Why Do The Righteous Suffer – “Why Me, Lord?”

Why Do The Righteous Suffer – “Why Me, Lord?”

By Mike Riley 1/5/2017

Sometimes trials seem to come one right after another. You wake up in the morning and your car won’t start. This unfortunate event makes you late for work, your boss chews you out, and your whole day is ruined. You later find out that your car won’t be repaired for another week and the bill makes you think you’re buying a new one. On top of this you learn that a member of your family has been diagnosed with cancer. During times like these, we are prone to ask, “Why me, Lord?” “Haven’t I been living faithfully?” Why do good people have to suffer bad things in their lives? Many people throughout the ages have pondered this very question. It seems that the righteous suffer while the wicked seem to prosper. Job saw this clearly during his time of affliction (cf. Job 21:7-15). In this article, let’s look at three biblical reasons why God allows good people to suffer.

To Establish

Suffering can cause one who is not a Christian to recognize his great need for God. If one is to be saved, he must first know that he needs salvation. One who believes he is standing on dry land will not take hold of a life preserver even though he is truly drowning in the sea. Trials help to establish by causing us to see our condition before God (Luke 15:11-17). The Psalmist said, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now have I kept thy word …. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I may learn thy statutes” (Psalm 119:67,71). God allows some to suffer in order to establish faith in Him.

To Restore Faith

Sometimes a child of God goes astray and needs to be corrected and restored to the right path. God doesn’t want to see any of His fall away, so He chastens those who do (Hebrews 12:6-11). He did so with Israel as the Psalmist wrote, “When He slew them, then they sought Him; And they returned and sought earnestly for God” (Psalm 78:34 – NKJV), and He does so with His today. “As many as I , I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Revelation 3:19). When suffering, we should examine our own lives to determine if we are the recipient of divine chastisement (Psalm 119:75). Trials are designed to make us look inward at ourselves and upward to God (1 Peter 1:3-9).

To Perfect Faith

For the faithful Christian, trials serve to mature and perfect the faith that is already present. With each trial we face successfully, there is growth. As Paul wrote, “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance character; and character hope” (Romans 5:3-4 – NKJV). With spiritual growth, comes the ability to better handle problems in the future. This is why James said, “My brethren, count it all when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces ” (James 1:2-3 – NKJV). We should view our trials as God’s vehicle to perfect our faith.


God works out all things for the good of those who Him (Romans 8:28). We do not know everything that God does, but we can be certain that He is working to save as many souls as possible (2 Peter 3:9). If we have to suffer along the way, we ought not lose heart, for God is preparing us for eternity (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Everyone will occupy eternity in one place or the other (Matthew 25:41,46). How we respond to God will determine our destination. Brethren, we must not let the cares of this world and the troubles that we have deter us from our goal. Paul encourages us, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

Do Numbers Matter… To God?

Do Numbers Matter… To God?

By Kevin Cauley 1/6/2017

We live in a very analytical society that is concerned with the constant association of numbers and success. Businesses mull over sales quotas and production numbers like cows ruminate cud. When our elected officials talk about the budget, we want to know the numbers. Even in matters of opinion we want to know what the polls say. There is even a television show now called “NUMB3RS” in which a mathematician uses equations to solve crimes. Our general philosophy seems to be, “If the numbers are up, life is good. If the numbers are down, then something’s got to change!”

Numbers also play a role in the scriptures. The number 40, for example, occurs several times. There were 40 days and nights of rain in the flood (Genesis 7:4, 12). Moses was in Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights (Exodus 24:18). Jesus fasted for the same period of time (Matthew 4:2) and there are many other examples.

There were also certain specific times in which God was directly concerned with numbers. One such instance was when the children of Israel were coming out of the land of Egypt. The book of Numbers begins with this statement, “Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls; From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies.” Exodus 30:12 tells us that at least one reason for this was so each man could pay a ransom for his redemption out of Egypt. God had his reasons.

