Belonging To God: The Church
Lesson 9

Lesson Nine

Hard Concepts (part 1)

Texts: Acts 15:1-21; 1 Corinthians 8; Romans 14:1-15:6

There exist some biblical concepts that Christian people, the church, find to be “hard concepts.”  The concepts are hard for Christians, the church, to accept for numerous reasons.  (a) One has been the conviction held by many that the church can know all God’s thoughts and emphases, and in that knowledge be correct about everything.  (b) Another has been the fracturing of the restoration movement into the Church of Christ, the Christian Church, and The Disciples of Christ.  Each of those segments of the American Restoration Movement has within it additional emphases.  The unity movement fractured into segments, and each of those segments has significant fractures.  (c) Another has been the difficult challenge of distinguishing between our preferences (which it is okay to have) and God’s commands (which are binding on Christians). The spiritual danger arises when people seek to make personal preferences divine commands or standards for faith in Christ.  To prefer is one thing; to demand of others is quite another.  (d) Another is an assigned meaning to a scripture that does not consider context or the author’s point.  Such offenses were encouraged by adopting the “proof texting” method of biblical interpretation.  Basically this method authoritatively validated a concept by (1) saying, “It is in the Bible!” and (2) declaring a “proof text” with little or no concern for the author’s point.


These reasons are not all the reasons for Christians, the church, finding some biblical concepts difficult.  Nor are all the concepts in the next lesson all the “hard concepts.”  The intended challenge of this lesson: to make you think.  The challenge is based on the conviction that thinking produces understanding, thinking and understanding produce faith, and faith is the fundamental motive for serving God and His purposes.  Christians are not to be motivated by loyalty to the past, but by faith in God and surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The challenge is NOT to reduce scripture and the pursuit of salvation to a series of rules, but to see that scripture and the pursuit of salvation are centered in trusting God—a trust we know as faith.


If you are tempted to believe that understanding spiritual truth is simple, consider an illustration based on a common Church of Christ commitment.  What do we wish to be?  We wish to be Christians in the same sense that people were Christians in the New Testament.  What do we wish to establish?  We wish to establish the church as it existed in the New Testament.  How do we wish to do those two things?  Is the Christianity restored and first-century church established by following the Jewish or idolatrous culture of the first century?  Which congregation becomes our guideline for restoration?  The Jerusalem congregation who struggled to accept gentiles who were not Jewish proselytes?  The Corinthian congregation who divided into groups based on teacher loyalty?  The Galatian congregations who forsook Jesus Christ for Jewish practice? 

The Ephesian congregation who did not understand that the dividing wall between Christians of Jewish and gentile background was destroyed by God through Jesus Christ?  The Philippian congregation who had warring factions of influence?  The Colossian congregation who found it difficult to abandon ungodly sexual involvements?  The Thessalonian congregation who expected Jesus to return immediately?


We have buildings with varying degrees of conveniences—they had no buildings.  We have classes and programs—they had few or none.  We have printing with Bibles, study materials, libraries, concordances, dictionaries, and other study aides—they had no printing and few to no helps.  We have computers and other office machines, secretarial help, staffs, and rooms used for varied purposes—they did not even know about most of those things. 


Is restoration as simple as getting rid of things they did not have?  Is restoration about first- century culture or about scientific discovery?  Is restoration about God’s purposes in Jesus Christ in today’s world?  How does getting rid of things that did not exist in the first century achieve God’s purposes in today’s realities?  Does achieving God’s purposes in Jesus Christ validate a means or method?  Who decides “Yes” or “No”?  Have we designed restoration to suit our preferences and objectives?


The point of the above is to challenge us to realize that pursuing divine truth is not a simple task, is not easily achieved, is not obvious to all, and is not delegated to any human or group of humans.  Truth rests in God’s hands and is expressed in Jesus Christ.  It is pursued by knowing Jesus, not by simply declaring acceptance of the fact that Jesus lived as a man and was resurrected by God.  We are Christ’s church by being Christ’s people in motive, in behavior, in word, and by being a people dedicated to God’s purposes.  One issue or one stance does not make anyone dedicated to restoration. 


It is not so simple as being an “us” and a “them.”  Ultimately, restoration is not a human achievement based on human agreement.  Ultimately, restoration is a divine gift.  If Christ could make Christians “stand” (versus fall) who totally disagreed about sacred food, about holy days, and about drinking (all of Romans 14, but especially verses 3-6), the same Lord can make different Christian groups “stand.”  It results from the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, not from the pseudo-power of a congregation or group of congregations.


Perhaps the most serious spiritual matter is found in whom we condemn, not in whom we approve.  May we never condemn someone in Christ when our Lord says “Yes!”  If the Lord could make one body out of Jewish Christians (many we would consider legalists) and gentile Christians (many who thought idols represented living gods), He can make one body of us in our many disagreements.  The root of the problem is not God’s instructions.  It is our demands.



For Thought and Discussion


1. Some biblical concepts are what?


2. Give the four reasons given in the lesson for some concepts being hard (difficult) concepts.


3. Are these reasons given as all the reasons?


4. What are we challenged to understand?


5. What two things do we wish to be/do?


6. What problems existed in congregations in the New Testament?


7. What do we have that they did not have?


8. Give some challenging questions that we can ask about restoration.


9. Pursuing divine truth is not what?


10. Ultimately, restoration is not what, but what?


11. What might be the most serious spiritual matter?

Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 9

Copyright © 2009
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

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