A LITTLE LEAVEN
By Larry White
Intro: We are at the eve of a new year, a new millennium. So my lesson today is going to be very general and using broad strokes to stir up your pure minds about our direction.
I. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. (Gal.5:9; 1Cor.5:6-8)
A little influence. What happens to the cadence when a marching group starts marking time?
What happens to the tempo of a Hymn when people sing without a conductor? It takes just a bit of influence to change the tempo when people are not following a steady beat. So also can just a little influence make the entire assembly change directions and start going a different way.
In teaching the history of the restoration movement, as we have been listening to - there is a danger that we will identify with these men and link our faith with who they were, what they said and what they did.
But I beg you brethren, not to look at yourselves as a continuation of what Campbell and Stone said and did. Do not let that be your mind-set. Let your mind be that you are a child of God and your faith is in God and not men. That your experience with the church is born of a heavenly influence and not from the history of early Americans or the history of Rome or any other nation on earth.
Faith is a hard fought process that most times does not come overnight. (1Tim.6:12) "Fight the good fight of faith." Often it is something for which we really have to struggle. The more we empty ourselves of the world, the more God can fill us with the knowledge of the truth. So that there is no admixture.
I would rather you be pure.
I would rather have you be wise about our course.
We are not required to take our cue or direction from anyone on earth.
When the church in Eagle Point OR began, the church in Medford demanded that they get their approval before it was official. They responded by telling them to mind their own business.
When the church in Tacoma WA began, the church in Kirkland had to come and give their opinion to them on who the elders should be and if they were qualified. They responded by telling them to do the work of the Lord there in Kirkland, and Tacoma would do the same in their own area.
Now the start of the church in Boise was begun with the same autonomous viewpoint. We must not then look to others or conform to others, to think that we are right or approved.
If we have no attachment to the historical churches of men - then we have a pure identity, an assembly that God built and not man. Do not let your foundation be built upon what men have built. We do not have to have the approbation of others - their "blessings".
II. King Saul. (1Sam. 8, 12 - rejecting God and asking for a king)
What lessons can we learn from this story?
Who is the head of the church?
God was their king - but what kind of king is that? An invisible king?! He cannot ride out with the army on a chariot - the army looks leaderless - foolish - inadequate. The whole country looks like a bunch of children with no leader - there is no bureaucracy - or kingly palace. Where does the buck stop? Who has the final say? An invisible God?
Well, Christ is the head of the church. That is not just lip service, it is not just some ideal or general theory. Christ is the head of this church - the one in Boise. I am not the head of this church. Although some people expect the preacher to be just that. They want a guy in a 3 piece suit to come in and tell them how it is going to be - like all the other churches. The sad thing is, preachers do not mind that kind of position. Some become almost Baptist Pastors taking charge of everything. If it doesn't go through the preacher then it's not official. What is worse, is the members want it that way - they expect it. So young men fall into the trap of fitting the mold of what is expected. Then when they get older they turn into monsters.
The church becomes known for who preaches for them.
1. He becomes their identity. Listen to what you are saying!
"D'you know there's a church at Corinth?" "Yeah? Who preaches there?"
"You know they just started a work over there in Colosse." "Yeah? Do they have a preacher yet?"
"You know Sardis has gone liberal." "Yeah? Who preaches over there?"
"Philippi is the best congregation in the brotherhood." "Yeah, I heard. Who preaches for them?"
Does anyone know who preached in Rome?
Who preached in Jerusalem?
Who had a "work" in Ephesus?
Who preached for the brethren in Antioch?
2. He becomes the doctrinal stance of the congregation. Well, what does Mike say about this scripture?
Does it matter?
Do we crave an earthly head -- like Saul? An earthly head will usurp the authority of God - like Saul.
III. Pillar and Ground of the Truth.
Jehovah's Witnesses say that members who stop reading JW literature eventually leave the JW's. What is really happening is that when they read the Bible alone for themselves, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society is not controlling what they believe anymore, they are searching the scriptures for themselves and believing what it says, not what the WTBTS tells them is says.
What would happen to us in the church if we did that? Just read the Bible by itself and search the scriptures and believe them. (But that's what we do.) That is what we claim we do. Just try it really, and stop listening to Roy Cogdill and Yater Tant, and Lowell Williams, and even Alexander Campbell.
(Yeah, but what if they teach the truth?)
So? You hold the truth in your hands. Take Alexander Campbell's example here, if anywhere, and read the scriptures like he did for yourself as if no other person has read it before you, as if you were reading it for the first time. All the great teachers that men tend to venerate and idolize could be wrong.
(Well, how arrogant Larry, who do you think you are?)
Who do I have to be? Who is Alexander Campbell? Who is Roy Cogdill? Men, even servants of God - and yet still - servants, just like you and me.
Who do you have to be to arrive at the truth yourself through your study, without having to go have it checked out and approved by the men who are "somewhat" in the brotherhood?
It has been the case now for some time that if you should come to a different conclusion or understanding than the common doctrinal positions of the churches of Christ - simply by reading it for yourself and believing what is actually says, then you are seen as arrogant and teaching something false.
For example: A man visiting from out of town was in my class on Romans and at one point he loudly said, "Well, I've never heard that before! I looked at him sadly and said, "Yes, I know. The irony is that I was quoting the text of the scripture to him from chapter four!
