The Counter Culture of Christianity

Acts 19:23-41

And about that time there arose no small disturbance concerning the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen; these he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. “And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. “And not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship should even be dethroned from her magnificence.” And when they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” And the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed with one accord into the theater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia. And when Paul wanted to go into the assembly, the disciples would not let him. And also some of the Asiarchs who were friends of his sent to him and repeatedly urged him not to venture into the theater. So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and the majority did not know for what cause they had come together. And some of the crowd concluded it was Alexander, since the Jews had put him forward; and having motioned with his hand, Alexander was intending to make a defense to the assembly. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, a single outcry arose from them all as they shouted for about two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” And after quieting the multitude, the town clerk said, “Men of Ephesus, what man is there after all who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is guardian of the temple of the great Artemis, and of the image which fell down from heaven? “Since then these are undeniable facts, you ought to keep calm and to do nothing rash. “For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess. “So then, if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a complaint against any man, the courts are in session and proconsuls are available; let them bring charges against one another. “But if you want anything beyond this, it shall be settled in the lawful assembly. “For indeed we are in danger of being accused of a riot in connection with today’s affair, since there is no real cause for it; and in this connection we shall be unable to account for this disorderly gathering.” And after saying this he dismissed the sassembly.

Mega-church pastors beware; right? I didn’t have to write it before anyone​ who has read even one of my missives saw it coming; mega-church pastors beware! It’s that word that they prominently and purposefully preach–prosperity. Hence they are dubbed, “prosperity preachers.” If you are continuing to read, hoping that I will compare and contrast the temple of Artemis to the Compaq Center and Lakewood church, I am sorry to disappoint you; the temple of Artemis has done much more for humanity than Lakewood. That’s a bad, misleading joke. Lakewood sends doctors and dentists, nurses and unfortunately teachers (that is not a joke), all over the globe. Unfortunately we don’t focus on the good they do but on being locked up during a hurricane. We do tend to focus on the negative, too much, nevertheless, we have seen major misteps in their ministry, the pulpit being the most prominent. But it, like the temple of Artemis was to the first century, is indicative of our current, cultural, christian climate. The mega-church is ironically enough, a microcosm of the majority of current christians in the West as the temple of Artemis was a microcosm of the culture in Eastern Europe and Western Asia in the mid first-century. Ironically  enough, the dogmatic dispensationalists argue that today’s secular culture is a harbinger to the coming of Christ but fail to see the similarities between that culture and this culture. We see the word–prosperity. Another irony is that the dogmatic dispensationalists believe that prosperity is a 21st century word. “Jesus will rapture us soon because everyone is preaching peace and prosperity;” as if it has never happened before.

Enough with my monologue, let’s look at the continuing context of Acts. “And about that time there arose no small disturbance concerning the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen; these he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, ‘Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. And not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship should even be dethroned from her magnificence.’” Make no mistake, they weren’t making foam fingers or baseball tshirts or souvenirs or snow globes, they were making idols.

Notice; it wasn’t all about trade but also traditions. What keeps people from coming to Christ? Loss of employment or opportunity, traditions or teachings? While many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers claim that this is the case, based upon this text, that line of thinking misses the mark. This isn’t about people’s apprehension or aversions to coming to Christ. While certainly there is something to that line of thinking, we see this isn’t about aversions or apprehensions exactly but about opposition. Yes, they wanted their jobs, they wanted their temple and they wanted their traditions, and they certainly wanted to sell idols. Ultimately we see, that wanted to keep their current culture. And it appears that the disciples present were alright with that. We’ll come back to this.

The Temple of Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It has an enthralling history as well as some superstitions ascribed to the supernatural, after all, it was a temple to the Greek goddess of hunting, nature and chastity. The temple was destroyed three times, first by a flood, then by burning and lastly by, well, knowone knows exactly. But it appears that Demetrius was correct in his concerns because christianity did spread in the region and the temple was abandoned and abandoned buildings don’t stand forever, especially amongst famine, earthquakes and rumors of war. Demetrius was first and foremost concerned about his occupation, secondly about his culture and religion and lastly about his country and region. While taking a modified long view, Demetrius was very short sighted. Essentially he was taking the all-too-familiar stance of, this is how we’ve always done it. Rather than listen to what Paul was preaching he only heard the part about “gods made with hands are no gods at all.” Similar to our cultural climate, Demetrius had selective hearing and dim eyes but he was not deaf, dumb or blind. What he saw as an attack on their culture, was a counter culture called, the Way, Christians, both Jewish and Greek, attempting to follow Christ in a corrupted cultural climate–sound familiar?

