine which doesn't affect how we live? Surely many of the doctrines which divide "churches" today fail this test, and are actually the very inquiries which these verses condemn!
But besides everyday experience, is there any other Scripture which more definitely tells us the relationship between "good works" and "foolish questions"?
Here is another familiar passage which indicates that the test of whether a doctrine is "profitable" is whether it affects how we live:
James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
In saying "shew me thy faith without thy works", James sarcastically mocks the very idea that anyone can exercise faith independently of action! James is ridiculing the very idea that "faith" can be defined as mere intellectual belief! What a foolish idea, that anyone can really believe, intellectually, that Jesus died for us and rose from the dead, without gratefully taking action, such as charging ahead with witness so effective that it invites persecution?! What nonsense! If you can buy that, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn for sale! 10% off if you buy today! I'll need payment in cash.
In saying "I will shew thee my faith by my works", James says in a second way that FAITH ALWAYS PRODUCES ACTIONS. If no action is produced, how can you say there was ever any faith? Every action springs from a belief: so if you want to know what one believes, study his actions.
Matthew 12:50 For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
Ephesians 2:8-10 clarifies that it is not "good works" that save us, but that we are saved so we can do them. Titus 3:8 tells us "good works" are "profitable". Not only "profitable", but it is as profitable as many modern "doctrine hunts" are unprofitable.
When we see that "good works" means "doing the will of God", or "doing" the "sayings" of Jesus, we see we are not talking only about physical activity, but we are talking about doing whatever God wants us doing. Understood this way, it is even easier to understand how God would say "good works" are the opposite of "foolish questions".
But perhaps we ought to revise our criteria for permissible fellowship discussions: instead of saying we ought to study things that affect how we live, perhaps it would be more precise to say we ought to study things that guide us and inspire us to do God's will.
What we do not need is to idealize some shallow aspiration of doing "good works" as defined, not by God, but by society. By that criteria, Judas was a Saint. He did mighty miracles, was good with money, and turned in a lawbreaker.
Matthew 23:27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Matthew 6:16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
These verses are a warning that "good works", that is, doing the will of God, is often not what society is able to recognize as good. Often society is able to recognize good works, since 1 Timothy 3:7 honors "a good report of them which are without". But society discerns imprecisely enough to caution us to seek God's will always, and to expect the praise of men will be fickle.
"WORKS" CAN BE WORDS
When we speak of "taking action", that does not necessarily mean physical action. Most martyrdom is brought on by words rather than physical action. "Good works" consists of doing the will of our Father in Heaven, says the following passage. Sometimes God wants us to speak when the world wants us to shut up. Sometimes God wants us to simply pray when the world is ready to throw us in jail for doing that.
(Examples: Daniel 6; and right here in America, in August 1998, Judge Roy Moore of Alabama was sued for posting the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, and for opening his courtroom with prayer. He prevailed, but it was at tremendous cost, and with extensive national support. Meanwhile Alabama schools are monitored by a court-appointed "prayer monitor" who makes reports to the court about any prayer activities which violate a court ruling against student-led prayer!)
But in our Bible Discussions, how can we witness with power that risks persecution, since we are all among friends? Aren't our words purely words, not works at all, not leading to action at all? How can our Bible Discussion be any more than mere words? Our words can be "put to work" in two ways: (1) we can lay plans, and (2) we can study the "First Principles", or basic assumptions under which we operate, which are the foundation for future plans and action.
Indeed, a Bible Discussion with no vision of any more action than talk among friends, probably is a waste of time.
BIBLICAL DISCUSSION TOPICS INCLUDE A VISION OF ACTION, FAITH-BUILDING, AND CHALLENGING EACH OTHER
If a major Biblical purpose is good works, then a vision of what we want to see done is Biblical.
Proverbs 29:18 Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
The familiar verse that tells us to go to church, also tells us to "provoke" each other, to goad each other to action. Also to "exhort" one another.
Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
We should not take our salvation for granted. Neither our own, nor our brothers'. Let us expect trouble, and be ready for it.
Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. 2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. 3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. 4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.
STARTING A "LOCAL CHURCH"
We cannot start a local church in Des Moines. We are 150 years too late to do that. There has been a local church in Des Moines ever since there has been a Des Moines, since Christians were among its founders. All we can do is better understand, and help others to understand, how to worship.
Nee, page 87: "...if we come to a place where Christ is not named, we must preach the gospel, win men to the Lord, and found a local church. If we come to a place where there are already Christians, but on various grounds these believers separate themselves into denominational 'churches,' our task is just the same as in the other place--we must preach the gospel, lead men to the Lord, and form them into a church on the scriptural ground of locality. All the while we must maintain an attitude of inclusiveness, not exclusiveness, towards those believers who are in different sects, for they, as we, are children of God, and they live in the same locality; therefore, they belong to the same church as we do. For ourselves, we cannot join any sect or remain in one, for our church connection can only be on local ground, but in regard to others we must not make leaving a sect the condition of fellowship with those believers who are in a sect.... Let us be clear on this point, that an undenominational [meaning "negative and exclusive] church is not a local church. ...A local church is undenominational, and it is positive and inclusive....We are not out to establish undenominational churches, but local churches."
YELLOW LIGHT (caution)
"How dare one puny man propose a brand new form of worship, based on an interpretation of Scripture which all the revered Saints throughout history have somehow overlooked!" It is a legitimate concern. We have the warning, "Let God be true, though every man be a liar", which, along with the "Gifts of the Spirit" institution, suggests to us that it may indeed be something God might do -- something God does all the time, to give one man a new, inspired interpretation, never before given to another.
But the more dramatically different a new interpretation is, and the more it affects our worship, the more careful all who hear it ought to be to subject it to every possible Scriptural test before adopting it. Evidence that inter-member communication is not so unheard of down the pages of Christian history will help ease some of this pressure.
Fellowship isn't easy
Relationship skills with just your wife, parents, and kids, whom you love more than anybody else in the world, aren't easy. Why should they be easy with a hundred or more people, with whom you may have shared pews the past 20 years, but about whom you know nothing but a few names? Relationships require a lot of prayer-encased creativity and thought.
Dictatorships, whether pastoral or governmental, ask nothing of you intellectually. They require only your money. And agreement with their intellect, such as it may be.
Relationships (fellowship) require faithful commitment, not to politely tolerate "diverse" (the new word for "weird") views, but to let "iron sharpen iron" (Proverbs 27:17) until we reach the goal of having "one mind", Romans 15:5, 12:16, 1 Corinthians 1:10, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Philippians 1:27, 2:2, 1 Peter 3:8, 4:1, John 17:11, 20-23.
It takes tears and prayers, and not "writing people off" who are just too weird to work with, Acts 20:19, 31.
It takes no relationship skill to "work with" someone when our "work" consists only of sitting passively beside each other Sunday after Sunday, year after year. It takes more skill than we have when we "open the floor" to people who talk better than they think, who love to hear their own voice more than they love to think of a message for it to carry, who seem hopelessly stuck on some strange line of reasoning, etc, etc. Just think of the last argument you had with somebody and multiply it by 100.
But that's why the Bible has so much about love and faith. You see, we don't need all that Bible stuff just to sit passively beside somebody. It's much harder to actually become of one mind with other Christians than to sit passively beside somebody who will allow you to pretend you are.
Fellowship is so hard you might think it wiser to just give up. But on its side is the fact that a lot of people seem to long for it. Many people are disillusioned with "church", after noticing they can get the same Bible study and fellowship with the Lord at home or from a TV sermon.
Just think. If church were done the 1 Corinthians 14 way, no one would be able to say they can get the same thing at home in front of the TV.
And yet habits die hard. Even people who completely
agree with me about the problem continue going to a "church" which
they bitterly acknowledge is no church at all, but won't come over
to a house for fellowship, for want of "time".
Chapter 13 "Don't Use Doctrines for Sword Fights, Romans 14"
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