Well there's no doubt that the United States of America is "united" in name only.
In 2000, George W. Bush narrowly beat Al Gore to become US president,
and this despite the fact that more people voted for Gore than Bush.
In 2004, George Bush's victory against Democrat John Kerry was also a close one,
although this time more people voted for Bush than his challenger.
The major difference between these last two elections,
and the many elections before them,
is that the differences in opinion and belief reflected in these results are quite stark.
America is divided,
and the division is a very serious one.
George Bush is loved and hated with great passion amongst Americans.
While all presidents have been loved and hated by their people, George W. Bush is perhaps the most loved president in history, and the most hated president in history.
Any form of leadership that acts decisively will always lead to problems.
There will be those who love them
and those that hate them.
Unfortunately, the right decision is not always apparent for years to come.
Certainly this period of history we live in now will be examined and argued about in the future,
and the actions of George Bush will finally be proved right or wrong.
Decisive leaders have appeared all throughout history.
On the one hand there are people like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy.
But on the other there are leaders like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao Tse Tung.
When it comes to the church, a similar problem arises.
Who are leaders in the church that we should follow?
Think about the leaders throughout history.
Billy Graham, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Stott, Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
All these people were Christian leaders.
Ultimately, all the Christian leaders we respect
- from the greatest to the least
- are subject to a greater form of leadership.
It might please you to know that I am certainly not advocating the idea of a church dictatorship,
as though John Seaton, or even the church's session,
were some divinely appointed Abraham Lincoln to lead the church unquestioningly.
In the Nicene Creed we confess that we believe in "One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church".
Holy - meaning set apart by God.
Catholic - meaning universal.
Apostolic - meaning, what?
What is an Apostolic church?
The fact is that the church of Jesus Christ started with the gospel being preached by the Apostles.
Once Jesus left this earth to be with his Father, the mission of the church was handed to those who followed him.
These Apostles continued Jesus' ministry on earth
- they healed the sick and in some cases the dead were raised.
But the most important thing they did was to explain the message of Christ and the message of the Cross.
It was upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets that God built the church.
Well the first thing we're going to do this morning is to examine the text of 3 John.
I'll go through the basic structure of the letter and explain all the important points.
The second thing we'll be doing is applying the knowledge that we've learnt.
Examining 3 John.
Let's start by examining the text.
Remember that the apostle wrote 1 John to counter strange and heretical teaching within the church.
1 John was a circular letter addressed to a whole bunch of churches that were having problems with these false teachers.
These false teachers were going from church to church, preaching a message that was so substantially different to that preached by the Apostles
that John warned against listening to them and even letting them into their homes.
It was in this context that the letters of 2 and 3 John were written.
2 John, which we looked at before, was addressed to a specific church.
At Christmas time Anna and I quite often get Christmas Cards from friends we haven't seen in a while.
In these cards there is usually some general letter that they have sent to everybody
- the letter explaining how their year has been and so on.
There is also a personal message to us in the letter,
saying hello and so on.
It is possible that the letter of 2 John was like this.
When the church in 2 John received its mail from the Apostle John,
it would have contained the general and detailed letter we find in 1 John,
along with the more specific letter given to the church that is mentioned in 2 John.
It is also possible that John did this to every church he sent 1 John to.
But the letter here in 3 John was not sent to a church,
but to an individual.
Let me read to you verses 1-4
The Elder, To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth. Dear friend I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth,
So the letter is addressed to a church member by the name of Gaius.
It was not addressed to his church,
and it is also very likely that Gaius wasn't even the minister.
This will become clearer later.
John begins the letter in a manner typical of letters at the time
- beginning with a sentence that praises their good character.
Obviously John sees Gaius as being a mature and strong Christian.
John says that he is faithful to the truth of Christianity,
in both word and deed.
Here was a Christian man who knew the faith
and lived the faith.
John then points out that people like Gaius give him great joy.
The Apostle John is greatly encouraged by men like Gaius who walk in the truth.
Let's continue with verses 5-8:
Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.
So what is John talking about here?
In ancient times many letters were not sent by some Australia Post-like organisation.
A lot of letters were delivered by individuals and this letter
- 3 John - was likely delivered by a number of John's followers.
It is these followers who are mentioned in verses 5-8:
John calls them "Brothers".
We need to remember also the ancient practice of hospitality.
In the ancient world, people who travelled from place to place could stay at a hotel,
but these were disreputable places and it was preferable for travellers to spend the night
- or even an extended period of time
- at the homes of individuals and families.
In many cases the travellers may not even be personally known to the families they stay with.
In order to cope with this,
an elaborate system of mutual respect and word-of-mouth advertising was used
to ensure that various communities could trust one another with their travellers.
So what we have here is a group of travelling evangelists and teachers
that were sent out by the Apostle John and his community.
As part of their travelling, they knocked on the door of Gaius
- a man they had not met before but a man that the Apostle respected.
When Gaius came to the door and saw these unfamiliar people face to face,
they would have explained to him that they had been sent by John,
and in the process they would have given him the letter we are looking at today.
What verse 5-8 tell us is that these travelling teachers are trusted by the Apostle John.
They have been sent out to do the work of God.
In verse 7 it says that they have received no help from the pagans
- which essentially means that they relied entirely upon the hospitality of Christians,
and had behaved themselves so well that they did not need to rely upon the help of unbelievers.
Verse 8 is essentially John saying to Gaius that he should put them up for a while in his house.
What about verses 9-12? These verses are probably the most important in this short letter.
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone - and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know our testimony is true.
What these verses indicate is that the church that Gaius was a member of was having very difficult internal politics.
It appears that a man named Diotrephes was throwing his weight around the church.
John says that "He loves to be first",
which indicates that Diotrephes was a central figure in the church's life.
It is likely that, if the church had a minister,
that Diotrephes was likely to be that minister.
The problem, however, is not so much Diotrephes' position of influence,
but the fact that he rejects the authority of the Apostle John.
John says that he will have nothing to do with him.
Moreover, it appears as though Diotrephes was speaking lies about the Apostle.
It is also apparent that the difference in opinion was so sharp that Diotrephes refused to welcome anyone that John had sent.
To refuse to be hospitable was a serious slap in the face in the ancient world.
It indicated a rejection of the people and the community that they represented.
By refusing to welcome John's people, Diotrephes was actively insulting the Apostle John.
John also points out that Diotrephes used his power within the church to expel those who had accepted these people.
Diotrephes had rejected them,
and he acted to reject those in the church who chose to accept them.
This was a church that was being torn apart by internal strife.
In verse 11, John cautions Gaius to imitate what is good and to reject evil.
In other words, he was telling Gaius not to side with Diotrephes.
In verse 12 John mentions a person named Demetrius.
It's likely that Demetrius was one of those people who had been sent out by John and was staying at Gaius' house
- perhaps the group's leader.
Instead of listening to Diotrephes, says John,
listen to Demetrius
- he's a good bloke and a great Christian.
John finishes off the short letter in typical fashion in verse 13-14.
Notice that John prefers personal contact over letters.
Although John's letter writing was important,
he knew instinctively that ministry involves being with people and talking to them personally.
Application of the text
Well that's how the letter all fits together. What does it have to say to us today?
One of the great problems in the Christian church today is that it is not unified
- that is, there are many churches but they are all doing different things.
In one respect, that is a shame.
But what is the reason why so many churches do different things?
Let me highlight some of the differences we have today.
If we were in a Roman Catholic church, we would be celebrating the eucharist - the Lord's supper- virtually every week.
We Pressies get it four times a year,
the Catholics get it four times a month.
Why is that?
Well, it is because the Roman Catholic church has given a very high position to the eucharist in the life of the church.
I have heard some Catholic theologians arguing that the church cannot exist without the celebration of the eucharist,
and that when the eucharist is celebrated,
there you have the church.
Charismatics and Pentecostals have a much different flavour to their church services.
You have modern music, guitars and drums.
People raise their hands during worship and often close their eyes.
They do this as an emotional response to what they believe is God's special presence during the worship service.
Other churches, including the Uniting Church and the many Anglicans here in Newcastle,
see church as being an expression of justice.
