BY HUGH FULFORD ─ The last fourteen chapters of Genesis tell the fascinating story of Joseph, son of Jacob, grandson of Isaac, and great-grandson of Abraham, the ancestral heads (fathers) of the Hebrew/Israelite/Jewish people. Joseph’s story is one that wonderfully illustrates the amazing providence of God.
Sold into Egyptian slavery by his ten older brothers while he was still in his teens (Genesis 37:2), Joseph, under the watchful eye and care of God, rose to a high position of authority, second only to Pharaoh himself (Genesis 41:39-45). In fulfillment of a series of dreams by Pharaoh and correctly interpreted by Joseph, a great famine struck all of that part of the world, including the land of Canaan where Joseph’s aged father, Jacob, and all his brothers and their families resided.
Following some intriguing visits by his brothers to Egypt in search of food, Joseph revealed himself to them, and, in time, his entire family, including Jacob (whose name had been changed to Israel) was relocated to Egypt. By Pharaoh’s approval and with his blessings, they were given the land of Goshen in which to live and carry on their occupation of breeding and raising livestock (Genesis 46:1-47:6).
In time, the original group of Jacob’s descendants who moved to Egypt, including Joseph himself, all died. Over the ensuing years, “the children of Israel (Jacob) were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7). Eventually, “there arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). This simply means that the new king did not know the history of the circumstances that had brought the Israelites into the land of Egypt to begin with. Because of the enormity of their numbers, this new king saw the descendants of Jacob as a threat and put them in servitude (Exodus 1:9-14).
What a sad turn of events! What a tragedy to not know the history of how and why the Israelites were in Egypt! Stephen, in the New Testament, in rehearsing the history of Israel, referred to this tragic fact of history (cf. Acts 7:17-18). Evidently, he thought his hearers needed to be reminded of this important truth.
The story of how Joseph and his father’s family came to be in Egypt and how in later years “there arose a new king who knew not Joseph” has within it a powerful and needed lesson for God’s people today. Just as “there arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph,” we have among us today those who do not know the history of the New Testament church and its uniqueness or the fundamentals of apostolic New Testament Christianity. They have no real understanding of the plea (and the principles behind the plea) to go back to the New Testament and just be the pre-denominational and undenominational church we read of there—a church without human creeds and names, man-made doctrines and practices, sectarian thinking and terminology, and culture-driven “adjustments” and accommodations.
Sadly, we have had a generation of preachers, elders, deacons, Bible class teachers, Christian school presidents, faculty members, administrators, editors of papers, and writers of whom a number show little if any understanding of the distinctiveness of the church. As the motley crowd said to Peter, “[Their] speech betrays [them]” (Matthew 26:73). They speak “the language of Ashdod” (Nehemiah 13:23-24). (If you are not familiar with this text and its principle you need to familiarize yourself with it).
Today we have those in the pulpit, in elderships, in the Bible classrooms, and in important educational and journalistic roles who seem to have little if any understanding of when the church of the Lord was established, how it can be identified in the midst of a pluralistic religious world, how it is to be organized according to the Scriptures, how it is to worship, what its work is to be, or how it is to finance the work the Lord gave the church to do.
Increasingly, we have members (including preachers, elders, Christian university professors) who leave the church and join a denomination and think nothing of it! They think they can go to the Baptists, the Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, the Disciples, the Catholics, or some Community Church, et. al. and still be faithful Christians. In their view of the matter they simply “switched denominations”! They had no understanding of the uniqueness and distinctiveness of the church of Christ and its undenominational nature.
The “new kings” in the church (the untaught generations) do not understand why we do not use instrumental music in worship, and why we do not have women elders and preachers.
They do not understand why we observe the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day or why we are not governed by the Old Testament but by the New Testament, the last will and testament of Christ, thus superseding all previous wills and covenants.
The progressives among us do not like not being able to appeal to the Old Testament to support their desire to have instrumental music in the worship of the New Testament people of God. To them, worship under the New should be no different from worship under the Old! They eschew the pattern authority of the New Testament.
Some of the “new kings” even question the necessity of baptism for the remission of sins. Some are advancing the notion of “open membership” (“If you believe in Christ in any sense, you are welcome to be a member, whether you have been immersed or not or for what reason you may have been immersed”).
For many, Sunday is just another day of the week. People casually forsake the assembly of the saints in order to pursue their own selfish pleasures.
Increasingly, homosexuality is being defended and the ancient sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is being “re-studied” and “re-defined.”
It is not unusual to hear a person in the pew speak of the preacher as “The Pastor” or to wonder why we do not call preachers “Reverend.”
Many of our young people have no grasp of simple, New Testament, undenominational Christianity. There has been a sad lack of basic, fundamental Bible teaching, and some elders have made it clear that they do not want that kind of teaching in either the classrooms or from the pulpit.
A number of years ago, an elder went through all the tract racks in a large church that increasingly was becoming more progressive and removed all printed materials that dealt with basic and distinctive Bible teaching. He did not think the tracts represented the kind of reading that would give either the members or visitors the kind of image they ought to have of the church!
And now for several decades we have been reaping the results of this “new approach”! Once again the words of Hosea have relevance: “They sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7). Ignorance of the fundamentals of the faith has paved the way for the departure of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren from “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
Yes, sadly, in far too many places today there have arisen “new kings” in places of leadership and influence in the church – people who “do not know Joseph” – people who do not know the New Testament principles on which the church of our Lord was founded and to which it owes its continued faithfulness and effectiveness. Presidents and Boards of Trustees have forgotten (or abandoned) the principles on which the Christian schools and colleges were founded and who the educational institutions were originally set up to serve. With them the two big issues today is the recruitment of students and the raising of money. Fidelity to the Lord and His word show up somewhere lower on the list of priorities.
New kings! New emphases! New directions!
Brother Hugh is a gospel preacher with many years of experience. He often writes for The Spiritual Sword. He sends out an email publication, “Hugh’s News and Views,” from which this article was taken, with his permission.