Ekklesia vs. Belief System
Personally, I would feel more comfortable with that question if it was just from an individual to an individual, because I think one of the things that is important in the process of growing together in Christ is that we not create an identity based on a belief system. That kind of question, when it is related to “Well, what does the church in St. Louis or Whapahanee or Phoenix believe about X subject?” could be, I believe, actually destructive, even though the question itself is good. What a wonderful question that is. There is no question about the validity of a question like that. Do we need heaven to descend upon us and clothe us with power from on high to do the task that God has put in front of us? The answer is “Absolutely.” We need that desperately. But you could term that exact same question a little bit differently, direct it a little differently, and that question actually ends up being something that you sort of plug into a slot. “Oh, well you believe this.”
Well, the nature of truth is and I will back up to something Paul said in 1 Timothy about the Church, the ecclesia being the pillar and foundation of truth. That being the case, it is really important for us to approach subjects of that huge magnitude through the eyes of ecclesia kind of life. What did they do in Acts 15 when there was a major problem about the Judiazers and some perceived need for circumcision? Where does it say in the Old Testament that they would no longer need to circumcise after a certain point in time? Where is the scripture that says circumcision would become obsolete? That scripture doesn’t really exist in a pure, undeniable form, so those were valid questions those people asked. Who said we are allowed to just drop the law of Moses, just disband all the right of circumcision and all the other covenant issues? Who said we are supposed to do that? Where is the scripture that said we wouldn’t need to do that anymore? Those were legitimate questions. Paul said that he had reason to believe that those things were a shadow of a reality that was in Christ, and that circumcision was in fact circumcision of the heart, and Israel, in terms of the physical lineage from Abraham, he wrote at least two or three different times, had to do with the promise of Isaac, not the physical blood of Isaac, and so it was a whole different way of looking at the covenant promises. That was a new thought to them.
They had no idea prior to Paul’s writing and Paul’s interaction with them; they had no idea that this was actually going to be the case. Peter just about rejected an angelic visitation fighting so hard for his perceived doctrine of what God surely must have meant about unclean animals. Peter could prove that the Lord was wrong in terms of his supposedly eating unclean animals. He could get out the scriptures, prove to Jesus, to the angel that there was absolutely no possible way he could take, kill and eat those unclean animals. That’s a way of looking at life, and that was the dilemma that Peter was in. That was the dilemma that the whole Christian world was in in the first century. Some 20 years after Pentecost they are still very much in a deep dilemma of whether or not circumcision and the law of Moses was to be eliminated or put aside in favor of all these things that are now of the heart and of the spirit rather than physical. Where is the scripture that said it’s supposed to change? It’s not really like that. There was a legitimate dilemma. They had to pursue that thing out of the life of ecclesia.
You can see what happened in Acts 15. You have the apostles and the elders of the Church in Jerusalem. Those men not only walked with Jesus for several years, they also walked with each other for another decade plus. An intimate, daily life, admonishing one another daily. They knew each other inside and out. They knew the legitimacy of each other’s walk with God. It wasn’t just blowing smoke. They weren’t quite sure who this Paul guy was. They didn’t have the utmost confidence in him, but Barnabas they did, and Barnabas was with Paul through a lot of Paul’s adventures. So they had to, somehow out of the context of church life, reach some conclusions about this idea of circumcision in the law of Moses. Well, I would suggest to you that that is the outworking of what God said by His Holy Spirit when He said that the ecclesia, the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth. A pillar is what holds up a house, a foundation is what defines the size of the house and how high the house can be built. We have men in this room that know a lot more about structures than I do, but it’s a fair statement that the foundation has a lot to do with what the house is going to look like, both in shape and in the numbers of stories it can support, etc. The pillar is what holds up the weight and allows the thing to be inhabited. The pillar and foundation of truth, which is the House of God, the ecclesia. For us to try to reach a lot of conclusions independently about exactly what is going to happen, what are Gog and Magog? How many books are you going to read about that and believe wholeheartedly and then pitch out the window when the country that is supposed to be one doesn’t exist anymore? How many times are we going to go through all these things where we get hung out to dry because something didn’t work out the way we thought it was supposed to? A lot of our doctrines, a lot of our concepts about eschatology and various other truths have been interpreted through our eyes and through our experience on an individual basis and what mom used to say. The fact is, if you were to trace it down, a lot of the initial concepts that we have come to believe have been penned by people that may not have even been Christians, if you were really to take the words of Jesus literally and what it takes to be a disciple, they may not have even been disciples and yet they formulated our whole doctrine in many cases. I can show you the facts behind some of that.
But my real point is this: Regardless of what question you are asking, the best way to find an answer isn’t just simply for me as an individual or you as an individual to apply our intellect, to running through a concordance and doing Greek word studies and then formulating our opinion in some kind of ironclad way. The best way we can find answers to hard questions is to bury our life into the middle of a lot of other lives where our life is submitted to them in the way we treat our families and the way we respond to our co-workers, to our priority systems, to the way we live our life and spend our so-called free time. If our lives are in the middle of that sort of refining process, we are far better able to hear God together in a refined way if we are living like the Church is supposed to live. The reason they were able to handle this immensely difficult problem, one of the few more controversial issues than the baptism of the Holy Spirit, was the issue of circumcision and the Judaical law. They handled this immensely difficult problem out of the context of life not out of their own minds and scholarship.
It doesn’t take very much to prove, and any half-way intelligent person could readily admit, that brilliant minds have reached totally different conclusions on every subject you want to name. Seemingly spiritual people to the best of our ability to know, as they are isolated in their lives on an individual basis, seemingly brilliant minds have reached immensely different, contradictory, conclusions about the most basic of christian doctrines. I have to submit to you that because God is not divided in His mind, He only has one opinion about those things, that perhaps the way to approach it is not the way we have been approaching those kinds of things historically.