Part II

Lea Sylvester

In Part I of “What Do You Believe,” we saw how Christianity has been “transformed” over the ages. Today, it is hard to determine even WHO is a Christian, much less WHAT Christianity is if we just look at what the various churches are practicing and teaching! A friend from India who is a Christian was so very excited to have the opportunity to move to the United States of America, mainly because she had been told that the USA was a “Christian” nation. She was perplexed, however; when she arrived, to see that she couldn't tell the difference between Christians and others. She said, “Christians in the United States look like everyone else, they talk like everyone else, they live like everyone else, they dress like everyone else , they live like everyone else and it should be easy to recognize them...I am very disturbed about this.” I agree.

Jesus said, “But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say? (Luke 6:46). A “lord” or “master” is someone you obey. But most professing Christian ministers and their followers do not follow the clear teachings and examples of Jesus and His Apostles. And, most of them do not even bother to deeply study their Bibles to find what those teachings and examples are!

The key issue today (and vital to our walk with God), then, is our desire and willingness to get back to the true Christian faith, “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We must be willing to genuinely put God's Word first above all things and live His teachings, commandments (all of them) and forsake those things which are not of God. A good way to understand this is to understand those in the early church and how they stood up to outside influences to change the very teachings to which they had dedicated their lives; even put their lives in danger in order to obey. It is essential today to understand how the “reformers” of the church took the paganism of “Babylon”, (as established by Constantine), and left the things of God behind. They didn't reform the church to the teachings of Christ. They further moved away from Jesus Christ. Don't take my word for it, study it. Prove all things by the Word of God.

Frankly, the “little flock” (Luke 12:32); the Body of Christ, has always understood the need to pattern itself after the teachings and examples of Jesus Christ. Although very few have seriously attempted to follow this pattern, many scholars and religious historians have understood the concept of the “Jerusalem Church.” This is a vital concept to understand if we are sincerely interested in contending “for the faith once delivered.” Jesus admonishes us in that same chapter of Luke “...ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding that when he cometh and kocketh, they may be open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching; verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.” (Luke 12:36-38).

The Apostle Paul was inspired to write to the Thessalonians, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 2:14). The Book of Acts makes it clear that the earthly “headquarters” of Jesus' Church, for many decades, was the Jerusalem Church. It was here that the Holy Spirit was originally poured out on the true Christians (Acts 2). It was here where Peter, James and John carried on most of their ministry for many years (Acts 4:1, 8:1, 11:1-2). Later, it was to the leadership at Jerusalem that Paul and Barnabas came to settle the major question of circumcision for the Gentiles and related questions. (Acts 15:4-6).

As renowned historian Edward Gibbon wrote: “The first fifteen bishops of Jerusalem were all circumcised Jews; and the congregation over which they presided united the law of Moses with the doctrine of Christ. It was natural that the primitive tradition of a church which was founded only forty days after the death of Christ, and was governed almost as many years under the immediate inspection of his apostle, should be received as the standard of orthodoxy. The distant churches were frequently appealed to the authority of their venerable Parent.” (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chap. 15, sec. 1, p. 389).

As indicated above, the only major ministerial conference indicated in the New Testament was held at Jerusalem. Here lived the leading original Apostles. Here was the true “mother” church (not Rome!). And it was to Jerusalem Paul and Barnabas had come even earlier, lest, as Paul had put it, “I might run, or had run, in vain.” (Galatians 2:1-2) After the major Jerusalem conference, Paul and Silas traveled throughout Asia Minor visiting the churches. “And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.” (Acts 16:4).

Clearly the original Apostles set the “inspired” pattern for true Christianity – not just for that time – but for all time! Contrary to the (heretical) Protestant ideas that the Apostle Paul was later used to “reinvent” Christianity. The real Apostle Paul of the Bible, (God's inspired Word), constantly showed deep respect for the original Apostles and deferred to the leadership Jerusalem in all major matters. And, it was the Apostle Paul who wrote the primarily Gentile church at Corinth, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.” (I Corinthians 7:19). Noted historian Carl von Weisacker wrote in 1895:

“Paul was far from confining his interest to the Gentile Christian Church which he had himself founded. His thoughts were much too lofty to leave Jewish Christianity to itself. He toiled not merely for his own work, but for the Body of Christ-the whole church. He never forgot for a moment the true birthplace of the gospel. And for him the Christians in Jerusalem were always the [saints]...He did not however merely entertain a grand policy of ecclesiastical union, but his first and constant thought was that the primitive Church was the foremost divine institution under the Gospel...In the early Apostles he saw...the Apostles of the Lord. From them the testimony of the Resurrection emanated (I Corinthians 15:1). They were ever the apostles, whom God had placed at the head of His Church, (Christ Himself being the Head), the first of those divinely commissioned men who held the leading office in the Body of Christ.” (I Corinthians 12:28). (The Apostolic Age of the Christian Church. pp. 12-13).

Later in Paul's ministry, he traveled again to Jerusalem: “And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.” (Acts 21:17-18). Notice that Paul presented himself to James, the Lord's brother, who by now was undoubtedly the chief Apostle at Jerusalem – Peter probably having gone to the “lost sheep” of the house of Israel in northwest Europe and the British Isles.

