By THOMAS HUKAHU
LAST week, I presented the gospel to you, as best as I know how.
Next week I will wind up my series on the education of Bible characters. I will write one last article on some of the best Bible lessons I have learned over the years. After that, I will offer some study tips for students.
Currently, students all over the nation are preparing for their exams, as those in Grades 8, 10 and 12. So, for next month, I will be running some articles on how to better prepare for your exams.
What is the gospel again?
The gospel is this: God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be the perfect sacrifice on the cross, so that sinful mankind, as you and I, can be saved.
And God did that out of love for you and me. John 3.16 states: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That is the gospel.
If any preacher, pastor or priest is not reemphasising this basic message, they are digressing from the real theme of the gospel.
Remember, it was Jesus alone who hung on the cross for sinners to be forgiven and redeemed from sin. Paul, Peter, Barnabas or the angel Gabriel was not chosen as the perfect sacrifice. It was the Son of God himself, the second person of the triune God who was chosen to be the perfect sacrifice.
He ought to be the centre of any Christian message.
A Christian’s life is not cumbersome
There is a general feeling that when someone becomes a Christian, his or her life will be restricted and will be too difficult to live.
In a way, it is true in that the new believer will start to drop off habits, mostly bad, and also adopt new habits. S/he may also spend less time with old friends because old habits are also dropped.
But then, that is how people who make a U-turn to start the trip to success do it too. They drop wasteful habits and adopt better habits that make them walk better towards their goals and the eventual realisation of those goals. They also make new friends to be motivated in achieving their goals.
The true gospel liberates people from sin, from bad habits. It sets people free. It makes people free to walk better paths in their lives.
Once they spent all their money and time in a pub, but after becoming a Christian, they spend more time at home helping their family and at church learning about God’s ways.
The true faith sets people free (John 8.32).
Are believers departing from original practices?
Today, if you walk into many churches, you will be surprised to see many different practices, as during worship time.
Some practices will be almost outrageous while others are questionable and may cause people to doubt their use in some form in a church’s service.
So, here the question arises: What is an accepted Christian worship practice and what is not?
My advice to anyone seeking an answer is to go to the book of Acts in the New Testament and read.
Acts has chapters 28 chapters and you can study all that to see how the Early Church conducted itself and made decisions. You cannot get any closer to the right way of conducting affairs in churches by visiting the book of Acts.
(The Early Church I am referring to is not just the first church at Jerusalem but the whole body of believers in the world at that time, as in Antioch, Ephesus, Cyprus and another other city or town where a local church was started.)
While you are reading Acts, ask yourself why your church is doing what it is doing, in terms of practices and routines. Are they keeping with the way the Early Church managed its affairs?
Let me state one practice as an example. Recently, in social media, there was a video of a church somewhere in the highlands where people were dancing to PNG disco beats. In another video, people were doing a traditional dance in church.
Now the question: Did believers in the Early Church dance in their churches?
Did they use a disco beat? I doubt that.
Think about it. (And I say this because I have read the book of Acts numerous times.) As the gospel reached out to the gentiles beyond Jerusalem, many people would have joined the Church but I have not found anywhere in the book of Acts where a Greek or Egyptian dance was performed in a church?
Nor, did it state anywhere that Paul and Barnabas lead the praise and worship with rock music.
The absence of such practices should guide Christians today to keep away from such.
Keep to the basics
I am not against praise and worship. There is a place for that but the primary aim of the church and its leaders is to preach the gospel.
If you skim through the first few chapters of the book of Acts, you will notice that as soon as Jesus ascended into heaven in Acts chapter 1, the apostles discussed and appointed Matthias to replaced Judas Iscariot, the traitor. They need all the help they can get to continue the work of the Lord Jesus on earth.
In Acts 6, the apostles urged the disciples to appoint seven men among them who would help the daily running of the church while the apostles committed themselves “continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (verse 4). Those seven men were the first deacons of the Early Church.
See that prayer and ministry of the word were the most important tasks for the apostles, it was not singing songs or leading worship. Stephen, who was one of the seven men chosen, was not a worship leader, he was a deacon but a great preacher too, as you can see in chapter 7 where he presented Jesus to his people, the Jews.
