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Paul before Felix: The True Church on Trial

ARPaul before Felix: The True Church on TrialWe must use the Bible as the common ground for revealing God's truth and keep a good conscience before God and men, always ready to defend our faith.Paul was put on trial for the sake of truth. In a similar vein, the True Jesus Church today may be accused of heresy by other churches. We should not shirk our duty but boldly proclaim the way of salvation. We must use the Bible as the common ground for revealing God's truth and keep a good conscience before God and men, always ready to defend our faith.

It was a difficult time for Paul, though who could say when any time was not trying for Paul. There he was, captured by the Jews, in the custody of the Romans, and all in spite of his attempt to pacify the Jews by publicly observing their cleansing ritual (Acts 21:20-26). Having failed on numerous other occasions to eliminate Paul (Acts 9:23-25; 21:27-31; 23:12-32), the Jews had no intention of letting him off this time. The more extreme and vindictive Jews scheduled a trial before the Roman governor Felix, having failed earlier in the Sanhedrin to agree on his guilt.

And so our intrepid hero was led again to stand before some big-shot, all for the sake of Christ. And so also we turn our Bibles to Acts 24 to follow the trial and to see similarities when our own faith in the True Church is called to question.

The prosecutor was a man named Tertullus, apparently an eloquent and gifted speaker. Sadly this was one of those common situations where substance gave way to style and truth was subject to intentions and prejudice. Luke records his charge as follows:

Seeing that through you we enjoy great peace, and prosperity is being brought to this nation by your foresight, we accept it always and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness. Nevertheless, not to be tedious to you any further, I beg you to hear, by your courtesy, a few words from us. For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, and we seized him, and wanted to judge him according to our law. But the commander Lysias came by and with great violence took him out of our hands, commanding his accusers to come to you. By examining him yourself you may ascertain all these things of which we accuse him. (Acts 24:2-8)

Flattery and Tact

Didn't you cringe at those opening words of flattery? Felix was not a clean ruler at all. History has it that he was a corrupt and rather inefficient governor and Acts 24:26 tells us that Felix had hoped for a bribe from Paul.

When the church is put on trial in the future, we expect religious enemies to make use of political powers against us. Corrupt politics favors those who flatter and bribe. But the church cannot use the same means to defend herself; to do so would be immediate capitulation to the enemy, Satan (Jn 8:44).

Paul was put on trial for the sake of truth--he had to answer for the truth and he had to answer truthfully! Here is his magnificent Spirit-inspired reply (Lk 12:11-12):

Inasmuch as I know that you have been for many years a judge of this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself, because you may ascertain that it is no more than twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem to worship. And they neither found me in the temple disputing with anyone nor inciting the crowd, either in the synagogues or in the city. Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me. But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men. Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation, in the midst of which some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a multitude nor with tumult. They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me. Or else let those who are here themselves say if they found any wrongdoing in me while I stood before the council, unless it is for this one statement which I cried out, standing among them, "Concerning the resurrection of the dead I am being judged by you this day. (Acts 24:10-21)

In contrast with Tertullus' flattery (note that flattery = untruthful praise), Paul graciously acknowledged Felix's experience and hence the ability to judge fairly. Acts 24:22 states that Felix had a rather accurate knowledge of the Way.

Speaking truthfully does not always mean stating exactly the opposite of what a liar says. It is saying what is appropriate for the occasion. Sometimes it means just keeping quiet as our Lord did sometimes.

So when we are made to answer for our belief, remember that flattery will not endear us to God but truth and tact will be God's providence for us if we allow Him to work in us.

Slander and Fact

Prosecution

"For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world?(Acts 24:5)

Defense

"You may ascertain that it is no more than twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem to worship. And they neither found me in the temple disputing with anyone nor inciting the crowd, either in the synagogues or in the city. Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me. But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men. Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation, in the midst of which some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a multitude nor with tumult. They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me" (Acts 24:11-19).

