Monday, December 26, 2016

When are we to go to church?

  I was asked the other day why I go to church so much. My initial response was “first, because I want to and secondly because God has directed his people to assemble to worship him on the first day of every week (Sunday).” 
  The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews points out that some of the early Christians had made a habit of not assembling together (Hebrews 10:25), indicating that coming together as a group of like-minded persons was an essential element of having a good Christian life. It stands to reason then that not assembling together to worship is not beneficial to those who desire a strong Christian life.
  But how often are we to come together as a group to worship?  Acts 20:7 says
“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.”
  First let us note that this verse clearly tells us that the disciples met on Sunday, the “first day of the week.” There is no indication anywhere in scripture of a single week in the year that the first century Christians were to meet. Some try to say that “the week” refers to a single week and thus we as Christians are only required to meet on Sunday of a particular week. Nothing in scripture supports such a statement and the original Greek text for week (“σαββάτων”) does not refer to a single week but a plurality of weeks. So we can draw the conclusion that the first century Church met on the first day, or Sunday, of every week of the year.
  There are two types of commandments we must follow as Christians. “Direct” commandments and “Inferred” commandments. Obviously direct commandments are where the Bible tells us specifically what we are to do such as to be Baptized in order to be saved (Mark 16:16). Inferred commandments instruct us 
indirectly, largely by what the Bible doesn’t tell us. Such is the case with the frequency we are to come together as His church to worship Him. In every instance the Bible speaks of the disciples coming together to worship God it refers to them doing so on the first day of the week and because we know it is not a specific week we can conclude we are to come together (or “go to church” as we say these days) every Sunday of every week of every year. The wisdom of this is also manifest when we realize that coming together with like-minded people is also a way of building us up and edifying each other as we face the trials and temptations to come each week.
  And going to church twice on Sundays and once mid-week? Well, I’ll address that in another blog entry. See you at church!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Instrumental Music in Worship

  Did you know the use of instruments in worship in the New Testament church is never mentioned in the Bible? Early church leaders of the second and third century (as well as secular historians of the period) make mention that the Christian church only sang and did not use instruments.
"The unison voices of Christians would be more acceptable to God than any musical instrument." - Eusebius of Caesarea (263AD-339AD)
"Musical instruments were not used (in worship). the pipe, tabret, and harp here associate so intimately with the sensual heathen cults, as well as with the wild revelries and shameless performances of the degenerate theater and (Roman) circus..."-Augustine (354AD-430AD)
  In fact it wasn't until the mid 600'sAD that instruments, specifically an organ, was first introduced in worship by early Catholicism under Vitalian (657AD-672AD). So we can clearly see that it was Man who introduced instruments into the worship service. When man decides he knows better than God what God wants us to do to worship him the worship becomes adulterated and is invalid to God.
  How important is it to only do those things which the Bible mentions we should do in worship? Well, consider Nadab and Abihu from the Old Testament.
"And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before Jehovah, which he had not commanded them." Leviticus 10:1
  Both were sons of Aaron and both were priests who went to the temple to do their duty, but along the way they decided to do something different. Something God had not authorized. We don't know specifically what that was, only that it was offensive to God. The result was disastrous for the brothers.
"And there came forth fire from before Jehovah, and devoured them, and they died before Jehovah." Leviticus 10:2
  From this example we can see just how serious God expects us to be with our worship to him. But "what," you might ask, "does that have to do with using musical instruments in worship?" The answer is fairly straightforward... there is no mention of using instruments in worship in the New Testament or from early church history - only singing. When we introduce musical instruments as part of the worship then that part of our worship is offensive to God because it is not what he has commanded and when we insert our own human ideas into worship then our worship is in vain.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What's in a Name

  Sometime ago I made an entry in my Handprints blog about my name. At the time I had intended to make a second entry about names in relation to Christianity.
  So, once again I ask, "What's in a name?" Just as a name is important because it gives us an identity, it helps others to know who we are. In the religious world names are even more important. In a very broad sense a name identifies a religion in general terms and encompasses many varied beliefs. For instance, in the Muslim world there are many different sects or religious factions but all have Mohammed at their core. So it is in Christianity. There are many religous sects that have Jesus at it's core. In a specific sense people take on the name of their sect - Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, Protestants, etc., etc.. But where do they get the authority to call themselves such? The Bible certainly doesn't justify a religious body to name themselves whatever they want anymore than it justifies naming themselves after religious leaders such as Lutherans, Campbellites, Wesleyans, etc. In fact the Bible tells us quite the opposite. Paul addresses this trend in I Corinthians 1 when he says beginning in verse 10:
 10 "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
  This tells us that there is only one whom we should be named after - Christ. If the Bible is so specific about what we are called, it follows then that the name of his church would also be important. Ephesians 4:4 tells us that there is only "one body" (which is his church, Colossians 1:24), but what is that body called? Well, again the Bible gives us the answer. Romans 16:16 says
All the churches of Christ send greetings
 and I Corinthians 1:2 says
To the church of God in Corinth.
  Another name the Bible ascribes to the true church is found in Acts 9:2 where it states that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women...
The inspired writer there calls the church "the way."
  And so the TRUTH is that when you seek out the new testament church the first requirement is to find one with a scriptural name, a name which is authorized by God in his word.