The problem is that rather than follow Christ, Paul and the way, we follow money grubbing pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers who make millions selling the sensational stories of a rapture in 1981, 1988, 2000, 2001, 20017, blood moons, Israel and immanent wars in the most peaceful time in history. “But Russell P., have you read the headlines?” I have, even some articles–sensationalism sells. Have you taken a long view and seen pictures of the horrors of the holocaust? Have you heard of the horrors about the middle passage, the bubonic plague, the 100 years war, the French revolution, the American civil war, “the War to end all Wars, Vietnam and a thousand other wars and catastrophes? We don’t have the greatest records of casualties from climate calamities but what we think we see, we don’t. The calamities are not intensified but simply put, we have more people and infrastructure, ergo, more damage. Nevertheless, even though the Richter scale is relatively modern, as is the naming and recording of hurricanes, and volcanic activity was not always jotted down, let’s say for argument’s sake that climate crisis and natural disasters are on the rise as are wars and rumors of wars–so what? How can this signify the imminent rapture, when the rapture is the absolute end of the world and the context of wars and catastrophes is not about the second coming? We have to carefully consider the context and see the sublime string. This is why we take a long view, seeing what was to happen shortly and applying it to the appropriate time, during and slightly after the acts of the apostles.

“And about that time there arose no small disturbance concerning the Way.” This is an understatement by our beloved physician, Luke. It is a literary device demonstrating that there was a very large disturbance concerning the Way. And we have seen what this disturbance was all about; money, culture, tradition and religion. In the short view, the Way stirred up the entire city. In the long view, the Way totally transformed the city, much to the chagrin of Demetrius. But the Way was not perfected at this time in Ephesus or anywhere else. However we do see the hand of God on his growing church. Let’s take the long view and examine examples of the church in Ephesus, remembering how Paul came to Ephesus, preached to people in the synagogue proclaiming Jesus but when asked to stay, he told them that he must move on. But he promised to return if the Lord was willing. Leaving Priscilla and Aquila, who taught Apollos, Paul set sail for Caesarea. Paul has now returned to Ephesus, finding approximately 12 disciples of John. Paul baptized them in the name of Jesus, withdrew from the multitude, and took away the disciples, reasoning with them daily in the school of Tyrannus. The once receptive synagogue is now becoming hardened and those who believed have joined the Way. Paul is opposed by all the unbelieving people, Jewish and gentile alike but the Way is also growing. Fast forwarding a bit, Paul sent for the elders in Ephesus and explained to them; “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” Lord willing we will consider this context more in the future. Speaking of the future, notice that the savage wolves were promised to that generation. Unless you are learning for yourself you only know what you have been taught. Consider the context, understand the author’s aspirations to his audience, jive with the genre, examine examples and divide rightly the word of truth. We call this the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics. Don’t read books about blood moons but dive deeper into the words of God himself, mining for gold, letting the Bible interpret the Bible, taking a long view.

Paul writes to the church in Ephesus; “Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘Circumcision,’ which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

How does this fit into the dogmatic dispensationalists’ discourse that God has to distinct peoples with two distinct plans. Moreover, look at what Paul said to the elders in Ephesus as he bid them farewell. “Savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” Those of us who no longer hold to dogmatic dispensationalism are labeled “mockers and scoffers” by the dogmatic dispensationalists who are ripping verses out of context. Who are the mockers and scoffers, who are the wolves, but those who teach that, opposite of what Paul wrote and said, that Israel is distinct from the church and that rather than prospering, the divine doctrine of the gospel declines? Ripped out of context, this is what they argue; “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?'” And; “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these.”

Sticking with the ripped out of context approach, I ask, which is more “holding to a form of godliness but denying its power,” the belief that Jesus reigns from heaven and the earth is his footstool so that the world will be subdued by his gospel of grace or that apostasy prevails in the present time? But again, that’s stooping down to their level. Here, we consider the context and sublime string. Let’s look at how Peter begins his discourse on the last days.

