Eusebius begins this dialogue asking how the meetings should be carried out.
Theophilus begins stating that “prayers and pleadings” should be made to God asking him to show what he would have done “…whether…singing praises, or continuing in prayer, catechizing some, comforting the weak-minded, rebuking the heedless and careless, or in whatever else has to be done…” He makes an interesting statement that if the Spirit doesn’t seem to be blessing one activity, the meeting should abandon it and move onto something else.
Eusebius then asks about catechizing, and Theophilus gives the characteristics of this “special gift not possessed by one in a hundred”.
- A good catechizer asks questions appropriate to the person being questioned. If they are old, young, mature believers or new, the right questions need asking.
- “the gifted catechizer asks his questions with enjoyment and sweetness, such as will kindle zeal and enthusiasm in all, and cause the whole company to praise God for the glorious light.
- The catechizer is discerning both of God’s grace in a person’s life and the beginning of error and is able to detect both better than the one being questioned and explain it to all gathered.
- The catechizer can quickly determine what particular sin is keeping the one questioned from God due to their understanding of men’s hearts and Satan’s schemes.
Theophilus then answers Eusebius as to what characteristics do harm when catechizing.
- To be close friends with the person you are catechizing. We tend to be too soft on our friends.
- To have a poor man catechizing a person of higher status. The poor are usually unwilling to criticize someone higher than themselves.
- To receive gifts and praise from the person being catechized. This blinds the catechizer.
Eusebius agrees with the last point particularly, commenting that in his experience a visiting stranger often arrives at the true state of a person’s soul faster than someone who is not a stranger. He then asks what methods of catechizing to use.
Theophilus answers that the Spirit of God alone guides, and no rules or methods should be heavily relied upon. Still, there is wisdom in knowing what questions to ask, though, “heaven will give wisdom, so that the catechizer whose soul cries out to heaven will never be allowed to run short of profitable and edifying questions.”
The first situation dealt with is the admittance of new members. Theophilus warns against expecting as much grace in new members as those who have been members for a while. The questions he suggests are these:
- Do you understand your terrible state and deserved destiny apart from God’s mercy in Christ?
- Do you understand yourself to be a greater sinner than all others, no matter what others have done?
- Do you understand that you are totally incapable of being saved and knowing God without the Spirit doing a work in you?
- Do you understand that you are totally incapable of living a good life without the Spirit because sin completely defiles and weakens you?
- Do you understand that you must have Jesus’ righteousness only and completely and hate your own works as they are unable to justify you?
- Do you understand that faith is your most important need, faith that connects you to Christ and gives you his grace, gifts and righteousness; that faith comes only from the Holy Spirit? Are you so convinced of your need that all sins, possessions and desires take second place to having Christ?
- Have you counted the cost of persecution, mockery, opposition, tribulation, affliction and even death that may come because you chose Christ?
- Even if you have not received the witness of the Spirit, are you seeking God consistently, longingly, wanting him above all else, “not resting until you possess Him”?
- Are you able to rest without knowing Christ is in you?
- Why do you want to join us? More light, instruction, direction, experience of God? Is there a false motive? Are you running from another congregation?
- “Are you willing to take rebukes and chastening and instruction from us, so long as we do all these things in the sight of the Lord?”
- Will you agree to keep the matters of these meetings from non-Christians?
- “Are you willing to give rebukes as well as to receive them, and to use every gift that you possess to promote the Lord’s work in our midst?”
- Will you give as much as you can to help the poor members of this group?
Theophilus then answers various questions from Eusebius.
- Anyone who feels led can ask a question of the person seeking membership because it is good to have many counselors. But make sure there is no talking one over the other or too many questions so that things get confused.
- The whole group should be asked their opinion of a prospective member, as well as those who know him outside e.g. neighbours etc.
- If a person is not deemed to have God’s grace working in him, he is either to be rejected immediately (“which is very difficult to do”) or received on trial. Unless there is some negative against him, even the smallest desire or signs of grace should be enough not to reject him – the Bible makes clear that all who desire should come.
- The way to receive someone on trial is to give his name to the stewards some time before, to be privately interviewed a number of times and to speak to Christians and non-Christians about any changes in his life and then after a couple of months, to be presented to the society
- A new member should be charged as existing members see fit, but the charge should include…
- Not revealing matters of the meeting to non-Christians
- Not fraternizing with the non-Christian world except if circumstances force you to
- Keep company with Christians: correcting and being corrected in humility, living in love with each other, not loving those who rebuke less than those who comfort, attending services regularly, not letting tongues get away with them to prevent jealousy, prejudice, hostility and envy among Christians, doing everything to encourage love, watch over others, rebuke privately and if accepted and change takes place, do not broadcast the fault, if not accepted or change not evident, take it to the steward and from there apply Matt 19.
One of the first things I noticed was the reliance on the Spirit. Nothing is done without “crying out” to the Lord for his guidance, and if something is not showing the blessing of the Lord, another activity is tried. What a great way to develop dependence on the Lord! This seems to fit perfectly with 1 Cor 14 and the instructions about meeting there.
The whole issue of catechizing members is a tricky one. I believe it incredibly beneficial, but I am also wary.
First of all, is it something the Bible indicates occurred in a weekly meeting? I’m not sure that is the case. So, while it may be good for a mid-week gathering for accountability, I’m not convinced that every Sunday people should be quizzed on their spiritual state. (Reading on, I am reminded that this intense quizzing is only for new members or people for whom it is deemed necessary).
Secondly, knowing the issues of control that occurs in some cults, such questioning could well get out of line. How is this to be avoided? But is it a big enough danger to warrant not doing it at all?
Thirdly, having a stranger delve into my spiritual walk makes me uncomfortable. I have seen enough people destroyed by bad advice and lack of understanding to think that people who don’t know the people or all the circumstances should not be given authority to make pronouncements about my spiritual life. And yet, it worked for those people at those times and resulted in a continued, vital relationship with the Lord.
I appreciated many of the questions for prospective members. We would benefit from asking them of existing members of our fellowships today! The emphasis on seeing change and experiencing grace is not demanded from our fellowships in this age and I think the spiritual deadness in our churches indicates that it would be a good idea to bring some accountability in those areas back.
I also appreciated the willingness to accept anyone, no matter how weak the signs of God’s grace may look. It is true that God accepts all who come – who are we to turn people away unless there is a compelling reason or unrepentant sinful lifestyle?
The last question about giving as much as you are able to the poor is a big challenge to us today – one that few take up. In small groups it is more likely to be done because 1) you know the poor you are giving to and 2) people will be aware if you are not – accountability.
The ability of any to ask questions is also, I think, a biblical way to operate. Testing prophets (not everyone) in 1 Corinthians 14 seems to indicate that any (man) may ask a question in a weekly meeting. This, I think, is valuable and would be essential in any church gathering.
The last section on the “charge” given to new members reveals some great points for Christian fellowship. I personally think, however, that not associating with non-Christians has been quite damaging to the Church at this point in history and leaves me unconvinced that it is the best course of action. Of course, our first point of contact and community should be the Church and much effort should be poured into that community, so there will be some limiting of association with non-Christians, but completely cutting them off unless circumstances disallow it seems counterproductive.
In sum, I think this chapter usefully describes and encourages relying on the Spirit of God in our meetings – this should be done in weekly meetings as implied in 1 Corinthians 12-14 – and also give some insight to how judging prophecies (and teachings etc) could be carried out within a gathering where different people are contributing. The questions for new members highlight spiritual qualities of the individual that would greatly benefit a gathering where all contribute. In other words, there is a lot to learn from this dialogue for 1 Corinthians 11-14 meetings for the Church today.