Going straight to the Cross
 

For the Same Reason

(Thoughts on being a restorationistic people)

by Barry Newton

Why do we immerse in water those who wish to rely upon Jesus for salvation? Because the early church baptized those who responded to the preaching of the gospel? Or do we practice this for the same reason the early church baptized - namely, the gospel calls for this obedience of faith?

Why do we gather on the first day of the week, appoint elders to shepherd a congregation, lift up sacrifices of praise from our hearts, or strive to teach the same doctrine which the church of the first century also taught? Is it because our goal is to imitate the first century church (with all of its problems?) or is our doctrine and practice driven by the same reasons for why they practiced and taught as they did?

The first time I stumbled onto criticism rejecting a restorationistic goal was about sixteen years ago in a small college’s library. I remember a deriding sentiment along the lines of: “which flawed New Testament congregation does a restorationistic goal seek to reproduce?” Perhaps the author thought his analysis was brilliant. I evaluated it’s weight to be as relevant as a red herring. Maybe some of my brethren are merely trying to reproduce a culture and time-bound manifestation of God’s people. Who knows? But even if this were the case, would not such a cultural misfit in our age fall within the scope of being acceptable to God?

As for me, to embrace the intended message of a divinely-guided biblical author charts the path toward a worthy and reliable goal. What security before the Lord is there in following an interpretation cut loose from the moorings of the author's intention? Will not a culture-driven or a reader-centered message tell you more about the reader than God's will?

Incidentally, to whatever degree our current doctrines and practices and those of the first century church successfully fulfill God’s intention, will not one be a reflection of the other? Why? Because the same reasons shaping doctrine and service will have led both of us to practice that same message in our respective contexts.

Can not such an approach handle the cultural and contextual issues? If the command to greet one another with a holy kiss was intended to clothe first century greetings in a holy manner, should not this same reason drive our greetings? Our cultural manner to greet one another may not be a kiss, but our greeting can certainly be wrapped up in a holy motive.

Will not such a method also establish biblical parameters for a godly-driven understanding today? Worship and doctrine guided by the author's intent would not engage us in a slavish devotion to incidental aspects of a first century model, thus necessitating the elimination of Sunday school, multiple cups, etc.. Rather, our focus would be to live out within the biblical parameters the same instruction our earlier brethren had received. Accordingly we will preach the word, gather together to partake of the Lord’s Supper and so forth. May God bless you in your study of his word.

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Grace on Wooden Beams

by Barry Newton

Passing through a conduit involving airport security checkpoints, stale re-circulated air, hours of travel and a bumpy, dusty ride in a four-wheel drive vehicle had taken the missionary from a world of wealth, incredible conveniences, electricity and running water into the stark reality of savanna bare existence. But this journey was nothing compared to what Jesus gave up and what he would do.

The Word left glory with the Father, purity, love, and holiness to become flesh and blood. As a child and then a man, Jesus was now in another world. This was a world destroyed by greed, lies, and every form of idolatry.

As he walked along a road, how many times had Jesus' feet scuffed up small clouds of dust, knowing the scene before him was his destiny? A naked body stretched out on wooden beams marked another life facing the sentence of death. What was it that would empower him to take another footstep forward knowing each step took him closer to such a barbaric end? Jesus' struggle in prayer shortly before his betrayal reveals at least part of his motivation. To the Father the words arose, "Not my will but yours be done." What was the Father doing?

Unbelievable grace would soon be poured out. The iron grasp of the dominion of darkness was about to be smashed through his death on wooden beams. The path to freedom from our shackles in order to belong to God would soon be a reality. God's promise of eternal life was about to radiate from the cross to liars, the greedy, the immoral, slanderers, the envious, the rebellious, and to those accused of every form of guilt, if they would come to the one lifted up.

None of us will ever deserve being rescued from our alienation from God to being made holy and blameless in God's sight. As we gather around the Lord's table to partake of the bread and fruit of the vine, we remember Jesus' physical body upon the cross. We remember his death. We are reminded of the price which was paid for our life.

We stand amazed in the presence of such love and grace. But how accurately do we understand the depth of our sin forgiven through Christ? How deep is our love? How determined is our response to grace poured out on wooden beams?

For further reflection consider: Luke 22:19,20 Colossians 1:13,14, 21-23 Luke 8:41-43

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The Sign

by Barry Newton

A few minutes earlier, the crowd inside the house had marveled and wondered at a man called Jesus.\1 A blind and mute man had been brought before Jesus. Now they too had witnessed what so many others had claimed. Jesus had power to instantly heal. What could this possibly mean? Searching for comprehension, someone had mused aloud, "This man can not be the Son of David, can he?" Soon others had picked up the chorus as the question ricocheted throughout the crowd.

The Pharisees had cut short such Messianic speculation by ascribing Jesus' power to the prince of demons. Jesus retorted that Satan's rule could not stand if it worked against itself. But the scribes and Pharisees were not finished yet. They challenged Jesus to produce a sign.

What would Jesus do? Already he had healed the mute and blind. What sign could he possibly give them now? Would they believe in him if he did produce a sign?

