When All Else Fails...

The saying goes, "When all else fails, read the instructions..." Following instructions usually helps solve problems. Most of us have experienced trying to assemble something or get some new electronic device to work without success. Forcing things just increases our frustration. Reading through the instructions and following them often brings relief and sometimes the discovery that there would have been no way to make things work by trial and error.

How things work in the spiritual world of God’s kingdom is often similar. When frustration builds, it helps to read the instructions. Though the Bible is much more than an instruction manual, it does have many plain instructions which, if followed, can alleviate much doubt and anxiety in the hearts of people and the religious world. Jesus, Peter, Paul and others gave many important instructions to people. Parents are to bring up their children in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Proverbs says, “He is on the path of life who heeds instruction” (10:17).

As this article goes to press, the Roman Catholic Church will be following its own detailed instructions for the selection of a new pope, the bishop of Rome. Many are lobbying for change and anxious for new directions that would allow things like the ordination of women as priests. In all of this, a little careful attention to the instructions in the Bible could bring much relief.

Consider a few problems and the corresponding instructions from Scripture. Is ordination necessary? The New Testament does not instruct us to ordain people. This is a manmade process. Scripture does provide characteristics and qualifications for church leaders but no degrees or papers are necessary. Qualifications generally include faithfulness, fidelity, and caring family relations (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).

Who are priests? All Christians are priests. Collectively, Christians are “a royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9). Men and women in Christ are already priests. A priest represents God to people and people to God. All Christians may be open examples of God's grace to all people and bring all people to God in prayer. All Christians are free to "proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you" ( 1 Peter 2:9). Those who do so in public worship are called preachers and are men (1 Timothy 2:11-12). Christians have only one great high priest over them, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 3:1; 4:14; 6:20; 10:21).

Who are saints? All Christians are saints, “holy ones,” in God’s eyes (notice to whom Paul addresses many of his letters). All Christians are “holy ones” because of Jesus’ blood and the sanctifying, or making holy, work of the Holy Spirit, not because we have earned the designation. Christians need not worry about elevating to sainthood the post mortem condition of brothers and sisters in Christ who have passed away because all Christians are saints.

Who is a bishop? Bishop is the King James word for overseer, or one who watches over (where we get the word “Episcopal”). In the Bible, elders, bishops, overseers, and shepherds are all terms for spiritually mature married men who care for God’s flock. They may not only marry, they must be married and have experience in caring for their families and running their households (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Think of the sexual abuse problems that could be relieved by spiritual shepherds having God-blessed fulfilling marriages. Our Chief Shepherd, high priest, bishop and overseer is already chosen. New Testament Christians need not seek another. Jesus is our "Chief Shepherd," and "overseer" or bishop, of our souls (1 Peter 2:26). Human elders work together in a plurality. No one of them is to be over all of them.

What physical things do we need to worship God together? A few simple things will do: a book, water, bread, grape juice. The Romans called the early Christians atheists because they did not have any trappings. They had their faith and they had each other. The New Testament instructions on worship are refreshing and clear.

The Gospel Herald exists to promote New Testament Christianity and that is the purpose of this article. I do not expect to reform the Catholic Church or any other religious system. More noble than I have tried that over hundreds of years. Restoration leaders have long recognized that reconciling men and women to God comes through the love and grace of Christ not religious systems. The best answer to systems is to dissolve them, not to reform them. The unity of God’s Spirit exists now as always and we can chose to share in it and preserve it or go our own way.

The main point here is that the Scriptures lay out before us many plain instructions that can relieve much suffering and needless anxiety, dissolve many tensions and give solutions to many problems if we would simply read them and follow them. You may have friends, relatives and co-workers who may be refreshed and surprised by the clarity of New Testament Christianity and the plain instructions of Scripture on many issues that you can share with them.

For centuries those who have wanted to be Christians only have found out how in the pages of the New Testament which, by the way, carries forward many instructions for the people of God from the Old Testament. While we may not change religious systems or 2000 years of religious history, individuals may find relief, be set free, and become New Testament Christians by simply following the instructions.

Paul Birston

April 2005©

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