Church Growth and Conflict

Messiah assured the disciples that Hades’ pillars would not sway the church and it was not long after His resurrection that He gave them evidence of church dominion. Contrary to popular theology, the Church’s ascendency does not consist of ecclesiastical power over the secular organs of governance: that has been tried in ancient Israel, the Roman church and to some extent in the world – ruling empires all the way down to the United Kingdom and the United States of America. The so-called theocracies, whether Israelite, Islamic, or Christian, have not, advanced the cause of faith in God, the brotherhood of man, or justice. The conspiracy against Christ (Psalm 2) fell through without the Jewish authorities being aware of the effect of their actions on the success of the Messianic mission. The preoccupation with their monopoly over the lucrative temple services and the propagation of their brand of the Mosaic law by means of the alliance between Sadducees (priestly power), Scribes (academic power), and the Pharisees (popular examples of orthodoxy) helped to blind them to God’s moves and contributed to church progress.

The death of Christ provided an end to the embarrassment of the Jewish power triad and it effectively terminated the temple services and the sway of Mosaic Judaism. The shape of the conflict between God and all pretenders to the throne was decided and the later skirmishes between Judaism and the Way represent a lot of bark with no bite. The rise of opposition against the church would only foster growth.

If Sadducee pride came from the example of Zadok the resistance to Davidide power was ignorant, pitiful, and egotistic. Zadok was the anointer of Solomon. If scribal acumen had anything to do with Moses and the prophets (including David and Daniel) the world of Judaism was standing on its head and the scribes’ refusal to see past the rituals and interests of the temple served to make the Messianic doctrine take wings. What Christ had to say provided what the people had never found in all the Mosaic literature: grace.

This is what the deacon Stephen had that brought some African and Asian Jews to contend for Mosaic orthodoxy: grace plus wisdom and spirit (Acts 6:11). Luke tells us that “… they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.”

They incited “the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council”. In the face of false witnesses and charges of blasphemy Stephen defended the Biblical record of Jewish resistance to God’s will. His accusers showed that they had no intention of allowing God to take charge of the temple and Jewish religious life. Change was the last thing they wanted.

They chose Moses instead of their Creator who had proved that if they had believed Moses they would have believed Him (John 5:46-47). The truth about what was really happening was too much for the council (Acts 7).
(51) Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.
(52) Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:
(53) Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.

They plugged their ears even though Stephen’s defense was a recitation of the Biblical record. They had started a fight and showed that they could not fight fairly.

The death of Christ had brought accelerated growth to the number of disciples. The death of Stephen would have the same effect. A great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem followed, and the outcome was that the expansion into Gentile communities began in earnest.

Acts 8:4 tells us that “they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.”
They lit up Samaria and made a connection with Ethiopia, and when the Jewish authorities ramped up their persecution one of their most ferocious agents, one Saul of Tarsus, ran headlong into the Risen Lord. This encounter resulted in Saul’s conversion and the successful gospel outreach of Saul and his companions into Asia and Europe.

The Church cannot be overcome. Conflict and persecution only increased the energy with which the disciples pursued their call. Like the attempt by Satan to bring about a regime change in heaven the attempts to impose non-messianic principles on the church have failed and will fail. Under such circumstances the Church can only grow and be strengthened.

New Testament Prayer

An increasing number of believers have been expressing their conviction that prayer is an essential element of Christian life and spirituality. When we neglect prayer or pray without regard to the Biblical call and the crucial instruction offered by our Lord we miss a large portion of our heritage as children of God. Please see the document “Prayer in the New Testament” for a biblical survey (link below).

The Kingdom is like a Royal Person

Of course the kingdom of heaven shares qualities with royalty. Yeshua was very specific when he said that the kingdom of heaven was to be likened to an anthropos basilei. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants (Mat. 18:23)

What did Yeshua mean by adding king (basilei) to the definition of man’s likeness to the kingdom? To be specific, it is not a man or king that is like the kingdom of heaven, it is the actions of the man and the outcomes that help us see what the kingdom of heaven is like. We can see a that the kingdom of heaven is also not merely like a person, but is usually likened to a person who does certain things. In this case, the person whose activities mirrors or explains the kingdom of heaven is a king.
The pressure to make this a male ruling person is reduced by the very presence of an’thropos. Our Lord was not referring to a male ruling person but to a king-type of person whose actions help us understand kingdom accounting processes.

