The L.A. Church of Christ on Campus
Epaphras, a disciple of Jesus Christ
our Lord, the Son of God Almighty Who reigns in heaven and on earth forever and
To the church of Jesus Christ, his body here on earth. It is Him that we serve to the best of our ability, and at times beyond even that, each according to the gifts that God has given him.
Grace and peace to you from every corner of our family, the household of God. Let s offer up our prayers, as we always have, for our leaders, for those who God Himself has ordained to be shepherds for his people, that they should care for the needs of his flock, even as He commanded His first leaders to Â“feed his sheep.Â” Let us pray that they will shine forth like a lamp on a stand, guiding us through the thick darkness that envelops our time.
Let us pray also for those who are not leaders in this sense, but who bear the only title of leadership that The Master was willing to acknowledge Â– Â“servant.Â” Let us give thanks to our God that setting apart some of his children to preachers and elders, but some others to be ushers, and singers, some to be deacons, and family group leaders, and others to care for our children, and operate the sound system. For in time we all can serve one another, and we ought to be grateful that God has provided so many of His children with so many different gifts so that we could be served in every way. Let us pray to God for those who are now struggling to keep the faith, as well as for those who faithful even in the face of their many struggles. Let us thank God most of all, that he has never stopped working, from the first day until now, for the good of those who love him.
I write you now as a brother, a fellow member of the family which bears GodÂ’s own name, but as nothing more. I have no miraculous sign to confirm my authority Â– no more authority than any other ambassador of ChristÂ’s eternal kingdom, any other minister of the reconciliation of man to God. I do not command any to listen, or to agree, but to those who will lend ear, I will try to give freely of what has been freely given to me.
For many years, we have allowed a number of problems to go unchecked in our fellowship. In some ways, we have guided our lives by doctrines that were not strictly biblical. For this, many of our brothers and sisters have suffered Â– but they have not struggled in vain. No matter how tempting it may be, we must not be bitter, or discontent, about circumstances which, in the end, have brought us closer to God. While it may be entirely true that we have been hurt by oppressive leaders, or by false doctrines, or personal quarrels; it was never the intent of our Lord that we should hurt back. Jesus himself was never bitter, or cynical, or harsh Â– unless you believe that the prophecy was wrong:
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, but as a sheep before her
shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
But we know that Isaiah did not prophesy out of his own will. The very Spirit that now lives in you gave him those words, and we know that the Spirit of God does not lie. Yet we still believe that our anger is justified by our circumstances. Jesus was silent, but we believe that we are entitled to utter slander and malice against our brothers. I donÂ’t mean to say that we should abandon our integrity, or that we ought to keep our mouths shut for the sake of Â“keeping the peace.Â” What I do mean is that there ought not be any quarrels among us. For we know that quarrels do not come from some devious wrong committed against us, they come as the result of the quarrels that rage within us. Our greed, or pride, or envy tells us that we should fight back, because we deserve better treatment. The Spirit within us, however, tells us that we deserve nothing but death, and that we were bought from that fate at the dearest of prices.
Christ deserved to be treated as a king, and ye endured the opposition, and even the violence, of evil men so that he could set for us an example of humility and submission. He sought no revenge, entertained no anger, nor did he harbor malice or hatred. He entertained no anger, cried no curses, and sowed no bitterness, but instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. For this, the Christ became the first to taste the resurrection, and He reaped a harvest of redemption, forgiveness and salvation for us.
Have we forgotten that our God is just, and that it is His to avenge? Have we neglected the scriptures that teach us that it is His kindness that leads to repentance, and life? I tell you that not since the days of Job have so many of GodÂ’s own faithful come forward to discredit his justice. Not since the days of Moses have so many of GodÂ’s chosen ones questioned GodÂ’s wisdom, and openly grumbled against their leaders. I know that this is a hard teaching to accept, but you are free to reject it. You are free to feel the way that you believe is best Â– but my heart warns me that I should not be bitter. For bitter roots can soon take hold and produce weeds of criticalness, hatred, discord, slander, and finally, dissensions. We know that it is only the enemy that sows these kinds of seeds. He knows that their roots will eventually turn to thorns, which will choke all of the life from the seed of faith that our Master has sown in our hearts.
What then can we do? Will we stop being bitter, but hold back our hearts as well? Surely not, for the work of repentance is not complete if it is only ceasing to do evil. As it is written:
He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands that he may have something to share with those in need.
