And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham. He called them by the names which his father had called them. (Genesis 26:18, NKJV)
I am a fan of this passage, and its present application as it pertains to church life. Last week, Jon Langley introduced the question about how to do church. From my perspective, Genesis 26:18 helps greatly in answering the question.
(Note: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached his incredible series on revival based largely upon this text, but that won’t be my subject here. For that treatment, check out the book. It’s called Revival.)
The passage tells about Isaac—young Isaac, inexperienced Isaac. As he began to move about in the land and enjoy/obtain the promised inheritance, he encountered some difficulties with Abimelech, king of the Philistines. In spite of these difficulties, Isaac was blessed and became very prosperous.
Things were going well for him when he came upon some wells that had been dug by his father Abraham. Although these wells had been earthed by the Philistines for some reason, Isaac felt it well worth the time and effort to unearth and re-dig the same wells. Apparently he sensed that these wells were valuable, having been dug by his well-respected father. Not only did he re-dig the wells, he revived their names. He called them exactly what they’d been called when Abraham had named them at first.
The connection between this story and the present day question of how to do church seems obvious to me. The application of this connection may not be so obvious.
If we’re going to do church today we should do it in view of history, in the light of what has been done before. Like Isaac with his father, we should respect the work of those who have gone before, and we should build upon any solid, Christ-centered foundation they have laid.
So how far back do we look?
As far as the church is concerned, we have to go back to her Founder, namely Jesus. Sadly, in far too many places even His well has been covered up. Living water isn’t flowing in such places, to be sure. Jesus is the One who said that He would build His church. Paul later added that no other foundation could be laid than that which has been laid. The foundation is Jesus Himself.
(Pastor, here are questions for you: is the church you are pastoring built upon the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you know Him well? Do the people know Him well? Are the grace and truth of Jesus part of your personal and church DNA? Is the sole aim of the people to follow Him? Is it your sole aim to follow Him? Is He your example for love and grace?)
We must also look back and re-dig the wells of the apostles and prophets. We do this primarily through the study of the NT epistles and the book of Acts. We don’t need to look around today nearly as much as we need to look back. We look back to Romans for soteriology, to Ephesians for ecclesiology, to Colossians for Christology, to James for practical Christian living, to the book of Acts for the pattern of ministry in the power and direction of the Holy Spirit.
Additionally, we look back and re-dig the Christ-centered, apostolic wells that are evident from church history. When we find such wells, we drink deeply and wisely, constantly measuring water quality through the tests of Christocentric and Biblical revelation.
And when we do look around at current methods of doing church, we’re in a constant evaluation mode. Is this thoroughly Biblical? Does it appear in the nature and teaching of Jesus? Is it found as a pattern anywhere in the book of Acts? Is there specific teaching on it in the epistles? Does it square with the two great commandments?
Isaac would have been extremely unwise (and disrespectful) had he decided to just pass by and ignore those old wells. So it will be for us, if we only look around at what others are doing … and fail to look back to what has gone before within the plan and purposes of God.