Five Practical Suggestions for solving Ecclesial Problems
1. Don't panic - Problems are inevitable
Problems are inevitable in ecclesial life due to factors
beyond our control.
God has ordained that the ecclesia should be one body.
Grecian Jews and Hebrew Jews may have lived more happily if they had
separate, ecelesias for people of different cultural backgrounds. But doing so
would have been in opposition to the concept of one body in Christ. Given the
mix of backgrounds and personalities represented in any ecclesia, tensions and
misunderstandings are likely to occur from this one factor alone.
The ecclesia is to be "in" the world as a living
witness to the light of the gospel. Being thus in the world, the ecclesia is
highly susceptible to the impact of the problems of contemporary society. The
ethnic bias of Palestinian verses Grecian Jews was a problem amongst Jews
throughout the world. In spite of the binding influence of fellowship in Christ,
this social problem affected the ecclesia. Our situation is similar; we will be
affected by the problems in the surrounding society. Lower morals, looser family
structure, greater incidence of divorce, and increased tolerance for deviate
relation hips will result in a greater incidence of such problems in our
ecclesias. We may want to isolate ourselves by establishing remote agricultural
commune. That is not an acceptable solution, however, for while we must not be
lovers of the world, God has ordained that we must live in it.
Human nature, with its carnal impulses, is not changed
by baptism. The neglect of Grecian widows was inconsiderate, unkind and petty
but it was a manifestation of the flesh. Human nature was still a constant
plague to the disciples in the first century and it is to us today. The ecclesia
at Jerusalem had witnessed an earlier, dramatic incident proving the point.
Ananias and Sapphira gave into the lust of the flesh and the pride of life in
holding back part of the price of land they sold while pretending they had
generously given the total amount to the ecclesial fund. Their sudden death was
a pointed reminder to all that, until this corruptible is made incorruptible,
ecclesial problems will occur because of our human nature.
Big problems even in first century
The magnitude of ecclesial problems will sometimes surprise
and shock us but don't panic, big problems occurred even with the apostles
Upon careful consideration, there was nothing small about the
ecclesial problem in Acts 6. All involved had been baptized into Christ in whom
all were to be distinguished by their love for one another even as the Lord
loved them. Yet they were practicing worldly unkindness. All were Jews who had
been raised on the Old Testament which stressed that widows are vulnerable and
among the first to be hurt when the flesh rules (Ex. 22:22; Is. 1: 17). Yet
widows were the ones being hurt. All involved had been adopted into the family
of God in whom cultural differences are to become inconsequential. Yet it was
their cultural background that was a major factor in the problem. They had all
been called in hope of ruling the world in God's name (1 Cor. 6:2). Yet they
could not fairly administer the daily meal. A serious situation existed in the
ecclesia at Jerusalem; a shocking one and the apostles were present.
If they had serious problems that close to the ascension of
Christ and with all of the apostles in their ecclesia, how much more likely are
we to have serious problems today? The frequency of wrong conduct will be much
less in ecclesial life than in the world, but any of the works of the flesh can
occur in the ecclesia. Don't panic when they do.
Problems can help spiritual development
Don't panic when ecclesial problems occur because problems can
have a beneficial effect.
We may be deeply hurt when a loved one is falsely accused by
another believer. That is bad, but it is good in that we have an opportunity to
exercise forgiveness. We will never develop the attribute of forgiveness unless
we have occasion to exercise it.
We may be annoyed by continual frustrations caused by a
difficult personality in the meeting. But in learning to deal with different
personalities, we are being prepared to shepherd the inhabitants of the kingdom
who will be under our care.
Prolonged and in-depth Bible study may be required to
counteract subtle error from within the body. But the result can be a useful
sharpening of our own understanding of the
2. Follow Bible precedents
An answer in Deut. 1:9-15
The leaders of the Jerusalem ecclesia were overburdened
because of ecclesial growth. What should they do? Continue trying to manage
everything themselves fearing to share responsibility with others? Pray that the
problems would go away? Hire outside experts to handle special areas of
What they did was look to the scriptures. A similar situation
had arisen with Moses and the good solution applied at that time was used as a
guideline by the apostles. An overburdened ecclesial leader shared
responsibilities with other people of God (Deut. 1:9-16)..
How were the, new serving brethren to be selected? Again the
biblical precedent was followed: they were chosen by the congregation (Dt. 1:
13; Acts 6:3).
What method should the congregation use for the selection
process? No method was specified. They could do as they chose in this regard
(Dt. 1: 13; Acts 6:3).
Would the apostles have any final say in the acceptability of
the brethren selected? Yes, they would follow Moses' example and review those
who had been chosen (Dt. 1: 15; Acts 6:3).
Other examples of following Bible precedents
The Jerusalem conference was settled by reference to Amos
9:11-12 (Acts. 15:15-19).
First century ecclesial welfare was patterned after the
gathering of manna in the wilderness (2 Cor. 8:13-15 citing Ex.
When Israel first entered the land, Achan and his family were
dramatically killed for a sin of deception motivated by greed. At the beginning
of the ecclesial era, similar dramatic action was taken by the apostles against
Ananias and Sapphira who committed the same type of sin as Achan (Josh. 7:20-26;
Acts 5: 1 -11).
Christadelphians already do this
We already do this in the major areas of ecclesial life. The
Christadelphian structure is based on following the guidelines of scripture, not
the wisdom of men. We stress anonymous donations because of Matt. 6:24. We have
no ecclesiastical power structure because of Matt. 23:8-12. Ecclesias are
organized as autonomous units linked to one another by our common belief in the
gospel after the pattern of the ecclesias of New Testament times.
When specific problems arise, we should continue the pattern
of following the precedents of scripture in working out a solution.
