THE COMPLEX BECAME SIMPLE
REMOVING THE VARNISH SERIES
We human beings have the uncanny ability to take anything that is simple and
make it complex. How many times have you said, "It used to be so simple. Why have
they made it so complicated?" Or, "In the past, I could make sense of out this. Why is it
so confusing now?"
It is income tax season. Many of us are experiencing the "thrill" of filing income
tax forms. Every few years we are informed that the process is being simplified. How
often has a simplification made it easier for you to file your taxes? How often has the
simplification made your taxes more understandable? Generally, do you not find that
the harder we try to understand the more confusing it becomes?
As a general rule, we need to follow this principle: "If it is simple, if it works well,
leave it alone." In any endeavor, in any area of life, in any consideration, too often our
attempts to simplify just create complexity and confusion.
- From the moment sin entered this creation, God had a single objective: to
reconcile the people to Himself.
- Creating that reconciliation, making reconciliation reality was a slow, long process
that involved many necessary steps.
- In a very condensed manner, we can state the process in this way:
- First, God had to find a man who would place his trust and confidence in God
and God's promises.
- That man was Abraham.
- But it took a long time for God to find an Abraham.
- Second, God had to build a nation from the descendants of that man.
- That nation was Israel; Israelites are the descendants of Abraham.
- God hoped that this nation of descendants would learn to trust God just as
the man did.
- Unfortunately, they did not learn to trust God as did Abraham, and God
spent centuries working with these people trying to bring them to that trust.
- Third, God would allow His Son to be born as a human being in that nation.
- That Son was Jesus, who was born as an Israelite in the nation of Israel.
- God's basic objective in His relationship with Abraham and in His centuries
of work with the nation of Israel was to bring Jesus to earth.
- In his earthly life, Jesus had specific objectives that were designated by God.
- In his earthly ministry:
- He was to verify his identity through his teaching, his power, and his
- He was to surrender his life in a sacrificial death.
- He was to be raised from the dead through the power of God.
- Jesus understood those divine objectives and surrendered himself and his
life to them.
- Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God created the perfect opportunity
for reconciliation and the perfect means of reconciliation.
- All who place faith in Jesus, repent of their evil, and surrender self and life to
Christ will be reconciled to God.
- Universally, people could be reunited with God as God's children.
- The redeemed person's reconciliation and life would be based on the simple.
- Please think about the contrast between God's work through the nation of
Israel and God's work through Christians, the body of Christ, the church.
- God's work in Israel was complex.
- It was an exclusive work restricted to just one nation.
- Because the nation was formed of people who did not know God, God had to
gain control of these people.
- The nation was rigidly structured--divided into tribes who were located in
specific geographical areas with tribal boundaries.
- Their public worship was complex.
- It was ritualized sacrifice (the right sacrifice had to be offered at the right
time in the right place with the right ritual).
- It could be offered only by the priests, and only the descendants of Aaron
could be priests.
- It had to be offered at one geographical site in the nation of Israel, and
only within the nation of Israel.
- To reveal how important that was, remember that all sacrificial worship
ceased when Israel went into captivity.
- There was no public sacrificial worship in Babylon.
- The priests could not function in their public worship roles.
- In Israel, public worship was highly ceremonial with specific procedures,
specific priestly garments, specific furnishings, and performed at specific
- Please thoughtfully consider this.
- I want to use two illustrations: the first is the most important holy day in Israel,
the Passover worship.
- The Passover was instituted and observed immediately before Israel left
Egypt (Exodus 12). Listen to the detailed, specific instructions.
- Each family was to acquire a lamb on the 10th of a specific month.
- The lamb was to be sacrificed on the 14th day of that month.
- The age of the lamb was specified.
- They were told what to do with the blood.
- They were told how to cook and eat the lamb.
- They were told what to eat with the lamb.
- They were told what to do with the leftovers.
- They were told not to eat yeast for the next seven days.
- Deuteronomy 16:1-8 gave these additional instructions.
- All lambs were to be sacrificed at one site.
- All the families of Israel were to cook and eat their lamb at that site.
- Numbers 9:1-14 declared:
- Who could eat the lamb.
- The consequences for an Israelite if he did not eat the Passover.
- The day of atonement was the second holiest day in Israel, and Leviticus 16
gives the worship instructions for that day. Read that chapter and you will
- Detailed procedures.
- Specific ways on how to dress the high priest and specific instructions on
what he was to wear.
- The precise order of the sacrifices and the procedure for sacrifices.
- The use of the tabernacle (later the temple).
- The specific offerings to be given.
- You see detail upon detail, and at one point it declared that the high priest
would die if he did not do exactly what he was supposed to do.
- In both these examples, the instructions are specific, detailed, and
complex--and those occasions could be duplicated today because we are told
exactly what to do and what procedure to follow.
- God's work in the body of Christ, the church, is as simple as His work in the
nation of Israel was complex.
- Through Christ, God reaches out to the whole world, not to a single nation.
- There are no approved geographic regions, no tribal boundaries, no tribal
- There is no specified or approved site for worship--the place for public
worship is not restricted.
- In public worship:
- There are no ritual procedures.