Were there women deacons or pastors then?
That brings me to another issue – something that is not so easily discussed. And that is: Were women appointed as deacons or pastors in the Early Church?
Acts 6 informs us that the first deacons were all men and if you read the epistles you will find that whenever Paul or Peter is referring to the elders and pastors (or bishops) in the Early Church, all those leaders were men.
No, don’t get me wrong. I know I don’t sound modern but if we want to keep to the original church practices, women should not be appointed deacons or pastors in church. It is not a Biblical practice.
Yes, I know, in this age of gender equity and fairness, this does not sound good, but then we have to ask: Are we going to follow the Holy Book or make up our own rules as we go along? You have to decide.
(In some denominations, they take this seriously and you will never see a woman leading a church service or preaching. Sure, they can lead a women’s group but they will not lead a meeting where both men and women are participants. They keep to the Biblical way of doing things.)
Corinthians did mess up
If you want to learn from a church that really abused Christian practices, read 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians.
I was skimming through it before completing this article and I noted that Paul had to get the Corinthians in line because they were not keeping to the basics in Christianity.
In 1 Corinthians 10, there was at least one report of Christians dishonouring themselves in sexual immorality and others were drawn into idolatry. In chapter 12 of that book, Paul had to teach the Corinthians to utilise their spiritual gifts in the right way since some were abusing them.
It seems Christians were using their gifts to elevate themselves and disregarding other believers. Such may be the case in many Christian circles too today. Some people are in church for their own glory, not God’s.
Love is the key
Here is something interesting.
Following Paul admonishing the believers in 1 Corinthians 12, he goes on to pen one of the best pieces on the topic of love – or charity, as it is written in the King James Bible. He urged Christians to do everything out of love for their brethren.
There are 13 verses in the chapter and Paul starts in verses 1 and 2 by saying: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity (love), I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”
In other words, all that a Christian does in life would be of no real value unless it is out of love for his brethren – and doing it the right way. That is the bottom line.
It also means, at times, we have got to keep our mouths shut and humble ourselves in what we do. Life is not all about “me, me, me”. It is about thinking about others and reaching out and helping them. That is what Jesus did when he was here on earth.
The council at Jerusalem
One of the best lessons on how Christians should conduct themselves in church matters, as in holding a meeting, is seen in Acts 15.
Then the gospel was spreading and gentiles were added to the flock and some believers (obviously Jews) were saying “except they be circumcised, they will not be saved” (verse 1). Because of that Paul and Barnabas had to go to Jerusalem and discuss the issue with the apostles and other elders (verse 2).
Peter spoke in verse 7 regarding the issue and then everyone listened to what Paul and Barnabas had to say about how God was saving gentiles too (as in verse 12-21). Note that, no one person was the leader of the church – the leadership came from a group of apostles and elders. (In today’s world, some churches tend to revolve around one single leader and that can be dangerous. Do you still remember Jim Jones?)
Paul and Barnabas suggested that the gentile converts be urged “to abstain from pollution of idols, and from fornication and from things strangled, and from blood” (verse 20).
The council, which included the apostles, the elders and brethren, agreed that that was the best approach to take and they wrote letters to inform all the churches that no extra burden be placed on a gentile if he believes than just to observe those four things mentioned in verse 20. (Christianity is not supposed to be cumbersome, though it can be tough at times, as in standing up for one’s faith.)
As you can see, the council was made up of men who were free to discuss issues. It was not just one pastor or bishop running the whole show. May all the churches learn from that too – a church is run by a council or group, not just one or two people.
If you have any doubt about some of the practices in your faith, go back to the Bible and search for answers.
Remember, when you search for the truth and accept it, the truth will set you free (John 8.32). It always does.
Religion by the way can be cumbersome, however a true relationship with God and keeping with Biblical practices enable you to have God on your side.
And He makes the best company any time of the day, week or month.
Next week: Special lessons from the Bible
- Thomas Hukahu is a freelance writer.