Text: Jeremiah 6:16, Thus says the Lord: “Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls.” (NKJV)
Going Forward by Going Back
Introduction: We live in a progressive society. Advances are made in technology every day which enhance our lives and make us more productive with less physical effort. Many people strive to keep themselves abreast of the newest things coming out. The newest fashions, the latest cars, the best and the biggest and the most modern stuff is in high demand. We are a progressive people who strive to push ever forward and we live in a world that is ever changing from day to day.
Sadly, the progress we are making in the realm of religious matters does not seem to be keeping up with society as a whole. Our advancements in science and technology are resulting in God being pushed out of our lives to be replaced with worldly things. God is being expelled from our schools, voted out of our government and forgotten by our society.
In the religious sector of mankind, many today who still claim Jesus Christ as their savior do so according to their own wishes and ideas on how He should be served. What began in the first century as one church has evolved into literally thousands of them across the face of the earth, each with their own method of worship and service to God. Many people today worship God how they see fit. They serve God according to their own desires on how it should be done.
No one looking out into the world today can deny that Churches are divided, our society is degrading morally, we are killing millions of babies each year through abortion, our prisons are full, the entertainment that is piped into our homes is for the most part intolerable and at best indecent, our government is crooked. Our society is sinking into a morass of corruption and it is eating away at the very foundation of our beings. One would have to be blind to miss what is going on.
How do we fix it? What’s the solution? How do we go forward from here? To answer this question, let’s look at a real life example from the old testament of what a king, faced with the destruction of his nation did in order to move forward. Let us call to mind the great king Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz who was so evil that God was going to destroy Judah because of the things he did. But Hezekiah did right in the sight of the Lord and God repented of the destruction he was going to inflict on Judah, (Jeremiah 26:19), “Did he [Hezekiah], not fear the Lord and seek the Lord’s favor? And the Lord relented concerning the doom which He had pronounced against them.” (NKJV). Hezekiah averted the impending destruction of Judah because he sought the favor of God. In 2 Kings 18:1-6 we learn that Hezekiah tore down the alters in the high places and got rid of all the idols. In verse 6 we read the following: “For he [Hezekiah] held fast to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses.” (NKJV). Hezekiah was returning his nation to the commandments of Moses. He was moving forward by going back.
Moving on in 2 Chronicles 29 we read of Hezekiah’s restoration of the temple which Ahaz, his father corrupted. The temple was repaired and cleansed. The sacrifices were resumed and temple worship according to the law of Moses returned to Judah. In 2 Chronicles 29:25 we read, “And he [Hezekiah] stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the Lord by His prophets.” Hezekiah was getting the layout for the temple worship from the commandments of prophets who had been dead for several centuries. Hezekiah was following the old paths as he moved his nation forward. It’s a shame his predecessor did not follow in those footsteps. The doom that Hezekiah averted for Judah because of his righteousness was only postponed. The application we can make today is that if Hezekiah could return his nation to the favor of God by following the old paths, by returning to the commandments of God by His prophets, then we can too. If it worked for Hezekiah, it will work for us as well. We, like Hezekiah, can insure that we go forward as a nation and as the people of God by going back and seeking the old paths.
Go back to the Bible
Hezekiah went to the words of the prophets written centuries before him in order to know how to set up the temple. Hezekiah recognized that the ancient writings were authoritative and if he restored the temple and set up the worship according to the record of how it was commanded by God that it would be done according to His will. Hezekiah understood if he did it the way they did it in times past, they would be assured of being what they were then; faithful children of God.
Hezekiah understood that there was a pattern to follow in respect to the house of God and the worship they were to offer. 1 Chronicles 28:11-12, “Then David gave to Solomon his son the pattern of the porch, and of the houses thereof, and of the treasuries thereof, and of the upper chambers thereof, and of the inner parlours thereof, and of the place of the mercy seat, And the pattern of all that he had by the spirit.” David further stated the source of the plans for the temple a few verses later in 19 “All this,” said David, “the Lord made me understand in writing, by His hand upon me, all the works of these plans.” When David charged his son Solomon with the task of building the temple, he gave him the plan for it that he had received from God. Hezekiah knew that David had the plan for the temple and for the worship and recognized that he needed to follow that pattern precisely.