Throughout his ministry, Jesus provided many reasons why people should accept his message and claims. And to the religious leaders who called upon him for a sign, he said they would only be given the sign of Jonah.\2 And what a powerful sign it was! Jesus predicted the length of time he would be in the grave before his resurrection! Three days and nights and then, good-bye grave.

In what Jesus called "the sign of Jonah," we discover the supreme sign of the Father's vindication of his Son. With his resurrection, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power.\3

Can I trust what Jesus taught? Look at the empty tomb. Is Jesus really the Son of God? Remember the resurrection. Can I really believe that heaven is prepared for those who love God? For those who are open to trusting in Jesus provided they are given a good reason, Jesus pointed to his resurrection from the dead.

1/ Matthew 12:23,46 2/ Matthew 12:39-40 3/ Romans 1:4

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A Lost Verse of the Bible?

by Barry Newton

It has been said that the best place to hide something is in plain sight. If those who teach the Bible were to selectively tip toe through Scripture to avoid offending current values, Lamentations 2:14 could very well be a verse hidden in plain sight. It reads:

"The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The oracles they gave you were false and misleading." (NIV)

If people were to describe a sermon as being relevant and meaningful for their lives, what words would they use? I suspect that "positive, uplifting, and practical advice" would often be among the top contenders. Scripture does contain an encouraging message that fills us with hope which needs to be preached. But, how often would "expose my sin" show up in such a survey? How frequently are people appreciative and value a lesson which might legitimately step all over their toes?

If we roll the clock back to the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., we discover a drama playing out which provides a powerful lesson for today. God's people loved to seek out a steady diet of positive and affirming messages from their religious leaders./1 Among other degenerative spiritual conditions, their hearts had become corrupt with greed as their lives were centered around the drive to acquire more and more./2 Any message which confronted their sinful state was offensive to them; the only message they wanted to hear was that positive affirmation of the status quo, "You are OK. No harm will come to you."/3

Because God's people failed to repent, God was left with no other choice. He had been slow in pouring out his anger; however, the time had come to end their rebellion. God crushed his own people under the ruthless shoes of the Babylonians. From the smoldering rubble left in their wake, the sorrowful lament of Jeremiah rose up:

"The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The oracles they gave you were false and misleading."/4

What makes for good Bible teaching? A faithful proclamation of God's Word. Sometimes that message will encourage us; on other occasions it will convict us. The goal is neither to be made to feel guilty nor to receive an uplifting slap on the back, but to be brought closer to the will of God. Then we will treat others and serve our awesome God acceptably. In writing to Timothy, Paul expressed similar instruction:

"Proclaim the message .... rebuke and encourage ... For the time will come when they will not tolerate healthy teaching. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will accumulate around themselves teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear."/5

1\ Jeremiah 5:30-31 2\ Jeremiah 6:13 3\ Jeremiah 6:10, 13; 5:12, 31 4\ Lamentations 2:14 NIV 5\ 2 Timothy 4:2,3

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She Must Make The First Move: When Everybody is Right, But Relationships Are Still Broken

by Barry Newton

To listen to their self-testimony, neither of them had done anything wrong. Yet the atmosphere in the room was as cold as a blizzard in January. As far as he was concerned, their strained relationship was all her fault. Similarly, she was totally convinced she was in the right. So they sat in silence, not looking at each other or talking. Each blaming the other. Each wanting the other to apologize. What would happen next is a matter of what they value most.

Disciples are taught to love, forgive, and to show mercy to others. If God desires to heal our human relationships, is it possible a situation exists where they remain fractured?

To listen to some Christians the answer appears to be "yes." How familiar are the following sentiments? "I have not done anything wrong. They hurt me. So the responsibility is upon them to come to me first and ask for forgiveness. I am justified in not doing anything more."

How often have Christians stonewalled healing a relationship because each has dogmatically insisted that the weight of responsibility was upon the other person to make the first move? In spite of God's desire to heal broken relationships, could it be that unity can legitimately be thwarted by a common human situation?

What happens when two godly values collide? The spiritually mature response is to honor the higher principle. For example, Christians are told to both obey the authorities and to preach Christ. So what should we do if the authorities tell us to not preach Christ? As Peter and John's question highlights, which is more important: obeying God or obeying man? Accordingly they continued to preach Jesus.

Which is more important to you: defending your position in being right or a healed relationship? Which would God consider more important? Before you answer, remember God is the one who sent his innocent Son to die for his enemies that we might have peace with him through Jesus. And do not forget the apostle's words, "why not rather take wrong? Why not rather be cheated?"/1 Would Paul place greater value upon defending "I have done nothing wrong" or in saying, "I am sorry for how my actions may have hurt you"?

To value the unity of reconciliation as being more important than protecting my rights reflects God's love. Without a doubt, this is not a response of the spiritually immature.

1/ 1 Corinthians 6:7

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Forthright Magazine continues, more dynamic than ever! We have groups created for FMag on Facebook and the Churches of Christ Network. Announcement blog is up and going on Preachers Files. Email lists about FMag and FPress are available both on Yahoo and GoogleGroups. And, to top it all off, we're twittering for both on Twitter.com.
by randal @ 1/20/09, 11:55 AM

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by diane amberg @ 5/18/05, 4:56 AM
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