Summary: God changes us through our devotion to the apostles’ teaching so that the church can awe and bless the world.
At a previous pastorate, one of our church member applied to teach at the local Christian school. He interviewed for the job and they accepted him. Then they gave him a statement of faith to sign. Much was what you would expect: do you affirm the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, the inspiration of Scripture, etc.? One line, however, caused some head-scratching: “Do you believe in the soon and pre-millennial return of Jesus Christ?” For those of you not up-to-date on the theological jargon of the contemporary church, you need to know that Christians have been anticipating Jesus’ return for…well…since before he left.
After his resurrection, Jesus made a comment to explain that we are not to worry so much about what God is doing in other people’s lives. He said to Peter, “If it is my will that he [John] remain until I come back, what is that to you?” And from that comment a rumor spread that John would not die; in other words, he would remain alive until Jesus’ soon return (John 21.20-23). Additionally, one of the problems in the New Testament church was that a couple of fellows began teaching that Jesus had already returned and those remaining were lost. As you can imagine, this upset the faith of some (2Timothy 2.14-19). And in the 2000 years of the church, this insistence on Jesus’ soon return soon arises often.
Now the apparent delay in the return of Jesus should not make us question its truth nor wonder if God is simply slow. As we heard in the “call to worship” this morning, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promises, but is patient, [giving people time to] reach repentance” (2Peter 3.9).
I tell you that to sensitize you to the frequency with which Christians latch onto simplified answers, rather than engaging in real study of “the apostles’ teaching.” Even the briefest glance at church history (which we might expect from a Christian school) would make us careful about what teachings rise to the same level as the doctrine of the Trinity. Yes, it is true that some false teachers used the idea of a “much distant return of Jesus” to promote a social gospel over and against the Bible’s teaching, but that that does not justify elevating a dubious interpretation of end times to the deity of Christ.
What must grip our hearts and minds, brothers and sisters, is not the slogans which easily separate us from those who challenge our pet theologies. Instead, as was true of the Christians when the church began, we must be “devoted…to the apostles’ teaching.” With that reminder from Acts 2.42 in our minds, let’s read of an application to a church and pastor a few years later, recorded in 2Timothy 4. [Read 2Timothy 4.1-5. Pray.]
[Much of this information was gleaned from Mars Hill Audio Journal, Volume 90.] In 2004, the National Endowment for the Arts produced a report, Reading At Risk. They concluded that “literary reading” (defined as any reading of poetry, drama, short-stories, or fiction which is not required for school or work, in other words, reading for pleasure) — literary reading is decreasing dramatically. Since 1982, young adults (age 18-24) show a rate of decline in reading of 28%, with a decrease of 18% among all adults. Reading is declining among all genders, all races, and all ages, though it is worse in the younger age groups.
There are corresponding effects. For example, the NEA report noted: “Literary reading strongly correlates to other forms of active civic participation. Literary readers are more likely than non-literary readers to perform volunteer and charity work, visit art museums, attend performing arts events, and attend sporting events.” (http://www.nea.gov/pub/ReadingAtRisk.pdf)
This led Dana Gioia, the chairman of the NEA to note: “The data here demonstrate that reading is an irreplaceable activity in developing productive and active adults as well as healthy communities. Whatever the benefits of newer electronic media, they provide no measurable substitute for the intellectual and personal development initiated and sustained by frequent reading…. I worry about a culture that bit-by-bit trades off the challenging pleasures of art for the easy comforts of entertainment.”
In his essay, “The Epistle of van Gogh,” Japanese-American Artist, Makoto Fujimura writes about this tradeoff between reading and visual media: “We are not only reading less, we are reading less well: we are not only reading less well, we are losing our capacity to focus and pay attention to the world around us with empathy…. Vincent [van Gogh] communicated in a foreign tongue with his acute sensitivity, to impress upon the reader what he felt as sacred…. We may, if we [continue to] go down this road, no longer have the capacity to be moved by van Gogh or any other artist: we would not have the patience and longing in our hearts to do so….