There was another time, however, when God was displeased with man’s concern for numbers. During David’s reign, he commanded Joab to number the people (2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21). While God never states a specific reason as to why He is displeased, even Joab seems to know; he tells David that God would ensure that Israel was multiplied (2 Samuel 24:3, 1Chronicles 21:3). From Joab’s counsel as well as from a comment in 1 Chronicles 27:23 it appears that David’s desire was to trust in the numbers instead of trusting in God. After the census was completed, David acknowledged his sin, but the children of Israel were punished with a plague; 70,000 died as a result of David’s lack of faith.

Where do we place our faith? In a recent article in the “Christian Chronicle,” it was stated that the churches of Christ have failed to keep pace with the population growth in the United States. I’m sure that there will be some who will be alarmed. But why should we be? God doesn’t play by the numbers. With Gideon he took a mere 300 men and destroyed an army of thousands. God populated the world by just two people and then repopulated it again with eight. What about Noah’s record? He failed to keep pace with the population gain of the entire world not just for a few short years, but for 100! Yet, when all was said and done, he and his family WERE the population!

The article also asked the question “Why?” Some speculated, but offered no real answers. No doubt part of the answer is that we’ve begun to trust in numbers instead of trusting in God. When we place our trust in the numbers are we not guilty of the same sin as David? If we are, then we need to repent and change our ways. Regardless of what the numbers say, our job is to put our faith in God because after all is said and done, it is God that gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7, Colossians 2:19). God doesn’t need our numbers to accomplish His will; God doesn’t need us to keep up with the population growth; God doesn’t need us to understand why we haven’t. What God demands is that we stay faithful to Him no matter what (Revelation 2:10).

Does Galatians 6:10 Authorize The Church to Give to Non-Saints?

Does Galatians 6:10 Authorize The Church to Give to Non-Saints? Part 8

By Kevin Cauley 1/7/2017

March 20th, 2003

No, I do not think that you have been dishonest. I believe that you honestly believe the things that you set forth, I have just been trying to show some of the implications of the words that you have written down. I did get the impression from your comments regarding 1 Corinthians11 that if the writer is addressing the then it is exclusively the and I got the equal impression from Galatians 6:1-10 that it is exclusively the individual. It is from your comments that I came to the conclusion that IF (that is hypothetically) you were to accept Galatians 6:1-10 as speaking to the churches that you might (in your mind, hypothetically) exclude individuals from . So I was speaking in hypotheticals when I wrote that. Obviously, I don’t know what is in your mind, so I can’t judge what you believe from that perspective and that is why I asked you to correct me if that was not the case. So, the question that I was putting forward is this: Hypothetically, if you were to accept Galatians 6:1-10 as speaking to the and as instruction to the church would that limit the individuals ability to give to others? I ask that question based upon your handling of 1 Corinthians 11 as exclusively applying to corporate . I hope that you can understand how I might be curious about that and I hope this explains why I would say such a thing. Thanks for clearing it up. I accept your explanation and am glad that you do not think that.

As to the second issue, I do stand by my words. I do not think that I am accusing you of being dishonest, but merely not justifying your conclusions. A person can be honest and yet not justify their conclusions. I am saying that your argument assumes the very thing that must be proved in this context. We have already seen that sometimes a New Testament writer can be addressing the church and yet speak to individual action (such as in 1 Corinthians11). So the presence of the singular number in the context alone does not justify concluding that therefore the whole context is speaking to individuals. This is the only argument that you have set forth in regard to your case and I was merely trying to show that it is not an argument at all, but an assumption that proceeds from the doctrine of saints-only itself. I am not questioning your or honesty, but merely trying to get you to set forth some kind of logical argument to justify your conclusion. What FORCES one to the conclusion that Galatians 6:1-10 can ONLY be speaking to individuals??? What is it about the context of these statements forces one to that conclusion??? It simply cannot be the singular number alone. That alone does not justify it, just as the plural number alone does not justify my case. My case is built upon MORE than just the plural number. It is built upon the 1) address of the epistle, 2) the purpose of the epistle, 3) the expectation that had for the churches to deal with the problems they faced and 4) the plural number. All I am asking is for you to give me some additional reasons why I should conclude that Galatians 6:1-10 addresses ONLY individuals. I have not seen you do that and so I conclude that it is merely demanded by your doctrine and that is the only other reason that it could be. I hope that you can see that I am merely trying to reason about the statements that you have made regarding this passage and not trying to impugn your character or deal with you in a dishonest way. I have been rather blunt in an effort to try to get you to deal with the specific issues, but I have not received any response from you in those things, and so I have just assumed that you don’t have anything to say about them or can’t say anything about them. I invite you to prove me to be wrong about that.