So, merely renouncing the evil we have practiced is not enough. We must also work toward what is good. As the Baptist said, we must Â“produce fruit in keeping with repentance.Â” We must not treat others as we have been treated, for that is vengeance. We must treat others as we want to be treated, for that is love. We must lay down the weapons of the enemy Â– anger, bitterness, hatred, insecurity and pride. We cannot hope to fight the enemy with his own weapons, for we will never be able to use them as well as he does. Fighting fire with fire only ends in being surrounded by flames, inside and out. Remember that our weapons are not the weapons of this world, that our battle, in the end, is only against ourselves, and that the war we fight has already been won.
For some time now, many of us have been confused, and some have even been paralyzed, by the revealing of false doctrines within our own fellowship. Some small amount of yeast, which has worked its way through the whole batch, has left some of us in disarray. Many of us have wondered how we are to teach this Way to others, when we ourselves have failed to understand it completely. What are we to say about those who we have labeled Â“fall-aways,Â” or about the countless people that we have excluded from our fellowship based on ideas that are now openly questioned? These are difficult questions, and I donÂ’t pretend to have all of the answers. I know that God would not leave us with no direction, however.
Let me first say that the work of conversion is entirely the LordÂ’s. We can only be ministers and ambassadors of what he has ordained, for even Jesus was know to say: Â“He who has ears, let him hear,Â” and it is God who gives man the ears to hear His message. Let me also say that no man now living can know with absolute, unequivocal certainty exactly what the Lord has ordained for each man. If we love God with all of our heart, however, we can begin to understand His heart. And if we live by faith in the Spirit that guides us, we can speak on GodÂ’s own behalf, as if He were making His appeal through us.
Of this we can be certain: narrow is the road narrow which leads to heaven, and few will find it, let alone find it, but the road that leads to destruction is broad, and many are those whose paths it consumes. We must leave no vague uncertainties about the fact that many of those who profess their belief openly, as well as many more who believe but are to ashamed to speak, will find that they are not welcomed in to glory. Only those who believe enough to be conformed to the likeness of Christ can hope to stand with him on that day.
But, in all that we do out of our eagerness to save men from their own destruction, there is one thing we must not, under any common circumstance, do. As we help men to see the grace of God, and present to them our appeal that they live as Christians, and plead with them that they should resign their sin Â– in all these we must never judge. Our judgment cannot hope to accomplish the purposes of God, on this subject, the bible allows little exception. As it is written:
Judge nothing before the appointed time; wait for the Lord.
And again Â–
Anyone who speaks against his brother, or judges him, peaks against the law and judges itÂ… there is only one lawgiver and judge, the one who is able to save or destroy
Since we have not the power to save even ourselves without God, is it our place to judge and make laws? We have no such power, and must not arrogate for ourselves the judgeÂ’s seat. The reason for this is actually quite simple.
God is able to judge justly because he is pure and holy, beyond any question or contestation. His motives are entirely righteous, and he counsels us only out of his great love for us. When we, as mere men, pass our judgments there is little to no purity in our motives, our love is never as sincere and selfless as His. We add to our convictions about holiness and the bible, ideas about morality and relatability that have their origins in human wisdom. We often accuse others of sin, because we ourselves are in sin, and we shut up heavenÂ’s doors to the lost, because we are insecure of our own salvation. We pretend that pure, fresh water can come forth from a salted spring. But when salt water is added to fresh, the result is never fresh water. Our pure hearted desire to help others has given birth to a new brand of theological arrogance that our fellowship has become famous for. And this is not a new problem, for Paul says:
You, therefore, have no excuse you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that GodÂ’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth, so when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape GodÂ’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that his kindness leads you toward repentance
Even Jesus, when he walked this earth, did not allow his human heart to pass judgments, for he said that he did not come to judge the world, but to save it.
But some will argue that God instructs us to Â“judge for ourselves what is right,Â” and that is true. Paul leaves for us instructions for expelling those who we believe have no desire to live as Christians. We ought to Â“judge ourselves,Â” so that we will not Â“come under judgment.Â” How then can the bible instruct me to Â“judge nothing.Â” Now we can begin to see how difficult it is to judge justly. Let us remember JesusÂ’ own example in this area, for his teaching was not unclear on this subject.
You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are right because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.
So, if we stand with the father, then our judgments will be just, though not our judgments, but GodÂ’s, for our judgment is flawed, but God is perfect in every way. Let us rejoice, for God has given us this incredible grace: that we should be like his sons and daughters. Though we know that we are unworthy, we are encouraged by The Spirit to discern between good and evil, and to be as his representatives to our world. We rejoice because we know that we entirely incapable of being his heirs, but he has adopted us nonetheless. We must keep our focus on pleasing him, however, for Jesus also said Â–
By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself, but him who sent me
When we seek to please ourselves, can judge no one, for we ourselves are in sin. But if we stand with the father, and we seek to please him alone, then our judgments will be right. Remember that is GodÂ’s will that all men be saved, not judged, and it is for this reason that Jesus came. To stand with God means to desire the things that God desires. Do not judge those who God wants to save, for
Who are you to judge another manÂ’s servant? To his own master he will stand or fall, and he will stand, because the Lord will make him stand.