After rejoicing in the good news Paul brought about God's work among the Gentiles, the Jerusalem leadership told Paul: “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law.” (v. 20). The term “myriad” literally means “tens of thousands.” So as not to confuse or discourage these many Jewish Christians, Paul was asked by the Jerusalem Church to go through an offering ceremony to publicly demonstrate that he was not teaching in any way against God's laws. The Jerusalem leaders exhorted Paul: “Take these men along and be purified with them and pay all the expenses connected with the shaving of their heads. This will let everyone know there is no truth in the reports they have heard about you and that you still regularly observe the Law.” (v. 24, Jerusalem Bible).

If Paul had, in fact, been teaching against God's Law in any way, especially the spiritual law containing the Ten Commandments, he most certainly would not have gone through this ceremony of the law of Moses! That particular ceremony; probably a thanks offering at the conclusion of the Nazarite vow, was not necessary for a New Testament Christian. But it was not “sinful” either! And Paul's deep respect for God's Law, for the original mother church and the pattern of obedience God's Law-all this guided Paul in his decision to go ahead and participate in this ceremony. By guiding Paul in this – and putting this example in the Bible—God is showing all of us that Paul's approach was one of obedience to law, not one who tried to do away with or “reason around” God's spiritual laws as so many Protestant theologians teach.

Nearly all professing Christians understand that in order to be an acceptable sacrifice for mankind's sins, Jesus Christ, had to keep the Law perfectly. But what law did He keep, and what did He expect of His followers? Here is how Christ Himself described His mission:

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.

For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20).

Many Christians do not grasp the importance of those words. Christ said that not “one jot or one tittle” (the tiniest marks in the Hebrew script) of the law would pass from the law until heaven and earth passed away. Since heaven and earth have not passed away, we must understand that the law remains. And Christ condemned those who would falsely teach men to break even the “least of these commandments.” Rather, He explained that those who do both do and teach the commandments will be called “great” in the kingdom of heaven.!

Did His “fulfilling” of the law somehow change these commandments? Or did they change after Christ's resurrection? No! Heaven and earth did not pass away at His resurrection. And we must understand what He meant when He said he would “fulfill” the law. Once scholar explains His words as follows:

“Did [Jesus] fill or fulfill the [Law]? The common word plerosai means 'to fill.” At [Matthew] 5:17 most translations render it 'to fulfill.' The theological implications often drawn are that [Jesus] fulfilled all the prophecies of the [Old Testament] pertaining to the Jews, so that none remain for them now; and that he kept the [Law] perfectly, so that no one need obey it today. But these conclusions do not follow logically and, in fact, they contradict [Jesus'] immediately preceding statement that he did not come to abolish (or destroy) the [Law]. More fundamental for translation, however, is the question of whether plerosai in this verse is that [Jesus] came to fill the [Law] and the ethical pronouncements of the Prophets full with their complete meaning, so that everyone can know all that obedience entails. For this reason the Jewish New Testament says that [Jesus] came 'not to abolish but to complete.' In fact, this is the subject of the entire Sermon on the Mount; and Matthew 5:17,

understood in this way, is its theme sentence.” (Jewish New Testament, Stern, 1993, pp. xxii-xxiii).

In other words, Jesus came, as Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 42:21), to “magnify” God's law and to show its fullest

intent and purpose. What Jesus Christ sought to abolish were the abuses of the law and the man-made traditions that perverted the law. His sacrificial death, foreshadowed by the temple sacrifices, made those animal sacrifice and washings irrelevant for Christians. But His life showed that the spiritual law-the Ten Commandments-was and would remain relevant for those seeking to obey Him. One cannot properly understand His teachings without understanding the Old Testament scriptures and the law they contain, as noted by Frederick Holmgren:

“The Old Testament brings gifts to the Christian tradition. One of those gifts is the Torah (the Law)...Jesus embraced the Torah of Moses; he came not to end it but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17) – to carry its teachings forward. Further, to those who came to him seeking eternal life, he held it up as the essential teaching to be observed (Luke 10:25-28). Despite Jesus' conflict with some interpreters of his day, both Jewish and Christian scholars see him as one who honored and followed the Law. When Jesus proclaims the coming rule of God, He speaks nowhere in detail about the inner character of this rule. He does not need to because that has already been described in the Old Testament...The Old Testament is not an antiquated Scripture; its life-giving teachings are needed by the church.” (Frederick C. Holmgren, “Preaching the Gospel Without Anti-Judaism,” Removing Anti-Judaism from the Pulpit, ed. Howard Clark Kee and Irvin J Borowski, 1996, pp. 72-73).

Indeed, Jesus Christ taught from the Old Testament, and He lived by it, as did His followers. Do you? If you are being taught something different than what God's Word teaches; it causes confusion. God is not the author of confusion. Take a step back, look at what is confusing and then PROVE ALL THINGS BY GOD'S WORD. If we become confused, it can only be from one source and it is NOT from God. It is and can only be from the prince of this world. We must be discerning and prove all things; no matter what our preacher or pastor, says. We are to follow God – not men.

Direct all comments to sylvester.lea@gmail.com

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