Yesterday I was blessed to be on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University for their “A Day for Preachers” with Dr. Neil Lightfoot, long time professor, author and preacher from Abilene, Texas. The theme for his lessons was “Teaching and Preaching the Word.” As expected and as usual, he had some very powerful and helpful presentations. I thought I might share with you some of “good stuff” that I enjoyed and some things that challenged me.
He presented a morning lesson on “Life in the Church” using Matthew 18. He first talked about how Matthew is the “teaching gospel” and contains five main teaching sections and how each section ends with the statement or phrase “and so when Jesus had ended or finished these sayings.”
1) Matthew 5-7:28
2) Matthew 10-11:1
3) Matthew 13:1-53
4) Matthew 18:1-19:1
5) Matthew 24-26:1 (notice here however the statement “when Jesus had
finished all these sayings” – end of his public ministry)
Now, Dr. Lightfoot outlined and taught specifically out of Matthew 18 and emphasized the following seven points about “Life in the Church”
1. The Absolute Necessity of Humility – 18:1-4
2. The Importance of receiving one another – 18:5
3. The Importance of not causing any brother or sister to sin – 18:7
4. The Importance of not causing yourself to sin – 18:8-9
5. The Importance of every believer – 18:10-14 (two parables to illustrate
this are giving by Jesus)
6. The Importance of our relationship with one another – 18:15-20 -- he highly recommended a book by Tommy South entitled, “A Fresh
Approach to Church Discipline”
7. The Importance of forgiveness – 18:21-35 – forgiviness just logically flows out of all the previous sections and especially on a sinful Christian who does repent.
He also had a very powerful lesson on Matthew 25:31-46 on “When the King Comes” He talked about how in Matthew 24-25 you have five parables about preparation and being ready for the judgment but how Matthew 25:31-46 does not begin with comparison terminology (i.e. regular parable terminology) “like or as” but rather “When the Son of Man comes…….” (25:31) He called this a Parabolic Prophecy. He pointed out how this is the only time Jesus refers to himself as “king." He pointed out how those on the right don’t remember serving or helping others, it’s just who they are and what they do in their life. However, those on the left never seemed to notice anybody but themselves!! He also pointed out how the last verse 46 really could end with just the word “eternal” giving the emphasis of what Jesus is saying and ironically the last words of His public ministry, just stops right there, no explanation, qualifying, etc. Just “ETERNAL” is what we’re left with to ponder.
He also how a very good lesson in the afternoon on “Opening Our Hearts to God” out of the Book of Acts and chapter 16:11-15 and the conversion of Lydia. He first talked about how one way you can outline the Book of Acts is by six summaries Luke gives dealing with the extension and spreading of the gospel.
1) Acts 6:7 – the extension of the gospel in Jerusalem.
2) Acts 9:31 – the extension of the gospel in Judea, Galilee and Samaria.
3) Acts 12:24 – further extension of the gospel
4) Acts 16:5 – the extension of the gospel in Europe
5) Acts 19:20 – further extension of the gospel
6) Acts 28:31 – extension of the gospel as far as Rome
He also made a wonderful point in Acts 16 concerning Lydia and how the gospel went into Europe as a result of God responding to the prayers of women (see Acts 16:13). He also talked about the statement “The Lord opened her heart” and how really the order is the exact opposite of what many religious teachers preach. That first, God has to open your hearts to receive the word, but here, rather Lydia in Acts 16:14 “one of those listening” is in the Imperfect Tense which means she was “continuing to listen, continuing to listen, etc. and then, as a result of her continuing to listen to God’s Word, the Lord opened her heart. That’s the order. Listen to God’s Word, God opens our hearts to respond!
