Ten people were in attendance and participation was encouraging, insightful, and brotherly.

A new feature of this FF were written contributions sent prior to the meeting from brethren unable to attend from as far away as Alaska. These were read as part of the discussion.

[1] What place does Israel as a nation have, if any, in the biblical plans and heart of God? What is the relationship of Israel and the church presently and in the future?

There is yet a covenant between God and Israel [Is] in which God will make them a blessing to all nations as sharing the gospel witness to the Messiah. Is is an instrument in God’s hand, one which has a future plan and purpose in the world.

The church and Is are distinct entities, having different origins and comprised of differing constituents. Is was chosen as a nation most importantly to bring Christ into the world [Rom.9:5]. A distinction must be made between Is as a national entity descending from Abraham via natural linage, and spiritual Is – those who truly have placed their trust and faith in Jesus Christ.

Though having the advantage of being entrusted with the Word of God, the glory, and covenants [Rom.3:1,2; 9:4], this earthly privilege will not profit them unless they put their faith in the Lord Jesus through whom all men must come to the Father regardless of their national origin.

The church as the body of Christ [comprised of both Jews and Gentiles] is a mystery not previously known [Eph.3:4-6] and is therefore not Is. As such, the church does not inherit the promises made to Is as a national entity. Neither is the church spiritual Is or the Is of God. Those terms refer to true believers in the Lord Jesus whose national origin is as physical descendents of Abraham [see Rom.2:28,29; Gal.6:15,16].

Others present did not concur with this assessment of the three passages cited in the previous paragraph. True Is is comprised of both Jew and Gentile who are Jews inwardly by the Spirit and are thus spiritual Is. The passage in Rom.11 refers to believing Jews as the rich root of the olive tree and the Gentiles as being grafted into that. Thus v.26 is a reference, not to a future unbelieving Is repenting and being saved, but to believing Jews and believing Gentiles being saved as the one true spiritual Is.

Christ Himself made the distinction between those who were physically of Is and those who were true spiritual believers among them. The nation who had the Word of God in their possession did not necessarily profit thereby [Jn.5:45-47]. Is who had the Lord as their God, did not believe Him – Israelites in the flesh, but not in the Spirit [Jn.8:54,55]. Actually, many within Is nationally were of their father, the devil [Jn.8:44].

These are the ones who killed the prophets, crucified the Lord Jesus, and persecuted the church; they are not pleasing to God though physical descendents of Abraham and wrath has come upon them utterly [I Thess.2:14-16].

Nevertheless, when the Deliverer Christ Jesus comes again, all Is at that time will be saved when they look in repentance upon Him whom they have pierced and their sins are washed away [Rom.11:25-27; Zech.12:10- 13:1].

So presently, “from the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” [Rom.11:28,29].

[2] What is the biblical perspective on retirement, especially in light of Luke 12:16-21 as it relates to anticipating a life of leisure?

God’s design is for a man to first be a child, then a man, a husband, a father, and an elder. During his physically capable years, the man is to provide for the needs of his family [I Tim.5:8; 2 Cor.12:14]. When he is no longer able to do so, it is then the responsibility of the children to care for their aged parents [I Tim.5:4; Mk.7:10-13]. We see examples of this in the patriarchs noted in the book of Genesis and in Christ’s own care of His mother [Jn.19:26,27]. A horse that is no longer able to work is sustained and cared for by those it has served.

A man of maturity and wisdom is of great value to his family, the church, and community. Retirement from a vocation should be viewed as affording more time to serve God. A real servant of Christ doesn’t look forward to a life of leisure and self indulgence.

We should give all to serve Christ and there is always profitable work to be done. The ant diligently stores up in the present for being sustained in the future day when that cannot then be done [Prov.6:7-11; 30:24-25]. The sluggard chooses leisure now and will want in the coming day.

The issue of bigger barns in Lk.12 is one of trust – What am I dependent upon and for what purpose? In Mt.6:19 the motivation for storing up treasure is the key as the Scriptures elsewhere declare that “a good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children” [Prov.13:22].

We are repeatedly warned in Scripture about the deceitfulness of riches and the snare they are to the soul whose heart is set upon them. Wanting to become rich is a foolish and harmful desire that plunges men into ruin and destruction. Rather, if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content [I Tim.6:6-11].

The Word of God commends the blessing of children and warns against the pursuit of wealth, leisure, and luxury. The USA culture reverses this – warning about having many children while promoting the love of money, the root of all evil.

[3] Were OT believers forgiven of sins and did they enjoy the blessings of salvation as Christians know them, specifically commenting on Rom.3:25 and Acts 17:30 in these regards?

Yes, OT believers were forgiven of sins as David declares in Ps.32:1,2: “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity…” Abraham had the gospel preached to him beforehand, he believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness [Gal.3:8; Gen.15:6]. Job confidently confessed: “I know that my Redeemer lives” [Job 19:25]. And from earliest times men called upon the name of the Lord [Gen.4:26].

