It seems to be the best of
times. With television stations flooded with Christian programming, radio
airways saturated with religious broadcasting, and printing presses
turning out a multi-million dollar business of church literature, the
modern day church has no equal in any age in the promotion of itself to
the world. Magnificence church cathedrals are being built in city after
city. Most congregations are actively pursuing more and better trained
ministry personal than in any other time in the history of the church.
Supporting multi-million dollars budgets, the church of modernity has
become big business.
In-depth training materials from personal money management to the
operation of the spiritual gifts are readily available for everyone. The
modern church with its emphasis on reaching every age group now offers a
wide range of ministries to meet the needs of everyone. For the first time
ever in the history of the church, a new term, the mega-church, has been
created to describe its success. With all of its multi-facet programs and
activities, the modern day church should be judged as reaching an all time
high of spiritual excellency.
But, all is not well with the church. The simple preaching of Jesus that
immediately changed lives has been replaced by a multi-task obligation to
be accomplished in this life to lay up treasures for the life to come.
With the emphasis of the church’s message shifting from Jesus living in
and through the believer to the believer becoming all they can be by their
own positive thinking and their own assertive actions, Christianity has
lost its Christ-centeredness and has become participant-centered. The
fruit of the church’s labors does reveal the nature of its roots.
People for the sake of people are no longer the concern of the church.
People become important only to the degree that they are perceived to be a
blessing to the church. Help built the church and you are accepted;
perceived to be of little use for the church and you are forgotten. The
church itself has become the focal point of much of modern Christianity.
A quick comparison of the belief system of the early followers of Jesus
and the belief system of many in the modern church will reveal how much
the fundamental issues of Christianity has changed over the recent years.
Understanding that there are exceptions to the general rule, the
conclusions of this comparison are, nevertheless, alarming. They suggest
that the general church once again is in need of a reformation. The
distant mirror of the 15th Century reflects that all the ingredients of
such a need for reformation are presence in the modern day church.
In what we know as 1 John, the author writing towards the end of the first
century, penned these words:
That which was from the
beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes,
which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of
life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear
witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the
Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard
declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and
truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus
Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be
(1 John 1:1-4)
The words highlighted will
be used to try to illustrate how far we have moved away from the living
Jesus to emphasize an understanding that keeps drawing our attention to
the visible church. In the first example, if the term, the Word, is used
in the modern church it is most of the time, if not always, a reference to
the written word, the Bible. The term, the Word, to the early followers of
Jesus, however, meant not a written document but the living Word, Jesus
Christ. When Paul said, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing
by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17), he is emphasizing that faith comes
by hearing the living Word, Jesus.
Although the Word is accepted today, generally, to mean the written Bible,
the early followers of Jesus knew that the Word was the living Jesus:
"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his
glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and
truth" (John 1:14). There is a tremendous difference when the
emphasis is kept on the living Word as opposed to the written Word, even
though the written Word is inspired and completely trustworthy.
The writer of 1 John wrote, "And this is the promise that he hath
promised us, even eternal life" (1 John 2:25). It should be quite
obvious to all that if the term eternal life is used in the modern church
that it is a reference to the next life--the believer will live eternally.
To the early followers of Jesus, however, the term eternal life was not a
reference to the eternal life to come but a reference to the eternal life
of God manifested in Jesus. For example, John wrote, "For the life
was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you
that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto
us" (1 John 1:2),
Eternal life for most in the modern church brings to mind their belief
that they are going to live forever in the next life but to the early
followers of Jesus eternal life was a reference to the One who has, is,
and will always live--the eternal life of God. Although the next life for
the believer cannot be questioned and should not be doubted, the phrase
eternal life for the early followers of Jesus did not bring attention to
the believer and to the next life but to the reality of experiencing the
eternal One in their present life. Although they were mortal, corruptible,
weak, and processed a physical body, they knew that they had the
opportunity to experience the immortal, incorruptible, powerful, and
spiritual body of the eternal life of Jesus. It was what profoundly
changed their lives.
Fellowship, the experiencing of Jesus together, was the life blood of the
early followers of Jesus. Unfortunately, fellowship, the experiencing of
Jesus together in a face to face relationship, rarely occurs in the modern
church. When those who go to a church meeting are asked to be participants
in what is being performed by those in charge, just how much fellowship is
experienced? If fellowship does occur in the modern church, it is largely
a by-product rather than an integral part of the church. As someone has
suggested, "The real church is what goes on before the opening prayer
of a meeting and what goes on after the closing prayer." Although
that may be an oversimplification, it does point out that the real church
does occur in, by, and through what happens between people.
