Category Archives: first-century story

The pastoral epistles: fact or fiction?

For as long as I can remember I’ve heard 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus referred to as the “pastoral epistles.” I even had a class in Bible college by the same name. The assumption is that Timothy and Titus were pastors according to the modern conception. Most people accept this without any thought, as if it were automatically true. In reality, though, this is a classic case of our tendency as humans to read into the scripture our own present traditions and practices. Or, as Richard Hanson has said,

“It is a universal tendency in the Christian religion, as in many other religions, to give a theological interpretation to institutions which have developed gradually through a period of time for the sake of practical usefulness, and then read that interpretation back into the earliest periods and infancy of those institutions, attaching them to an age when in fact nobody imagined that they had such a meaning.”

Our modern conception of a pastor is basically of a guy (or gal) who functions as resident priest of a local congregation of Christians. The Protestant pastorate is basically a reformed version of the Roman Catholic priesthood with more of an emphasis on the preaching of scripture than the administering of sacraments. The modern “pastor” is a local brother who preaches the sermon on Sunday and usually gets paid a salary to perform the duties of the clergy, such as visitations, church administration, ect.

The strongest evidence against the view that Timothy and Titus were the equivalent of the modern-day pastor is the fact that both these brothers, like Paul, were itinerant. That is, they were travelling workers who moved about regularly from place to place planting and building up churches. Timothy and Titus were not pastors, they were apostles. As such, they were constantly on the go. Listen to what bishop Lightfoot has to say on this subject:

“It is the conception of a later age which represents Timothy as bishop of Ephesus, and Titus as bishop of Crete. Paul’s own language implies that the position which they held was temporary. In both cases their term of office is drawing to a close when the apostle writes.”

So if Timothy wasn’t the “pastor” of the church at Ephesus, who was? The obvious answer, which we do-it-by-the-book, Bible-believing evangelicals love to overlook, is simply this: nobody. The office of the pastor, as it is widely regarded and practiced throughout Christendom today, is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. Look long and hard, but nowhere will you find a single example of a first-century believer occupying such a role in the local church.

But please, dear reader, before you throw stones, allow me to say that I am all for leadership, authority, and pastors. But I am for them in their truly biblical, “organic” sense, that is all. To describe what I mean by that is not the point of this particular post, however. All I’m saying for now is that to label Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus as “pastoral epistles” is a mis-leading, and it stems from the way we read and interpret scripture through the lens of our present traditions and practices. Let us pray for the Lord to give us light that we may see these writings and the story they tell in their original meaning. No doubt a revolution awaits us in that direction.  

 


New blog

Greetings all!

Take a minute to check out my new blog at Reconstructing the First Century Story. The content of this blog will deal exclusively with exploring various elements of century one, blending New Testament scripture with related Jewish and Roman history in an attempt to set forth in one free-flowing narrative the entire story of the first century churches. Away with chapters and verses, I say! Give us the Story, the whole Story, and nothing but the Story!

If that interests you, mosey on over and have a look. 🙂

 


Your Christ, my hope

The story surrounding Paul’s initial journey to Thessalonica, the raising up of the church there, and his subsequent letters to this little assembly is well worth a good study. Paul was in town for barely a month before getting tossed to the curb by the local Jewish community, but in that small window of time the Lord gave birth through his ministry to a gathering of believers whose testimony sounded out all across Macedonia, Achaia, and beyond in the days to come.

When Paul wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians some weeks after being “torn away” from them by hostile circumstances, his heart was rejoicing. From the moment he’d been forced to leave the city he’d been burdened for the little children he had left behind. He knew they were facing heavy afflictions, and though he entrusted them to the keeping power of the indwelling Christ, still he worried that the pressure would be too much for them to handle. “Therefore when I could bear it no longer, I chose to remain alone at Athens and sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, so that no one would be moved by these afflictions” (1 Thess. 3:1-3). When Timothy returned to Paul at Corinth he brought good news: not only was the church at Thessalonica surviving, she was thriving. And the saints were longing to see Paul again as much as he longed to see them. At this point Paul says something that is simply beautiful:

“For now we live, if you are standing firm in the Lord” (1 Thess. 3:8)

Did you catch that? Here you have the great apostle Paul-a man who has seen visions and revelations of the Lord, has been caught up to the third heaven, has seen the resurrected Christ face to face-saying to a little assembly of new believers barely out of their spiritual training pants that he cannot live without them. That they are his life. That his going on depends on their going on.

