Friday, May 29, 2015

Why Do So Many Christians Gather for "Worship"?

If you ask most Christians why they gather together (usually on Sundays), they will tell you that it's for worship. If you then ask them why they get together for the purpose of worship you will likely receive a blank stare. This is because most Christians have never pondered this before. It's also because the bible gives no indication that the body of Christ comes together for worship.

In the New Testament we see the church meet for a different purpose: edification. I Corinthians 14:26 says, "How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." The point of the gathering was the building up of the members. No confusion there.

However, there is plenty of confusion today. How did we get into this mess? In order to find out we must look back at church history (in fact, we'll find many of the answers to these fifteen church-related questions by searching through church history).

Not long after the first century a clergy system began to form. Specialists emerged who did the bulk of the stuff as the church gathered. This gradually morphed into the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church. The priests led the Mass, which became the primary gathering of the people of God.

Enter the Reformers. Men like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc. rejected the Mass for the heresy that it was (and still is). They recognized that when churches came together something other than "another sacrifice of Christ" must occur. The Reformers did a good thing by jettisoning the Mass. However, they failed to follow the biblical model when they replaced it. The Reformation saw the rise of preaching as the center point of body meetings.

Fast forward to today. The Catholic Church still performs its Mass. Protestant churches focus their gatherings on music (now known to many as "worship") and preaching. Neither group gathers specifically for edification. Over the years the Protestant versions have become known as "worship services." This is fascinating because the worship is poorly defined and no actual service takes place. Regardless, because the gatherings are known as worship services, many of the people think that they gather for worship.

The biggest problem with this situation is that it leaves the church largely unedified and spiritually immature. Gatherings are supposed to build up the body. However, in worship service ceremonies very little communication occurs or is encouraged among the people present. Edification happens mainly through the carrying out of the one anothers; this cannot happen during a ceremony. Thus, the body does not grow spiritually.

Many, many Christians think they gather for worship because they know little else. It's what they have always done. It does not stem from scriptural teachings, but rather church history. The church suffers because of it.

We do well to challenge this way of thinking.

Let's tell and show our brothers and sisters in Christ that edification occurs best in simple gatherings.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Answering Fifteen Important Church-Related Questions

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post entitled "Sorry, But I Can't Stop Asking Questions." My purpose behind that piece was to encourage all of us to continue inquiring about why things are as they are (I recently put together a related post entitled "Beware the Status Quo").

Although it makes many people uncomfortable, we must continue to ask, ask, and ask some more. This is one of the few ways that change comes about. In my post about asking questions I listed fifteen examples of important questions that should be asked of the church. The questions are wide-ranging, hitting on a variety of topics.

Over the next several weeks I'm going to be answering those questions one by one. You may agree with me or not. However, if you do not please comment. I appreciate opposing viewpoints (feel free to comment even when you agree).

The first question should be a fun one: Why do so many Christians gather for "worship"?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Linking: "Textual Criticism and Bible Translation"

Most everyone who reads this blog also enjoys reading the bible. This is because through scriptural content we can grow closer to Christ.

Many of us do not know much about the original language texts that our English translations stem from. We should both know about and care about this issue. While we do not need to be experts in textual criticism, we ought to at least know what it is about. E. Ray Clendenen has written a short, helpful piece entitled "Textual Criticism and Bible Translation" that recently appeared on Tim Challies' blog. I encourage you to read it. Although it is a sponsored post for the HCSB translation, you can simply ignore that aspect of it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Linking: "Atheism’s Foundation for Morality Is Built on Culture’s Shifting Sands"

Randy Alcorn has written an excellent piece entitled "Atheism’s Foundation for Morality Is Built on Culture’s Shifting Sands." It is short, well-reasoned, and to the point. Alcorn shows that atheists have no concrete basis for their moral decision making.

Monday, May 25, 2015

How Should Christ's Followers Respond to Memorial Day?

It's Memorial Day again. This is the day that our culture tells us we are to remember American soldiers who have died in combat. Some people do this, while many others just enjoy a day off work and maybe a juicy burger.

As those who claim Jesus Christ as Lord, how ought we respond to this day? Should we follow the cultural status quo by remembering the military dead? Or, should we simply ignore the whole thing and enjoy a day of freedom from our normal labors?

I'd like to suggest a third option. We Christians, while enjoying a restful day, ought to spend some time remembering. However, what we remember will be significantly different from what typical Americans do.

Let's remember that war is terrible.

Let's remember that war is always terrible.

Let's remember that "just wars" do not exist.

Let's remember that wars do not solve problems.

Let's remember that wars have all sorts of unforeseen long-term consequences.

Let's remember the war dead from every country, both military and civilian.

Let's remember that Christians ought never participate in war.

38 You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you (Matthew 5:38-42).
43 You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48).

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Beware the Status Quo

According to Wikipedia, "status quo is a Latin phrase meaning the existing state of affairs, particularly with regards to social or political issues."

When it comes to church life we must beware the danger of the status quo.