The Finality of Heaven and Hell

  Consider for a moment that you know with a certainty the day and time of your death. How would you change? Would you change? What would you do differently than you are doing right now? How would you treat those around you - your family, your friends… your enemies? Now consider the truth - you are for a certainty going to die one day. Period. There is nothing you can do that will change that. So I ask the question, slightly reworded, once again… How will you change? What will you do differently? How are you going to treat those around you? 
  If you believe in God then you believe in Heaven and Hell. I don’t know much about what Heaven or Hell is actually like but I do know they share two qualities. First that they are permanent. There is no changing or leaving one to go to the other, once you are there then you cannot leave. Secondly they are eternal. In life if you don’t like a job you can quit and get a new one, if you don’t like your situation in life you can take steps to change it. Not so in eternity. Once you are in Heaven or Hell there are no second chances, no do-overs, no rebooting, It is final.
I know another thing about Heaven and Hell. Heaven is going to be joyful and we won’t have worries or cares, sickness or hunger and Hell is going to be a place of torment and anguish (Luke 16:19-28). It sickens me when I hear someone tell another to “go to Hell” or say “I’ll see you in Hell.” Our society tries to sell us on the idea of a fun Hell, saying “That’s where all the rock stars and porn stars are going to be. Wouldn’t you rather be there having fun instead of singing and playing a harp all the time?” Sadly those rock and rollers and porn stars who end up in Hell are not going to be partying, playing gigs and having huge orgies. The Bible tells us those in Hell are going to be in anguish and pain - and not just for a little while but for eternity (Revelation 14:11, 20:10). Remember eternity? That thing that will last forever, that will never, ever change, no second chance, no do-overs. That place.
  In this day and age the old “fire and brimstone” approach is said to be archaic and we need to be preaching love and forgiveness because we can reach more souls that way just like you can attract bees with sugar better than you can with oil or vinegar. Though I believe we should be teaching love and forgiveness we do a great disservice when we ignore the “fire and brimstone,” when we fail to teach the consequences of failure to humble ourselves, follow God’s word and love him. It’s not about trying to scare ourselves or others to heaven but about being realistic about the consequences of not following God.

  So I ask a third time. What will you do now? What will you do differently? How will you treat your fellow man, your loved ones and your enemies? Your God?  Man’s purpose on this earth is to fear God and keep his commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Are you doing so?

Monday, June 13, 2016

Tolerant or Intolerant?

We often hear the battle cry in the news and in social circles today that we are to be tolerant. We must tolerate this person or that one who is different from us. But is tolerance a good thing? Well, that depends on just what it is you are tolerating. If a person is doing something contrary to God’s will we should love that person but we should not tolerate their sin. But isn’t that contradictory you might ask? No. If you are a parent and you have told your child to not do something but the child does it anyway do you just turn your head the other way and let the child do as he or she wishes? No. A good parent will discipline their child because they love that child and have their best interests at heart. In other words, the parent is intolerant of the bad behavior but still loves the child. Through discipline and instruction the child will learn to do what is right. In the same way, Christians should be intolerant of sin but still love the sinner.
 Take for example the lifestyle of homosexuality. Homosexuality is a sin (I Cor. 6:9-10) and as such it should not be tolerated. That does not mean we turn our backs on homosexuals or hate them. It means we should show love towards them and admonish them in love and kindness to turn from that sin.
  Some would accuse me of judging others and judgment is for God. Judgment IS for God to do, and he has given us the Bible so that we might know those things for which we will be judged or condemned. As Christians we must share that knowledge and when it illuminates sin it is God who is doing the illuminating, showing us by his word what is sin and what is not.  Most people will quote Matthew 7:1 which says “Judge not, that ye be not judged” but they stop there. Still later in the same chapter Jesus instructs Christians to “Beware of false prophets” (vs. 15) and still later that we will know evil by their fruits (vs. 17-20). How are we to discern false prophets and evil fruit unless we have the ability to recognize them and point them out?

  As Christians we must stand firm against sin. We must be intolerant of sin, yet we must tolerate the sinner in is as much as we are commanded to love them and try to illuminate that which is wrong.