- There are no designated ceremonies.
- There are no prescribed formats or methods.
- There is no designated group of individuals to preside.
- There are no models to follow, no detailed instructions imposed.
- There are no holy days and no commemorative dates.
- It is appropriate to compare our observance of the Lord's Supper with Israel's
observance of Passover.
- In the Lord's Supper we remember the death of Jesus, which marked the
beginning of our deliverance from evil.
- In the Passover, Israel remembered their deliverance from Egyptian slavery; it
marked the night that their slavery ended.
- Contrast our Lord's Supper observance with their Passover observance.
- We use bread and grape juice; they used an entire meal.
- We were given no instructions on how to prepare the bread and wine; they
were told how to cook the meal.
- We are not told "how" to eat the Lord's Supper; they were told "how" to eat
the Passover meal.
- Nothing is said to us about leftovers; they were told what to do with the
- We are not restricted to a place; they were restricted to a place.
- We are told to remember Christ; they were given ritual ceremonies to
- It is also appropriate to contrast our baptism with their day of atonement.
- When we are baptized, our sins are destroyed, permanently removed.
- On the day of atonement, their sins were temporarily removed for one year.
- Examine the contrast between baptism and the day of atonement.
- We were given no instructions about who should perform baptisms.
- Their high priest, with detailed instructions, was placed in charge and was
governed by those specific instructions.
- We were not told how to proceed with a baptism (we were given no
ceremony, no ritual, no procedure); baptism is a simple burial in water.
- They were governed by detailed ritual and ceremony.
- We are told nothing about what the baptized person should wear.
- The priests had specific instructions about what to wear.
- We offer no sacrifices.
- They had specific sacrifices to offer in prescribed procedures.
- Baptism is not "place dependent" or "time dependent."
- They had to celebrate the day of atonement at one place on a specific day.
- The contrast is astounding: you cannot miss it--it is the complexity in Israel
versus the simplicity in Christianity.
- Please do some more thinking.
- In the Old Testament:
- We can give many details about what happened at Passover.
- We can give many details about what happened on the day of atonement.
- We can give many details about various occasions of sacrificial worship.
- We know all kinds of laws governing the procedures given for Israel.
- But in the New Testament:
- We are told nothing about "how" they immersed a person in water; the
emphasis is on the fact that it was done, not on how it was done.
- We are told nothing about "how" they took the Lord's Supper.
- No account of proper observance of communion is recorded.
- No scripture is written to give us instructions.
- We are told nothing about how they conducted their worship assemblies.
- We do not have a single detailed account of their worship assemblies.
- No scripture tells us, "This is how you have a proper public worship."
- There is nothing specific to turn into a ritual, ceremony, or procedure.
- There is nothing but silence about those matters.
- The laws of Israel were intended for one people, one very small nation;
Christianity is intended for all people in all nations in all cultures in all societies.
- Christianity, by design, is so, so simple.
- Christians in public worship:
- Sang songs they understood that praised God and honored Christ.
- They observed the Lord's Supper, in a very simple way.
- They learned.
- They praised God and Christ.
- They prayed.
- What they did could be done simply at any place.
- Christians learned how to live.
- They learned how to treat each other.
- They learned how to be kind and helpful to those who were not
- They learned how to treat their families.
- They learned how to treat their fellow man.
- They learned how to be moral and act with integrity.
- They learned how to conduct business ethically.
- While doing these things is not simple, understanding what they did is
- A person approaches us saying, "I want to be a Christian, just a Christian.
What must I do?"
- First, we sincerely tell the person that is wonderful.
- Second, we tell the person all that he or she needs to do is what the Bible
- Then, we help the person build faith in Jesus, we help the person
understand repentance, and on the basis of his or her faith and
repentance, we baptize him or her into Christ--being very careful to show
the person how plainly the Bible teaches what to do.
- The person then asks, "Am I a Christian?" and we assure them, "Yes!
You are a Christian!"
- Then the person begins trying to learn how we as a church do things, and
quickly senses that it is not only important to do what scripture says, but that it
is also important that he or she learns to do it exactly like we want it done.
- And that is not simple; in fact, that is confusing.
- When he or she asks why we do many of the things we do, he or she may
be told, "This is the way faithful people do it."
- Quickly, it becomes anything but simple.
- It is too easy to use the silence of the New Testament to create an unwritten
creed that we use to measure faithfulness.
- Look at all the rules we have about worship that come from the silence of
- Look at all the rules we have about the autonomy of the church that come
from the silence of scripture.
- Look at all the rules we have about leadership in the church that come from
the silence of scripture.
- Look at all the rules about organization that come from the silence of the
My point is not that all rules are evil and bad. My point is that we make a terrible
mistake when we become so devoted to rules taken from silence that we destroy the
simplicity of Christianity. When we take what God made simple and make it complex,
we do not improve it.
Our rules, reasoned from the silence of scripture, paint a heavy coat of varnish on
the church and hide the beauty of its God-given simplicity.
How do we remove the varnish? By each one of us catching ourselves in the act
when we do that. By each of us refusing to measure faithfulness by rules that come
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
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Evening Sermon, 23 March 1997
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