In addition, I have set forth my case based upon the purpose of the epistle to the Galatians. You have never answered this particular argument. I would like to hear what you have to say about the purpose of the epistle to the Galatians. Why did write that epistle? What did he expect the churches to do to resolve the problems that they had? This stuff is relevant to how we understand Galatians 6, but you have said nothing about it. Do you agree with me regarding the purpose of the epistle? Do you disagree? Do you think that Paul expected the churches to resolve these problems? Do you think that Paul wanted individuals ONLY to resolve these problems? I just don’t know what you think about these issues and I would like to know.

By the way, personally, I don’t expect to be dealt with in any less vigorous a way than the way I try to deal with the arguments that you set forth. I WANT what I teach to be TESTED, PROVED, and TRIED by others, because if I am not teaching the truth, then I need to know it and I need to change. So I want others to bring the strongest possible arguments against what I am teaching. When this is done, I try not to take it personally, but do try to understand what is being said and see if my position can be defended based upon the arguments alone. That is all I am trying to do with your statements as well and I hope that you will take it in that spirit. I have no personal animosity toward you and believe that you have none toward me either. I hope this satisfies your questions that you have set forth below. If it does not, then ask some more questions and I will try to answer those as well.

Genesis 3:14-19

Genesis 3:14-19

By G. E. Watkins 1/15/2017


This account is designed to impress upon the children of men the fact that when God warns of punishment such warning is to be heeded. Man sinned in the Garden. God now declares the penalty for that sin.

To The Serpent

Remember that the one sentenced is the Devil or Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). We may speculate all our days about the significance of crawling in the dust as punishment but we are not left to speculate about the final end of Satan. He will be defeated (“he shall bruise your head”) by the seed of the woman (Gal. 4:4). In Genesis 3:15 the first shadow of the Gospel is revealed, that there is one coming that will defeat Satan (Rev. 20:10). Beginning here this theme is developed until it is realized in Jesus Christ.

To The Woman

Notice that the Lord didn’t accept her claim of deception as a mitigating factor. The special facets of her punishment would be in the very functions for which she was created (Genesis 1:28; 2:20). She would now bear children in pain and be subject to her husband.

To The Man

His excuses weren’t heeded either. The same ground from which Adam was made is now cursed because of his sin. The agony of labor is now added to Adam’s existence. He must work for what he eats.


God didn’t accept claims of deception or of influence in the Garden. We should not expect that God will accept these factors at Judgment.

It has been thousands of years since the carrying out of this sentence. God still hasn’t lifted it. His decisions are permanent. GOD’S WORD IS FINAL.

Singing With An Audience

Singing With An Audience

By G. E. Watkins 1/20/2017

Dear Brother Watkins,

Christian Greetings! I am writing to clarify something: Is it scripturally alright that a group (choir) of Christian perform a concert in front of a congregation using spiritual songs? Accordingly, the purpose is to entertain and they are to do it not on a Sunday. Please help as we are divided on this issue. We pray for your help.

God Bless! Brother J.

It is good to hear from the brethren in ***********!

Good question. It’s great to hear when the brethren are concerned with issues of Bible authority. In order to answer the question we must break the situation down into component parts.

1. A group singing spiritual songs.
2. A person or persons listening to others sing the songs.

Suppose I was with a group looking out over the ocean and a few started singing, “How Great Thou Art.” I don’t think there would be any question that this would be authorized (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19). Notice that these passages don’t specify that the singing in view is in the worship assembly. (It does, however, include the singing in the worship assembly.)

