Author: Mark Johnson

GLIMPSES OF EARLY CHRISTIANITY: THE EPISTLE TO DIOGNETUS

1 Peter 2:11-12 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

The following text is from the Epistle to Diognetus.  This epistle is an anonymous apology (reasoned defense or presentation) for Christianity of uncertain date but usually placed in the second century.

“For Christians are distinguished from other people neither by country, language, nor customs. They do not dwell in cities of their own, nor do they use some strange language, nor practice a peculiar kind of life. Their teaching indeed has not been discovered by any speculation or consideration of persons full of curiosity, nor do they busy themselves with human doctrine as some do. While dwelling in Greek or barbarian cities, as each has received his lot, and following the local customs in dress, food, and the rest of life, they display the marvelous and admittedly unusual constitution of their own citizenship. They live in their native countries, but as sojourners. They share all things, as citizens; and they endure all things, as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and every fatherland is a foreign land to them. They marry as do all others; they bear children; but they do not abandon their offspring. They furnish a common table, but not a common bed. Their lot is cast “in the flesh,” but they do not live “according to the flesh.” They pass their time upon the earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They are obedient to the appointed laws, but they surpass the laws in their own lives. They love all people and are persecuted by all. They are not understood, and they are condemned. They are put to death, and they are made alive. “They are poor, and they make many rich.” They lack all things, and they abound in everything. They are dishonored, and they are glorified in their dishonor. They are evil spoken of, and they are justified. “They are reviled, and they bless.” They are insulted, and they give honor. While doing good, they are punished as evil. Being punished, they rejoice as being made alive. They are fought against as foreigners by the Jews, and they are persecuted by Greeks. And those who hate them cannot state a reason for their enmity . . . And Christians live in the world but are not of the world” (XVI.4).

Everett Ferguson wrote concerning the above quotation: The author’s picture of the Christian life is one of the most beautiful literary gems from early Christianity . . . his ethics are superb (Early Christians Speak, Vol. 1 3rd ed.).

GLIMPSES OF EARLY CHRISTIANITY: ARISTIDES

Phil. 1:27-28 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.

The selection below is from Aristides of Athens who composed the earliest surviving apology for Christianity, addressed to the emperor Hadrian about A.D. 125.

But the Christians . . . know and trust in God, the Creator of heaven and of earth, in whom and from whom are all things, to whom there is no other god as companion, from whom they received commandments which they engraved upon their minds and observe in hope and expectation of the world which is to come. Wherefore they do not commit adultery nor fornication, nor bear false witness, nor embezzle what is held in pledge, nor covet what is not theirs. They honor father and mother, and show kindness to those near to them; and whenever they are judges, they judge uprightly. They do not worship idols (made) in the image of man; and whatsoever they would not that others should do unto them, they do not to others; and of the food which is consecrated to idols they do not eat, for they are pure. And their oppressors they appease (lit: comfort) and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies; and their women, O King, are pure as virgins, and their daughters are modest; and their men keep themselves from every unlawful union and from all uncleanness, in the hope of a recompense to come in the other world. Further, if one or other of them have bondmen and bondwomen or children, through love towards them they persuade them to become Christians, and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction. They do not worship strange gods, and they go their way in all modesty and cheerfulness. Falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another, and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he, who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God. And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial. And if they hear that one of their number is imprisoned or afflicted on account of the name of their Messiah, all of them anxiously minister to his necessity, and if it is possible to redeem him they set him free. And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food. They observe the precepts of their Messiah with much care, living justly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them. Every morning and every hour they give thanks and praise to God for His loving-kindnesses toward them; and for their food and their drink they offer thanksgiving to Him. And if any righteous man among them passes from the world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort his body as if he were setting out from one place to another near. And when a child has been born to one of them, they give thanks to God; and if moreover it happen to die in childhood, they give thanks to God the more, as for one who has passed through the world without sins. And further if they see that any one of them dies in his ungodliness or in his sins, for him they grieve bitterly, and sorrow as for one who goes to meet his doom. (Apology, 15)

Aristides of Athens, “The Apology of Aristides” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 9.

The Providence Of God

Christians are people who “serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:10) and compose the “temple” (2 Cor. 6:16) and “household” (1 Tim. 3:15) of the “living God.” We are people who know that God is not dead or remote or inactive in this world.

Even though there were limited times when the activity of God superseded (“miracles”) the functions and bounds of this world established by God, we affirm that the action of God operates typically in harmony with the way God made things. This affirmation that God is working out His purpose within the created order is what is meant by “the providence of God.”

The concept of “the providence of God” is evident in the Scriptures, even though the phrase does not occur in our Bibles. One example from the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament should suffice. Mordecai alludes to the idea of God’s providence when he tells Esther, “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). The apostle Paul has the idea of God’s providence in mind when he writes to Philemon concerning Onesimus, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 15-16).

It not always easy to specify that an activity or event is the providential activity of God. Since the apostle Paul wrote “perhaps,” we ought to be hesitant in naming and claiming some things as an activity of God.

