What does Christianity have to do with religion?

Worship serviceReligion and church seem so intertwined that many of us consider those terms pretty much interchangeable. The New Testament, among other things, has a lot to say about the church. The Greek for church, ekklesia, occurs 115 times (including three as “assembly”).

Wouldn’t it stand to reason that it would also have a lot to say about religion? That word, threshkeia, appears only four times, once as “worshiping.” “Religious,” threshkos, appears once.

Religion in modern discourse

“What religion are you?” I have been asked that more than once, and when I have said, “Christian,” the person asking has always been disappointed.… Read the rest

Universal brotherhood?

Interfaith unity?

Interfaith unity?

Many people in the church today simply assume that all humanity is one large family, with God as its Father. They take offense at the thought that maybe some people are not God’s children.

Do they realize that they are taking offense at Jesus himself? Oh well. Religious people have always found Jesus offensive.

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Awake! Awake!

Foggy  sunrise

Foggy sunrise

When morning gilds the skies, my heart, awaking, cries, “No. No. Not already!” What I like much better is what everyone has been saying ever since smart phones became popular: “There’s a nap for that.” Please don’t tell me I’ve been hearing that wrong!

So here is perhaps my very least favorite commandment from Scripture: “Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:11-12, NASB)

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Are you washed? Or just starched and ironed?

Kids in bathJohn Wesley observed, “The church recruited people who had been starched and ironed before they were washed.” With all due adjustments for differing laundry habits, the same can be said for the church in all times and places from the beginning.

Maybe even before the beginning. In Mark 7, the Pharisees complained to Jesus that his disciples didn’t properly wash their hands before they ate. Jesus didn’t respond with the deferential apology they evidently expected. In effect, he pointed out that they might be ceremonially washed, but not clean.

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False religion and the God-shaped vacuum

God shaped vacuum“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man, which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”

That familiar quotation is falsely attributed to Blaise Pascal, but it’s a reasonable paraphrase of what he actually wrote.

It’s true, no matter who put it in those words.  Trouble is, sinful man has tried to fill it with something else—anything else—besides God since time immemorial.

What “spiritual” atheists think about God

I recently came across an article that talks about a remarkably high percentage of atheists who nonetheless consider themselves somehow “religious” or “spiritual.”

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The Kingdom of God has come. Now what?

Christ enthroned

Christ Enthroned: West Portal, St. Colman’s Cathedral, (Cobh, Ireland)

The kingdom of God is not like other kingdoms or nations. Since time immemorial, when one nation has invaded another, the invaded nation knows. Eventually so does everyone else who cares at all.

Most of you can probably name the years for the last two or three times Germany invaded France. It doesn’t have to be an invasion with armies, either. Regardless of where you stand on immigration, you have to know that a lot of Latin America has taken residence in the US.

Has there ever been any kind of invasion on earth where it was not clear just who was invading?… Read the rest

All things are lawful, but . . .

Sin

Society acts like it’s a good thing!

“All things are lawful,” says Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:12. Does that mean that idolatry, murder, stealing, sexual sin, and perjury are lawful?

That’s exactly what it means. And Paul wrote that to a church where he observed elsewhere that some of them had formerly been just like that.

Christians are not under law. That is, Christians do not have a long list of dos and don’ts to live up to. We’re under grace. Paul goes on to say, “not all things are profitable.”

Idolatry, murder, stealing, sexual sin, and perjury are lawful. Nonetheless, they’re still sin.… Read the rest

The household of God and a mystery

God's household

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs / Fra Angelico (about 1423-24)

In 1 Timothy 3:14-16, Paul explains his purpose in writing. Although he planned to visit Timothy and his congregation in person, he realized that he might be delayed. So he wanted to make sure that Timothy had clear instructions on how people ought to behave in the church.

But notice how Paul describes the church. It is the household of God. I suspect not many people nowadays understand what that means. On the other hand, I suspect any modern Christian would quickly agree that “godliness” makes a good one-word definition of proper conduct.… Read the rest

Stephen’s portrait of church leadership

Stoning of Stephen

The Stoning of Stephen, Annibale Carracci (1603-04)

The church had a problem at the beginning of Acts 6. They were all Jews, of course, but most of them were native to the area. Jews had moved all over the Roman Empire and had established synagogues in every major Greek city.

A number of those Jews eventually moved back to Jerusalem. They spoke Greek, but not the local Aramaic.

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Raising Ebenezer

Ebenezer“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” has been a favorite American hymn for about 200 years. The second verse notoriously starts, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer.” I say notoriously, because it has been generations since large numbers of church goers have understood the meaning of “Ebenezer.” It’s a stone of remembrance, set up by the judge and prophet Samuel on an occasion well worth remembering.

Humiliating loss

When Samuel was a child, two worthless priests under judgment from God decided to take the ark of the covenant into battle with the Philistines. Since they had no relationship with God and no regard for him, they must have regarded the ark as some kind of magic box that would turn the tide of battle.… Read the rest