It’s a pretty remarkable thought, if you ask me. You and I are accustomed to think of this the other way around, aren’t we? In other words, we think it should be the weak believers in Thessalonica declaring their utter dependence on Paul and his ministry. But here in scripture we see it just the opposite. Here you have the strong apostle, the Lord’s worker, the one who should surely be able to stand on his own if anyone could, declaring his need for the Thessalonian believers to stand firm in the Lord. Isn’t that wonderful? It shows just how much we all need one another in the Body of Christ. Big or small, one talent for five, none of us is going to make it very far on our own. Simply put, we need each other. If Paul needed the two-month old believers in Thessalonica, then you can be sure that you need me and I need you.

Today the church I’m a part of was visited by some saints from a town a couple hours north of us. We sang a song together which is drawn from this very passage in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. I submit to you here the words to the song and a small video clip from the meeting, for your mutual enjoyment. 🙂

YOUR CHRIST, MY HOPE

1)I’m thankful that God has placed me

With you to build up His body

Christ in you is the hope for me

You also need Christ lived in me

 

(CHORUS)

I live if you stand firm in the Lord

You live if I stand firm in the Lord

My going on is for you, your going on is for me

Not separate entities, I need you saints desperately

 

2)Oh what a sweet church life have we

Built up in Him His bride to be

In Him steadfast you help me be

Encouraged by Christ whom I see

 

3)Your faith in Christ helps me pursue

My progress depends upon you

As I seek Christ with you in view

My heart full of prayers is for you

 

4)God’s heart longs, desires that we

His lovers seek Him corporately

On each other spent constantly

My life is for you, yours for me

 

5)I want to encourage you all

Without your supply I would fall

Never think that your Christ is small

Christ needs you and so do we all


Practicing the presence of God

This is post #2 about the life of Stephen. Check here to read my introduction to this study.

The first thing that interests me about Stephen is that he came to know the Lord the way he did while living a very ordinary, busy life.

“Choose out from among yourselves seven men… whom we will appoint to this duty.” So said the apostles to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 6:3). The duty they were referring to was the daily food distribution to widows. By their own admission, fulfilling this duty would have kept the twelve too busy to give much time to prayer and the ministry of the word (see verses 2 and 4). Stephen was one of seven men chosen to bear this responsibility in the apostles’ stead.

So from the moment Stephen steps onto the scene of early church history we see a man laden with responsibility enough to keep him too busy to devote much time to prayer and Bible study. Contrast this with our modern conception of what it takes to get to know the Lord well-spending hours a day on your knees and learning the Bible so well you can quote it backwards and forwards-and things just don’t add up. Stephen spent most of his time working a job and caring for the practical needs of widows, yet somehow he was able to cultivate an inner awareness of and fellowship with the Lord that both transcended and transformed his outward busyness. In the words of brother Lawrence, Stephen learned to practice the presence of God.  Daily. Moment by moment.

Undoubtedly this is what made for Stephen’s transformation: daily, constant, inward fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. This same kind of relationship to the Lord is available to you and me today. The question is, do we even know the Lord lives within us? Not just in some rhetorical, abstract, hypothetical kind of way, but really… have you ever sensed His presence deep in your spirit? Have you been awakened to this knowledge-“the secret, which has been hid for ages and generations but is now revealed to the saints” (Col. 1:26), which is Christ in you?   

Take a moment to still your soul and turn within to your spirit. Touch the Lord there. Spend some time beholding Him. Speak whatever words of adoration or praise well up from within. Enjoy Him. This is what He desires more than anything. Then realize that the Lord has called us, in the words of A.W. Tozer, into an everlasting preoccupation with Himself. This is eternal life, that we might know Him (John 17:3), and this is the knowledge that produces a man of Stephen’s calibre.


The gospel according to Stephen

A few years ago I saw some things from the life of Stephen that gave a new direction to my own pursuing of the Lord. Today I fell to considering those things again and thought it might be beneficial to blog through my thoughts in the coming weeks. So I jotted down a brief introduction to the subject which goes a little something like this…

It’s not hard to be impressed by Stephen. Though his time on the stage of the first-century story was brief, he was like a bright shooting star that flamed in brilliance for one spectacular moment, pointing the whole world to Jesus Christ and forever altering the course of early church history. There is a deeper significance to this man’s witness than most people ever consider.

Stephen was the first of a new breed of men in early Christian history. He was the first person beyond the original apostles to arrive at full stature in Jesus Christ. This does not mean that he had “already attained”, as Paul would put it, but that he showed signs of having crossed that threshold which the New Testament describes as being brought to “full growth” or “perfected” (though not in the ultimate sense).

The question is, what produced Stephen? What were the conditions that made possible his swift and powerful advance into the full reality of Jesus Christ?

Consider this: You and I have been born into the same day and age that Stephen was born into, under all the same circumstances (potentially) that he himself had in which to know the Lord. In other words, you and I can know Christ in all the same glorious fullness that Stephen knew Him.

If that is something you’re interested in, walk with me for a while as we take a look at the gospel according to Stephen, and don’t be surprised if many of your concepts concerning Christ and the church are revolutionized along the way.