I am wondering if the providence of God was at work this past Sunday at Columbine. The very morning that I am preaching on the value of every person in the sight of God, the congregation has a visitor that provides us with a flesh and blood illustration of needing to see everyone as valuable. Is that just a coincidence? Is this the activity of God? Do we really believe that people with hygiene problems, manner problems, seemingly no interest in hearing God’s words, and disrupts things being done “decently and in order” is valuable? “Perhaps” this was the providence of God.

I am wondering if the providence of God is at work on the border of this country. Is it possible that God is sending the mission field to us? It is not as messy to send money to the mission field or go on short term missions as it is to have the mission field come to us. Is it more effective to spread to the gospel to people in their own countries or to plant the gospel among exiles? “Perhaps” this is the providence of God.

Fellowship Of The Forgiven

We started a new Wednesday evening class entitled “Fellowship of the Forgiven.” We are studying and discussing the critical and exciting subject of biblical forgiveness. There are a multitude of ideas concerning forgiveness, and most of these ideas do not cohere to what God has revealed concerning forgiveness.

There are also numerous substitutes for biblical forgiveness. These substitutes can ease our troubled minds in the present, but do not achieve the real goal of forgiveness.

We are already a few lessons into this critical study, but there is still much to learn in front of us. I know life can be hectic, and the “world goes on.” Some of us have schedules that do not permit our participation in a Wednesday evening class. Some of us do not (and should not) be “getting out” after dark. However, that still leaves a bunch of Columbine members who choose not to participate in a Wednesday night class. What are we doing that is more important than learning about and experiencing forgiveness?

Fellowship of the Forgiven Lesson Plan

Lesson 1        Delving into Forgiveness

Lesson 2        Getting God’s Perspective On Forgiveness

Lesson 3        The Foundation For Our Forgiveness

Lesson 4        A Matter of Life and Death

Lesson 5        Sweet Forgiveness

Lesson 6        Forgiveness is Conditional

Lesson 7        Confession and Forgiveness

Lesson 8        Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Lesson 9        The Church as a Forgiving Community

Lesson 10      Various Matters Concerning Forgiveness

I hope you can and will join us on Wednesday nights because forgiveness matters.

 

Mark Johnson

Give Me The Bible

The Bible is the bestselling book of all time. If the number of copies of a book sold were the criteria for being the most influential book, the Bible would have to be counted as the most influential book in the world. But to note that the Bible is a best seller is not to say that it is being read, meditated on, studied, and applied. People buy Bibles for several different reasons: decorative item in homes, good luck charm, part of a collection of great books, a treasure from the past, and to read. Please note that God did not give us His word (the Bible) for most of the reasons just enumerated. God gave us His word to communicate His man (John 20:30-31), His plan (Ephesians 3:3-5), and how His people are supposed to conduct themselves (1 Timothy 3:14-15; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Surveys (Gallup, Barna, or any other) continue to show that Biblical ignorance is at an all-time high in this country and continues to grow. This problem does not seem to be limited to the secular American culture alone, but the Lord’s church as well. We used to be known as people who knew the Bible. Jerry Rushford (church historian at Pepperdine) tells of a time in Tennessee when the court could not find a Bible for witnesses to put their hands on and take the “truth oath.” Members of the church of Christ were present, and they called one of the men up and had the witnesses put their hands on his head because it was just like having a Bible. That cannot be said of many members of the Lord’s church today (to our shame).

At a time when many have elevated their feelings to the position of primary authority, please remember that since the time of Moses, God has spoken to His people concretely in written revelation. Having given us His sacred word, He expects us to follow it thoroughly. To fully follow it, we must know it. We are people who possess a handbook for living. It is to guide our thoughts, our perceptions of the world, our beliefs, our plans, and our actions. Its authority is God’s authority over our lives. Our feelings and emotions are not the ultimate authority for Christian faith and practice.

If we do not know the Bible, our minds cannot be transformed into the mind of Christ, and the world will conform us to its image (Romans 12:2). In the twenty-five years that I have been a follower of Jesus, I have seen the respect for God’s word deteriorate. We are not as concerned with what the Bible says. When the Bible makes statements we do like, we brush it aside with worldly comments like, “that is just your interpretation” and “we cannot all understand the Bible alike.” We have stopped talking about things being sinful and re-imaged the conversation into “that’s not a salvation issue.” We do not know how to make a defense of the faith (1 Pet. 3:15). Instead, we lightly tell people, “I know it is in the Bible somewhere.”

Brethren, we must be people of the book. The Bible is God’s revealed will (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible is alive and relevant (Hebrews 4:12-13). The Bible applies to our lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3). God has entrusted His precious word to us; what are we doing with it? Do we hunger for God’s word? Are we convinced that it is still light for our path? Jesus is Lord, we need to “listen to him.” Give me the Bible!

Thinking About Salvation

THINKING ABOUT SALVATION

 

How do you define salvation? Which set of terms best characterizes your understanding: “temporal, bodily, and communal” or “spatial, spiritual, and individual”?

My hunch is that you begin with the spatial, spiritual, and individual and “salvation” is a word that primarily refers to your status as an individual.

Is the primary determinate of how we experience reality (time or space)? Both are factors, but one or the other tends to take the lead in how we understand being.