Take that same group looking out over the ocean. Some are singing and some are listening. If the situation is unauthorized then it is a sin both to sing (causing the listeners to sin) and not to sing (causing the singers to sin). However, we have an apostolic example of singers singing with an audience. Notice Acts 16:25 in the American Standard Version of 1901:

But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns unto God, and the prisoners were listening to them;

We shall not accuse Paul and Silas of sinning or causing the prisoners to sin who did not sing.

When you say the purpose is to entertain do you mean that all such situations where there are singers and listeners are for the purpose of entertainment? Is this a “for profit” concert? Or, is it simply a group of talented Christians edifying others with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs? From thousands of miles away I cannot judge such things.

All I can do is affirm that the situation in which there are singers and listeners outside of the corporate worship of the church is authorized. The fact that it is scheduled and advertised is incidental. The fact that it is enjoyable is incidental as well.

If some come to the conclusion that we cannot sing with an audience then to be consistent we must cease all singing outside of corporate worship lest we cause others to sin by not singing or sin ourselves by singing with an audience present.

What Does It Mean To Be Saved?

What Does It Mean To Be Saved?

By Kevin Cauley 1/21/2017

In order to understand what it means to be saved, we need to understand that from which we need to be saved. The Bible teaches that because all men have sinned, they have fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). It is these sins that separate us from God (Isaiah 59:2) putting us into a state of needing to be reconciled with God. Moreover, since God is a completely holy and righteous God, those who die in sins must be punished for the evil that they have done. What kind of punishment does one receive for offending an infinite God? The Bible teaches that those who die in a state of sin will receive eternal separation from God in hell (Matthew 25:46). Sinful man is doomed to condemnation. This is that from which men need salvation. What is man to do? As Paul asks, “Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver (i.e. save) me from this body of ?” (Romans 7:24)

Fortunately for man, God wants man to be saved from such an awful fate. That is the salvation that God offers; reconciliation with him through Jesus Christ (Romans 7:25, 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Salvation is the opportunity to not have to be punished for the sins that we have committed. God has offered us an alternative. If we will believe that Jesus is God’s Son, that Jesus came to the earth to provide something for man that man could not provide for himself, namely, salvation from sin, then God will allow Jesus’ sacrificial on the cross to be our vicarious punishment for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21).

When we become saved by hearing God’s word (Romans 10:17), believing it (Hebrews 11:6), repenting of sin (Acts 17:30), confessing Jesus as Christ (Matthew 10:32) and being baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16), then we are born again into the family of God (John 3:3,5) and we become of God (1 John 3:1) and heirs according to God’s promise (Galatians 3:29). This entails that we can then call upon God as our Father and he considers us as His (Galatians 4:6).

Now, while this is the basic story of salvation, the scriptures reveal to us that there are several perspectives of salvation. There is salvation at the moment of baptism. In this perspective, we gain a right relationship with God and we become his child (see Galatians 3:27-29). Here we have forgiveness of our past sins and we are able to worship God acceptably. In this perspective of salvation, we have come out of a detrimental relationship with God and entered into a constructive relationship with God. God begins, at this point, to mold us into the kind of person He wants us to be through our obedience to His word and our growth as a child of God. 1 Peter 2:2ASV states, “As newborn babes, long for the spiritual milk which is without guile, that ye may grow thereby unto salvation.” While the newborn babe in Christ is saved in that he is in a right relationship with God, he still needs to continue to grow unto salvation in order to remain saved and inherit eternal life.

There is also salvation from sin committed after . In this perspective we see salvation from sin as ongoing. Once we become a Christian, the covers the sins that we commit and confess (1 John 1:7-10) and we remain in a state of God’s grace as we continue to serve and love Him. It doesn’t mean that God our sins. It means that when we sin and turn to God with a broken heart in penitence for our sins, then God continues to forgive our sins based upon our having been cleansed by the blood (Acts 8:22).

This doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t abandon God and lose our inheritance (2 John 1:8). We can, like the prodigal son, rebel against our father and wander off into a strange land (Luke 15:11-32). If we die in such a state, then we will lose our inheritance and will not be part of the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10). Jesus himself even warned us that there would be some who call him Lord, but would not enter into eternal life (Matthew 7:21). So God’s promise of forgiveness to His children is conditional upon the grounds that we remain faithful to God and His will (Revelation 2:10). God’s relationship to us is Father to child, but if the child rejects and abandons the Father, then there is no more sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:26). We are children of God, but we must walk as God’s children (1 John 3:10, Ephesians 5:8-11). If we stop walking as God’s children we will be disinherited.