So there you have it. Check back in the days to come for more on Stephen. Or just subscribe to the blog to receive updates straight to your inbox. Peace!

 


What good are the “greetings” sections of the New Testament letters?

Many people treat the “greetings” sections of the New Testament letters a lot like the genaeologies of the Old Testament. In general they just skip right over them. But there are wonderful insights to be gained in these areas of writing, particularly if your study of the NT includes a view to history and story as well as theology and doctrine.

Take Romans 16, for example. Here you have a whole chapter of greetings, the most intimate and detailed you will find in all of Paul’s letters. When reading this chapter it quickly becomes evident that Paul personally knows the people he is writing to, and most of them he knows very well.

What’s so significant about that? Nothing much, unless you consider the fact that at the time Paul wrote this letter he had never yet been to Rome.

He had never been to Rome, yet he knew many of the saints there personally. How is this possible? Logic would say that he knew these people from other places. In fact, a careful reading of Romans 16 will reveal that Paul was writing to people he knew from all over the empire. Priscilla and Aquila, for instance. He met them first in Corinth, then in Ephesus where they travelled with him, and now in A.D. 57 we find them in Rome. In all likelihood the couple returned to their home in Rome after the death of Claudius Caesar (who had expelled all Jews from Rome) for the same reason they moved to Ephesus in 52: to host and help build the church. 

That’s just one example. What about the other saints mentioned in Romans 16? Evidently Paul knew them from other places, and now here they are all together in Rome? Could it be that this is no coincidence? Could it be that someone at some point came up with the crazy idea of a big group of believers from various churches across the empire moving together to the eternal city? Might it be that the church in Rome initially began as a transplant?

If so, isn’t that intriguing? Wouldn’t you like to know the story behind such a venture?

These are the kinds of things you can get out of the greetings sections of Paul’s letters. So from now on, pay attention. 😛


A Meeting of the Church – Part 3

Part 3 from brother Wehrheim…

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After many songs, prayers and exhortations the brothers and sisters begin to share. One by one these ordinary people-who spend most of their day labouring away-begin to share with one another how they are coming to know the Lord. Through sweat, labor, housework, child-rearing, tent-making, planting, and harvesting they are labouring upon the Lord Jesus and they are reaping his riches. And now they have gathered together to share those riches with one another. Those who have just come to know the Lord share in the joy of the forgiveness of their sins. Those who are seasoned in the Lord take the body deeper into the “depths” of Christ. Men share. Women share. Young share. Old share. To see this all in action brings to mind the ancient prophecy of the seer Jeremiah, who said: “And no more will every man teach his neighbor saying, ‘Know the Lord’; for they shall ALL know me from the least of them to the greatest.”

The elders take time in between the sharing to present a teaching to the Body of Christ. Currently they are feasting upon the teaching of “Christ as the all-sufficient land”. Each of the elders are sharing how the promised land spoken of in the Law and Moses points to Jesus Christ. This especially tickles the heart of the few Jewish brethren in the gathering who are more familiar with the story and the Hebrew Scriptures. To the Gentiles it is all new, though just as exciting. But the elders do not hog the meeting. They simply offer their portion of Christ and then sit back while every member supplies something of the Lord-each in their own turn.

One woman shares a song she has written about her Lord. She has spent her week cleaning the house and caring for her children, so she wrote a song about how the Lord cares for his house-the Church. And how Abba cares for us as His children. It is a beautiful song and I dare you to listen to it without getting goosebumps. Another sister shares a poem she has written about her Lord. A brother shares a revelation that came to him while he was working in his field. All over the room brothers and sisters present to each other the best of the fulness of Jesus Christ. And as they give, it is given back to them. They will not leave the gathering feeling that they have lost something. They will leave having gained much of the Lord.

As they share a man named Felix, the cousin of a much-loved brother named Artemis, stands up. He is not a believer but has come to the last few meetings. With tears in his eyes he confesses before all in the room how He knows that Jesus Christ is present in and among this gathering. He confesses his sinfulness before them all and takes hold of the Lord Jesus and the work of His cross by faith. Waves of cleansing come over his soul, and as it does Philemon suggests they visit the local stream for a baptism! The whole assembly rises up and walks together as one man to the water’s edge, singing as they go. And there, upon the confession of his faith, Philemon baptizes Felix into Jesus Christ-into His body. Great shouts of joy erupt as Felix comes out of the water a new man-and a part of the Church-THE one new man! As they walk back they begin to scatter each to his own house! It doesn’t always happen-but it is always exciting when an unbeliever comes to Christ! Felix goes back to the house of Philemon, accompanied by a few of the brothers, for a time of much needed fellowship. The rest find their way home.

Oh, but don’t worry. Most of them will see each other tomorrow 🙂