Acts, chapters 21 & 22

“You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the Law. But they have heard it rumored about you that you have been teaching all the Jews among the nations an apostasy from Moses […].”
~Acts 21:20,21

I can’t quite seem to wrap my head around how the elders in Jerusalem sent Paul into clear and present danger based on rumors.
While they must have had the best intentions when ordering Paul to go into the temple, I cannot imagine modern elders ever asking a member of the congregation to make such a bold statement at the risk of his or her life. (Acts 21:4,11,12)
Their decision is all the more surprising because in a way, the people they were trying to win over were immature Christians who were unwilling to part with Jewish customs. (Acts 21:24,27,28; Rom. 2:28,29)
Paul humbly acceded, willing to make just about any personal sacrifice to settle divisiveness. (1 Cor.9:20)
Rather than crouch away from responsibility, he seized the opportunity to try to ‘legally establish the good news’ not only in Jerusalem, but throughout the Roman empire. (Acts 24:10-22; 25:10-12; Php. 1:7)
Most Christians today will never have to put themselves in life-threatening situations to prove their faith in God’s Word, but from time to time our humility is tested when our elders ask us to do something that does not make sense to us.
We should always try to put the congregation’s peace and unity before personal opinions. (Php. 1:8-10)

Matthew, chapters 18 & 19

“[…] Whatever things you may bind on earth will be things already bound in heaven, and whatever things you may loosen on earth will be things already loosened in heaven.”
~Matthew 18:18

When we are waiting for a decision to be made by our congregation’s body of elders, we can easily lose patience if it affects us personally.
When Jesus was talking about things being bound or loosened, he did it in the context of someone on trial.
When a body of elders holds someone to account for their sins, they need to be careful not to rush into rash judgments based on hurt feelings.
Jesus implied elders’ decisions should be based on principles laid down in heaven, and the same principles should guide them when reinstating someone into the congregation. (2 Cor. 2:6-8)

Deuteronomy, chapters 19-22

“If someone is found slain in a field of the land that Jehovah your God is giving you to possess and it is not known who killed him, […] the elders of that city should lead the young cow down to a valley running with water where no tilling or sowing of seed has been done, and they should break the neck of the young cow there in the valley.”

~Deuteronomy 21:1, 4

To be honest, this passage shook my faith.

Why did the young cow have to suffer punishment if it had nothing to do with the murder?

Under the law, if the community did nothing about the murder, the elders of that community could be held accountable by God as having blood on their hands (De. 21:8; De. 22:8).

The ceremony with the heifer provided a concrete way of demonstrating to everyone in the surrounding areas that the murder had been officially investigated and remained unsolved.

The passage explains:

“Then all the elders of the city who are nearest to the dead body should wash their hands over the young cow whose neck was broken in the valley, and they should declare, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it shed. “‘Do not hold this against your people Israel, whom you redeemed, O Jehovah, and do not let guilt for innocent blood remain among your people Israel.'”Then the bloodguilt will not be held against them.”In this way you will remove the guilt of innocent blood from your midst by doing what is right in Jehovah’s eyes.”(De. 21:6-9)

If the murderer was later identified, he (or she) would still have to die on account of his (or her) actions (Nu. 35:30-33).

After discussing this bygone law with a brother in my congregation, he reminded me that sacrifices under Mosaic Law foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice: that of Christ (Heb. 10:5-10).

And like the innocent heifer whose life was taken as a result of human-spun injustice, so was Christ’s life taken as a result of humanity’s wrongdoings (Heb. 9:12-14).

The principle involved in this law is that human life is precious and its loss needs to be atoned.

We see the modern-day application of this principle when a congregation forms a committee to investigate the cause of death that was a result of one of its member’s actions.

For example, if the death was a result of a traffic accident, was the congregation member speeding? Was he (or she) distracted?

In such a case, the body of elders holds a judicial case in which they may decide to limit the member’s privilege to participate in certain activities (Matt. 18:15, 16; Gal. 6:7; 1 Pet. 3:16; 5:3).

Numbers, chapters 1-3

They [Moses, Aaron and his sons] were responsible for taking care of the sanctuary as their obligation in behalf of the Israelites. Any unauthorized person coming near would be put to death.
~Numbers 3:38

God has assigned responsibilities as he sees fit within the congregation.
Or as Ephesus chapter 4, verse 8 puts it, “he gave gifts in men.”

Isaiah chapter 32 verse 2 describes the role these men play:
[…] Each one will be like a hiding place from the wind,
A place of concealment from the rainstorm,
Like streams of water in a waterless land,
Like the shadow of a massive crag in a parched land.

In order to shepherd the flock and oversee worship, these imperfect men make decisions and arrangements which are not always popular with the entire congregation.

However, as the aforementioned text highlights, when a person encroaches the responsibilities and decision-making power of those whom God has chosen to lead, either by manipulation or physically taking matters into their own hands, God views it as a very serious sin.

We do best to submit to God’s arrangement, cultivating patience and humility, contributing to the congregation’s well-being by demonstrating a cooperative spirit, even when we do not fully understand all the underlying factors or dynamics that affect the congregation’s functioning  (Eph. 4:2,3; Phil. 2:2-4).