We had an interesting Sunday school lesson recently about disciples of John the Baptist. One was Apollos, who didn’t know much, or anything, about Jesus, but was a first-rate preacher. He reminds me of the old description of a fanatic: one who has lost sight of any objective but has redoubled his efforts! And then there were a dozen John the Baptist disciples who had never heard of God’s Holy Spirit. All of this is in Acts 18-19.
Our teacher summarized the anomaly by saying that these John followers were living “between dispensations.” They were in the old covenant instead of the new. They lived without knowledge of what God did by sending Christ to save us from our sins.
“Between dispensations” intrigued me. I began to think about some I’ve known over the years who perhaps did the same. They found themselves somehow sandwiched between Old Testament legalism and New Testament grace.
We had a high school coach who felt called to ministry. He came back from a conference believing Christians shouldn’t have television sets in their home. He tossed his and encouraged his church to follow his example. And I had an uncle whose church taught the same thing. It was odd that he kept his TV in the attic and went up there secretly to watch.
It was common in those days for preachers to rail against cigarettes. I remember services where men would put their cigarettes on the altar, making a promise to stop smoking. These were heart-felt commitments, to be sure, and with what medical science now knows, it makes sense not to use tobacco. But there is a dearth of scripture about this, and I suppose one can smoke and be a follower of Christ. The prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon, used to say he smoked cigars to the glory of God!
I remember being exhorted not to play cards or go to car races as a young Christian. In the intervening years I’ve often joked about eating being the only sin we Baptists can enjoy since we can’t drink, smoke, dance or play cards!
Certainly, I understand the need for moral instruction, and that believers ought to refrain from questionable activities that would harm our influence on those weaker in faith. But I believe falling into legalism to be accepted by God is living between dispensations. That’s Old Testament. The New Testament teaches about a God of grace who accepts us as we are, puts his Spirit within us to guide us, and patiently leads us in good decision-making. He works in our lives to make us better people. And grace means he doesn’t stop loving us when we mess up.
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com.