However, we can't do this unless we know the Bible well. The
guidelines and principles are all there but they are not presented in textbook
fashion neatly indexed to the specific situations we face. We will only see the
applicability of a given precedent if we are thoroughly familiar with the
circumstances of various scriptural incidents and well acquainted with divine
The purpose of scripture is to equip the person of God for
right conduct (II Tim. 3:17). We don't need the gifts of the Holy Spirit is this
regard. In fact, even when the spirit gifts were extant, the available
scriptures provided the guidelines for solving problems. In having the completed
Bible, we actually have an advantage in this regard over ecclesias of the first
century. However, we must use our advantage, and we can only use it if we know
3. Apply spiritual commonsense.
"Look ye out from among you" -- If those administering
the delicate welfare matter were chosen by the community as a whole, the
ecclesia would more likely cooperate with the decisions of those selected. If
the apostles, who were all Hebrew Jews, had appointed the committee, many of the
brethren might have resented the situation. Remember, human nature does not
disappear when we are baptized.
Seven Grecian Jews selected -- Every one of those
chosen by the ecclesial community has a Greek name indicating they were Grecian
Jews. This is most remarkable and indicates that, given the opportunity, the
brethren and sisters were sensitive to the problem and anxious to have it
rectified in the spirit of Christ. No doubt, if the apostles had made such a
selection themselves, many of the Hebrew brethren would have considered they
were overreacting and would have complained the appointees would practice
reverse discrimination. But given the opportunity to make the selection
themselves, the nominees were accepted and the ecclesia prospered.
'Whom they set before the apostles" -- An ecclesia can
sometimes act unwisely and it only makes common sense for the elders to review
The entire process showed wise judgment. The potential
reaction of human nature was anticipated and a safeguard was provided against
Spiritual commonsense today
In our own situation, spiritual commonsense needs to be
exercised in ecclesial matters.
- To make someone recording brother who has
recently moved to the ecclesia is not sound judgment; he does not know the
strengths and weaknesses of members well enough to react properly for their
- For strong brethren to divide over
a weak brother's odd ideas or sinful action does not make sense. Often in such
cases the one causing the trouble drifts from the Truth leaving the others still
divided where for years they had worked together in
- To make quick decisions on items newly
introduced at a business meeting often results in bad decisions. Let matters be
thought through so that their possible affects can be
- Making rules to solve a passing
problem is not sound judgment. Rely on biblical principles and precedents rather
than on "quick-fixes" which are often neither scriptural nor
Ask of God
Commonsense is a modem synonym for wisdom. If we lack wisdom,
let us ask it of God "that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and
it shall be given him" (Jam. 1:5).
4. Establish right ecclesial structure
"The number of the disciples multiplied" -- Ecclesias
do not stand still. The Jerusalem ecclesia had grown so large that the apostles
could no longer cope with their responsibilities; help was needed.
With our own ecclesias, having no arranging board may work
fine when there are only 11 brethren and sisters. However, if the ecclesia grows
to 50, deciding every matter by impromptu business meetings becomes unwieldy and
contributes to problems. Ecclesial structure needs to be adjusted as ecclesias
Match jobs and people
It was not appropriate that the apostles should spend time on
administrative matters. By virtue of their personal experiences with Christ,
they were uniquely qualified for gospel proclamation and exposition of die
Every person is not equally suited to every ecclesial task. In
fact, considerable trouble is sometimes caused when a brother or sister is given
a responsibility for which they are unsuited.
- A brother may be an excellent speaker but may be
unsuited to handle the complaints frequently presented to a recording
- A sister may be an excellent Sunday
school teacher but unable to work well with others on a catering
- A brother may work well with young
people but be sufficiently disorganized so that he is unable to keep up
ecclesial records as finance brother.
Some ecclesias are too small to allow much choice. But, where
selection is possible, those who serve should do so in areas where they are best
suited by virtue of ability, background and personality.
5. Keep spiritual priorities uppermost
"It is not reason..." -- There was nothing wrong with
serving -tables, but the most important aspect of ecclesial life is the eternal
salvation of its members. The apostles were able to contribute in the area of
preaching, exposition and spiritual counsel better than anyone else in the
Jerusalem ecclesia. They felt obliged, therefore, to devote their efforts to
Sometimes we cannot do everything we are able and willing. to
do in ecclesial life. A choice has to be made of which activities to pursue and
which ones to drop. If that situation arises, let us keep spiritual priorities
uppermost and concentrate on those areas where we best contribute to the eternal
wellbeing of others.
"men full of the spirit and wisdom" -- While the
committee was to perform an administrative function, the most important
consideration was that they do so in harmony with the will of God. The primary
consideration in selecting brethren for the task was not to be their background
in social work, or catering service or their organizational abilities. These
factors may have been noted, but they were not to be the most important
Qualifications of elders
The same ranking of priorities is evident in the
qualifications for ecclesial elders set forth in I Tim. 32-12. In that list,
there is no mention of organizational ability, appearance, economic status,
personal charisma or success in business. As noted earlier, considerations of
secular background may sometimes be useful but they are always to be secondary
to spiritual qualifications.
The objective of ecclesial life is not a smooth-running
organization, but the long-term development of human beings suitable for
- A finance brother may be excellent with the
books but wholly lacking in compassion for those who get in financial trouble
through their own ineptitude. Compassion is more important than fiscal
- A recording brother maybe early to
meetings and efficient in notifying people of duties but be quickly provoked by
brethren who are tardy because of family problems. Sympathy is more important
- A Sunday school teacher may
provide excellent lessons with beautiful graphics but be intolerant of dull
children who perform poorly on homework and tests. Patience is more important