Simple Acts of Obedience and Disobedience
Sweeping away the religious confusion and living a simple Christian life of obedience
We all know that there are very weighty matters of truth found in the Word of God. We may study carefully day after day and year after year, but these matters continue to remain complex and difficult objects of study. On the other hand, there are many other elements of God’s Word that should be easier to understand and follow. There is little excuse for not believing and obeying in these matters.
On the one hand, Paul writes, “We write nothing else to you than what you read and understand, and I hope you will understand until the end” (2 Corinthians 1:13). These matters may be easier for a person to read and understand, thus there is little excuse for not obeying them. But, on the other hand, there are more difficult matters. Peter refers to Paul’s writings, saying that there are “some things hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). We are required to study and learn about these as well, but since they are “hard to understand,” we can see that they may require more intense study and careful inquiry.
There are aspects of God’s Word that I’ve known for years and they didn’t require intense concentration and extensive research. They were just there on the page and I accepted them as a matter of course. On the other hand, there are other matters that I thought I would know the answers to by now, after all of these years, but they remain issues that I must continue to study and ponder. And the study would not be just an hour or two, but sometimes we must do extensive research for them—comparing different Bible translations, studying the original languages, checking the historical background, examining various positions and interpretations, and much more. So we might say that there are “easier” and more “difficult” aspects of God’s truth. We must seek truth on both!
As we look at the religious world, sometimes we are amazed at the number of issues that people can’t see or don’t see or won’t see! They appear to be “easy to understand” matters and there is little reason for someone to disobey these precepts. What are a few of these matters that we commonly find in the professing “Christian” world?
The other day, I noticed a reference to “Bishop” so-and-so, and I was dismayed with the fact that the person seemed to have some grasp of the Scriptures, yet he enjoyed the position of being a “Bishop” in some denominational group and seemed to enjoy calling himself by this esteemed title. Yet, it would seem that anyone acquainted with the Scriptures would know that “bishop” (in the KJV, 1Timothy 3:1) comes from the Greek episcopos, and simply means “overseer.” The early assemblies of the Lord had a plurality of “overseers” as teachers and guardians of the flock (cf. Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-3). They didn’t even use this term as an official title, yet today some religious groups exalt a leader to the position of “bishop” who has authority over a single congregation or over multiple congregations in a geographical area. How sad—and how different from New Testament Christianity!
A related matter pertains to denominationalism and institutionalism. One would think that anyone reading through the book of Acts in the Bible or the letters could see that the early believers simply met in small communities in small towns or large cities. They considered themselves to be children of God, brothers and sisters, in an intimate and beloved family (cf. Acts 2:42-46; 1 Timothy 3:15; Galatians 6:10). But, instead, it would seem that many groups today insist on setting up unscriptural denominational arrangements, giving themselves sectarian names, and formulating their own confessions of faith. Since they are used to involved structure in the corporate world, they crave for complex organizational systems in the religious world as well.
As we read through the inspired New Testament documents, we find that the early believers had a very simple arrangement. There were simply “elders”—otherwise known as “overseers” or “shepherds” (Acts 20:17, 28; Ephesians 4:11; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). And, of course, there were also “servants” (or deacons) (1 Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-13), as well as “teachers” (Acts 13:1; Ephesians 4:11),” “proclaimers” (or evangelists” (Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:5), and other functionaries or positions. But today, we find such unbiblical positions in churchianity as popes, cardinals, bishops, arch-bishops, pastors, general overseers, superintendents, presidents, and much more. Why can’t we simply read Scripture and decide to be just what the early saints were—noting more and nothing less?
Female preachers and pastors
Perhaps because of the general denial of the authority of Scripture as well as the acceptance of egalitarian, relativistic, and feministic emphases in our day (and the past 150 years), we find an amazing perspective in the religious world around us. It is utterly clear that in the early believing community of saints, the men (males) were the only ones who took a leading role. Only men were apostles. Only men wrote Scripture. Only men could be overseers (1 Timothy 3:1-2; Titus 1:5-6). Only men could speak in the assembly (1 Corinthians 14:33-37), or be public teachers (1 Timothy 2:11-12), or pray publicly (1 Timothy 2:8). Yet in our day, we find the strange and wicked practice of women assuming the position of pastor, preacher, evangelist, and other public speakers and leaders! This unscriptural practice should never exist among those who respect the authority of the Bible and seek to emulate the early community of faith.