From Plato and Aristotle up to our time, the people in the West typically think with spatial imagination. But, the Jewish thought world, which includes Jesus and Paul, is “temporal, historical, and communal.”

When salvation thought of as the direct encounter between God and the individual sinner, one of the results tends to be the thought that the church is a support group for saved people. Some people think of belonging to a congregation like belonging to a gym. You were more likely to be in shape if you belonged to a gym, but you could be in shape on your own, just like faith. If you belong to a church, you’re more likely to be close to God, but it is not necessary. The church exists to serve the “saved individual.”

Paul sees things like gospel and salvation through a particular understanding of how God is related to history. Paul describes salvation in several ways, including Christians as those upon whom the end of the ages has arrived or reached (1 Cor. 10:11); people are being saved from this present age (Gal. 1:4); and salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed (Rom. 13:11). Turning the gospel into an individualistic, interior encounter between “God and me” is for Paul a different gospel altogether.

When history, not the individual, is the horizon of interpretation, the fundamental question changes from the salvation of the individual to what God is up to in history (including the present). Paul views the death and resurrection of Jesus as the inauguration of the coming Day of the Lord and the sign of the general resurrection of the dead that will come at the end of the age. The future state of things has broken into the present. The question is now about how we live if we believe that the coming salvation of God is both real and present?

The question for the church is not whether or not I like the sermon or the music style, but whether the church’s life is a sign of the age to come (“how are we in this particular time and place a sign of the coming glory of God?”).

Mark Johnson

(hat tip to Mark Love blog posts from several years ago)

Mark’s Remarks

One important aspect of church revitalization is that the congregation gets an “outward” focus.

Two “outward” focused opportunities are in Columbine’s near future, and I hope you will commit to being a part of one or both of them.

One opportunity is FriendSpeak. FriendSpeak trains churches to reach out to our international neighbors with English, friendship, and the Word of God. As families from every corner of the globe arrive in our neighborhoods, Christians have an opportunity like never before to reach the world with the Good News of Jesus. FriendSpeak is useful because we offer people something they want but have difficulty finding – a friend who will help them practice and improve their conversational English.

FriendSpeak prepares God’s people to conduct well-planned, one-on-one, English conversation classes (entirely in English) while teaching them to share their faith in a very natural and comfortable way. Our training focuses on three core principles that empower Christians to act with confidence: 1) The Word is the teacher, and we are the illustration, 2) A friendly relationship is more productive than Teacher vs. Student, and 3) Scripture is the basis for conversation.

If using this method of evangelism interests you, please contact Mark Johnson (this week).

The second opportunity is Vacation Bible School, June 28-29. VBS is an opportunity to invite people to come and study God’s Word and get to know God’s people. Vacation Bible School is girls and boys, paste and paint, and noise.  It is paper and scissors, lessons and workbooks, and noise. It is games and refreshments, prayer and singing.  It is a good time. It is learning time.

Vacation Bible School is an opportunity to serve.

Vacation Bible School is an opportunity to invite family, friends, and neighbors.

Vacation Bible School is an opportunity to learn. VBS classes are not just for kids; we have an adult class!

Vacation Bible School is an opportunity to fellowship with the good people of God.

FriendSpeak

FriendSpeak trains churches to reach out to our international neighbors with English, friendship, and the Word of God. As families from every corner of the globe arrive in our neighborhoods, Christians have an opportunity like never before to reach the world with the Good News of Jesus. FriendSpeak is the domestic side of Let’s Start Talking Ministry. The same method and materials are used – the only difference is that FriendSpeak program volunteers live in the same area with their “Readers.”

FriendSpeak is useful because we offer people something they want but have difficulty finding – a friend who will help them practice and improve their conversational English. Unlike traditional English as Second Language classes, language missions, or literacy programs, FriendSpeak is conducted in a one-to-one setting with an emphasis on relationships and meaningful conversations based on Biblical texts.  The result is a series of heartfelt discussions about faith, love, and the source of abundant life!

FriendSpeak prepares God’s people to conduct well-planned, one-on-one, English conversation classes (entirely in English) while teaching them to share their faith in a very natural and comfortable way. Our training focuses on three core principles that empower Christians to act with confidence: 1) The Word is the teacher and we are the illustration, 2) A friendly relationship is more productive than Teacher vs. Student, and 3) Scripture is the basis for conversation.

FriendSpeak is best suited to foreign learners who can already read and speak some English. The workbooks used feature text from the Easy-to-Read version of the Bible (translated at about a 4th-grade reading level). In this sense, it is not an actual ESL program for beginners or for teaching reading/writing/vocabulary.

Each FriendSpeak conversation session is typically 45-50 minutes long, allowing time for oral reading of the text and discussion between the FriendSpeak Worker and English Learner (we call them ‘Readers’) Typical Readers have ranged in age from 13 to 83.

Both the FriendSpeak Volunteer worker and the Reader use the same version of our workbook – FriendSpeak training session handouts function as a “training manual” to provide the volunteer with the Seed Thoughts for each lesson and methods for creating discussion questions. FriendSpeak is designed to be non-confrontational.

If using this method of evangelism interests you, please contact Mark Johnson (soon).