Model City, Model Love
1 Timothy 1:3-4
One of the things that happens when you live in a town is that you often fail to really get to experience what the town has to offer. When Trista and I lived in Franklin we only went to Nashville when company came over and wanted to go down to music row. If friends had not come by our house in Flowery Branch and wanted to see Underground Atlanta and the Coke Museum I doubt we would have even made the trip. When you live in a town, you get so busy doing daily life that you never take the opportunity to know where you are living.
I would venture to say that a majority of our gathering this morning have lived in this county for all or most of their lives. But I wonder if you have ever taken the time to get to know the history and beauty of our community. The city of Anniston has a remarkable story; in 1851 Samuel Noble and Daniel Tyler, set out to develop an industrial and conservative Christian community 60 miles east of Birmingham. Using the iron resources as the cornerstone, they built a successful town around a utopian mind-set in an area struggling to recover from the devastating effects of the Civil War.
Henry W. Grady first called Anniston "The Model City” based on the fact that the city’s founders carefully planned every aspect of the city from how the streets were laid out in a perfect checkerboard fashion, to the carefully planned parks, worker housing, company store, churches, all the way down to the types of oak trees that would be planted along Quintard Avenue. In their effort to foster this idealized company town, they even hand selected residents.
By the early twentieth century Anniston had outgrown the original design and became an important area of economic growth in the state. During World War 1 and 2 the area became home to Fort McClellan and the Army Depot. The city grew and the new social life and economic status brought in thousands of new residents.
But not everything was gumdrops, lollipops, unicorns, and rainbows. In the 50 years following World War 2 the city found itself on the wrong side of the civil rights movement. There was environmental contamination from the Swann Chemical Company which placed the city on the 2002 list of the most toxic cities in the country. Then the closing of Fort McClellan contributed to economic decline. According to a 2016 FBI report, Anniston is the most violent city in Alabama per capita, you have a 1 in 8 chance of being a victim of a crime, 1 in 13 chance of violent crime. What started out as a model city seems to have lost her way.
It’s not just people living in cities that fail to experience the history and purpose of their surroundings, unfortunately it happens in all types of communities, even communities of faith. The original community of faith that started with 120, added 3,000 and then 5,000, and grew into a multitude. After the book of Acts, history tells us that each of the apostles were martyred, with the exception of John. Then men like Ignatius, Polycarp, and Justin Martyr continued the work and teaching of the church. As the church grew it continued to be a source of problem for the Roman Empire who tried to snuff out the movement. When early believers dedicated their lives to Christ, they were accepting a life of pain, torture, and often times death. But the church continued to grow and Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
The church grew, and it followed the pattern we find in the book of Acts. While the apostles were alive they wrote individual letters to churches that were passed around, after they died other church leaders would continue that practice. Evangelists would travel from city to city and pass along teachings by word of mouth, but no one owned a bible. So the Early Church fathers introduced a tract in 390 A.D.; basically a written summary of what the church believed was of the upmost importance and it was called the Apostles Creed. It was not written by the apostles, rather a record of what the apostles taught. Everything found in the Apostles creed is an account of something that Jesus did, or something that Jesus taught, or something that happened to Jesus. The Apostles' Creed:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; He descended to the dead. On the third day He rose again; He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
For the first 300 years or so the church was largely unchanged, but all of that changed in the 4th century. The the Church went from being public enemy number one, to being tolerated, to becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. Before you get all excited, let me remind you that Jesus was not political, and the early church existed and thrived in the face of political opposition. But once the church became political, then it was used as a tool to prop up leaders and ideas. In the span of 100 years the church that was persecuted, became the church that lead the persecution. Its motives made sense, someone needed to combat heresy, false religion and evil forces. But what started out as a model community of believers lost her way.
Over the next 1,000 years the church would continue to change and drift farther and farther from her original purpose. There were 9 Crusades, or Holy Wars, intended to win Jerusalem back for the church. But there was an awful lot of killing and pillaging done in the name of Christ. The church began to sell indulgences, which was basically a license to sin, as a way to pay for their beautiful cathedrals. Since Christianity was the official religion Popes took over the leadership of the church and the worlds government.