The act of baptism
Beginning very early (within a hundred years after the apostolic time), something other than immersion in water was introduced, especially for those gravely ill (“clinic” baptism), yet it didn’t become common practice for hundreds of years. After a thousand years, it became dominant so that today many leading churches and denominations merely pour or sprinkle water on the subject rather than practice the New Testament act of immersion (or dipping). We find this in the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Congregational Church, the Anglican Church, the Episcopal Church, and others! Yet the Bible clearly says that baptism involves a going to the water, a dipping in water, and a rising from the water (cf. Matthew 3:16; John 3:23; Acts 8:38-39). It is actually a “burial” in water (and the Spirit) (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12). Besides this, the Greek word, baptizo, means to dip, to immerse, to sink, and to overwhelm—and never a sprinkling or pouring.
The subjects of baptism
This is another matter that is also clear if we take the New Testament as our guide. Baptism was intended only for those who chose to become disciples of Christ (Mathew 28:18-20). It was for those who came to God through faith in Christ and repentance of sin (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38-41; 8:12, 36-39; 18:8; 22:16; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:11-13). Only those who could make a personal response of commitment to Christ were to be baptized. However, we find massive numbers of professing “Christians” who just overlook the Biblical evidence and choose to “baptize” babies. We’re talking about such religious groups as the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, the Lutheran Churches, the Presbyterian Churches, the Methodist Churches, the Anglican Churches, the Episcopal Churches, and others. It seems that many professing “Christians” would rather cling to unscriptural traditions than take the Word for what it actually says (cf. Mark 7:8-13; Colossians 2:8).
The Lord’s supper
In the early believing community, the remembrance of Christ and His sacrificial death was a simple experience. When people came to Christ for His forgiveness, “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Thus, this “breaking of bread” (as early Christians called the memorial) was a simple and regular time of remembrance and devotion to the Lord and fellowship with each other. Believers came together each first day of the week (Acts 20:7) and this was to be done as a fellowship-wide meeting (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:17-34). Today, professing “Christians” may celebrate Christ’s death one time a year, every six months or twelve weeks, or more frequently. Often it is experienced with great formality and ritual, as in the Roman Catholic tradition and even some Protestant Churches. Often unleavened bread isn’t used and the fruit of the vine is not insisted on. Furthermore, generally, all professing Christians are invited to the table, instead of only those who are devoted to Christ, as true believers, and are walking in holiness, truth, and love (cf. Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).
Materialism and riches
As we compare the early believers with what professes to be Christianity today, we discover further discrepancies. Today, we may find professing “Christians” and church members who pile up riches on earth, who drive luxury automobiles, who live in expensive mansions, who dress in the finest of clothes, who take costly vacations to exotic places, and who eat at the best restaurants. All of this may come in the name of “Christianity”—and even pastors, teachers, and leaders are caught up in this materialistic and worldly trap. In contrast, Jesus plainly warned, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23). He even said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (v. 25). He declared, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,” but instead, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20). Paul added, “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9; cf. vv. 10, 17-19). The way of Christ in the beginning was far different from what passes off as Christianity in our day! Are we walking in obedience to Christ or in plain disobedience?
As we examine what professes to be Christianity in our day, we find another wide gulf. The early believers recognized that they were merely “aliens and strangers” on this earth, living “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (1 Peter 2:11; Philippians 2:15). Their “citizenship” was in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and they were to look at the things that are not seen and are eternal, rather than focus on earthly things that pass away (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:18). They sought to keep themselves “unstained by the world” for they recognized that “friendship with the world is hostility toward God” (James 1:27; 4:4). Their purpose on earth, during these few years, was to live for Jesus now, grow in holiness, walk in truth, turn others to God and righteousness, and wait for the Lord Jesus from heaven (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Today it is different. It would seem that most professing “Christians” are more interested in churchianity, in pursuing entertainment, participating in or watching sports, eating tasty junk foods, having good but worldly “fellowship,” and finding things to fill up our life on earth. Particularly, we think that young people are used to this entertainment and worldly focus, thus some think that we need to cater to their carnal or fleshly desires if we wish to save them. This twisted rationale is sadly mistaken.
Simple Acts of Obedience and Disobedience
When we see this kind of comparison, hopefully we will recognize the disparity between what religion and churchianity promotes as the “normal Christian life” and what we read about in the Scriptures. There are many, many other aspects that we could examine but these few are sufficient today. While some matters in the Scriptures are difficult to understand, other matters are much easier to comprehend. This doesn’t say that everything is simple to work out, but it does say that we have no excuse for our disobedience to the clear and plain teachings of the Lord. As Paul wrote, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” and “do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Philippians 2:12, 14).
Won’t you join with me in pursuing holiness (Hebrews 12:14) and seeking to live a life of love “from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5)! This is the only way to glorify God and enjoy Him forever! Walk in obedience and not in disobedience!