Making the Choice
“Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the feast for seven days, and on the eighth day, by the regulation, there was an assembly.”
Most of you reading this book will find yourselves in a similar position as the author. Having attended traditional church my entire life, admitting that the organized evangelical church is missing the mark is difficult. It is a process that has taken several years to develop to the point where this book can be written. Two foundational questions form the basis for much that has been said. One relates to the truth of God’s Word and the second to the purpose of the Church. The two questions that have compelled this writing are:
Has God revealed Himself and His will in the Bible?
What is the function and purpose of the Church?
You will recall that we have already spent some time talking about these two questions. We have examined them from a variety of perspectives. Yet we now return to them to construct our concluding thoughts. For both reader and writer, we must concur that God has spoken and we have an imperative command to listen. That is the starting point for all of us.
The difficulty comes when we determine to act decisively upon what God has said. As we have pointed out, over the years the church has made hundreds of small adjustments to the world. Each accommodation seemed insignificant at the time. They appeared just minor changes that would reap positive benefits. But they have added up to a surrender to the world’s values and standards. It is now time to wake up to where we are and return to where we should be.
Beginning with the first question, it is God’s Word that directs our thinking about what He has revealed:
“The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
“The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes . . .
“The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.
“They are more precious than gold, then much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.
“By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
That describes the condition and attitude in which we want to place ourselves. Whether our choice is to accept or reject His Word, what He has said remains.
“ ‘Is not my word like fire,’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?’ ”
Jeremiah 23:29 (See also Hebrews 4:12, 13)
Our opinion does not change God’s Word.
Thus, our answer to the first question shapes our response to the second question which deals with the purpose and function of the Church. The Scriptures have given enough information about the Church that we can tell if we are following God’s pattern. The comparison we have used between the church fellowship and a human body is what the Scriptures use (I Corinthians 12:12-30; Ephesians 4:7-16).
They never defined the church fellowship of the New Testament as a building, corporate organization or denomination as we are inclined to do today. The church fellowship is a group of people who form part of the body of Christ.
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
I Corinthians 12:27
“From (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
Every member of this body has vital connection with the Head of the body. This direct link with God means that He is energizing each of us to be an active part of His body. If that does not describe what we now call “church” something is terribly wrong. A church fellowship without everyone having an active part is inconceivable. It is a contradiction of terms. It is no longer a body.
We want to return to the simplicity and reality of what the Scriptures define as a church fellowship. You will not be alone as you begin. In fact, you will be given special grace to follow what God has set out for you to do. The Apostle Paul wrote about God’s grace in his life, enabling him to do God’s will (I Corinthians 3:10 15:9-11). But God’s grace was not just for Apostles.
“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Making the choice begins by appropriating His grace and applying it to what He has revealed in His Word. We have already looked at the process God often uses in bringing change as He did in the life of Josiah, King of Judah. God begins with an individual—whether Paul, or Peter, Josiah or Jeremiah, Isaiah or John the Baptist, you or me. He then moves out to others He is preparing for a vital role in His Church, the Body of Christ.
Taking the Time
Whenever there are special movements of God among people, they are often accompanied with a setting aside of significant time for prayer and reading of God’s Word. In the opening quotation of this chapter from Nehemiah, Ezra the priest is charged with teaching the people of Israel who were returning from their captivity in Babylon. For eight days, Ezra conducted his priestly duties of instruction from the Book of the Law.
At a much earlier time (at the base of Mount Sinai), Moses instructed Israel to prepare themselves for three days before they were to meet with God (Exodus 19:16-19). King Solomon called Israel together for fourteen days at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem (I Kings 8:65). In the New Testament, we find that the Apostles waited in Jerusalem in prayer, a period of fifty days, before the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14, 2:1-3). Saul, soon to be the Apostle Paul, waited in darkness in Damascus for three days until the arrival of Ananias to baptize him and commission him to service (Acts 9:4-12).
Therefore, to set aside significant time might mean arranging a weekend retreat for a small group, Sunday School class or church. It may be a series of evening gatherings, in succession, to pour over God’s Word and wait on Him in prayer and fasting. Unfortunately, the quick, one shot sermon or class message may not disturb us enough to get us out of our “comfort zone.” Starting a church fellowship in your neighborhood is important Kingdom business and we ought to make available the time necessary for God through His Spirit to move us into His will.
In reading this book, you have found an abundance of Scripture that can be used as the focus of your praying and reading. In following the steps taken by King Josiah, you can involve others at the appropriate time. God’s Word can be trusted and must be trusted if we are to break free from the habits that bind us.
We close this book with the reminder that it is God’s will for us to know Jesus Christ and to become like Him for His glory. As the Apostle Paul wrote to encourage believers in Colossians and Laodicea,
“My purpose is that (you) may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that (you) may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
Colossians 2:2, 3