History continued to advance and Martin Luther, a young priest, was struggling to make the scriptures line up with the church. On October 31, 1517 he nailed a thesis of 95 errors he found in the church to the door of his church in Wittenberg, Germany. This began what we would later call the great reformation.
Then in the fist part of the 19th Century Thomas Campbell, an Irish Presbyterian preacher, and his son, Alexander Campbell started preaching a call to get back to the church found in scripture. They were joined by men like Barton W. Stone, and Raccoon John Smith who ushered in a Second Great Awakening. In 1801 these man held a revival in Cane Ridge, Kentucky where 20,000 people heard the call to get back to the Bible and restore New Testament ideals.
This Second Great Awakening, was also called the restoration movement. It was a movement built on unity, and love. This is the movement that birthed the Church of Christ, The Christian Church and The Disciples of Christ. One of the defining principles of this unity movement is that we would have "No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no law but love, no name but the divine.” Which sounds great, sounds like we are getting back on track and once again striving to be what we were created to be. But, let’s be totally honest here, how well have we bought into that thought. this morning there are 289 different churches in Calhoun County and 24 different Churches of Christ. And while there are an awful lot of similarities among us, for folks who have no creed but Christ we have lots of things that divide us.
Let me unwrap that a bit: We have no creed but Christ, right? When we first accepted your invitation to come and serve this community with you I had a very dear friend, whom I believe loves and cares about me deeply, ask me if I was sure you were a real church. I knew what they were asking, they wanted to know if you followed what they considered to be the rules of a faithful church. We would tell folks that we have no creed but Christ we definitely have 5 steps to salvation: Hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized. I was taught that as a young boy in my Sunday School class, because people who loved me wanted to be sure I knew what I had to know in order to get to heaven.
These were the same people who taught me the 5 acts of Worship: Sing, pray, communion, tithe, and teaching. As I grew up, I was introduced to the version of the bible that was authorized, told that I had to wear a coat and tie because we need to give God our best, and that mixed bathing, dancing, and playing cards were sinful, or at least put me on a slippery slope. This was not just one church or one group of people, but dozens of people who loved me and wanted to make sure that I was doing what God wanted me to do. I am sure you have heard the same things.
I want to suggest, and I want you to hear what I’m saying, that maybe what started out as a model church built on love and unity has lost her way. Look with me in 1 Timothy 1 starting in verse 8. I want you to notice something here; You and I know the law is good (if used in the right way), and we also know the law was not designed for law-abiding people but for lawbreakers and criminals, the ungodly and sin-filled, the unholy and worldly, the father killers and mother killers, the murderers, the sexually immoral and homosexuals, slave dealers, liars, perjurers, and anyone else who acts against the sound doctrine laid out in the glorious, holy, and pure good news of the blessed God that has been entrusted to me.
Here in this text Paul is giving Timothy some introductory reminders about the law. But I want to draw your attention to verse 10. Paul concludes this list of sins by saying; and anyone else who acts against the sound doctrine. What doctrine is he talking about? Remember people didn’t have copies of the New Testament that they could carry around in their pockets. They were Christians, so they were not living under the old law. So what sound doctrine was Paul talking about? What was the doctrine of the early church? And is it the same doctrine that we are supposed to have today?
Well in order to figure that out we need to go back to Jesus. Turn with me and let’s look at Luke 10 starting in verse 25. On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
Here is an expert in the law, a guy who makes his living studying and interpreting the law. And he wants to know what is the basic truth, what is sound doctrine. Jesus knew who he was, so He asks the expert in the law, what do you think? how would you interpret what is written in the law. The man responded with the teaching of the Rabbi’s, who 200 years earlier had combined Deuteronomy 6:5, The Shema, and Leviticus 19:18, the brother mandate. All of the Torah, all of the law of God and the prophets were summed up in these two laws. Jesus responded that the man was correct, the greek word here is ?ρθ?ς (ortho??s), it’s the word we use to get orthodoxy. Jesus says the man answered with the correct belief, or with Sound Doctrine.