And He will make us stand too, if we will only stand with Him!
I realize that this does not answer all of the questions about the Â“one church.Â” More study is required, and by those who are more qualified. I myself believe that whether or not we are the exclusive movement of God, that is, the only group that God moves through Â– I believe that this question is of no importance whatsoever. Indeed, this concept seems limit GodÂ’s power, for God will choose whom he will, and he certainly has the power to move the hearts of men from any church. But I say that this question is meaningless because any argument I tender is a losing one. What I mean is this Â– as soon as I begin to ply my reasoning, I divide my hearers into two categories, those who are for my cause, and those who are against. Even if my words are more persuasive than they have ever been, I cannot hope to rally to my cause every man that opposes me. Therefore my arguing has done more harm than good, for a house divided against itself cannot stand. I am convinced however, that doctrine is not the issue when it comes to the Â“one churchÂ” doctrine. For we all know that GodÂ’s church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, which is nothing to argue about. It is the bible that dictates those practices and perspective that we call Â“doctrine.Â” And all that comes forth from GodÂ’s word is pure and true, assuming it has not been tainted by human reasoning, but remains the unaltered Word of God.
If the bible is clear and true, and all of our doctrine comes from the bible and nothing else, than our doctrine will be clear and true and there will be no room for argument. Why then should there be any quarrels among us over doctrine? Why is it that some say our doctrine has been a stumbling block to men? It is because we are wicked, of this you can be sure. Rather than reading the Word and obeying, we choose to invent rules, based on our own human wisdom. In time, things that were not wrong to begin with, but reasonable, take on the superficial appearance of being right. We forget very quickly that, to begin with, these things were neither good nor bad, they were only practical. Disciplers, D-groups, sector leaders, region leaders, double dates and the midnight rule, pledging for contribution, special missions, Quite times, prayer nights, Devos, midweeksÂ… the list goes on and on. These were all intended for our good, and have undeniably produced fruit in those who chose to practice them diligently. That some, or all, of our methods have at times failed to stay perpetually pure from abuse says nothing of their intrinsic value. They are only tools, designed to do some good work, but used to another end.
Bear in mind Â– one man uses a hammer and nails to build a house for his family, and some briers to start a fire to keep them warm, and a spear to hunt food for them. Another will use the hammer and nails to fix a man to a cross, he will fashion those briers in to a painful crown, and will use the spear to pierce a manÂ’s side. One man uses his tongue to praise God, then turns around and uses the same tongue to curse men, who are made in GodÂ’s image. Even this letter that you are now reading is only a tool, intended as a reasonable and practical means by which to give you some understanding. One may read this and be emboldened to abandon the convictions that have kept him righteous for years, another may read it and decide that it is high he found some conviction of his own. Should I avoid saving the one man for fear of losing the other? If I thought that were best, then you would never have laid eyes on this letter to start with, it would have never left my journal. As it stands you are reading them, and God help me if I do anything but help by writing it. In the same way, will we abandon all of our conviction; for fear that our conviction may eventually lead us to some perceived ill? I hope not, for though a high standard may be impossible to attain, one that is too already too low is easily lowered.
We ought to instead strive to have pure hearts. Not mixing the bible with our own ideas and emotions, producing some dreadful alchemy of truth and opinion that we believe will be easier for Â“less matureÂ” Christians to handle. One church or not, the problem we face as movement has little or nothing to do with doctrine. We must remove the attitudes of theological arrogance and self-righteousness that permeate our relationships, and each disciple of Jesus must do this for himself.
I write you at such length because I believe that even now, the Lord is not far off. He will not punish forever, and he will not be stay angry with us very long. His love for us is too great. This very day God longs to turn around and leave a blessing, bigger than any of our tents are ready for. He has seen the heartache of his faithful. He knows which wounds run deepest, and he will bind them. ItÂ’s a long way from here to heaven, and I have a feeling that the road will only grow more perilous as we press on. Let us thank God that we are not traveling it alone. I long to see you soon, so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong. That is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by one anotherÂ’s faith. Until then, my brothers and sisters, know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.
Grace and peace to you always, in the name of Him who created you to be loved, Epaphras.