From the writings of 1 John, it can be seen that how they measured
success, although they probably did not think in those terms, was by how
they treated one another (1 John 2:9,10). Joint-participation in Jesus was
evidently the essence of all things for the early followers of Jesus.
Jesus Himself stated, "By this shall all men know that ye are my
disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35). Contrast
that fellowship with how the modern day church measures success (how many
people attend church, how big is the building, and how large is the
budget) and it should be obvious that what was important to the early
followers of Jesus in large measures cannot be found today.
A simple question needs to be raised in illustrating the next major
difference between the church of the first century and the church of
modernity: What is the emphasis of most sermons delivered by the leaders
in churches today? On any given Sunday, is it not a motivational homily
encouraging the believer to do something, to increase their efforts, their
time, or their giving in order to be blessed of God. Although there are
exceptions, it is usually an instructional message teaching the believer
how to prepare for the next life or what they should be doing in this
Notice, the words of the writer of 1 John when he said, "And these
things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." It is hard for
the motivators and the movers to grasp that all John wanted of his first
readers was that their joy might be full. Instead of telling them that
circumstances would be good if they could get their belief right, their
doctrine right, he simply told them that in the midst of the struggles of
life they could be cheerful. They could remain calm and delight in the
Lord. It is hard for the modern church to believe that all God wants of
his believers is to enjoy life and know that He is producing that life.
When we fully understand what John is saying in the opening statements of
his letter, it should cause us to consider seriously our ways. In this day
of one program after another designed to call the believer to greater
effort, to incite into action, or in some other way emphasize the
believer, Jesus is calling us to return to Him. May the church once again
move away from being participant-centered and become Christ-centered. For
after all is said and done, every message that is recorded in the New
Testament is a message about Jesus--especially, the resurrected Jesus. The
living Jesus needs to be heard again.
|The minor prophets are fascinating Bible studies into the
working of God in the world. There is nothing more intriguing in the history of the
people of God from Genesis to Revelation than the prophetic utterances
that often came forth through man in time of desperate need. Isaiah walked through the land naked and
barefoot. Ezekiel laid on his left side for 390 days and on his right side for 40
more. Hosea married a harlot to illustrate the love of God.
Although the warnings of the prophets were often
scorned or ignored, they nevertheless dynamically challenged the attitude
and behavior of the people. So, it was also with the minor prophets
as we will see in our Bible studies of the twelve lesser prophets.
The utterances of God through the prophets will always arouse the
curiosity of the people.
The minor prophets had no
specific qualifications other than being moved upon by God as a vessel, a
medium, whereby a specific word could be given. They came forth to speak
their, "Thus, saith the Lord . . .," from many walks of life.
They were shepherds, farmers, priests, and princes. As God so moved upon His
chosen vessel, each of the minor prophets, the prophet so spoke.
The minor prophets, the last twelve books of the Old Testament, are
referred to as minor prophets only because their writings are considerably
shorter that the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. By
putting all the minor prophets together their writings roughly equals the
length of a major prophet’s scroll. The contents of their prophecies
were as powerful and moving as the major prophets. The minor prophets were
moved upon by the Holy Spirit and spoke not their words but the words of
God flowing through them.
The minor prophets, do not appear to be in strict chronological order.
Although we will let each of the writing of the minor prophets give us the
time of their prophecies, we can give a rough time-line of their writings.
Two prophets, Obadiah and Joel may have preached in the ninth century B.C.
(853-796). In the following century, five prophets can be connected to the
time of 793-686 B.C.: Hosea, Amos, Jonah, Isaiah, and Micah. Nahum
Zephaniah, Habakkuk, and Jeremiah prophecy in the next century: Nahum,
around 663 B.C.; Zephaniah probably 640-609 B.C.; Habakkuk, around 612
B.C.; and Jeremiah began in 627 B.C. and continued past the fall of
Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Daniel and Ezekiel preached the words of the Lord
during the Captivity in Babylon. Daniel was taken into Captivity during
the first invasion of Judah, 605 B.C. Ezekiel was taken to Babylon in 597
B.C. and continued his prophecies until roughly 571 B.C. Haggai,
Zechariah, and Malachi lived and preached after the Captivity: Haggai, 520
B.C.; Zechariah, about the same time; and Malachi, around 432 B.C.
The minor prophets close out the writings of the Old Testament.