If we are interested in being a Model Church in The Model City we have to get back to Sound Doctrine. Look with me one more time at the Apostles Creed. Everything here is right, I agree with everything on this list. I believe in God, I believe He created everything. I believe in Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. I believe that He was crucified, died, and on the third day He rose again. I believe in the Holy Spirit, communion and forgiveness. But did you notice that love, what Jesus calls Sound Doctrine, is not included not found anywhere in this creed?
What about the five steps of salvation and the five acts of Worship? I believe that we need to come to faith and express that faith through baptism. I believe that we need to worship God in Spirit and Truth, but where is the Sound Doctrine of love found in these lists?
I know you are going to tell me, Jeremy the Sound Doctrine of love is implied in these things. Well I have been married to Trista for 23 years this coming June and never once has she been okay with me implying my love for her. For love to be love it has to be expressed and articulated or it isn’t love.
Another issue is that we tend to only do what is written down, and we do the bear minimum. How do you know that you are saved? Well I did the five steps, I heard, believed, repented, confessed, and was baptized. When I was in college someone told me there was a sixth step, and that was to live faithfully. But that never caught on because how do you quantify living a faithful life? I mean I show up on most Sunday’s and keep my nose relatively clean so I must be faithful right? What we end up doing is trading Sound Doctrine for a check list.
I want Greenbrier to be a Model Church in a Model City. Your Shepherds and I have every intention of the Greenbrier Church getting back to Sound Doctrine. Over the next few weeks we are going to set up our creed, am I am going to write it down because this is going to be our bear minimum. And if you want to be a part of this community of faith, this is what it looks like:
All members of the Greenbrier Church of Christ agree that
I believe God is love 1 John 4:8
I believe God so loved the world that He sent His only, unique, Son John 3:16
I believe God loves me: powerless, ungodly, sinner Romans 5:8
I believe the greatest command is to love God with all I am Mathew 22:37
I believe I am to love my neighbor as myself Mark 12:31
I believe I must love my enemies Matthew 5:44
I believe if I claim to love God but do not love others I am a liar 1 John 4:20
I believe that when I see my brother in need I must help them 1 John 3:17 *
I know that some of you are looking at this list and you want to say but what about baptism, what about correct worship, what about ….. Let me help you out here. I am a big believer in the necessity of baptism but one of the struggles we have had for far to long is that we have done everything we could to take love out of the conversation. We have gotten so wrapped up in measurables and check lists that we have forgotten that we were created, saved, and called to love. And because we have forgotten what it means to love we have forgotten our mission and lost our identity. And instead of being a unity movement based on love, we have become just another civic organization.
On the first Sunday in 2018 I want to be completely honest with you: the church is in crisis. It’s not just Greenbrier, or churches of Christ, or restoration movement churches. If you were to go to google and search why isn’t the church growing, in a matter of 2 seconds you would find over 45 million hits that would give you over a billion reasons such as, you don’t pray enough, or you are in conflict, or you need a cool preacher and a cool worship space. And I think all of that’s pablum. You can have prayer meetings 7 days a week, a hip preacher that meets in an area with a starbucks, and offers yoga classes but if you have forgotten about the sound doctrine of love you are not a church. If you know the five steps of salvation and the five acts of worship and you have forgotten about the sound doctrine of love you are not a church.
I can preach great sermons, Phillip can orchestrate phenomenal times of worship, Ryan can do an incredible job with our teens, our small groups can be entertaining and insightful, but Greenbrier is not going to grow until we get back to the sound doctrine of love. You see the only thing that matters is how we, you, buy into the idea that we are called to love everyone. We are called to love white people, black people, hispanic people, asian people, men, women, gender confused, straight, homosexual, upper class, middle class, lower class, educated, ignorant, democrat, republican, third party, and anyone else I might have missed. Because the call to love God and love our neighbor strips away anything we use to divide us, because everyone is welcome at Christ’s table. All you have to do is be willing to humble yourself, bend your knee, and come.
* Don Mclaughlin suggested this creed at United Voice Worship Confrence 2017