Hezekiah also knew that if he wanted to please God, he could not add to nor take away from anything God wanted. Deuteronomy 4:1-3
“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you. 2 You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” Deuteronomy 12:32, “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.” Hezekiah understood that in order to please God, he had to adhere to the pattern, adding nothing to, nor taking anything away from the word of God. Hezekiah knew that in order for the nation of Judah to go forward, they had to go back.
So what about us today? What application can we make for ourselves today seeing that we do not worship in the temple at Jerusalem and do not follow the law of Moses? Do we have a pattern we are supposed to follow today? In 2 Timothy 1:13-14, Paul wrote, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus“. In Romans 6:17-18 Paul wrote, “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.” The Greek words for ‘form’ and ‘pattern’ in these two verses carry the meaning of a stamp, or a model used for imitation or replication. We absolutely have a pattern we can look to. Paul wrote by inspiration that we have a “pattern of sound words” and a “form” or “standard of doctrine” to which we can conform ourselves to.
Where do we find the pattern we are to live by today? We don’t live under the old covenant anymore. There is no more temple, there is no more Levitical worship, there are no more animal sacrifices that we observe. That old system, the law of Moses has been abolished (Ephesians 2:15), nailed to the cross of Christ (Colossians 2:14). So since that law is no longer in effect, what law replaced it? It’s called the “law of Christ” in Galatians 6:2, the “royal law” in James 2:8 and verse 12 of the same chapter it is called the “law of Liberty“. In Romans 8:2 while contrasting it with the law of Moses, he called it the “law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus“. It is identified with other terms as well. In Hebrews 8:8 it is called the “new covenant“, in Matthew 26:28 and several other places, Jesus Christ referred to it as the “new testament“. Paul referred to it as the new testament in 2 Corinthians 3:6 and the Hebrew writer referred to it as the “new testament” in Hebrews 9:15. It is called “the faith” in 43 times in the KJV of the new testament. The most common term for what replaced the law of Moses is “the gospel” which occurs 83 times in the KJV of the new testament scriptures.
All of these terms and others refer to the same thing. Each of these terms are representative of an aspect of the system of faith under which we live now. Concerning the promise of God, it is a new covenant. Concerning the blood of Christ and what it does for us it is a “new testament“. Concerning man’s role in Gods redemptive process, it is called “the faith“. Concerning God’s role in the salvation of man it is called “the grace of God“. Concerning the body of teachings which make it all up it is called the “doctrine of Christ“. Concerning the joyous hope we have through God’s redemptive works it is called the “good news” or simply, “the gospel“. Concerning the pattern of living or rule of conduct which a Christian is required to live by, it is called a “law“. All of these terms represent aspects of the system of faith which is contained in the new testament scriptures.
Take any one of these out and it’s incomplete (Revelation 22:19). It’s less than the whole counsel of God and we will fall short of His expectations. Add anything to it and it’s more than He authorized which violates a number of NT scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 4:6, 2 John 9 and Revelation 22:18.
Hezekiah went back to the old testament scriptures to find out how to go forward in an acceptable fashion and according to the will of God. Today we go back to new testament scriptures so that we can forward in the same manner that Hezekiah did so many centuries ago.
Go back to the church of the New Testament
The reason God was going to destroy Judah was because the Israelites had departed from the acceptable worship of the one true and living God. They had divided themselves from the truth, they had gone after man made gods and worshipped them according to their own lusts and desires. Today when we look out into the world we see the worship of false gods such as Buddha, Allah, Brahma to name a few. And to make matters worse, the worship of the one true and living God of the Christians is fragmented into thousands of different denominations each believing and practicing a variant form of Christianity. The Bible condemns division and sectarianism in the strongest possible terms (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 11:18; 12:25). Jesus Christ urged and prayed for unity among believers (John 17:21).
But the unity cannot be with those who practice false teachings and false gospels. The Bible pronounces a curse upon those who teach another gospel than the one delivered (Galatians 1:8), The Bible commands faithful Christians to stand apart from those who are in error (Ephesians 5:11, 2 Thessalonians 3:4; 3:14, 1 Timothy 6:3, 2 Timothy 3:3, 2 John 9-11). Faithful Christians cannot unify with those who are in error and have divided themselves from the truth of God’s word. So we have thousands of bodies of people who claim Jesus Christ as their savior but practice variations of the one faith taught in the Bible.
The church is the body of Christ, Colossians 1:18, “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” Ephesians 1:22-23, “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body…” Paul further taught that there is only one body, following one faith (Ephesians 4:4). Since the body of Christ is the church, and scripture teaches there is only one body, then the only conclusion we can draw from that is there is only one church.