Life has a certain momentum to it. We wake up, we do stuff, we go to bed. Repeat. While we may not be doing anything particularly sinful, we may also be wasting away many days without even thinking about it. We just exist on automatic pilot. I'm as guilty as anyone else of this.

It's easy to point at the church institution and see the entrenched status quo at work: Christians "go to church" on Sundays at an expensive building to sing "worship songs" and listen to an "expert" lecture to them. This happens week after week after week.

Instead of looking at the institution (which admittedly is an easy target), it probably does us more good to look at self. What areas of our own lives are governed by the cultural momentum of the status quo? Sometimes I can go for an entire day without thinking about serving/helping anybody else. I can go for hours at a time without even thinking about God. Not good.

We must all beware the status quo. It is a great spiritual danger to us as individuals and as the body of Christ.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Busy, Busy, Busy

I haven't blogged much lately because life is extremely busy right now.

This is not a bad busyness, but it certainly requires quite a bit of time. Last weekend our younger daughter graduated from high school. In a couple of weeks our older daughter gets married. We are currently trying to both get the house ready for guests and plan the last details of the wedding ceremony and reception.

On top of all this my job at JCB usually has me working at least fifty hours per week. Added to that is my increasing running schedule; I run almost every day after work. This is a choice, but again it takes time.

My wife Alice and I are what you could call "joyful but busy." If we can just make it through the wedding with no major complications everything should be fine.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Sorry, But I Can't Stop Asking Questions.

Actually, I'm not sorry.

Our society is full of people who rarely question anything. They simply go along with cultural norms because that's the easiest thing to do. Questions are uncomfortable, and we live in a comfort-worshipping country. The last thing most people want to spend their time doing is asking questions (unless they are questioning why something in their lives is interrupting their comfort).

What is even more disturbing is how few people in the church ask hard questions. We follow a person - Jesus Christ - who was about as counter-cultural as anyone who ever lived. He taught numerous things that directly challenge many aspects of our society that we often just take for granted. More specifically, Jesus gave many instructions that fly directly in the face of the way most churches function today. I suppose that's why so few Christians ask those hard questions.

Well, I'm not going to stop. I hope you don't either. We need to be inquiring as to why things are as they are.

Below is a simple list I threw together of examples of church-related questions we must not stop asking:

1. Why do so many Christians gather for "worship"?
2. Why do we largely ignore the poor and needy?
3. Why do many Christians allow the secular government to educate their children?
4. Why is modesty a dirty word in the church?
5. Why is the Lord's Supper often more like a funeral than a celebration?
6. Why are Christians in the military?
7. Why do many Christians segregate by age?
8. Why are we surprised when we suffer for Christ?
9. Why are so many pastors paid salaries?
10. Why do so many simple church folks have poorly-defined doctrine?
11. Why do churches spend so much money on themselves?
12. Why does the church deny any Christians access to the Lord's table?
13. Why do many Christians invest so much in secular politics?
14. Why do we divide over so many inconsequential issues?
15. Why do we expect secularists to care about Christian principles?

The list goes on, and on, and on.

When we ask questions we must be aware of the fact that they will often not be welcomed. Questions by definition challenge. If we challenge the status quo those who benefit from that status quo will not be happy. While their responses will be varied, we can and should expect something unpleasant.

We are responsible for asking responsible questions both in content and in presentation. At that point we "let the chips fall where they may." We cannot control the responses we receive.

One thing we can be certain of is that if we do not ask questions nothing will change.

Keep asking. I know I will.

Monday, May 11, 2015

I've Reached Non-Violence, But Not Non-Resistance

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to the issues of non-violence and non-resistance. Having grown up in American evangelicalism, this has been a struggle for me. After much searching of scripture and analyzing of my own assumptions and motives, I've finally reached a point of embracing complete non-violence. I'm determined to respond to all of life's circumstances, no matter what, in a non-violent manner. No exceptions.

I believe we followers of Christ must take our Lord's teachings seriously. Jesus says some extremely straightforward and earthshaking things in Matthew 5:38-42:

You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

Christ continues in 5:43-48:

You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I'll be honest: the above verses make me uncomfortable. I don't particularly like them. A large part of me wishes they weren't in the bible. However, we don't get to pick and choose. Based on Jesus' life and teachings, it is clear that he expects non-violence from his followers.

When I talk about non-violence, I'm not speaking about politics. I don't care to be part of some sort of flower child, peace sign, pot smoking club. I have no intention of taking Christians to task who are part of the military (although that issue does raise some significant questions). I'm not going to start rebuking Christians for having guns. The list goes on.

This is more about what I'm for than what I'm against. I'm for living a life where every interaction with other people is a peaceful one. This will not always mean agreement. I will no doubt have different thoughts, ideas, opinions, etc. about all sorts of issues than others will. However, this does not mean that things have to get violent. Additionally, just because someone else is violent toward me does not mean I have to respond in kind.

I believe in a sovereign God who oversees all circumstances. This includes violence toward me and my family. I trust him to protect me as he sees fit. When it comes to protecting my own family, I trust God with that as well. Would I respond violently if someone was attacking my family? At this point I do not know what I would do. The husband and father in me says "Yes I would," but I struggle to defend that scripturally.