When we preach to Christians of other churches, the True Jesus Church has been accused of causing trouble in the Christian community. This is very distressing for those who would like to live and let live and indeed even for us who have been preaching the truth according to the Bible to our friends from other churches.

But to Tertullus' charge that he was a pestilent fellow and an agitator of the Jews, Paul calmly countered that he had not been in Jerusalem long enough to incite a mob and that proper investigation of the facts would reveal that he was not doing any such thing in the temple then.

Paul also asked that those who claimed to be witnesses of his supposed misdeeds should appear in court and allow themselves to be cross-examined.

When the True Jesus Church was established by God through the Holy Spirit in China at the beginning of this century, her phenomenal growth through the Word of God evidenced by signs, wonders and miracles surprised many. Some Christian denominations were unhappy that whole congregations of theirs had converted to the True Jesus Church. A number of them began to oppose the true church.

We should not be surprised that we would be slandered for doing nothing wrong. We should ask our detractors to furnish concrete evidence of any such misdeed and indeed we ought to go one step further to invite such persons to our church to see for themselves if what they have heard was true. We brainwash believers? Ironically, the attrition rate in some of our churches is contra-evidence to that accusation.

Sect, Cult or Different

Prosecution

"Â…a ringleader of the sect of Nazarenes." (Acts 24:5)

Defense

"But this I admit to you, that according to the Way; which they call a sect, I worship the God of our Fathers, believing everything laid down by the law or written in the prophets." (Acts 24:14)

The most painful barb to some would be others calling our church a cult. These very people would often ask the church to cool down her preaching to other Christians so that we would not look bad. Or perhaps, we should couch our language in more ambivalent tones, for example, "We know the True Jesus Church can be saved but we are not saying that other churches cannot be saved." To such we remark - then why would anyone want to cross over to our church if he is already attending another? Perhaps because he can find better friends or our love is warmer? That surely cannot be the reason to be baptized in the blood of our Lord! Remember also that the 3rd Article of our Common Faith states unequivocally that our church is the revived true church of the apostolic days.

Well, Paul faced exactly the same accusation. You see, the situation of the early church then was almost exactly the same as that of our church now. The Christians then were regarded as a deviant Jewish denomination when viewed from the mainstream Jewish community, a situation akin to that of the True Jesus Church being viewed as a deviant Christian denomination when viewed from the mainstream Christian community. They even called the Christians then a sect!

"Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will not harm me" - so goes a popular saying. But the truth of the matter is that labels do affect a person's preconceptions. This is exactly what an enemy would do if he is unscrupulous; it is character assassination.

What is most important to the church now is for members to realize again that this labeling is to be expected and to take comfort in the knowledge that the early believers were similarly unfairly labeled. We say that we are different and point out the following based on what we have seen from Paul's situation (Num 23:9; 1 Pet 2:9-10):

  • "Different" does not equate to wrong. "Mainstream" or majority does not always mean right.
  • "Deviant" with its negative connotations ought only be used for bizarre and immoral actions. In actively defending our faith, we can clearly state these most obvious traits of the church -sex confined to married couples and the culling in of the other non-Biblical extreme, no forced celibacy of the workers of God; no separation from the family, indeed filial piety is strongly espoused; subjection to the government even to the point of agreeing on Biblical grounds to taking up arms for the nation. (1 Pet 3:15)
  • There is no individual charismatic leader of the church whose word is doctrine.
  • The use of the Bible as the sole authority for our doctrines.

Common Ground - the Holy Scriptures

Defense

"Â…believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets." (Acts 24:14)

The Mormons have their Book of Mormon, the Jehovah's Witnesses subscribe to their own translation of the Bible and the Roman Catholics say that when the Pope speaks on doctrine, he is infallible. But the True Jesus Church uses the Bible and the Bible alone. Neither does she insist on any one authorized version but she is willing to examine all translations bearing in mind that even translators have their own prejudices, to come to an understanding of the truth. Our members read the NKJV, KJV, the RSV, the NASB, the NIV, etc.

