Standing for 1st Century Christianity in the 21st Century — #2

Our last posting gave thought to a stronger than usual pressure in our modern world to change God’s church, His moral standards, and His ways. However, we had also noted that rather than these being extraordinary and unprecedented times, there is plenty of evidence in Scripture that pressures to change God’s pattern have assaulted God’s people before. Perhaps the most strongly worded New Testament proof that this is a recurring problem comes from Paul’s rebuke against those who would change the Gospel in the first century, (Galatians 1:8, 9) “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”

But changing God’s way was an Old Testament problem, too; and there are things that we can learn from those older inspired stories. We’re reminded twice in the New Testament that there is much to learned in the histories of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Romans 15:4 “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

1 Corinthians 10:11 “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”

One of the more applicable stories to the question of changing God’s pattern—though not often studied—is found in 1 Kings 12, the story of Jeroboam. The united kingdom of Israel under the rule of the house of David was dividing. This was not because of the young arrogance of Rehoboam, as some assume. Rather it was of God (1 Kings 12:24) because of Solomon’s sins (1 Kings 11:11). And this handing over of the lion’s share of the kingdom to Jeroboam wasn’t intended to be a temporary transfer; God made an astonishing promise of security and legacy to Jeroboam…

1 Kings 11:37, 38 “I will take you, and you shall reign over whatever you desire, and you shall be king over Israel. Then it will be, that if you listen to all that I command you and walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight by observing My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build you an enduring house as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.”

God was promising to Jeroboam a house like David’s, if he’d obey! After God made a promise like that, you’d think that Jeroboam would be feeling pretty secure and safe. But instead, he let his fears get the best of him…

1 Kings 12:26-28 “Jeroboam said in his heart, ‘Now the kingdom will return to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.’ So the king consulted…”

There’s more to v. 28 that we’ll talk about later, but I wanted to stop at the word “consulted” for just a moment. Jeroboam feared that the people were going to leave him and return to Rehoboam—not too different a fear from modern church leaders today. So he “consulted”—again, not unlike a lot of church leaders today. I’m not sure who exactly he consulted with. Political advisors? Religious experts? Ancient sociologists? An ancient version of the Pew Poll or Gallup Poll? If only he had consulted with God instead! But the bottom line here is that fear of the people leaving created great pressure and temptation to change God’s pattern.

And Jeroboam caved in to the pressure and temptation. What did he do? A few things you might recognize as having some modern parallels…

1 Kings 12:28-32 “So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. And he made houses on high places, and made priests from among all the people who were not of the sons of Levi. Jeroboam instituted a feast in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the feast which is in Judah, and he went up to the altar; thus he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves which he had made. And he stationed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made.”

Jeroboam changed a few things about the religion of Israel, found in the Law of Moses, to keep his people from leaving…

  • Two golden calves—a concession to eye-appeal. These idols were not, by the way, the worship of pagan gods; they were supposed to represent the one true God. But the one true God was really out of sync with the times; He offered no eye-appeal and commanded that there be no images of Him. The golden calves offered a little “pop” and “flash”, something for the eye to behold. It would definitely be a crowd pleaser.
  • Changed the places of worship to Bethel and Dan—a concession to convenience. This served Jeroboam politically, since the northern tribes wouldn’t be mixing with the southern kingdom; but making the destination for the major holy days shorter would be a “hit”, since the trips to Jerusalem from the northern tribes would take several days and several shekels to travel by foot. Traveling to Dan or Bethel wouldn’t be “too much”, as Jeroboam put it.
  • Instituted “high places” for worship—another concession to convenience. To make any kind of offering to God under the Mosaic Law, one had to travel to Jerusalem. This was really out of step with the rest of the pagan religious world which had “high places” with altars in every village and town. With Jeroboam’s introduction of more convenient local high places, an offering to God could be made in a matter of an hour rather a matter of days.
  • Opened up the priesthood to any Israelite (not just the Levites)—a concession to inclusivity. This move was politically advantageous, too, by 1) marginalizing the Levites and their religious objections and 2) getting greater political support from a wider constituency. This system was, after all, less arbitrary and more egalitarian.
  • Changed the dates of the “Feast of Tabernacles”—another concession to convenience and also to economics. The Feast of Booths falls right in the middle of the harvest of grapes, dates, figs, and olives. It likewise fell right across the beginning of plowing and planting of wheat and barley. Putting the Feast of Tabernacles a month later took some of the economic pressure off of farmers. I can almost hear Jeroboam’s press secretary announcing “an innovative policy that reflects ‘real world’ production realities to assure real economic progress for the average working man.”

Anyway, add them all up and they became what was known as the infamous “sins of Jeroboam” mentioned 14 times in the books of 1 & 2 Kings; and worse, they led to the later adoption of outright paganism in less than a century. If only Jeroboam had acted in faith, his kingdom would have been great, and Israel might be been spared a terrible punishment.

And there’s something here for us to learn. Today the hue and cry is similar, fearing that people will leave. And while this is a legitimate concern, it is never one that is properly addressed by offering entertainment and eye-candy, by offering greater convenience, by appointing leaders not authorized by God, or by introducing any other change to the pattern. Rather, it is addressed properly by shepherds, teachers, and preachers actually following God’s pattern of teaching, discipling, exhorting, encouraging, equipping, exampling, correcting, and disciplining.

And this isn’t the only example that we can find in Scripture…

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About parklinscomb

I'm a minister for the church of Christ in Manchester NH where I've worked since the 1970's. I'm a big fan of my family, archaeology, the Bible, the Lord's church, and Gander Brook Christian Camp.
This entry was posted in Bible commentary, Christian Leadership, Christianity, Church Growth, New Testament, Old Testament and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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