Finally, I must mention that he had a very challenging and thought provoking presentation at the luncheon where he talked about “With Those Whom We Disagree.” He used the passage of Ephesians 4:1-6 and first talked about the context of this passage dealing with the tension/relationship between Jew and Gentile and yet how God had brought them both into the one body of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-22) And that really is why the Book of Ephesians deals with the “church” or body of Christ so much because it’s in the context of the incredible tension and differences between the Jew and Gentile in the first century church. He talked about how we have some differences today in our churches, but nothing like they did in the first century when you talk about the culture and history and background and differences and distinctions made between the Jew and the Gentile (clean and unclean, circumcision, keeping the law, etc.) He also pointed out how to a Jew the first and last thing mentioned emphasizes a matter or subject. That is why the body is first mentioned in those seven “ones” and God is mentioned last. There is one body (not two, body for Jews, body for Gentiles), one Spirit, one hope, etc. and finally one God (not one God for Jew, one God for Gentile but all worship and serving the same one God).
He talked about the implications of all this as it relates to the church today. What do we do when we are faced with major differences and opinions and beliefs in the body of Christ? He pointed out a passage where Paul was willing to compromise for the sake of the body and His work both with Jews and Gentiles in Acts 21:15-25. And of course Paul’s statement that “he became all things to all people” for the sake of the gospel. (1 Cor. 9:19-23) He pointed out that we should always be willing to compromise in those matters that aren’t essential. (Not talking about compromising Biblical truth or the authority of the Scriptures) He said the implications of this is that we will have some congregations that are just going to be “different” and some out of consciene and convictions we may not be able to worship in due to conscience (i.e., praise teams, clapping, and yes even instrumental music), but we still most consider them our brethren in Christ and have humility and patience and a loving attitude towards those with whom we disagree with on some of their practices and interpretations of Scripture. They did it in the first century and so must we! Very powerful food for thought to consider.
However, I don’t know if I agreed with him on all the examples and implications that he may or may not have been implying. Some questions I had during this lesson was, what about the passages then dealing with false teachers who threaten to destroy the local congregation and the body of Christ as a whole? What about noting false teachers or withdrawing from those who would introduce division into the body of Christ? What about the issue of “withdrawing” fellowship with those or how that might effect our relationship and fellowship with such a sister congregation who are promoting false doctrine and practices. (i.e., baptism, Lord's Supper, instrumental music, etc.)
He also challenged us to not be so isolated as preachers in our interactions among other “Christian” groups. That we don’t ever have to violate the teachings of Christ or our conscience but we can still be open to teaching opportunities with our religious neighbors in some situations and settings. Again, I don’t completely agree with all the examples and implications that he mentioned. I do think there is an application of 1 Corinthians 10:19-22 that might apply to the issue of our fellowship/association with religious denominations and preachers. Paul contended that in some way, eating at idol temples establishes communion with demons. And Paul said, “I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.” And remember what Paul wrote Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:1-5, that false doctrines would arise, “doctrines of demons” (source was Satan).
I just personally believe that we must be very, very careful when we interact with non-Christian religious groups. I think we need to be careful to enter into any communion or contact that would suggest that they share in God’s spiritual family. This is my concern with many of our “big name” preachers who are appearing on speaking programs with denominational preachers and churches who have “fellowship” get togethers with denominations. They seem to be pushing the envelope of not wanting to “teach them the way of the Lord more perfectly” but to simply accept and welcome them as brothers and sisters in Christ in the kingdom. And I can’t endorse or offer my support to those who do such.
However, when a devote Christian and student of God's Word like brother Lightfoot speaks on such a topic, I'm going to listen very closely and humbly to what he's saying. I took his points in the spirit and context in which he offered them and greatly appreciate his warning for us always practice humility, patience, longsuffering and have kind and loving attitudes towards those whom we disagree. I need to do a better job on that in my life. Paul said, “”in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Tim. 2:25-26)
But, like I said, overall it was a wonderful day of instruction, fellowship and encouragement to me as a preacher. Dr. Lightfoot has been a tremendous blessing to the kingdom of God and I continue to enjoy his teachings and writing works. I appreciate Oklahoma Christian for the good influence and support they offer the body of Christ and especially ministers.