From Community To Community
What a powerful message was preached by the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Peter: “‘Be saved [escape] from this crooked (perverse, wicked, unjust) generation’” (Acts 2.40, Amplified Bible, 1987)!
Grudem reminds us that the Kingdom of God is “the active presence of God in the world.” (Grudem, W., Systematic Theology, Chapter 30, intro., olivetree.com). He either speaks of acts through mankind. See Nehemiah 6.15-16 and Exodus 31.1-5 for other examples.
Years later, He would repeat this warning through Peter in 2 Peter 1.2-4. Escape what? Matthew 25.31-46 and Revelation 20.11-15: Judgment for rejecting God and His offer of salvation; see John 3.16-21 and Acts 17.30-31. Escape to where? Escape to Jesus, as He had proclaimed in John 6.48-51 and 8.31-32.
Escape how? Acts 2.38-39, Peter confirms what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3.1-8: we receive the Holy Spirit when we accept Jesus as Savior! We need the Holy Spirit to fulfill Jesus’ promise in John 14.12-14. Rabbi Jonathan Cahn writes: “The law can tell us the will of God, but only the Spirit can give us the power to live it” (Cahn, The Book of Mysteries, Day 110, 2016, Frontline).
Three thousand of the people gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Harvest accepted Jesus as Savior and received the Holy Spirit when Peter gave the invitation! See Acts 2.41. Rabbi Cahn writes an interesting observation that these 3,000 replaced the same number of wandering Jews who perished in disobedience; see Exodus 32.28 (ibid). And, Acts 2.47, 5.14, 6.7 say people kept coming to Christ and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit! Read what Apostle Paul says about this in Romans 8.14. “The new covenant was empowered by God’s Spirit” (Cahn, ibid).
However, the families of the new believers kicked them out! So did the religious leaders. John 9.18-23 presents a similar situation. The believers lost their community—their old identity and security. But they gained a new community—a new identity and security; sisters and brothers in Christ who took them in and met their needs.
The Holy Spirit presents this in Acts 4.32-37, 5.1-16, and 6.1-7. The church actively ministered to them because of Jesus’ warning in His Parable of the Sower, in Matthew 13.18-22. The 3,000+ new believers needed to be nurtured by the Christian community. Whose responsibility is it, today, to see that new Christians are discipled to keep them from turning back? Remember Jesus: Matthew 28.20.
Apostle Paul describes this result as Jesus’ call for his ministry. In Acts 26.18, Paul repeats Jesus’ words: “‘I am sending you, to open their [spiritual] eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.’” Paul established churches and strengthened them through regular visits and appointed co-workers. How would this be a reversal of God’s observation in Jeremiah 13.10?
Dr. Richard Niebuhr explains this as removing an “‘artificial, secondary environment’ which man superimposes on the natural” (Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, p.32, 1951, Harper & Row). He writes that this artificial environment “comprises language, habits, ideas, beliefs, customs, social organization, inherited artifacts, technical processes, and values” (ibid). Artificial environments are cultures developed by families, communities, governments, corporations, schools, and religions to produce conformity among members supposedly for the ‘greater good’.
So, Peter’s “devout” converts to Christ from Judaism or philosophies had ‘scales’ (like Paul, Acts 9) or coverings removed from their eyes by the Holy Spirit. This is His work; see John 16.8-11. They left their tribal communities and came into the body of Christ, as Paul discusses in Galatians 3.28.
If the artificial is removed, what, then, is the natural environment that Niebuhr infers? The Founders of the United States wrote in the Declaration of Independence certain “unalienable rights” or natural rights, meaning “unable to be taken away from or given away by the possessor” (Apple Dictionary). This is so because natural rights are given by God. The Founders included equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as natural rights.
Are there others that you would add? Judges 13.1-12and Jeremiah 1.5-10& 29.11-13remind us that God has a mission for us. And, John 1.4-9 & 16-18say our natural rights include grace, truth, enlightenment, and the revelation of God, our Father. Man’s “artificial environments” have sought to diminish these for selfish ends; 1 John 2.15-17and Colossians 2.8-10.