Paul said that he believed everything laid down by the Law or written in the prophets. There was a common ground for Christians and Jews then to discuss their differences. Paul would always go to the synagogues first and expound about Christ from the scriptures (Acts 13:14; 14:1; 17:1-2). Today the True Jesus Church engages in the same manner by preaching first to those who already have knowledge, albeit incomplete, of Jesus. It is only right that such should listen to the Word first for they already have a measure of faith (Rom 10:1-3). Just like then, we use the Bible as a common ground for revealing God's truth.

A Clear Conscience

Defense

"I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men." (Acts 24:16)

Sometimes the enormity of the consequences of our belief weighs heavily on me. If we are right, then many, many souls will be condemned to eternal punishment. If we are wrong, we would have severely offended God by restricting His gracious will.

Action wise, if we are right, we must quickly preach the gospel to as many as we can so as to save as many as God will. And if truly we are wrong, we must recant our beliefs and seek the truth.

Because of this, it is vital that we have a good conscience before God and before men. We cannot continue our work just because we have already put in so much effort and time into our faith. We cannot continue merely for the sake of our reputations. We must examine ourselves and our beliefs to humbly convince ourselves that what we are doing is for the benefit of humankind and according to the will of God.

Paul did not claim to have a clear conscience when he persecuted Christians (Acts 22:3-5; Gal 1:13-14). For who could have a clear conscience in killing someone without the express command of God. He acknowledged that he persecuted the church beyond measure. He was motivated by pride and a sense of outrage. However, when he was converted, he was more convinced than before that he was right this time but his actions were not violent nor stubborn, instead it was marked by a great love issuing from a good conscience, a pure heart and sincere faith (1 Tim 1:5).

After writing this, I must remark that many of our workers have good consciences before God. None have gained riches for being in the ministry. There are none who have remained in the church and continued to preach the basic doctrines even though they are convinced that what we are preaching is false.

It is not easy being a True Jesus Church member if one does not understand nor truly believe in the basic doctrines. Let us do ourselves a favor - search the scriptures and know for certain. Otherwise, one may find oneself severely shaken when accused by someone from another church.

What It Boils Down to—Doctrinal Difference

Prosecution

"He even tried to profane the temple, and we seized him." (Acts 24:6)

Defense

"Unless it is for this one statement which I cried out, standing among them, "Concerning the resurrection of the dead I am being judged by you this day." (Acts 24:21)

Tertullus accused Paul of agitation and perversion by profaning the temple. Paul replied that the main reason the Jews were unhappy with him was that he preached the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is not difficult to see why churches may be unhappy with us. We humbly preach that we need to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and that receiving the Holy Spirit is evidenced by speaking in tongues. Added to that, we preach the oneness of God and the oneness of the church. All these are considered as not mainstream teachings.

Paul admitted to angering the Jews for only one reason. This was the difference in beliefs. And such difference too, he proclaimed boldly because that was precisely what he wanted to preach to the Jews - that only Jesus could save them from their sins and that they could not rely on their traditions and their pedigree to save themselves. In the same way, the True Jesus Christ cannot help but continue preaching that Christians must follow the one way of salvation, regardless of the strength of the opposition.

As in the days of Paul, we ought to continue to welcome discussions on the truth based on the scriptures and be ready to defend our faith.

Conclusions

To ANY FAIR and informed mind, Paul obviously won the case. But as it is in real life or rather in a world controlled by Satan, he was not acquitted immediately. He languished in prison and was further tried to suffer for His name. In spite of this, Paul continued to preach the one way of salvation as God allowed His great servant to suffer for His name.

We see a great parallel in the life of Paul and indeed that of the early Christians to the path laid out for the True Jesus Church today. We must not shirk our duty in the face of name-calling and persecution. If we are swayed because of a desire not to hurt anyone, we have miserably failed to see the whole picture. God has revived this true church in the last days to proclaim the one way of salvation. We would be condemning people to eternal death by depriving them of the Word of Life.


Publisher: True Jesus Church
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