Friday, March 1, 2013

Ecumenism: Witness and the Church, Part 2

Part 3.2 of an ongoing Bible study on ecumenism. See links to other lessons at the bottom of this post.

taken from

TEXT: Acts 1:14-26
14All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
15In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16"Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry." 18(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20"For it is written in the Book of Psalms, "'May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it'; and "'Let another take his office.' 21So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us--one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection."
23And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24And they prayed and said, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Exegetical Data. We discussed this passage in part last week, pointing out how damaging apostasy and heresy can be to the church. Today, let us look at the occasion for which Peter's recounted of Judas' betrayal.
  • They were to appoint a replacement for him in order to fill up the number of the Twelve, as they continued to pray and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Once the Church was born on Pentecost, the Twelve would be its shepherds, those devoted to “prayer and to the ministry of the word,” as Peter said in Acts 6:1-4.

The timing of this event is important. It happened before the birth of the Church, as recorded in Acts chapter two.
  • This gives us an important example that we need to heed and follow, and it is this: God-appointed and properly ordered shepherds were deemed necessary for the health and effectiveness of the Church.
  • This is a top priority in the life of the local church, and a prerequisite for ecumenism, because it is the shepherds who are called to keep, feed, protect, guide, heal, and if necessary, discipline the sheep. Just like Paul (2Tm 2:10), just like Jesus the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:15) faithful shepherds will lay down their lives for the sheep because they know that they will have to give an account to God for the spiritual state of the flock (Heb 13:17).
  • The Scriptures illustrate how important the role of good leadership is when it says, “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zec 13:7; Mt 26:31). Remember the Galilean crowds that Jesus took pity on, in Matthew 9:36? How did Matthew describe them? He said they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Clearly, Scripture teaches that good leadership is a prerequisite for a healthy church. The primary reason this is so is because sheep need to feed on God's word, and it is the shepherds' responsibility to feed them.
  • One commentator explains: The Christian Church is primarily a communion of faith, and hence essentially needs instruction, a knowledge of the truth, and the ministry of the word. Any attempt to edify without instruction and doctrine as the basis, is neither in accordance with the example and command of Jesus, nor with the practice and principles of the apostles, and is therefore unevangelical.
If the leaders of a church do not handle the word well—whether it's because they are unskilled, or because they lack reverence for the word—or if they are morally unfit for this duty, then the church and its members will have to make a tough choice.
  • If the church wants to keep its unfit leaders, it will be at the cost of its health and faithfulness. If it wants to be healthy and faithful, it must lose its unfit leaders.
  • Q: Is it ok for a church with unfit leadership to enter into ecumenical ministry? Conversely, is it ok for a healthy church to partner with an unhealthy church?
    • A poorly led church needs to fix its internal problems before it enters into ecumenical ministry.
    • A healthy church probably shouldn't partner with a church that has unfit leadership, unless the purpose of such partnership is to help the other church address its leadership issues.
  • Q: Churches can be divided over issues of doctrine and leadership. Isn't this contrary to Christ's command to be united in one Spirit? Isn't this contrary to the spirit of ecumenism?
    • There are secondary issues that need to take a backseat to unity. I believe this is the principle taught by Paul in Romans 14.
    • However, if the issue is about genuineness of faith and obedience to the God, then division is necessary. To the divided Corinthian church, he said in 1Co 11:18-19, “18For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” In other words, if we're faced with an either-or choice—either truth or unity—we must always choose truth, because a unity based on falsehood is not worth having. The kind of unity Christ demands is unity among people who are like-minded and like-hearted in their commitment to Christ (Phil 2:1-2).

We'll stop here for today. Just to recap, we've done a quick runthrough of the first chapter of Acts, and learned many things about the nature of the worldwide Church and the local church that are relevant to our discussion of ecumenism. We've made the following points:
  • First, there are foundational truths of our faith (as revealed in the gospels and the resst of the NT) that we cannot compromise, such as the Godhood of God, the Trinity, the perfect union of the divine and human natures in the person of Jesus Christ, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the necessity of the Holy Spirit's work in the life of the Christian, and the full authority and reliability of Scripture.
  • Second, we must be vigilant to guard the truth, because one of Satan's most effective strategies is to raise up wolves from within God's flock. Ecumenism, while it may be a means for churches to strengthen one another, may also help to broaden the influence of false doctrines.
  • Third, false teaching germinates best in churches and organizations that have a low view of Scripture. Conversely, maintaining a high view of Scripture—in creed as well as deed, in profession as well as in practice—will help to ensure that our churches and organizations stay healthy and that ecumenical efforts are pleasing in God's sight.
  • Fourth, Christ's commission to the Church can be summed up in one word: “witness.” The Church's mission is to bear witness to the gospel. This includes proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers on the one hand, and on the other hand explaining or expounding the gospel more and more to believers while training them to live it out. Therefore, a local church has no business investing the Lord's resources in a so-called “ministry” that has nothing to do with witnessing about the gospel.
  • Fifth, godly and orderly shepherding is essential for the health and safety of a local church. If a local church falls short in this regard, we came to the conclusion that...
Next week, we will look at Acts chapter two, and see what we can learn there.

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