Don Styles
Principles of Ecclesial Life

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 present.

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 difficulty?

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. 16:18).

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 principles.

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 our Bibles.

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 ecclesial selections.

The entire process showed wise judgment. The potential reaction of human nature was anticipated and a safeguard was provided against rash decisions.

Spiritual commonsense today

In our own situation, spiritual commonsense needs to be exercised in ecclesial matters.

Some examples:

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 grow.

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 word.

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.

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 those areas.

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 consideration.

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 receiving immortality.

Some examples:

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