FIRST CENTURY CHRISTIANITY
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Introduction to James
What do we mean by the phrase first century Christianity? What do we mean by the phrase New Testament Christianity?
- Like the Great Commission or Golden Rule, it is a shorthand slogan that refers to something we all accept, but do we mean the same thing by it?
- 21st century Christians like to summarize their faith in a simple statement on MySpace or Facebook ...
- It is a slogan that has been around for more than 200 years ...
Among leaders of the American Restoration Movement such as Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone, it means returning to the earliest era of Christianity as a way of restoring the church. It was an attempt to divest Christianity of corruptions and return to a simpler form.
- The emphasis on forms, names, ordinances, and structures
- It was a mostly a reductionist approach. They understood what they wanted to set aside, but how did they understand the core and the substance of first century Christianity?
- Also, what point and what place in the first century do we model?
- 21st century Christians who are committed to the idea of being first century and New Testament, might want to get a firm handle on what the slogan should mean and not just what weve always assumed that it means ...
What would a first century Christian say about New Testament Christianity? Lets listen to a first century Christian and get his take on it. Not just anyone, but someone who is regarded as a pillar of the church, a leader respected and honored by Paul the Apostle. Lets ask James, who grew up in the same household as Jesus of Nazareth. James, the brother of Jesus. Heres a first century Christian with impressive status, but in his greeting he calls himself nothing more than a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In his letter, James is a reliable voice who gives us a glimpse into the core of what it means to be a Christian. James summarizes Christianity as being a friend of God as opposed to being a friend of the world.
Friend of the World What does he mean by "world"? The world is not a place. It isnt planet earth. It isnt even modern times (because James is a first century Christian). The world is a system of values, but it goes beyond the beliefs we hold. It is a set of ideas about reality, community, and morality that shapes our character and actions.
More important that understanding world, what is meant by friendship whether it is with God or the world? In the first century, friendship was understood as a strong bond existing between those who share a common interest or activity.
- Abraham was a friend of God. He demonstrated a commitment and faith that came from his perception of the hand of God working in the world. He wasnt limited to the values and limitations of the world and the natural way of things.
So, if we want to be first century or New Testament Christians, then according to James we are friends of God. Being a friend of God means living out a commitment to God. We are friends of God when we incorporate into our outlook and behavior a common interest, a friendship with God, which gives us a sense of 1) reality defined by God, 2) community defined by God, and 3) morality defined by God. READ JAMES 1:1-16.
Reality Defined By God
- Wisdom (1:5-7) Wisdom from heaven, a different perspective. Not the double-minded instability of the world.
- Reversal of position the rich are in a low position and the poor are in a high position. God redefines reality and gives perspective life comes to an end and riches will not change that.
- Trials and whats real an unusual response to difficulties. It isnt God punishing us. What does God want you to learn from this? 1:13-15 Rather evil and sin in the world has ruined the creation. But if we are friends of God and learn to see the world truthfully, we are in line to become the firstfruits of creation ...
Community Defined By God
- America was not the beginning of egalitarian community. In fact, we must admit that this nation hasnt always lived up to the high idea of all men being created equal. But James calls out to us over the centuries and in the first century he understood, because he was a friend of God, that everyone is created equal. Why? Because God doesnt discriminate.
- There is no rank and status in the community of God. James himself is a servant. The poor and the sick deserve as much attention as anyone. In the community of Gods friends, everything we have is a gift of God, so we share it with others just as God shares with us. The worlds system of values, separates us, classifies us, alienates us, but in Gods system there is one Lord and we are both his servants and friends.
- That makes us friends to one another.
Morality Defined By God
- The first century had its share of moralists. There was plenty of advice on how family members, rulers and subjects ought to behave. There were strong opinions on how people should act in the first century. The goal of the moralists was about the same of our moralists today
- The decision making process focuses on the human predicament and the human dilemma.
- We must be very cautious about focusing solely on the human dilemma, on manners and forms as the basis of morality. Heres why: the problem is that focusing on manners can appear very right and good. It looks right if we do things the right way. It looks right if we have the right answers. It looks right if we hold to the right positions. It looks right if we restore the right forms. But that doesnt mean we are righteous!
- Being a friend of God means placing our decision making process (ethics) in line with Gods ways.
- The July Christian Chronicle tells the story of John Rainbow, 83, an African-American Christian who is a song leader for the Manhattan Church of Christ in New York.
- We dare not define our morality by the manners, trends or the traditions of the age even if they seem right. And having a form of righteousness is not the same thing as being righteous. Being righteous means being a friend of God and placing our morals in line with Gods ways.
Restoring first century Christianity means restoring the spirit and ethic of Gods ways, not just forms. It means rekindling friendship with God. James has a word for the 21st century about what it means to be a genuine follower of Christ. Lets spend some time listening to the words of Jesus brother who is summoning us to be friends of God. Along the way we are going to be both encouraged and challenged.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 13 July 2008
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