Religion 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
John 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.
… Read the rest
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 Resurrection of Christ / Noel Coypel, 1700
Does it seem odd that Paul wrote “Remember Jesus, raised from the dead” (2 Timothy 2:8) to a dedicated minister of the gospel?
Earlier he had testified that no one on his staff was equal to Timothy. Why should a man like that need a reminder? Remember Jesus? Timothy must have spent most of every day either teaching his church about Jesus or sharing Jesus with the unbelievers in his city.
If we step back a little, though, and consider the history of God’s own people, it doesn’t seem so strange.
… Read the rest
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
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.
… Read the rest
Pentecost / Josef Ignaz Mildorfer, 1750s
This past Sunday was Pentecost. It coincides with an ancient Hebrew festival, but the events of Acts 2 on a particular Pentecost right after Jesus rose from the dead marks the birthday of the church. Alas, the church is divided into various Orthodox, Coptic, Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal denominations, but we all have but one birthday.
“They,” probably the same 120 believers mentioned in Acts 1:15, gathered together in one place, and most certainly not for the first time. This group probably amounts to the first messianic synagogue. On Pentecost, Jesus baptized them with the Holy Spirit as he had promised.… Read the rest
So in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. – Galatians 3:26-29.
As I wrote last time, ” Attempting to emasculate the language of our hymns, prayers, and Bible translation does not make our worship more inclusive. It merely hides and obscures profound imagery that could lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and our relationship to God.… Read the rest
“. . . if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15, NIV).
Probably the first thing that comes to mind when we think of the church as “God’s household” is that Christians are God’s family. After all, household means the people who live in a house, and in our society, that’s usually a family. Indeed, God has adopted all believers into his family. But to gain a deeper understanding of Paul’s meaning, I would like to propose a different way of looking at it, not to replace the notion of the household of God as God’s family, but to enrich it.… Read the rest
Back in the mid ’80s I had an apartment in what used to be a storefront. My door opened directly onto the sidewalk. One winter it snowed a lot, and there was a stretch of several days when there was just a deep puddle during the day, then at night it would freeze. I didn’t know what my liability was, but I didn’t want to be responsible for someone slipping on the ice and breaking a hip or something.
I felt kind of helpless. There’s not much you can do about either a puddle or a sheet of ice with a cheap snow shovel.… Read the rest