As a child I grew up in the Cumberland mountains at the edge of east Tennessee. The congregation of my youth was a small, rural, and had less than 100 members. Much of the time it was too small with too little money to have a preacher. The few occasions we had preachers, preaching was a "second job."

I genuinely appreciate the faith filled men and women who contributed to my spiritual development. Most of them are dead, but they surrounded me with love and encouragement. I do not intend the things I share to deny their faith.

My world as a child and my world as an older adult are totally different. In my childhood, I remember an elder who refused to allow his oldest son to engage in what he classified as "foolish talking." His son was one of my close friends. He had the ability to talk like Donald Duck, an ability I thought was cool and wanted to imitate, but never could. His father decided that talking in Donald's voice violated scripture. It was foolish jesting which was clearly forbidden in Ephesians 4:29. He instructed his son never to use that voice again.

I remember the first time a man wanted to pass out candy Easter eggs to the children in the congregation. He bought the candy himself. His request generated a serious discussion among the men. Several women had an opinion, but were not allowed to express it. The men finally decided he could give the candy to the children if he did it outside in the parking lot, not in the building.

In the fall of 1995 Joyce and I received a three month sabbatical. I spent that time at Harding University in a carrel at their library completing a book manuscript and writing another manuscript. For the first time in thirty-five years of marriage, Joyce and I could make decisions other Christians commonly make. We could visit our children on weekends and worship with them, and we could choose where we worshipped when we stayed in Searcy. In that three months we visited with several congregations. We did two things often on Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings. On Sunday evenings we often were part of peak of the week, and on Wednesday evenings we at times attended a small group meeting.

I, by experience, have been a part of both sides of the same coin.

  1. When Jesus was crucified and three days later raised from the tomb, God restored what Satan destroyed in the garden of Eden.
    1. The two major results of Adam and Eve's rebellion against God in the garden of Eden were these:
      1. The first major result: evil became a part of human life on earth.
        1. The ultimate expression of pride is for any person to think that he or she is sinless.
        2. We are all evil, and the more spiritually mature we become, the more aware of our evil we become.
      2. The second major result: all people in every age became slaves of death.
        1. Unless God directly intervened, which happened rarely (Enoch--Genesis 5:24; and Elijah--2 Kings 2:11), people died.
        2. Just like us, there was nothing people could do to prevent death permanently.
      3. We have Satan, the master of deceit to thank for evil and for death.
    2. What God did in Jesus' death and resurrection defies our comprehension.
      1. In Jesus' death and resurrection, God created a perfect forgiveness, so complete that God made it possible for sinful people to live as though their sins never occur.
        1. A lot of Christians in the New Testament were just like us: they simply did not "get it"--they simply did not comprehend what God did in Jesus Christ.
          1. The Galatian congregations are an excellent example.
          2. Some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem came to these non-Jewish congregations and said their conversion to Christ was invalid.
          3. They told these non-Jewish, baptized Christians that their baptism was meaningless; first they must accept the Jewish way of approaching God.
          4. The result was that a lot of the Galatian Christians were totally confused and began to believe things God never emphasized to non-Jewish people.
          5. Paul wrote them a letter and bluntly told them in certain terms that they simply did not understand what God did for them in Jesus Christ.
          6. Paul said,
            Galatians 3:26-29 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.
        2. I have a deep appreciation for the way that John emphasized God's perfect forgiveness.
          1 John 1:5-10 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
      2. The second thing God did in Jesus' crucifixion and death was to destroy the slavery of death.
        1. The writer of the Hebrews discussed what God did in Jesus Christ.
        2. He stated God's accomplishment very plainly.
          Hebrews 2:14,15 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself [Jesus] likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
    3. Those who understand what God does for them in Jesus Christ want to tell God, "Thanks!"
      1. And that is what praise is about: saying, "Thank you!" to God for destroying my evil and allowing me to live in perfect forgiveness.
      2. The basic intention of Christian worship is to say "Thank you!" to God.
      3. A Christian who understands what God has done for him or her worships God in two basic ways.
        1. He or she voluntarily, by personal choice, chooses to be part of an assembly that remembers who they are because of Jesus Christ.
        2. He or she chooses to live life every day honoring God as a man or woman who has their evil destroyed and is free from the slavery of death.

