Truly preparing to worship

Worship serviceWe prepare to go to church. That’s not quite the same as preparing for worship. It is quite possible to come to church and go home without having worshiped.

Some churches make it nearly impossible for anyone to worship.

I’m thinking in particular of a service where the sermon was little more than a book review and the congregation had little chance to participate. Or of other services where the sermon has consisted of the preacher explaining away what the Scripture lesson clearly taught.

But even in churches where the content of the service is good and the congregation has ample ways to participate, it is too easy just to go through the motions and leave unmoved.… Read the rest

All the New Testament apostles: more than 12!

apostle Matthias

Saint Matthias / workshop of Simone Martini, ca. 1318

There is a common teaching that God intended that there would be only 12 apostles. When Judas killed himself, Peter and the church chose Matthias to take his place, but later God overruled them and chose Paul.  Then how come the New Testament names other men—and a woman—as apostles?

In order to believe the teaching that the appointment of Matthias was a mistake, it is necessary to believe that

  • Peter acted impulsively, having been misled in his prayer and meditation on the Word as described in Acts 1.
  • After Peter and the entire assembly prayed, the Holy Spirit allowed them to make a fundamental error and start the whole church on the wrong foot.
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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

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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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

Remember Jesus

The Resurrection of Christ / Noel Coypel, 1700

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.

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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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Happy birthday, universal church!

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

The church: sons of God


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