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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

UPDATE FOR JULY 2008

The Restoration Workshop. This Convention, held at Torre dell'Orso (LE), is now history, and thank the Lord, came off well. The theme for this year was: "Saved by Grace, Do we Live by Grace?" The convention's goal was to reaffirm the fundamental value of grace in the salvation process (as opposed to salvation by "Christian activity"). It was very important to demolish the subtle incursion of "salvation by orthodoxy," a notion held dear by some people in our fellowship. One brother spoke on the richness of His grace and its visible fruits in our lives. Another spoke on the conditional nature of grace because "Falling from Grace," is unthinkable among evangelicals here. Another target was clarifying the positive effects of grace in the life of the believer. Harold spoke on "Liberated by Grace from Legalistic Perfectionism." Another brother faced the question: "Does Grace, as a system, annul moral responsibility and personal discipline?" Because of the prevalence of "faith-only" teaching in Italy, one lesson treated "Grace: conditional or unconditional?" while another addressed the subject: "Does Salvation by Grace through Faith contradict Salvation connected with Baptism?"

One highlight of this convention was the presence of Albanian Christians, and one Christian missionary couple laboring in Albania. Although the main convention language was Italian, when the Albanian brothers spoke in Albanian, Italian translators brought their messages to the others. We must not underestimate the richness of this fellowship and its long-term effects. The Christians in Albania are just across the water from Italy (about 90 miles), and need encouragement.

Enid set up our book display
, and she sold $228 worth of Bible studies and books. We distributed multiple copies of A Church That Flies to churches present at the rally.
The theme went well; now is the time for application of its message in the lives of not only the participants, but also those whom the Lord brings into their lives.

Harold preached at Mesagne.
We have known and appreciated brethren in this south Italy congregation for over 40 years, so when this sadly divided church asked Harold to speak, we welcomed the opportunity. However, they specified that nothing be said about certain subjects (for them, explosive). They requested something that would give long-lasting encouragement. So Harold chose to speak on the subject: "Jesus' Bible," an encouraging invitation to relish the Old Testament's rich bass undertones that form the background harmony and rhythms for the fully developed symphony of New Testament revelations. It also furnishes the vocabulary necessary for understanding grace. He presented six practical ways to utilize the Old Testament, to absorb all the good from it possible.
Some churches here claim to be New Testament churches but have not the foggiest notion about the life of Christ and relegate the Old Testament to oblivion. They think that all truth for the Church begins with Acts chapter two, and anything before that is completely irrelevant to our faith! This, in effect, "decapitates" our faith by eliminating Jesus as a viable role model, and grows a "bonsai church" whose Old Testament roots are clipped.
Jesus' Bible, however, reports things "that happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us on whom the ends of the ages are come" (1 Corinthians 10:6,11). This theme challenged them to open the Old Testament to "become wise unto salvation through the faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15), confident that "everything written in the past was for our instruction that, by means of patience and the consolation that comes from the Scriptures, we might have hope" (Romans 15:4).

Latiano invited Harold to preach.
This church too has suffered for years due to internal struggles, so they asked Harold to speak at their midweek meeting. They specified that he not address a certain explosive issue. So, he objectified their real but unmentionable issue by substituting a cover problem with Bible teaching on? circumcision (!).
"The Gospel of Christ + circumcision = salvation and full recognition as Christians."
This one doctrine in the early church condemned whole congregations to fall from grace, because it transformed Christ's system of grace into just another law (See Paul's letter to the Galatian churches). By adding this one requirement, churches were seeking to be made right with God by observing a recreated legal system. It takes only one regulation added to the Gospel to distort grace into law! A number of Italian churches of Christ risk repeating the same mistake, so we are teaching where we have opportunity to do so. The circumcision issue (and others like it) is not near as dead or irrelevant as one might think! There are good reasons why they occupy so many pages of the New Testament? Moreover, some of them directly concern our unity in the church of Jesus Christ.

During our travels to south Italy for these events, we enjoyed the hospitality of dear friends we have known for years. We ask you to pray earnestly for these people, because in Christ they are your people too.

UPDATE FOR JUNE 2008

Prayer answered. We asked you to pray for Harold as he presented his message at a Christian convention to a group that contained a few potentially hostile people. Well, folks, we all prayed and the Lord heard. His answer was a bit different from what we expected, but it was quite evident nonetheless, and so we give Him thanks.
As leadoff speaker, Harold presented A Church That Flies, a new book on restoring New Testament Christianity. Its author, Tim Woodroof, raises important questions about what it is that we must really restore, distinguishing from this what is merely cultural, human, temporary, optional, opinion, personal taste, etc. The author helps us get back on track, after many historic derailments caused by confusing opinions for the Word of God. He points to the real assignments God has called us to complete, as normative functions. The various forms for doing this are really not normative, so there can be "unity in diversity."
Some Anti "brethren from Jerusalem" (Acts 15:1,5) heard the presentation. But something happened that hampered their raising objections: the usual open discussion after the messages simply did not occur. This might prove unfortunate because a few opportunities for clarification might have allayed some concern about the thrust of the messages.
However, this turn of events gave the majority more time and tranquility to reflect on the message, without having to "take sides" immediately in open debate. We will have opportunity in June to move among these very people, to share the same message and teach further.
The other speakers brought very positive messages that challenged everyone to make a difference in the world. They pointed to concrete proposals for helping the church to grow. They spoke of the challenge and blessings of a multiracial congregation (of which we are beginning to have several).
An open discussion of the various messages was on the schedule, but, "strangely," it did not get off the ground. Greetings from the other churches practically nudged it out. Because the 15 or so congregations represented at the rally had exciting progress to report, the enthusiasm they generated changed this year's focus, and the discussion of the messages was postponed until the last afternoon. But the encouraging reports of progress were so many that a quick survey revealed that most folk really wanted to hear the good news of progress in the churches, than listen to a (potentially) sterile discussion that could lead to a dispute. This too is good news, since the majority did not want to ruin the positive spirit manifested in people's attitudes. It postponed coming to grips with the ideas involved, but some people process information slower and the postponement left everyone more time to be led of the Spirit to reflect on the concepts without demanding instant judgment and potential rejection. Instead there was room for appreciation of each other as brothers and sisters and coworkers in the Kingdom.
At last, the book has been launched and we rejoice. Let's continue to pray that these ideas about real restoration of New Testament Christianity may have a wide hearing and an even wider practice throughout the entire brotherhood ? and beyond!
Another convention is scheduled for south Italy at Torre dell'Orso (LECCE), sponsored by the Lecce Church. This is a different group of Christians gathering for instruction, fellowship and mutual encouragement. Here we are to distribute more of our Bible study books and booklets. Please pray for the Gospel presentations there too.