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.” It is beyond obvious that Peter is speaking directly to the first-century church. Let’s look at Paul’s proclamation to Timothy concerning the last days. “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him…Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for ait will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and thus they upset the faith of some.”

It is beyond obvious that Paul is writing specifically to Timothy, concerning his days on this planet. The problem with saying that we are in the last days is that the last days have therefore been going on since Christ’s return to heaven. And if they have been going on since Christ’s ascension, where are we exactly in the last days? If we continue to assume that calamities and war are on the rise, we still cannot prove that they have hit a fever pitch. Therefore, based upon signs (which were promised to the first-century disciples and the Jewish elders to happen in their generation), we still wouldn’t know how late the hour is. But we have a bigger problem concerning these signs growing in intensity; the Bible never states that they will grow in intensity, only that they will happen and in the time of the first century.  Peter wrote to a first-century church, Paul wrote to Timothy in the first century, and Ephesus was in the middle of it all, having to letters written to her church, recorded in the Bible, other than that of today’s text. Both of which completely contradict the discourse of the dogmatic dispensationalists. We have already seen that Paul proclaimed a promise to them that wolves will come. Then we see him writing to them that true Israel and the church are one body, bought by the blood of Christ. But there exists another dubious dogma from the dispensationalists; when Christ says “coming,” that means the second coming. But what did Jesus say to the first-century church in Ephesus?

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.”

I could go on and on about the dubious dogma of the dispensationalists but by now, it should be beyond dubious dogma as we see its descent into debunked, deluded dogma. It is important to see the sublime string, considering the continuing context. Look at what Jesus said to the first-century church in Ephesus. “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first.”

They endured, tested apostles (another major hint that Revelation had to have been written to the generation of Jesus), didn’t grow weary and had a hatred for evil. Nevertheless, Jesus tells them that they have lost their first love. Notice the metaphor Jesus used; “Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.” The lampstand signifies the church as the light of Jesus in the world. Fallen signifies that they were not what they once were, as in, they were higher, now they are lower; they were doing better but now are doing worse. Repent means to change one’s mind and Jesus tells them that they need to repent or else he will come and remove their lampstand because it no longer produces light. Which brings us back to today’s text, last time’s text first. “And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of all; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.” May I humbly suggest that this is from where they have fallen? Look at what transpired after this; Demetrius is still speaking.

“And not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship should even be dethroned from her magnificence.” To which we say, “amen!” That is exactly what the church is set out to do. We are a counter-cultural Christian community. But we let books, written by mere men, change our minds rather than repenting from our lack of faith and loss of first love. We don’t love Jesus, we love the thought of rescue. We don’t want to let Paul into the theater, much less ourselves. Notice; “And when they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ And the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed with one accord into the theater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia. And when Paul wanted to go into the assembly, the disciples would not let him. And also some of the Asiarchs who were friends of his sent to him and repeatedly urged him not to venture into the theater.”

Why would they not send in their best man for the job? Fear? Anxiety? Lack of faith? Paul was not as compulsive as Peter but he had his moments, nevertheless this was not extraordinary enough to keep out a man who had been stoned to death. But we will get back to this. Keep considering the context; “So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and the majority did not know for what cause they had come together. And some of the crowd concluded it was Alexander, since the Jews had put him forward; and having motioned with his hand, Alexander was intending to make a defense to the assembly. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, a single outcry arose from them all as they shouted for about two hours, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ And after quieting the multitude, the town clerk said, ‘Men of Ephesus, what man is there after all who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is guardian of the temple of the great Artemis, and of the image which fell down from heaven? Since then these are undeniable facts, you ought to keep calm and to do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess.'”

Oh those dogmatic Diana disciples, Diana being the Roman name for this Greek goddess. Like the dogmatic dispensationalists, the dogmatic Diana disciples wouldn’t hear what anyone else had to say. Notice the dogmatic discourse, which we know to be false; “Men of Ephesus, what man is there after all who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is guardian of the temple of the great Artemis, and of the image which fell down from heaven? Since then these are undeniable facts, you ought to keep calm and to do nothing rash.” That should have been Paul and the church proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That should be us in the middle of our current cultural climates, claiming Christ’s death and resurrection, through a consistent consideration of the context.