Therefore church is not necessarily the Sunday meeting,
but also the work that the minister and church members do in caring for the poor and the needy, along with the minorities.
As you know, in the last few years Newcastle has become the home of around 500 Sudanese refugees.
You may have wondered who all those African people are you see walking around.
Many of these refugees have been sponsored by church groups and have come here
because these people consider such work as vital in the life of the church.
Now you know that I'm not backward in coming forward about what I see as wrong,
and I like to name names and so on.
I won't be doing that now because I want to focus more upon the basic assumptions that people make.
After all, how do we KNOW what we should be doing as Christians when we gather together for worship?
How do we KNOW what to believe as Christians?
How do we KNOW the proper way to live?
The obvious answer to this is that it is God who tells us.
But it is not enough to start there.
We have to work out HOW it is that God tells us.
And the answer to that is clearly shown here in 3 John.
How do we know what is true and how to live?
How does God tell that to us?
It is through the ministry of the Apostles.
The problem with Diotrephes was that he had rejected John's authority as an apostle.
It is possible that Diotrephes had been influenced by the false teaching that Apostle condemns in 1 John.
In order to combat this false teaching,
the Apostle had written 1 John and sent it around a whole bunch of churches.
As well, it also appears that John had sent a team of travelling preachers and teachers to reinforce his message.
But in verse 9 it says "I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us."
This letter that Diotrephes had rejected could have been the 1 John letter.
Whatever the letter was , the fact is that this church leader had rejected John's teachings.
And we see that again in verse 10.
Diotrephes spread lies about John
to undermine John's influence among the people in the church.
He also refused to welcome John's travelling teachers,
he refused to welcome them and by doing so insults John's position even more.
And then to strengthen his own power in the church,
he forces out people who are supportive of John and the travelling teachers that John had sent.
We need to understand that when a person chooses to reject the teaching and authority of the Apostles,
they are choosing to reject the authority of God.
How is this occurring within our church today?
How is the modern church refusing to listen to Apostolic teaching?
We need to remember that the position of Apostle is unique in Christian history.
The Apostles were those who existed and ministered in the first generation of the church.
After they died, there were no more Apostles.
Many churches, including the Roman Catholic Church and many parts of the Anglican church, do believe that Apostolic authority continues today.
Bishops, Cardinals and Popes are seen to have supreme god-given authority,
and that it is the church's duty to respond to their leadership.
That's why you will see Bishops carrying shepherd's crooks - they see their position as shepherds guiding the sheep of the church.
Another group that sees Apostleship continuing today are many within the Charismatic or Pentecostal church.
In recent times, a teaching has arisen that states that God will bring back Apostles to the church,
and that these Apostles will have as much authority as those in the first century.
This helps to explain why so many Charismatic churches have a growing culture of obedience to their leaders,
regardless of whether they think they're doing the right thing or not.
And God help those who disagree
- I have read many stories of ex-charismatics who have left their churches because they dared to question the wisdom of their leaders.
Certainly one Christian school I have taught at has this attitude
- where any dissent against the Principal is seen to be disloyal and unchristian.
The fact is that Apostles lasted for one generation and one generation only.
By the time of their death their work had been done.
We have a record of their work
- it is the New Testament.
Every time we read and study and apply what we see in the New Testament
we submit to the God-given rule of the first-century Apostles.
And of course whenever we study the Old Testament,
we read it in light of the New Testament.
This means that Apostolic authority is found only in the pages of the Bible.
It is not found in the position of a bishop or pope.
It is not found in the position of the minister.
It is not found in the session or church committee.
And it is certainly not determined by the democratic will of a congregation.
There are some very good reasons why it is that we accept the Apostle's teaching
- the most obvious is that when Jesus was on earth, the Apostles were his closest followers.
Of all the people who knew what the Christian faith was to be about, surely it would come from those closest to Christ.
Moreover, it was through the Apostles that the church started.
It was through people like the Apostle John that the Gospel was first heard.
In John we have one of the original followers.
Obviously as the church grew the Apostles had to delegate authority to local elders,
and it was these people who were must vulnerable to the ideas of false teaching
as well as the temptation to use their authority for their own ends.