The details are quite ordinary and regular but the recommendation is strong and unwavering :the servant who could not pay received compassion, the loosing of his bonds, and the forgiveness of his debt. (27).

Our freedom is at stake if we withhold forgiveness from our contemporaries. The heavenly Father is watching this very thing.

The heavenly Father will lock you up until you pay what you owe if you do not forgive your debtors (32).

The divine accounting is more often linked with punishment than with pardon and release, but this parable establishes divine priorities with the idea that we must be ready to forgive because our own status depended (and depends) on divine forgiveness. This is royal character at its best. Christ on the cross and his followers on the road to life forgive. This is the spirit that defines the king and his children.

The Parable of Unbelief

Even though the story of a rich man and a poor man has given life to several fables and apparently granted license for reports about death, Luke 16:19-31 is concise and conclusive Christian teaching about unbelief. The twists and turns of this fascinating parable do not obscure our Lord’s concluding remarks.

The challenges in interpreting this passage include the absence of God, the conclusions of the authority figure of Abraham, the contradiction about communication between the living and the dead, and the notion of rewards at death. Evangelicals are on some kind of theological crack drug which allows them to believe and make idols of fantasies that have been written by once-trusted pastors and thinkers.

Consider the fable that one is said to die (depart this life) and immediately unite with Christ but not with the resurrection body. If one knows anything about the Lord’s promises about the end of the age and the final victory the report is immediately filed under fabulous and phony. Death unites man with his origins not his destiny. There is no theology behind the “absent – present” deception. Believers are already seated with Christ in heavenly places. Resurrection unites man with his immortal body and this unites him with Christ who already has (is in fact the only person who does) an immortal body.
No one is departing this life to be with Abraham because that would be a godless destiny. This is a well placed jab at the notion of sleeping with ones fathers. Here one gets to sleep it the father of the nation.

Still it is Abraham who is the authority in the parable. He pronounces judgment on the tormented rich person, affirms the unbridgeable gap between the dead and the living, and denies request for the poor man to be messenger to the rich person’s siblings, reminds the tormented rich person of the pivotal roles of Moses and the prophets, and seals the fate of those who had not listened to Moses and the prophets by pouring cold water on the notion of someone returning from the dead as convincing evidence.
Since they had not listened to Moses a resurrected person would be of no effect. This was the other hit on the audience’s fun (vs 14).

To properly interpret this parable the gospel must be the workbench. There is no Abraham’s bosom in the gospel. There is no tormenting fire at death in the teaching of the apostles. Abraham is not the judge of humans neither in this life nor the next.

For the Jewish audience Moses and the prophets were the authority. For people who follow Christ the gospel takes the place of Moses and the prophets and unbelief has no excuse once one has heard the message of Messiah and the kingdom of God.

The stories about life in death seem to be grounded in the life “you shall not surely die”. If people can be directed to ignore God’s earliest warming then there is no reliable foundation for belief in a quality life in fellowship with God.
If creative and figurative language about human destiny can ignore the evidence about death and dying then we have no chance of being convinced about Messiah. The whole of Judaism’s pride was phony and ineffective. Belief in Moses was rare. Unbelief irrevocably sinks the boat every time and this parable sinks Judaism’s floating juggernaut. Yet Christian commentators have bought Yeshua’s creative genius but have rejected what He taught through the mouth of the fictitious Abraham. The love of money and the demise of the Law and the Prophets (vss 14-18) are the reasons for this parable and we will miss the benefit of a Living Witness if we are going to focus on fables and traditions. The risen Christ appeared only to chosen witnesses and there was only one Jewish official among them, Saul of Tarsus, whose witness established the sad unbelief of his Jewish contemporaries. Faith in God’s Son is still the only way to avoid torment .

Elbert Joseph, PhD
Helping God’s People Stay Connected