The context continues: “‘For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess. So then, if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a complaint against any man, the courts are in session and proconsuls are available; let them bring charges against one another. But if you want anything beyond this, it shall be settled in the lawful assembly. For indeed we are in danger of being accused of a riot in connection with today’s affair, since there is no real cause for it; and in this connection we shall be unable to account for this disorderly gathering.’ And after saying this he dismissed the sassembly.”

That’s fairly anticlimactic, isn’t it? No riot, no stoning and no burning of buildings. Were Paul’s disciples and friends wrong for wanting to keep him out of the fray? While we certainly see their concern, we also must remember their mission. We must also remember ours. When The Late Great Planet earth is one’s gospel to spread, claiming that Christ is right at the door for a rapture, after 1988, 1998, 2008, 2018 and Christ hasn’t returned, should we not do what the Ephesians did to the magician’s books? Yet, it is said that we are doing great damage to the gospel by the dogmatic dispensationalists because we preach a gospel of grace and growth. One usually hits that at which they aim. If you believe that the church will fall into apostasy, into apostasy she will go. If you preach, “repent because Jesus is coming very soon,” and he doesn’t come soon, it’s no wonder people lose faith. But the Bible speaks of perseverance and long suffering for the sake of the kingdom. Pre-tribulational promises of a rapture rescue are actually what causes the most damage to the gospel. Highlighting headlines to prove dispensationalism is a disservice to the facts buried from our faces. The same people crying, “fake news, fake news,” are the ones using the fake news headlines highlighting their hypocrisy. Yesterday I received an unsolicited email from a certain ministry, in a certain country, that ministers to many countries, most of which I cannot name. This correspondence started a thread through seven (probably a coincidence) countries. Most had ministry updates and I will relay one to you all. It was in Spanish so the following is my translation and paraphrase: “We have seen many people come to the Lord, prostitutes, suicidal people, burglars, violent men, homosexuals and drug addicts.” How’s that for a headline? Yet the dogmatic dispensationalists claim that we are the seventh church of Laodicea. Problem; Laodicea was a literal church like Ephesus.

The enemerated churches in Revelation represent all the different churches because of the number seven but we can take that way too far. I am sure that at one point, we have all read about a particular church in Revelation and inserted our church’s name instead of one of the seven. While seven represents completeness, the enumerated churches are not exhaustive. Much like the enumerated Spiritual gifts of which Paul proclaimed to the Ephesians, not every single issue is addressed. Yet, we also can’t make up our own Spiritual gifts, such as singing . A cast of compitant crooners who can’t be Christians exist. In the same way, not every church is an exact representation of one of the seven churches. Some may be a combination and some may struggle with a non-enumerated problem. We can’t say that we are in the time of Laodicea because Laodicea was not a time period but an actual church during the first century. Additionally, we look more like Ephesus, placing our love for rescue over the love of Jesus and doing his work. Look at today’s text again and you will see it. Think about it, why would Jesus write to Ephesus if he didn’t mean Ephesus? And if he meant Ephesus, shouldn’t we examine their history? Read this again, with fresh eyes and let your mind be changed. Ephesus was real, and they lost their first love even though Paul penned a letter to them all about the love. And eventually, the gospel subdued the city. My proof: the ancient temple of Artemis is long gone. Unfortunately, so is their lampstand. Let’s not let the same thing happen to us. Consider the context,  Paul wanted to go into the theater but rather than the name of Jesus being proclaimed, it was utter confusion and the name of Artemis was proclaimed. After this, Paul left, notice; “And after the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he departed to go to Macedonia.” Paul never returned to Ephesus. Luke doesn’t tell us why but I think the context speaks for itself. I certainly could be wrong about this and definitely don’t want to be dogmatic but I  think I am picking up on what Luke penned. Closely examine the context and look for, Jesus, the Spirit and The Father; you won’t find them. Artemis has won the day. I believe, based upon the continuing context and examination of examples that the companions of Paul were essentially saying, “don’t do it Paul, it’s not worth the risk.”

 

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