How Can the Bible Relate to Us Today?

Is Your Church United or Untied? – Part 1 (an Introduction to Ephesians 4)

Ephesians 4: 1-6

Paul is now switching gears as he begins chapter 4 – but he is certainly not switching his message. In the first three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul concentrated on how great God is, what our rightful relationship is with God through Jesus Christ and how that relationship with God should bring about unity among believers.  That is the theology portion of his letter. Now he focuses on what that actually looks like – and it’s no accident that he begins with our relationship with each other as believers.

The church is not a building; it is a group of believers.  And the church is only as strong as how well those believers get along with each other (or in other words, the fellowship among the believers). The question today is, “Is your church united or untied?”  [the title is taken from a book: Your Church: United or Untied?, by Leslie H. Woodson. Zondervan. 1974. It took me some time to find the title as many others are using that play on words. I no longer have the book in my personal bookshelves, so it seems. It was one of the fall-outs of moving.]  

All the stories I tell in my sermons or Bible studies are true unless I indicate otherwise. The following is not true – obviously.  The names of different denominations can be substituted in the story according to your life-experience. 😊

St. Peter was showing a group of new arrivals around heaven. They came to a hallway with doors on either side. As the group arrived at the first door, St. Peter opened the door. They could hear shouting and loud praises being sung from inside the room. St. Peter smiled and said, “That’s where the Pentecostals worship.” The group then proceeded down the hall, coming to the next door. St. Peter opened that door. It was very quiet with prayers and organ music being heard. St. Peter announced proudly, “Those are the Catholics.” And they walked on. Finally, they came to another door. St. Peter whispered to the group, “Be very quiet going by this door. Those are Baptists, and they think they are the only ones here.”

Some churches and denominations refer to themselves as a “New Testament church.” Have you heard that term? Such groups wear the term rather proudly, indicating they follow the New Testament teachings about the church with some back-up from the Old Testament for guiding them in all that they do [as I’ve noted before, the Old Testament books in the Christian Bible are the Scriptures for Jews and other related groups].

It should be noted, though, that we should be careful about wearing that label too proudly. You see, the churches in the New Testament had problems:

  • They had problems with their theology – that is, how they think about and understand God.
  • They had problems with their church practices.
  • They had problems with allowing behavior in their churches that God would not approve.
  • They had problems with not allowing behavior and attitudes that God would approve.
  • And they had problems with just getting along with each other.
  • In short, the early churches had yet to figure out what they were about.

So the early church had to wrestle with concepts like:

  • What does a church look like?
  • What should we believe?
  • How should we behave toward each other and to those outside the church?
  • What should our standards of belief and behavior be?
  • What should we do when we don’t live up to God’s standards?
  • And just what ARE God’s standards?

All of the above is where the New Testament comes in.  The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) portraying the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus; the early history of the church as portrayed in Acts by the physician and follower Luke; letters to specific churches or to group of churches in a region (mostly written by the Apostle Paul but also James, Peter, John and the writer of Hebrews); and finally, The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ – or what we refer to as Revelation (not “Revelations” as some people call it).

To be a true New Testament church, then, you recognize that you and your church aren’t perfect, that there are some actions and attitudes within the church that displease God, and you don’t always get along with each other!  Please note that, if the early church didn’t have all these problems, there would not have been a reason to write what became the New Testament. Plus it was no longer good enough for the church leaders in Jerusalem to pass along bits and pieces of their experience with the life and ministry of Jesus on this earth. People needed to learn about the life and teachings of Jesus the Christ himself, so the Gospels (the “Good News”) were written. As you read the Holy Bible, note that relationships with God and with each other are vitally important, especially in the New Testament. How did Jesus say it?

“One of [the Pharisees], an expert in the law, tested [Jesus] with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
“Jesus replied: ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'” [Matthew 22: 35-40. NIV]

In the next blog, we will dive into what the Apostle Paul teaches us about the church and how to get along with each other in our fellowship. I’m looking forward to these first six verses of Ephesians 4.  Until next time, love others and be safe.

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