Consider also 2 Corinthians 7:9, 10 which says, “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” Notice that godly sorrow works repentance to salvation. What kind of salvation is that? Didn’t these Christians already have salvation? Why would they need to repent to salvation if they already had it? This passage indicates that even those who were once saved, can so sin as to need to repent to salvation again.

Finally, there is another sense of the word “salvation” that refers to being saved out of this life and into the next. Consider 2 Timothy 2:10. Paul is speaking to those who are saved, yet he says, “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” If they already had it, then why would they need to “obtain” it? He must be referring to salvation in the next life in heaven with God and Christ. Notice also 1 Peter 1:4, 5 “To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Again, this “salvation” is that which has not yet been “revealed” until, that is, the last time. That’s heaven itself. So while a man may be saved in that he is currently in a right relationship with God, and also that he has ongoing forgiveness of sins, it is also the case that he has not yet obtained final salvation in heaven. That blessing is reserved for those who endure to the end (2 Timothy 4:8).

What does it mean to be saved? It means that the Christian has been taken out of darkness and into light, forgiven of his past sins, and become a child of God. It means that the Christian may now call upon God as Father and ask for ongoing forgiveness of sins committed after , but it doesn’t mean that the Christian can’t abandon that relationship and return to darkness. And finally, it means that the Christian has God’s promise that one day he will be saved from the sorrows, pains, and temptations of this life into a place where no evil shall dwell and Father and child may be together throughout eternity. Now, don’t you want to be saved?


The House Church Book was a challenging read for me. In

fact, I would go so far as to say that Simson has made me more

uncomfortable and challenged me more than any author I can

remember in the past couple of years. I applaud and welcome

this. I am still thinking and rethinking through several of the

ideas that he has presented. I also appreciate so much the

sincerity with which the author writes. His passion for the

church and kingdom is clear and unmistakable. Yet, having said

this, I can’t help but sit in judgment on so many of his

doctrinal presuppositions, and the manner in which he seems to

take liberties with the Bible. I understand that my spiritual

heritage leads me to be conservative, even among room full of

conservative evangelicals. And usually I can look past my

differences in order to appreciate the idea. But Simson was


For example, Simson is clear about how he believes the

house church ought to be structured and led. On page forty-six

he speaks briefly about leadership where he states that “house

churches do not have leaders in a technical sense; they have

elders . . . elders are responsible members of society who are

able to assume a parental role in the house church, and who meet

the biblical qualifications describing deacons found in 1

Timothy 3.” This makes no sense to my admittedly conservative

ears. They are elders, but they function as deacons? In his


virtuous attempt to restore pure Christianity, I am disappointed

at just how quickly he has corrupted the biblical model (which

in fairness makes him no different from the rest of us).

Along with this thought, it seems that Simson has a

definitive misunderstanding or lack of understanding of the

richness and details of the Bible. I don’t say this because he

lacks formal theological training; but instead because it shows

up clearly with how he envisions the church coming to life in

modern western culture. This shows up in the same comments on

elders that were previously alluded to. Simson writes that

“these elders are empowered and counseled by apostolic people

who usually function beyond the borders of an individual house

church.” In citing Acts 15:2, 4, Simson demonstrates a troubling

level of biblical illiteracy. This text is referring to a

specific group of people who happened to live in or around

Jerusalem. The manner in which Simson frames this (and later

discusses), makes clear his belief that the apostles were a type

of people that may have existed in any location.

I admit that much of my discomfort comes from his complete

dismissal of traditional church. He seems ready to burn it all

down (which I suppose is why he calls for a third reformation).

I agree that he is clearly on the right track. As he argues for,

there is a more biblical way in which to “do and be church” than

the institutionalized version that has grown up since the 4 th


century. Again, I disagree with his details and implementation

of this more biblical paradigm, I appreciate so much his call to

return to a model of church that is clearly more consistent with

the Bible than what we have now in the traditional church model.

