Tag Archives: grace

Christianity Before the baggage

We’re creatures of habit and tradition and may believe that Christianity today in America is like the original Church started by Jesus and perpetuated by the apostles. Actually, our Christianity and the Church Jesus began are miles apart. The Church was, at first, one organization made up of different personalities, gifts, and talents. The diversity ensured spiritual growth and success in ministry. Today, there are thousands of Christian denominations, cults, organizations, and fractures, and each attracts people who think, believe, and act alike (for the most part). The single, diverse Church rich in shared spiritual gifts, skills, and talents is gone. There are other differences too.

In the first couple of centuries, Christianity was a costly religion (and, therefore, valuable to its members) because of persecution and difficulty in buying or selling in the marketplace. Every member of the community was required to contribute to its welfare and worship. Everyone sang and prayed aloud. Everyone was expected to put their spiritual gifts to work (e.g., teaching, preaching, overseeing . . .). Church discipline for spiritual growth (not punishment!) was necessary and expected.

Today? We live in a world of free or cheap grace without much discipleship or accountability (write to me via the editor if you’d like to see the statistics!). Few are required to participate, and, therefore, about 85% of Christians are freeloaders who don’t contribute or engage in spiritual formation or discipleship. Oh – and discipline within the Christian community? Forget about it! Anyone who doesn’t like the message or accountability can just go to another church down the road. What about things like baptism and Communion?

Initially, Communion (the Lord’s Supper) was a simple, intimate, worshipful dinner between believers. No pomp or circumstance. Today, it’s practiced in many ways, from a simple, quick ceremony as part of a Sunday service to a deeply mystical encounter. Baptism is another practice that differs significantly today from its early Christian counterpart.

For the first several generations from Jesus, baptism was a simple ceremony that confirmed the convert’s devotion to God and entry into the universal Church. Interestingly, according to early accounts, the water could be cold or warm, running or still, or even spit (as a last resort). The point wasn’t the water but devotion. After a few generations from Jesus, heresies and false teachings abounded, as did weak faith that people left under persecution. To ensure that converts truly understood the covenant they were about to enter, the Church began intense training and observation—sometimes for as much as three years—before baptism. That’s not the case today—baptism requires nothing more than a verbal affirmation of faith, no demonstration.

You may be wondering about one more big difference: giving. I’ll need to write a separate article for that one! What about next week? We’ll compare and contrast individualism in American churches to Star Trek’s Borg.

Hooking Up With Wickedness

We live in a world filled with people ignorant of God’s ways or the gift of salvation Jesus offers. Without our influence through relationship, they’ll likely never know these truths. But, we must not let influence work the other way around by allowing ourselves to be lured into sinful behavior.

First and foremost, we’re to spread the good news of God’s grace and mercy through the Christ to those around us. This wasn’t a nice suggestion – it was an order by Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20). And as Paul pointed out, how will people learn of the Gospel – that great news – if no one tells them? We’re all called to preach (proclaim and display) the Gospel. How can we do this if we don’t interact with others who need to hear the message (Romans 10:13-15)?

We’re also to be a shining example – a light to those around us. There’s no way to be that light without being visible to the world.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” —Matthew 5:14-16.

so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world —Philippians 2:15.

Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. —1Peter 2:12.

Again, we can’t isolate ourselves and therefore shield our light from the world. We must be in the world to provide an example, but not of the world (duplicating any of its ungodly values and behaviors). In fact, Paul reminded the church in Corinth that they must exist in the world, but not to be of the world by tolerating sinful behavior from those who should know better.

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler–not even to eat with such a one. —1Corinthians 5:9-11.

Paul also explained that although we need to be flexible and enter into relationships to preach the Gospel, we must be careful not to practice sin found in the world and therefore give up the gift of salvation (1Corinthians 9:19-27).

In another related admonishment, Paul tells the same church that they must not enter into very close relationships with unbelievers. Associate, yes – be bound together, no. The Greek word for ‘bound’ below is heterozugeō, which implies unequal yoking. This is important to understanding Paul’s intent. Yoking together dissimilar creatures would be counterproductive and, while the act may help the weakest of the pair, may bring down the stronger (or more righteous in this case).

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? —2Corinthians 6:14-15.

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals. —1Corinthians 15:33.

Who shouldn’t be bound together with unbelievers? Probably the best example is a follower of Jesus in marriage. This relationship will do nothing positive for the believer and may cause them to fall from their faith (although I’m sure there have been some exceptions).

Another sobering example that hits close to home for me is that of a relationship with atheists. These people are enemies of God and are not to be your associates! You won’t convert them. Their twisted agenda and abuse of God’s words trip up and confuse the faith of many. “Dude! You’ve gotta help me – my faith is shaken!” still rings in my ears . . .

Also included in unequal relationships that should be avoided between followers and unbelievers are business partnerships and those entering legal agreements. Why? A follower of the Christ operates under direction from the Holy Spirit and probably by a different set of moral guidelines than an unbeliever would follow. Their misaligned spiritual goals and different motivations could result in serious trouble in business, finances, friendships, or salvation.

Who are your friends and business partners? Remember to be a light to the world, but take measures to avoid having your faith corrupted and, therefore, jeopardizing your rescuing from God’s wrath to come!

Keep an eye out for “Finding Answers to Stuff Churches Don’t Discuss!” scheduled for a mid-2015 publication. There, you’ll find roughly 60 topics related to daily life (such as sex, religion, finances, tattooing, and everything in between!) along with practical application of God’s guidance for navigating those difficult waters!

And, for a very comprehensive and detailed study of the very important topic of God’s judgment to come and being rescued from it, feel free to read my 2011 guide titled, “Finding the End of the World” available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from www.ronbraley.com in paper and e-book formats. In the guide, you’ll find roughly 500 pages of building blocks to help you do your own complete and unbiased study based on Scripture and history!