Sacrifice was a picture of Christ’s sacrifice to come. Everything in salvation depends upon the pivotal work of the Lord Jesus on the cross in which He paid the price for the sins of the world. The OT believers trusted God to justify them and cleanse their hearts by faith as do NT believers. We put our confidence in God who is merciful to not condemn us for our sins when we put our trust in Him. This was the testimony of those with faith noted in Hebrews 11.

Salvation is broad term describing many aspects of God’s work in making the soul of a man right with Himself. Justification and forgiveness are some of the initial aspects of that. Forgiveness precedes transformation as is illustrated in Mk.2:9-12 where the man’s rising and walking were the outward demonstration of the inward and unseen work of forgiveness. We are saved by grace through faith and good works then follow as a consequence of that [Eph.2:8-10].

John 3:14: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” illustrates the instantaneous work of salvation where Israel had to simply by faith look and live.

However, there are certainly differences between the salvation experienced by OT and NT believers, perhaps most evident in the work of the Holy Spirit in both. Certainly, OT believers were empowered to obey the Lord as Heb.11:8 declares: “By faith Abraham obeyed…”

Jesus said to His disciples that they knew the Holy Spirit since He was abiding with them and would later be in them [Jn.14:17]. The promise is made in the OT that God will pour out His Spirit to make His words known to any who will hearken [Prov.1:23; Neh.9:20].

In former times, God “passed over sins” [Rom.3:25] and “overlooked times of ignorance” [Acts 17:30], not in the sense that they were forgiven or held guiltless, but in that God did not immediately execute His judgment upon them as was done in the case of the world at the time of Noah or of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. These expressions indicate a stay of execution until sentence is passed and judgment falls. There is no biblical teaching of universalism, i.e. that all men will eventually be forgiven and received into the blessings of eternal life despite their beliefs and behavior in this life.

[4,5] What is the NT order for church government, particularly: [a] is there to be a hierarchy in the church of senior pastor, assistant pastor, etc. and, if so, what authority do they have in relationship to other believers? [b] What are the roles, responsibilities, and qualifications of Elders/Overseers/Pastors? [c] How are decisions to be made in a church/assembly, including that of discipline?

There is a fair degree of flexibility in the leadership structure of the local body.  Elders are peers who meet the scriptural qualifications for office as noted in I Tim.3. But beyond that, how they organize is a function of their different gifts and the unique makeup of their local fellowships.

There are two purposes for the church, as the pillar and support of truth [I Tim.3:15] and for the building up of God’s people [Eph.4:12]. This occurs in a number of ways through teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer [Acts 2:42].

There is no biblical directive for there to be a hierarchy of leaders lording it over the assembly. The organizational chart is pretty flat; Christ is the Head and then there are the rest of us. The issue is this: Who is to be servant of all? So Christ is the foundation and then there are all the members eager to be servants of all. Service is the basis of leading the brethren: Simple.

Denominations do not have a true plumbline on what the church is. If there are two or more gathered in Jesus’ name, He is there. So a husband and wife can even be considered to be a church in a limited sense. There are differences between the church and ministries.

The church is what we are as members of one another in Christ’s body. Ministries are specific individuals, groups, and organizations that are performing a particular work. False prophets, leaders, or “pastors” need to be confronted and corrected by true leaders in love with the truth [Tit.1:9-11].

The rulers of the nations lord it over their subordinates; Christ’s true leaders are to be unlike that altogether [Lk.22:25-27]. Both Paul and Peter describe the work of overseers/elders as that of shepherding [Acts 20:17f; I Pet.5:1-3]. A true leader will not hesitate to expose and magnify his own weaknesses in humility as an example to the brethren.

The term government implies organization, rule, authority, and implementation: not terms conducive with the NT pattern for the church and leadership. The church is neither a democracy nor an autocracy. A lord dictates whereas a biblical elder sets an example by treating others as brothers – not as servants or employees. He persuades, but doesn’t coerce as did Paul who did not dominate though he commanded without forcing others to comply.

There exists no distinction of clergy and laity in the NT. The leader is to equip and train others for the work of ministry. In the local assembly there are to be a plurality of leaders rather than a single individual who directs its course. An Elder does not hold an office or occupy a position, but is someone who is reliable, experienced, knowledgeable, wise, and godly.

Decisions are not to be made unilaterally by elders apart from the brethren. Ideally there are to be organic contributions and consensus through discussion by showing mutual deference out of respect of families for one another [Rom.12:10].

Acts 6 demonstrates such a situation. The Apostles did not dictate but rather guided through wisdom. The brethren concurred, chose a godly solution to the problem through the counsel received, and their decision was received and endorsed by the leaders without lording it over them. The selection of seven, all of whom had Greek names, shows the sensitive deference in humility that the brethren had in resolving this matter. No advantage was taken by one group over the other as love prevailed.

A concern in matters of discipline is this: When do we stop covering a situation that we are aware of and begin speaking of it to others without slandering? Mt.18:15-20 would suggest that the discussion with the erring brother is not on a one-time basis, but rather repeated.

Discipline is not a matter for the leadership, but for the church itself: leaders are present but not presiding or preempting. Things that cause friction between brothers ought to be discussed lovingly in meekness so fellowship is unhindered. The purpose of such discussion and/or discipline is to restore, not to shame or ostracize.