In this sense, his failures (as I perceive them) are also

benefits. Because where I feel he takes the house church

principle beyond the scope of the New Testament, he does force

me to come along with him and as a result forces me out of my

box where I have existed in the traditional church. And while I

might now take the same trip that he has, I will at least end up

at a spot that is closer to the Bible than where I began. This

is likely the greatest value of this book.

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This book was at once precise and clear as mud. I think the

author’s thesis or summary statement is found on p.11 when he

writes that “we need to re-envision a way to empower normal

groups led by normal group leaders that are full of normal

followers of Christ to listen to God and live in such a way that

they impact the world around them.” From what I can tell, this

also appears to be a general descriptive statement for the

“missional” movement.

Returning to my initial statement . . . the second section

entitled “Practicing” was considerably more helpful and

practical. The problem was getting to this material. I believe I

understand the author’s intentions when he (over)used the word

rhythm. I think he was referring to a mindset or way of

thinking. Though I am not completely sold on it, I appreciate

his desire to promote the “missional” approach to church and

evangelism. At a minimum there is a great deal of value that us

traditional “attractionalists” ought to take note of. However,

it seems that he spent four chapters and approximately fifty

pages repeating the same message that he could have communicated

in about ten pages. Before you peg me as strictly pragmatic, I

greatly value theory, deeper thought and reflective writing; I

just didn’t find much in this text.

One other specific challenge I found with the text was the

practical application and implementation of all that Boren is


proposing. For example, he is calling for Christians to maintain

small groups that exist in the context of neighborhoods and

conduct their missional-based ministries within the lives of the

people of the neighborhood. The trouble is determining how that

plays out exactly. Given the physical nature of most

congregations, it seems unlikely that the small group

participants would all be from the same neighborhood. So the

question is, which neighborhood does the group focus on? That is

just one specific question that appears to go unanswered.

As a brief digression, I found it interesting that Boren

often made comments that eluded to an understanding and

agreement with Hellerman’s “When the Church was a Family.” It’s

almost as if he had read the book before writing his own. For

example, on page twenty-two, he refers to the idea that

Westerners have “learned to live according to the drumbeat of

rugged individualism.”

All these negative comments having been shared, there is

great value in this text. There is one general theme that I

appreciate most. After having read this text, I have so much

more to think about, pray over and consider. The reality is that

I do think that the “missional” approach to ministry to most

reflective of, and patterned after Jesus’ own ministry. What I

have not yet determined is whether that should be formative for

the church at all times and in all cultures. Jesus’ approach of


taking his message and ministry to the people was necessary for

the time. It seems clear that an “attractional” approach would

not have worked—the incumbents were too entrenched. That being

said, Paul’s ministry was not entirely “missional” in nature. In

fact, I would say that it was a mixture of both. This book has

forced me to think through these issues and help lead our church

do to the same.


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The best book on the art crafting powerful statements that

influence and communicating effectively is “Words that Work” by

Frank Luntz. This book is the best I have read on the art of

asking questions. There is so much great information to digest,

perhaps too much. Just like the new shiny toy, this is

information that you want to run home and play with right away.

I’ll begin with commenting on the negative aspect of this

book, because from my perspective there is only one. Here it is

. . . there is absolutely no way that this great information can

be completely consumed, digested and properly applied in any

short order. In other words, it seems that this type of

information isn’t something you can be taught and then go out

and put into practice. Instead, I would venture that the author

acquired this information through a combination of years of

academic study and even more years of practice through trial and

error. And that is in addition to, what I would imagine is, a

natural gift for asking great questions.

As I read through this text, I found myself constantly

nodding my head with great approval and agreement. The author

systematically laid out several ideas, principles and facts that

I have been fortunate enough to either learn on my own or put

into practice. My trouble came when I began to process the

remaining information and begin to contemplate how I might go


about taking my new toy for a spin during my next Bible class.

As I alluded to, I’m not sure I can.