What is “natural” for the Christian? Paul includes “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” as characteristic of the Kingdom of God (Romans 14.17). Christianity, then, is going from community to community.
This idea might be explained in a picture. Draw a person as a stick figure on paper. High above the person’s round head draw the Sun with its beaming rays. Between the Sun and the person draw a dark cloud. The cloud represents Niebuhr’s “artificial, secondary environment” which distorts, diminishes, or blocks the nourishing rays of the Sun onto the person.
“To guard against the creeping counterfeiting that threatened to erode the integrity of the Christian message, the leaders of the movement (in the late 300s) created this concise restatement of what it means to bear the name ‘Christian’ (the Apostles Creed): I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father almighty. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic* Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. (*In the Creed, “catholic” means all-inclusive; it does not validate the exclusivity of the church system of the same name.)” (Copied from Bob Shank’s weekly email for July 15, 2019, titled: Are you an American? Are you a Christian? Shank is Founder of the Master’s Program. firstname.lastname@example.org.)
How can Christians discourage return to the ‘artificial’? One way to accomplish this might be to prefer the Son’s rays and to judge the world by the Bible. Use the Bible to identify the natural environment and the clouds of distortion in each of Cunningham’s “Seven Mountains of Influence:
- The home;
- The church;
- Government and politics;
- The media;
- Arts, entertainment, and sports; and
- Commerce, science, and technology.
‘These seven spheres of influence will help us shape societies for Christ” (Seven Mountains of Influence, Loren Cunningham, 1988, google.com).
Another way to discourage return to the ‘artificial’ is to question the source and the content. Who wrote this man-made information? What was his or her agenda for sharing it? From where did s/he receive it? What was the agenda of their source? What information is misinformation (partially true), disinformation (wholly untrue), or a ‘straw-man argument’ for the real motive (like ‘climate-change’ may have been hijacked in an attempt to exert a controlling agenda over others’)? Do you find any of these in the tenets of the organizations to which you belong? Questions the symbols, heroes, and ritual practices of the ‘artificial’ to discover the values they represent. You might even apply this protocol to the Bible. It has passed many such tests!
Most importantly, use the Bible as your standard for examining the ‘artificial’. How closely does the man-made ‘artificial’ correlate with the teaching of God in the Old and New Testament? And, what happened in the Old and New Testaments to people who decided to follow the ‘artificial’ instead of the ‘natural’? Philosopher George Santayana (1905) wrote originally: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (Quote, google.com). I might change ‘cannot’ to ‘will not’. Could this be why God continually encouraged the nation Israel to ‘remember” His leadership?
Reversing what got us into the mess is, often, the best way to get out of it. Thus, consider what God says in Jeremiah 13.10He gives the way to peace and joy.
Authors Cameron and Quinn write that cultures—normal or artificial— include four levels, with the bottom two unseen and the top two observable, as follows: Implicit Assumptions lead to Conscious Contracts and Norms lead to Artifacts and Behaviors (one above the other). The Apostles Creed, for example, expresses Implicit Assumptions which led to Conscious Contracts between the new and experienced Christians at Pentecost. Their communal prayers, Bible studies, and worship were the Artifacts (symbols, heroes, and rituals), and the satisfying of the needs of the dispossessed and unemployed by Christians with means exemplified Christian Behaviors. (Cameron and Quinn, Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture, Based on Competing Values Framework, 2011, Wiley & Sons)
Is it worth the rejection of the old to gain the new? The 3,000+ who were saved at and following Peter’s sermon thought so. That is the question of cultural change for every person. 1 Peter 1.15-16! “Instead of struggling to accomplish the will of God, live, move, and be moved by the Spirit of God—and you will fulfill His will” (Cahn, ibid).
From Community To Community 190714-21 (* = update)
Praise God!!! Copyright © by Maurice L. Painter, 2019. www.sozoclass.com.