The danger in all this is that through slander and intimidation, we have come to a brotherhood where men are afraid to think and study for themselves, lest they arrive at a conclusion that does not match or make muster with what "The Church of Christ" teaches.
Well, what does the church of Christ teach? Of itself - the answer to that should be, "Nothing." We are the pillar and ground of the truth - not the platform for men's doctrinal positions.
Studying it for yourself is a lot of hard work. And there is a lot of waiting for the answers and adding to your understanding as you grow in your knowledge of God's word. Do not take any man's thoughts or doctrinal positions as a substitute for what the text of God's word actually says.
Those children of God who do not hold men's persons in admiration are called arrogant because they are outside of the power base of those who fear men.
Moses took upon himself too much. He was seen as arrogant by his siblings. But Moses was the meekest man on earth.
Peter appeared arrogant when he stood in the face of the Jewish rulers and said, "We ought to obey God rather than men."
In studying "The Ancient Order" do not start thinking that we owe the Campbells anything. We don't. That's a trap of worldly thinking, holding men's persons in admiration and being loyal to them. Use them as examples, but leave it there. Do not start thinking that they were better somehow than you are, or that somehow your faith is based on a foundation that they laid. If it is, then we are in real trouble.
We are not trying to restore N.T. Christianity - we are N.T. Christianity.
Are you real Christians? Are you really sons of God? (2Cor.13:5) You cannot restore something that was never lost. You can only be -- what you are - the spiritual house of God, the body of Christ on earth; the children of God in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life (whatever it says) not some copy of the doctrinal positions of men. (Phil.2:15-16)
Of course you can take the easy route and just ignore what the words say and go along with the crowd - it is safer that way, and less stressful. It feels good to have people pleased with you and approving with what you teach - all smiles, no trouble. But you are pleasing men, not God. And you become the slave of men.
(Well Larry, you want us to be a rogue church, one that other churches talk about as not "sound", one that other churches won't have fellowship with.)
Well, that is the power of the flesh. They would exclude you so that you would seek their approval. (Gal.4:17) I would rather have you positive and abounding in love - students of God's word. And then when people visit from other congregations and hear something from the teacher that their church does not teach, and then walk out in a huff and start slandering him, that you be strong and put your trust in God's word and check it out for yourself instead of worrying about what other people might be thinking - which leads you away from your confidence in God's word.
IV. Politics as usual
Like struggles in the political arena; it is all about control, is it not? "The kingdom of God suffers violence and the violent take it by force". Israel rejected God from being king and got Saul. Earthy, sensual, devilish. Who has the control? Is it you or God?
Does God set some in the church, or do you hire a professional to do the job?
Do we have to have the permission or approbation of the North West consortium of churches to ratify our group and make sure that we are established as an extension of their history? Are we an annex? Who do we listen to for our growth and direction? Lowell Williams? or God?
It's Ok to listen to God and wait for his direction. He builds the church. Those with little faith will not, cannot see it, or wait.
I would rather have you trusting in God for your future. The carnal church has a "five-year plan" - which idea comes from modern corporations. Do not make that your boast. James says all such boasting is evil. (Jam.4:13-16)
Is it wrong to have a goal? It depends...
1. Is your goal earthly and sensual, providing for your own power and influence? Is it political? Is it your goal to look like other churches? Is it to hire a "professional preacher"? In over 30 years of working with churches, this is the first time I have ever heard that idea expressed.
2. In whom are you trusting? Are you trusting in the projected income and the rate of increase of the membership? or are you trusting in God? (illustrate David and his census)
Man is highly political (taken in and of himself). He wants the advantage. He must not have bad appearances in the flesh.
(review 2Cor. 10, 11, 12) They slandered Paul behind his back and poisoned the minds of the congregations against a spiritual teacher teaching a spiritual view of the church. They wanted the advantage. They made a fair showing in the flesh (they looked good). They came from a power center (Jerusalem), others compared Paul to the power center. They were "somewhat". They would glory in their advantage. (I call this political joy - it is not joy of the Holy Spirit.)
I would rather have you put your faith in God. You might want an earthly establishment - but that is temporal (temporary) - it is wood, hay and stubble. I would rather have you building with gold tried in the fire. The spiritual materials of love and freedom.
We have had members quit our fellowship when they realized that their carnal hopes for an earthly church were not going to be realized immediately. They discovered that in order to spread the word, they were going to have to do it themselves. The ideas we have heard recently about "not being many teachers" is not referring to evangelism. So don't let that arrogant idea dissuade you from teaching your neighbor. James is referring to teaching the membership. Handling the meat, the deep things of God. Being a spiritual leader. You do not need an approved, authorized teacher to come and tell your neighbor the simple gospel for you. All that official, ecclesiastical thinking is evil.
Our congregation started out as grass roots - and God gave the increase. It is inevitable that we will suffer the process of becoming institutionalized. But the secret of growth is that we do not let our faith become institutionalized. Even though our outward appearance looks like an institution - and we have all the political trappings of a "Church of Christ" - let the real power base be in God and in his leadership. Let our vision of who we are and what we are doing be in the spirit, by faith. Let us keep Christ as our king and he alone as the head of the church.
(Originally delivered as a sermon in Boise, ID December 31, 2000)