It seems foolish for offering remarks that might appear to

be remotely critical for an author offering too much positive

information. No, it is foolish. Instead, of trying to digest the

book as if it were theory, I am going to treat it as an

invaluable piece of reference material; and take one idea at a

time and practice applying it over the course of several weeks.

For my purposes though, the greatest value is putting this book

in the hands of my small group leaders and teaching them to do

the same.

In terms of the specific aspects of the book, again, there

are simply too many to comment on or even list out. As I just

mentioned, what I value most about this book is that it will

serve as a terrific reference for my small group leaders, who

lack either the experience or natural skill at leading a

meeting/Bible study by crafting thoughtful and powerful


In terms of the actual content, the “Top Ten Principles”

shared on pages six through fourteen are worth the price of

admission. This list is small enough to be digested and most

likely carried into the next small group meeting.


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On page six (in his introductory comments) the author

states that “there is, in fact, no better way to come to grips

with the spiritual and relational poverty of American

individualism than to compare our way of doing things with the

strong-group, surrogate family relations of early Christianity.

This is the central focus of this book.” The author defended his

thesis well; and in the process may have provided church leaders

with an answer they have been looking for. For this reason, the

book is extremely helpful.

Did he overstate the current status of the problem saying

that we are living in spiritual and relational poverty? Perhaps,

but it is clear that there are extreme problems in western

churches. It may well be that dealing with the individualistic

nature of our society is the extreme and correlative answer.

The first thought that comes to mind is to challenge the

authors’ assumption that the cultural norm of the first century

must be duplicated today (or throughout all other times and

cultures). Is it true that an individualistic society is

contrary to that of the New Testament and that it brings

inherent challenges? Yes, certainly, for both questions. But the

question remains, must we duplicate this today? The author is

convinced that we should. At this point I have two responses.

First, it is extremely difficult to live within the context of

community and relate to one another as the Bible demands, while


living as an individualistic culture and society. At least it is

within our individualistic society. Second, Galatians 4:4

states: “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of

a woman, subject to the law.” The timing of God’s action should

not be discounted in this discussion. Nor should it be treated

as a coincidence that at the time God chose to act, there was a

prevalent strong-group culture. We can only speculate as to

exactly why God chose this time to act. However, Christians

today should take notice of what was going on in the life of

Christ and the first-century church; because that was clearly

the most appropriate time for God to set his standard for His

people. In other words, that was evidently the most conducive

setting by which he could implement his church so that they

would look and live in the manner that He desired.

The author brings to light several interesting ideas and

thoughts that helped to explain his case; and more importantly

increase my understanding and appreciation for where my

congregation needs to be moving. In the first two chapters, he

emphasizes three social values involving strong-group society of

the New Testament world. First, the group has priority over the

individual. Second, the most important group is the family.

Third, the closest relationship within the family was between

the siblings. Assuming that this is what God desires for His

church, the church today is further from a biblical model than


we may have otherwise assumed. While there may be isolated

exceptions, it seems clear that we do not consistently

demonstrate any of these characteristics.

This is a terribly difficult situation and highlights the

quandary of church leaders, particularly those among the

conservative Churches of Christ. The specific value in being

presented with these ideas is that it helps to frame or identify

exactly where our congregations have miss-stepped with regard to

our institutional nature. In other words, as we have become more

and more organizationally and institutionally focused, we have

become less and less of a representation of the strong-group

church of the first century. Because the individual takes

precedence over the group, it is much easier for us to be a part

of an organization that requires less personal investment than a

family would. Going along with this idea, because we are

organizationally centered, we are able to maintain superficial

relationship as opposed to sibling relationships that constitute

a true family.

Four primary values demonstrated in Paul’s writings

relative to the strong-group family paradigm (affective

solidarity, family unity, material solidarity and family

loyalty) provide a terrific blueprint, or perhaps even a vision,

for congregations in the 21 st century. These characteristics

provide us with the ability to determine a positive course of


action to move away from the current individualistic based

culture. In other words, Hellerman has presented information

that leaves me with an insightful understanding of the daunting

task of leading a congregation in the twenty-first century.

Fortunately, this particular information provides the confidence

that the current situation is correctable and even provides the

blueprint to make it happen.

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