What is obvious is that when Apostolic authority was ignored or rebelled against, the church would split.
I have said before that the root of all heresy is a misunderstanding of who Jesus was and what he came to do.
It was the Apostles who have written down the information that we read today in the New Testament that tell us about Jesus.
The fact is that it is very tempting to teach something else apart from the message of the Apostles.
Why? Because it can sometimes result in the praise of the community and among those whom you respect.
Preaching the Gospel
- preaching the message that the Apostles recorded for us
- is often times viewed as ineffective and outdated.
We can know as Christians that Jesus is God.
We can know that he came down from heaven, sent by the Father.
We can know that his mission on earth was to die on the cross as a sin substitute,
that our sins may be forgiven,
so that all who call upon the name of the Lord may be forgiven and saved.
This is the message that motivated the Apostles.
They preached what Jesus taught them,
and they preached Jesus himself.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit,
all who hear the gospel and who hear the word of God are experiencing Christ.
The natural opposite of this is that those who don't hear the Gospel and don't hear the word of God
- those who are not hearing the message taught by the Apostles -
they are not experiencing Christ.
They might think they are,
but the fact is that they are not.
This is why John takes the opposition of Diotrophes so seriously.
The split that was occurring in Gaius' church was due entirely to the fact that Diotrephes and maybe others had rejected John's teaching.
They had rejected the Gospel, they had rejected the word of God.
What sort of religion they were now promoting is anyone's guess.
But it wasn't the Christian faith.
Far too many churches today have forgotten the Apostolic message.
Too many churches have rejected the Apostolic message,
either deliberately or accidentally.
At the moment on the internet I have involved myself in the criticism of a well-known American preacher.
This man is the pastor of America's largest church - the 25,000 strong Lakewood church in Houston.
The name of the preacher is Joel Osteen.
He is well loved and respected amongst the church in America.
He has his own Christian television show,
he has sold millions of books.
But someone in America
- a man whose website I often visited
- has started writing articles that basically argued that Joel Osteen was not preaching the Gospel.
And he was right!
Look at Osteen's books, his preaching, his TV program
- there is nothing he says that is even remotely Apostolic in nature.
Instead he preaches about the potential we have to do anything in life,
if only we apply our minds to it,
believe in ourselves,
and worship God with all our heart.
That's not the gospel
- it has nothing to do with Jesus and his death on the cross.
We have to remember that when we listen to Apostolic teaching
- when we listen to the words of Paul, Peter, John and the other New Testament writers
- we have to remember that we are experiencing God.
We might think that we're just reading the Bible
but the fact is that we're undergoing one of the most amazing things in all the world
- God is speaking to us.
And when we gather together on a Sunday to hear God's word preached,
we are doing the most amazing thing.
We are experiencing God!
We are experiencing Christ!
We are experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit!
Look at us all - sitting here.
We don't look amazing do we?
We don't look as though we are the mighty, invincible people of God
- but we are.
Whenever God's people meet together and listen to God's word, God is honoured and we are strengthened.
So what should we take from today?
We should demand that every preacher who stands at this platform do nothing except preach the gospel
and preach the word of God.
We should come to church each Sunday,
not expecting miracles or perfection
or even necessarily a good time.
We should expect, however, that the Holy Spirit work in our midst,
even if his work is often times invisible.
We should expect that the whole church service be devoted to honouring God,
that the hymns and songs should point at Jesus and glorify the Father.
We should expect that every time we meet together,
that the cross of Christ is central in everything we do.
If that occurs, then we can be sure that we are really part of the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church.
Thank you Lord, that you sent your Son to us. Thank you that his death on the cross is the means by which we enter heaven, and the means by which we can confidently pray to you now, knowing that you hear us. Thank you also for your Apostles, ordinary men who were fishermen, and tax collectors, zealots and others. Thank you that you have worked perfectly through them, with your Spirit giving them full knowledge of your truth. We ask that in all things we do, that we never forget to read and study your word, that we may never forget the sacrifice you gave so that we can be free - the death of your Son. And help us to never forget that Jesus rose from the dead, triumphant, defeating death and giving us new life. AMEN.
From the Kerygmatic Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.