Truth and Unity, Part 3: Maintaining Truth Is Not Easy
Editor’s note: This series is taken from a talk given by a Chinese theological teacher and trainer at a conference in Hong Kong in 2014. It has been edited from transcriptions of the original talk. Make sure you check out last week’s first and second post, and the final post on Thursday for the whole series!
What does it mean to maintain the gospel that is already manifested? Maintaining the tension of truth is not easy. The tension of maintaining truth, the absolute core, is a question of whether we can we persevere to the end.
Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem to keep the Passover to the LORD, the God of Israel. For the king and his princes and all the assembly in Jerusalem had taken counsel to keep the Passover in the second month for they could not keep it at that time because the priests had not consecrated themselves in sufficient number, nor had the people assembled in Jerusalem and the plan seemed right to the king and all the assembly. (2 Chronicles 30:1-4)
In these verses, the message of maintaining truth led the king and the leaders to observe Passover. In other words, the king ordered the revelations of Moses to be implemented through the Passover observance and sacrifices. For the whole kingdom to receive the holy sacrament they would have to go to Jerusalem's temple; and at the time, if they did not go to the temple in Jerusalem, then their worship would be divided.
When King David built his kingdom, this festival had to be observed in the holy city, a requirement of the temple. From Moses until David, hundreds of thousands of bulls and lambs were slaughtered. This God is really cruel, right? But if you read Leviticus, you will discover that after almost every sacrifice, there was a very important and compassionate sentence. It says, “And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven.” In other words, through the whole sacrificial system as thousands upon ten thousands of animals were slaughtered, behind all this sacrificial death, the heinous sin of man was revealed and the holiness of God, the mercy and kindness of God, were revealed. Your sins will be forgiven.
Hebrews asks, when Jesus Christ comes, what happens to the sacrifices? We understand that Jesus Christ was killed at Passover. The image of the slaughtered lamb is completely reversed. The Lion of David is on the throne. On the throne of Hezekiah, the Messiah issues a royal decree. We read in Luke 24, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” The end of temple worship has already started – our gathering today is the end of temple worship, because of what Jesus Christ accomplished two thousand years ago. The spotless Passover Lamb of God without blemish was made real, blotting out man's sin. So today, we are partaking in this truth that Christ has already accomplished. We can come before the sacrificial table of the Sovereign King, remember his death, look forward to his coming again, together with the Holy Spirit and our Lord. Our spirits are nourished, the stains of sin are cleansed, and we proclaim that only the precious blood of Jesus Christ can make us clean. Holy worship's purpose is to prepare us to honor God, who became the living sacrifice, as the greatest.
If the faithful God wants truth, that is probably easily attainable. But for this to actually happen, how do we do it? We have looked at the future mercy of Israel just now, and Chronicles tells us that there weren't enough priests for the Passover, so they were flexible and delayed the observance. At first, this started as going against authority and the situation wasn't easy. It’s almost as if we changed Sunday worship to Saturday or Monday. Although the reason seemed clear, two hundred and fifty years had passed since they last observed Passover in the temple. From King Solomon to the division of the kingdoms they hadn't observed Passover. Are they going to resume observing Passover or will they let it evolve [for the sake of unity]? They must maintain truth and observe it, right? But how?
In Numbers 9 it says that because a few people moved dead bodies, they could not observe Passover on that day, so they were extremely frustrated and ran to speak with Moses and Aaron. Why can't we offer sacrifices? We want to offer sacrifices. Moses wasn't clear on how to respond at first, so he went to ask God. What did God say? If any one of you or of your descendants is unclean through touching a dead body, or is on a long journey, he shall still keep the Passover to the Lord. In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight they shall keep it. In other words, there was already an example in scripture for Hezekiah and the leaders. Clean people should give their offering immediately; unclean people need to wait a month. The entire people group should not delay the offering. So they had to address this issue of how to respond to this absolute truth and conundrum.
Both Judah and Israel were in the process of returning and the author of Chronicles was encouraging them – let them hear that there are blessings for returning. What actually happened is important. Because Judah was cleaner, they had to decide if they would act according to what was required or if they would wait for the others? To let both kingdoms come together to observe the festival was important. Do they strictly observe the first month on the fourteenth day to worship or do they wait to celebrate together in the second month on the fourteenth day? God is great and is wise, and he gives us leaders. This is why Proverbs was given after Leviticus so that leaders have a guide to let them know how to enter God's kingdom through the right path. In verses 2 and 5, it says, “For the king and his princes and all the assembly thought this plan seemed right to them.” So they changed Passover, added flexibility, changing the time to observe it.
There are truths Christians cannot compromise. For example, the Trinity, the infallibility of scripture, that Jesus Christ is the only judge and savior, Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, and second coming. And according to the house churches, there is one more issue. It is that Jesus is the head of the church. These are the core of faith; it is done, we cannot compromise. To do so would be to forsake him, or to distort the core truth.
But there are some truths that are viewed differently in different churches. For example, when did the kingdom come? Pre-millennium, post-millennium, or it hasn't come yet? Another example – should baptism be conducted by sprinkling water or full immersion?
At this time, it is less important to search for truth; instead, we need to gain unity with each other. And we need to be okay with minor differences. We must be genuinely humble. We must take courage in the gospel and be humble. I hope this is our prayer for the Chinese house church, when we start to think about our movement, when we start to say that the core of the gospel comes from long-held practices. Regardless of survival, the power of ideology is still the motivating factor. We can't lose our sight of the gospel. The focus of the gospel is no different when we enter the city, or the mountains, or go abroad, or any place. When we are doing compassionate work, there is one focus. The gospel cannot be lost, it can't be changed. Then and only then can we begin to talk about secondary issues, as long as everything is done in love. Amen.