My goal is to live in a non-violent manner at all times.

As for non-resistance, I'm not so sure. I have an easier time (at least in my mind) defining non-violence than non-resistance. While non-violence seems fairly clear cut, non-resistance feels murkier. When we look at the life of Christ we see Jesus at some times not resisting, but at other times he did. For example, when he cleansed the temple (not a violent act by the way), he was certainly resisting the status quo of the day. When the Pharisees put their traditions in front of biblical truth, Jesus rejected them forcefully. In fact, he resisted anyone who was teaching against God's truth. As for his disciples, Christ consistently resisted their lack of understanding and faulty assumptions about what the Messiah should be.

I'll be pondering non-resistance quite a bit in the days ahead. I've got to come to a clearer understanding and definition of what it means and does not mean. That being said, I do think Christ's call to non-violence is clear. Although it flies in the face of our Republican-loving, gun-toting American Christian subculture, it is what Jesus calls us to do. Will we do it?

Count me in for non-violence.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Jesus is the Only One Who Deserves to Monologue

When we look at Jesus Christ's earthly ministry we see quite a bit of teaching. While some of it contained back-and-forth conversation, others of it seems to have been mostly monologue in nature. The Sermon on the Mount is a good example of this.

I've heard Christians use the Sermon on the Mount as evidence for modern monologue preaching. The thinking is that "if monologue was good enough for Jesus it must also be good enough for us." This is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, Jesus was teaching people who were interested in him but were not yet his followers (in the sense of understanding the gospel and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit). Because of their lack of understanding, Christ sometimes needed to monologue.

When the church gathers today there's no need for monologue. This is because those present are all able to teach one another and should be doing so. All are indwelt by the Holy Spirit; each can edify another through personal instruction. Monologue is not necessary and can actually stifle body growth.

Second and more important, Jesus gets to monologue because he is God. He alone has a special status within the church. He has insight we could never have. He knows the standards he expects. He teaches the beliefs we should all have. I'll say it again: Christ is Lord and God.

No one in the body of Christ is Christ (only the Head is). None of us should teach as Jesus did just because he did it. Jesus did many unique things. Who are we to teach as he did as if we have the right to monologue? It's actually fairly arrogant thinking.

The church has no need for lecturing. Rather, the entire body grows together most effectively when all take on the responsibility of teaching each other. This form of mutual edification is more than suggested in scripture; it is what we should be doing. Through body life we all gain from the knowledge and experiences of everyone else in the group. Group knowledge is far more accurate and full than individual knowledge.

Jesus alone gets to monologue. We don't, nor should we.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Marathon Training

That's me in the photo above. By the grace of God I've lost thirty pounds over the past three months. This has included cutting out Coke and ice cream, eating lots of vegetables, and running almost every day. It has not been easy, but I'm thrilled with the results so far.

Back in February I realized that I had to do something about my weight. I had gradually creeped up to over 220 lbs. Although I ran a few times each week, I ate and drank so much junk that it didn't matter. I felt gross and flabby. I could barely fit into my work pants. Yuck.

Like most people in our country, losing weight has never been particularly easy for me. I came to the conclusion that I needed some sort of tangible goal to motivate me to drop the pounds. Therefore, I selected the Savannah Rock 'N' Roll Marathon. I've only run one marathon in my life - and that was over a decade ago; this will be a great challenge.

The only way for me to run 26.2 miles is to get down to a more appropriate weight. I'm currently at 190. Everywhere I've looked says I should weigh about 175. That means I'm already 2/3 of the way to my goal. Sweet!

I'm not going to hyper-spiritualize this endeavor. I'm glad I'm losing weight but don't see it as a huge spiritual issue. As followers of Christ, there are many more important things than being at a healthy weight. That said, I feel much better. For that I'm thankful.

I'll post occasional updates about my marathon training. On Sunday I managed to run nine miles fairly easily. So far my body is holding up under the mileage. As we get closer to the marathon's November date the miles will increase. I hope my joints in particular can withstand the pounding.

Now to find my belt. My work pants keep sagging (and that's a good thing).

Monday, May 4, 2015

On Linking

I rarely know well in advance what my work schedule will be at JCB. Some weeks we work forty hours, but others more like seventy. This makes it difficult to blog regularly.

Like many of you, many times I see excellent blog articles throughout the week. While I might not be able to blog, I can still point out these good reads by linking to them. While I've done this numerous times before, my frequency of doing this going forward will probably be increasing (while my own writing dips a bit in number).

My posts that simply link to others will start with the word "Linking." Not very original I admit, but at least you'll know what's going on.

Today I'm linking to two different interesting posts. First, Benjamin Corey has penned an excellent piece entitled 5 Reasons Why So Many Christians Are Feeling Burned Out Right Now.

Second, thanks to Arthur Sido for pointing out this interesting post from the Gospel Coalition of all places: Why Aren't Calvinists Pacifists?

I will by no means agree with all the posts I link to; rather, my intent is to point out thought-provoking pieces.