It was the desire of Jesus that His people be united. When he spoke of building His church, he promised only one (Matthew 16:18). Jesus Christ reconciles man to God through “one body” which is the church (Ephesians 2:13-16). This New Testament reality of one church has far reaching implications for the divided church we see today.
1) If there is only one body/church in scripture, practicing one faith, then modern day denominationalism is contrary to God’s design for His church and is therefore condemned.
2) If only one body/church is found in scripture, then it is absolutely not true that one church is as good as any other.
3) If only one body/church is found in scripture then those who believe they can attend the church of their choice are either mistaken or deliberately living in defiance of God’s word.
4) If there is only one body/church in the new testament, then any one other than the one found within it is a counterfeit of that one true church. An unauthorized copy coming from the mind of man and not from scripture.
5) If there is only one body/church in the new testament, then it is essential for men and women to be members of it and only it.
In a spirit of love and concern, and without malice or hostility, we need to stress the Biblical picture of the church as a non-denominational, Christ centered body of a people fully committed to doing the will of God and living according to His word.
The New Testament Church was not made up of many denominations. Denominations come into existence when people do more or less than God commands. To do exactly what He commands, no more, and no less, results in an undenominational, undivided body/church of Christ. The 1st Century church existed without denominations. The work and worship of the church can be performed without them. They are a barrier to unity and a cause of confusion and misguided error. If all mankind joined together and bound their lives to living in obedience to the will of God according to the New Testament scriptures, adding nothing to, taking nothing away, there would only be one body of believers claiming Christ as their savior. We could unite and go forward by going back to the church that Jesus built and bought with His blood.
.Go back to being just a Christian
In today’s religious world, when asked what kind of faith one has, being called just a Christian is something that one rarely sees. Upon declaring oneself a Christian, the next question might be, “What kind of Christian?” There were no Baptist Christians in the first century, neither were there Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist, Lutheran, Mennonite, Catholic or Pentecostal Christians. There were no hyphenated terms for Christians back then. They were just called Christians.
Paul condemned this sort of sectarian division in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 where he wrote, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (NKJV)
Paul condemns the wearing of any name other than Christ for ourselves. To do so causes Christ’s body/church to be divided among men and this cannot be. When the world looks at us, they should see Jesus Christ and no thing or no body but Jesus Christ. They should never look upon us a see another man or another creed. We do not serve men, we serve Christ. Other men did not die for us, Christ did. Other men did not establish the body/church of Christ, Christ did. When the world looks at us, they need to see Christ and not Paul or Apollos, or Luther, or Calvin, or the Pope or John Wesley. If everyone claiming Christ as their savior called themselves a Christian, no more and no less, then Jesus would be the only one in view within a unified body of believers.
We must never give up hope that all who claim Jesus Christ as their savior will unite and put an end to the division in the religious world. Hezekiah went forward by going back. We can go forward by going back as well. We can all go back to the Bible and the Bible alone. We can reject manmade creeds and let the scriptures be our final and only authority for what we do and teach. We can seek God’s will through His word, adding nothing to, taking nothing away and committing our lives to live in obedience to His will in all things no matter where it leads us.
We can go back to the Lord’s church, worshipping in spirit and in truth in accordance to His will. We can look at the way faithful Christians worshipped in the first century and use that as the pattern for our worship today. It is possible because the Lord’s church was to be eternal. Daniel prophesied of a kingdom that would stand forever. (Daniel 2:44.) Jesus pointed out that even Hades could not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18.) Since the Lord’s body/ church was to last forever, it must be possible to be in that body/church and be just a Christian today. By going back to the Bible we can be assured of worshipping as God wills and not as man wills (Colossians 2:23). We can be assured of approaching God according to His righteousness and not our own (Romans 10:3).
This is the only real hope for unity in our divided religious world. It has worked before, it can work again. Our only hope is for all believers in Christ to walk faithfully in the old paths, following in the steps of our Lord. We can be in the 21st century just what they were in the 1st century if we will believe what they believed, worship how they worshipped, obey what they obeyed and observe what they observed. We can go back to the Bible, back to the church and back to being what they were then. We must go back if we want to truly go forward with any assurance in our hope.
Jeremiah 6:16, Thus says the Lord: “Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls.” (NKJV)