  2. I look with amazement at what is happening too commonly among Christians.
    1. We began as an American religious movement 200 years ago calling all people to let the meanings and purposes of the Bible be our guide.
      1. We began having no religious system and defending no religious system.
      2. We began with the simply desire just to be Christians.
    2. Now we often assume a scripture's meaning and too often feel threatened by an accurate search for the genuine meaning of a scripture.
      1. There are numerous examples.
        1. Most of us are students of the Bible; we clearly understand things were quite different 2000 years ago in the church.
          1. We understand clearly that 2000 years ago the Holy Spirit in miraculous ways was very active in the church among people converted to Jesus Christ.
          2. We understand clearly those Christians spoke in tongues, experienced miracles, and received revelations.
          3. We understand they had no church buildings and commonly met in homes.
          4. They had elders, but these elders' oversight was not restricted by a street address of a church building.
          5. Since they did not have church buildings, their concept of congregation was quite different to our concept of congregation.
        2. We present ourselves to people who know little or nothing about the Bible as Christians dedicated to being simply Christians as were those Christians 2000 years ago.
          1. If someone who knows little or much about the Bible asks about obvious differences, we explain a person must understand the meaning of scripture and God's purposes.
          2. If we are not careful, we defend our assumptions and our systems.
    3. As a Christian, I am amazed at how much energy we often spend defending systems by shifting the New Testament's emphasis.
      1. The emphasis in the New Testament is on how those people converted to Jesus Christ were to live their lives.
        1. That emphasis is clearly emphasized repeatedly in the New Testament.
        2. It is seen in:
          1. Acts 2:43-47 with the very first people converted to Christ.
          2. Romans 12-14 with Christians in Rome.
          3. 1 Corinthians 5-10 with Christians in Corinth.
          4. Galatians 5 and 6 with Christians in the Roman province of Galatia.
          5. Ephesians 4-6 with Christians in the city of Ephesus.
          6. Philippians 3 and 4 with Christians in the city of Philippi.
          7. Colossians 3 with Christians in the city of Colossae.
          8. 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5 with Christians in Thessalonica.
          9. The letters to Timothy frequently.
          10. Titus 2 and 3.
          11. The letter of James.
          12. The letter of 1 Peter.
          13. The letter of 1 John.
          14. The letter of Jude.
          15. And Revelation 2 and 3.
        3. There is a powerful, continuing emphasis from the conversion of the first Christians in Acts 2 throughout the New Testament on the fact that belonging to Jesus Christ changed the way people lived.
      2. We have very little information in the entire New Testament on how Christians worshipped.
        1. "Do you conclude that as Christians we should be devoted to the authority of scripture as God's own word?" Absolutely!
        2. But devotion to scripture's authority does not excuse us from two things.
          1. We must never appeal to authority to ignore the meaning of scripture.
          2. We must never appeal to authority to ignore God's purposes in Jesus Christ.
      3. We struggle with the problem the first Christians struggled with: the problem of substituting our long held assumptions for scripture's meaning.

  3. May I share some things that fill me with fear about our fellowship?
    1. It fills me with fear when I hear Christians deciding if another baptized, penitent believer devoted to godly living is faithful or unfaithful on the basis of a worship style.
    2. It fills me with fear when I hear Christians declare conclusions as scripture.
    3. It fills me with fear when I hear Christians declare that what a Christian does in worship more powerfully affects eternal salvation than how he or she devotes life to Jesus Christ.
    4. It fills me with fear when I hear Christians express attitudes of spiritual superiority over other Christians because of the way they praise God.
      1. "Our worship practices are more biblical than your worship practices."
      2. "Our worship practices proved we are more spiritual than you are."
      3. "Our worship practices prove we are more godly than you are."
      4. "Our worship practices prove that we appreciate God more than you do."
      5. When I hear those attitudes and read Romans 14, I feel sheer terror.
      6. Thank God that a Christian's hope for salvation is based on the grace of a merciful God!

The purpose of Christian worship is to transport us as God's community into God's presence through Jesus Christ so we can praise our God. How often do you leave our assembly with this awareness: "I have been in the presence of God."

The older I become and the more I understand from the Bible, the more aware I am that I must explain to God Himself how I communicated His will to Christians. My admonition is simple: reverence God by understanding the meaning of His will and giving Him your life.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 20 January 2002

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell