Sunday, January 4, 2015

Why We Shouldn’t Separate Our Worship Services

            Over and again throughout history the Christian church has found itself required to adapt its worship in order to remain effect in a changing world.  Some of these changes were necessary.  It was necessary that, when the Jewish community began to accept and observe a series of prayers against the heretic (directed at the Christian church), we separated ourselves from worshipping along-side the Jews in the synagogues.  It was necessary that, as the church spread itself throughout the world’s cultures, we transitioned to vernacular worship.  And it was necessary that, when the unified church grew increasingly corrupt, the reformation occur and snap focus back to the Gospel ideals of the Church of Jesus Christ.  However, for every necessary change the church has made, it has also adopted patterns and behaviors that were not only unnecessary, they were at times entirely wrong.
            A trend which is spreading across our church culture with increasing velocity is for churches to hold separate worship services on Sunday mornings to accommodate different tastes of worship (in the Baptist church, this often takes the form of traditional, hymn-based worship versus contemporary chorus worship).  Often the church congregation becomes split, with the elder crowd generally gravitating towards the more traditional service and the younger crowd moving towards the contemporary service.  It is my intent in writing this to point out why separating our services like this is not only a grave mistake, but is also unbiblical.

Separating worship services emphasizes trivial arguments over unified worship.
            Simply stated, when we separate our worship services based on the style of worship, we emphasize the fact that our part of the Body of Christ can be separated by conflicts so meaningless as what type of music is played during the meeting.
            Unfortunately our modern churches very of divide, and sometimes split apart entirely, over very trivial matters.  In fact, churches have broken apart over arguments about what color and kind of carpet there should be in the sanctuary.  It should be of no mystery to anyone why we absolutely cannot allow divisive arguments to persist within the church!  How are we to approach our world with the love and gospel of Jesus Christ if we can’t even get over stupid arguments?  We absolutely can’t.  If the world around us cannot see us standing together as the unified body of Christ, then it will never accept the message we aim to deliver.  We can’t preach that Christ is bigger than our trials when we allow simple matters to tear us apart.  We cannot proclaim that we are following the lordship of Jesus Christ when we can’t even get over ourselves in so great an amount as to not argue of the style of our worship.
            Brothers and sisters, the style of worship that employ is simply not important when we compare it to unity in the body of Christ.  We are fooling ourselves if we think that God is more concerned with the type of music we use or the type of clothing we wear than He is with us presenting His son to our world.
            And the world sees our stupid arguments.  They see our stupid arguments and they judge us based upon how we behave with one another.  They see us breaking apart and not even worshipping together because we can’t get over ourselves enough to accept other styles of music or other manners of dress.  Why on Earth would the world want to be a part of our fellowship if that same fellowship is characterized by arguing (or worse!) if that fellowship can’t put petty disagreements behind itself and bond together in the love of Christ.
            Moreover, when we make light of our fellowship such to the point that we will split our congregation apart over stylistic differences, we very clearly trivialized the importance of our community before the entire world.  We show the world that our personal preferences regarding how we worship are more important than our gathering together in the name of Christ to worship Him.  We try to rationalize this separation by saying that we are appealing to a wider range of people, when in reality we are defiling the unity of the church. 

Separating worship services disconnects the elder church members from the younger members.

            I stated earlier that separate worship services often create a disconnect between the older and younger age groups of the church.  When these two age groups are attending separate worship services at separate times and not ever venturing to the other service, they lose contact.  Of course, this is bad because, once again, it breaks of the fellowship of the body of Christ.  However, this also prevents influence of both generations from reaching the other.  The younger congregation members have no contact with the culture of the older members, and vice versa.  Neither side is able to share their wisdom and experiences with each other because they’re simply not in contact.  So why should older members of the church be expected to keep helping with and supporting the younger members?  Because of the love and fellowship of Jesus Christ?  That’s already been severed by splitting the groups up.  How are older and more mature Christians supposed to impart discipleship upon younger members?  They don’t have contact with them.  And are the elders supposed to make decisions concerning the proceedings and activities of both groups within the church if they’re only a part of one? 
            I recently attended the more traditional service at a church which separates its services like this, and to my dismay I noted that, aside from one other person, I was the youngest person in the room and the two of us were the only people in the room whose hair had yet to start greying.
            It is good that older and younger church members be in contact with one another.  The younger members of the church can learn a great deal from the histories and experiences of the older members and quite often older members of the church take joy in seeing and worshipping with the younger members.  More importantly, Christ has called us to be one body.  We mustn’t try to separate these body parts and we absolutely cannot accept it when they are separated.  Instead, we must fellowship together, learn from one another and exist as the unified body of Christ bound in His redemptive work and His love.
            We all have much to learn from each other.  The younger church members stand to learn a great deal from the experiences of the older church members, and the old church members would do well to see the fresh and excitable worship of the younger members.  We were made to fellowship together, to build each other up and to learn from each other what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

And finally, separating worship services creates division in the body of Christ.

            This entire time I’ve been talking about how separating our services divides the body of Christ.  Ultimately, this is the single biggest reason why we should keep our services unified.  We were designed to take part in being one single body in Christ.  The shepherd was intended to watch over and care for one single flock.  For our churches to move forward in Christ’s leadership and in fellowship as the united body of Christ, we absolutely must maintain communal worship. 
            It is bad for there to be disconnect between the separate churches that make up the body of Christ.  However, it is equally bad for the individual churches themselves to have their bodies further disjointed.  I’ve said this over and over again: the church is designed to be the body of Jesus Christ here on this earth.  We are designed to carry out His work unto the world and show the world His love.  In order for us to do that, we must ourselves be united in Him.  It is absolutely foolish for us to allow our body to be broken apart because of disagreements about the appropriate style and dress for worship.  In order for us to effectively work out as the body of Christ, we have to get over ourselves and get over our adhesion to “how we’ve traditionally done things”.  God cares far more that we are unified in Christ than He cares whether we sing purely hymns, purely choruses, or a mixture of both.  We cannot allow ourselves to become so set in our ways and resistant to change that we become ineffective at achieving our purpose in God’s redemptive work, lest we risk being tossed aside like useless chaff.

            So we mustn’t separate our church services.  We mustn’t allow petty arguments over style and dress to split up our congregations.  We mustn’t allow different demographics within our churches to lose connect with one another.  And we absolutely must not allow there to be any division within the body of Christ.  If we allow any of these things to persist, then we risk losing our effectiveness in reaching the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

In Gethsemane

41And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42saying, ‘Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me.  Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done.’”
This is one of the most powerful moments in all of scripture.  I would dare say that Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane rivals even the cross in the power of its testimony.  All of scripture leads up to the cross, but the Garden of Gethsemane provides a very candid view of Christ as He prepares to go to His death.  As He prays, we see both the humanity and the divinity of Christ on display; we see Him anxiously fearing for His life, and we see Him obediently submitting to the will of God even to His death.  Here we will briefly analyze Christ’s prayer in the garden as He reveals both His humanity and his divinity to us.
1.      Remove this cup from Me
a.       He knew what was coming.  Crucifixion is a very intense and humiliating for of public torture and execution.  Its public spectacle was likely intended to strike fear into the people of and under the Roman Empire so they would be slow to consider committing any severe crime.  All peoples living in the empire knew what crucifixion was and how gruesome and slow a form of death it could be.  Jesus knew that He would soon face this form of death Himself.
b.      Gives a very clear look at Jesus’s humanity.  He was anxious and afraid.  With all of His humanity, He desired for God to change His mind and not make Him go to the cross.  The first part of His prayer is literally pleading with God: please, do not make me do this!  Because Jesus knew the pain and torture He was soon to face, in His humanity, He feared the agony, the death, and the humiliation. 
2.      Nevertheless/Yet  ESV: Nevertheless; NASB, HCSB: Yet
a.       The crucial hinge in Christ’s prayer.  Changes the direction of the prayer from a horizontal plea to not have to face the pain and agony of the cross to a vertical assent and acceptance of the Sovereignty of God and His perfect plan.
b.      Notice that the prayer of Christ does not indicate that He will give his reverence to God while still holding onto his desires.  The negative conjunction He uses implies that He is completely forsaking His own wants and submitting even His life to the will of God.
3.      Not My will, but Yours be done
a.       Shows the spirit of Christ’s divinity.  Christ’s total obedience to the call of God even to His crucifixion displays for us His divinity.  Without Christ’s spirit within us, we are entirely incapable of devoting ourselves so entirely to His will even to a brutal and humiliating death.  Christ not only knew from the beginning that His crucifixion was in store for Him, but also submitted Himself completely of His own accord to the plan that God had set in place for Him.
b.      Exemplifies giving everything to God.
                                                              i.      To rephrase Christ’s prayer to be easily applicable for modern man, we would say, “All of the desires of my heart can go to Hell because God’s will is the only will that matters.”
                                                            ii.      When we come to Christ, we are not opening the door for a heartsick savior who’s been begging us to let Him in.  We are responding to the call of a mighty and powerful King who offers amnesty to us, the most heinous of criminals, on the single term that we submit our lives to His Lordship.  Our sinful nature leaves us dead in our filth.  The dead are incapable of raising themselves.  However, God calls to our spirits to awaken and rise and live in Him.
c.       Portrays complete trust in God’s judgment.  Even though Christ knew fully what He was going to face in just a few hours, He give Himself to God’s will and trusted that what God had called Him to do was best.  In our case, when we trust God and follow His lead whole-heartedly, we have scriptural assurance (Dt. 31:6, Jo. 1:9) that God will be with us and will never leave us on our own and will never turn His back on us.  We can trust that His plan will ultimately be best for us, whether we see reward in this life or in Heaven. 

My life is less valuable than the life of a lost man, because my eternity is secured.  When I die, I will be in the presence of God experiencing His joy which will never leave me.  However, when a lost man dies, there is nothing waiting for him but torture and darkness and pain forever.  The lost man’s life is so much more valuable because it is all of the time he has to not be in pain.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Quick Run Through Colossians 1:15-20

Jesus ministry was set in a time when a “disciple” was a learner who would uproot himself to follow his chosen teacher.  The disciple chose to follow a teacher because he knew who the teacher was, and knew that this particular teacher was one worth following.  That being said, before we can follow Christ, we surely must know who He is, which then allows us to correctly see Him as a teacher worth following.
Colossians 1:15-16 – He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities.
                What does it mean to be born of a father?  A father does not create a child; rather, the material for making the child is taken from the father and mother, and thus the child is born of his parents rather than being created by his parents.  All of the material that composes the child is taken from his parents.  Paul speaks of Christ being the firstborn to separate Christ from creation, because, while God created us – we are the work of His hands, Christ is of God.  That is to say, Christ and God are same.
                The passage further connects God and Christ when it indicates that it is by Christ that God performed His act of creation.  Here we also see further illustration of our purpose: the passage tells us that it is “for Him” that all things were created.  Verses 15 and 16 connect Christ to God by showing us that Christ and God are same (He is firstborn) and that Christ shares in the glory of God that we were created to magnify (all things were created through Him and for Him).
Colossians 1:17-20- And He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And He is the head of the body, the church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.  For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.
                Laminin is a special kind of protein in our bodies.  It is known as the “cellular adhesion molecule.”  Literally, that means that Laminin is what holds our bodies together. 

Molecular biology tells us that our bodies are held together by a molecule that bears the shape of the cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  We are literally marked by the cross of Christ.
                Verse 18 tells us that Christ is the head of the body*.  He is the beginning (alpha α), and firstborn from the dead.  Paul sets a differentiation between Christ being firstborn of God and from the dead – while being of God connects Him to God, being from dead separates Him from death, further enforcing the divine nature of Christ.  Finally, verse 18 says that Christ is preeminent.  Seven times in 4 verses Paul enforces the first-ness of Christ.  He takes great care to emphasize Christ’s superiority as one worthy of worship, equal to God.
                Two parts of the nature of God are that He is holy and He is just.  Because of these qualities, we know that sin and God are completely incapable of coexistence; because He is holy, where He is sin cannot be also, and because He is just, He must punish sin.  As a result of the fall, we reside in a state of existence where we are, by nature, sinful.  Because of that, our nature renders us incapable of approaching God – the holy nature of His spirit cannot reside in us.  Christ is, according to Colossians 1:19, one in whom the spirit of God is not only capable of residing, but pleased to do so.  When we come into Christ (through faith) and His atonement covers our broken nature (because of our faith), we become the righteousness of Christ**, thus transforming us into beings in whom the spirit of God can dwell and setting us on a path of transformation into beings in whom God spirit will be pleased to dwell.  The atonement of Christ brings our spirits back into the intimate communion with the spirit of God that I believe man experienced at his creation, before the fall.  Now we see a true picture of reconciliation: God and sin are incapable of coexistence, but God’s son, who is same with God, became an atoning intermediary who settles our feud with the spirit of God. 

*Ephesians 2:11-22- Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who one were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.  For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

**2 Corinthians 5:21 – For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Question from a Child

Please forgive all clumsiness with which I address this issue; I fear I am not at all qualified to address issues such as this with any authority, and so any thought I may have on the matter is mere speculation.

                I suppose it was two weeks ago, now, that I was a chaperone for Friendship Baptist Church’s Centri-Kid trip.  While there I was asked a question by one of our group’s children that, frankly, astounded me.  By all appearances, the child could not have been more than 9 or 10 years old, and she was asking me a question that many adults are not ready to have answered for them.  The question she asked was concerned with what happens to the souls of Christians who commit suicide.  I shall do my very best in this post to accurately field this question with all tact so as to not unnecessarily offend.

So… here we go…
                Is suicide a sin?  To my knowledge, the scripture never directly addresses it as such, and to those who would say “Thou shalt not kill,” the Hebrew more accurately translates to “don’t murder.”  The word “murder” refers to unlawfully or maliciously taking the life of another.  But I think, perhaps, we should look at this from another perspective.  Could suicide be a sin of pride?  Certainly it could be – to think that a man has the authority to decide whether or not his life should continue is certainly a welling up of pride (although not in the sense that we traditionally view pride).  Then, in another sense entirely, we consider that the Christian view says that a man gives his life to Christ; from that point forward it is no longer his life, so might it be said that for him to take his life, since it is no longer his, would be murder?  Certainly I should think that the God who gave His own son as the sacrifice of ultimate atonement would place such high value on the lives He sought so hard to redeem that He would surely be offended by a man throwing that life away so flippantly.  Yes, I feel I must conclude that suicide is, in fact, a sin.
                Can a man who is truly in Christ commit suicide?  Of all the facets involved with the question I’m here addressing, this is the one I am most unsure about.  Until recently I would say without pause that a Christian is incapable of suicide; however, certain events have been called to my attention that cannot be ignored.  Consider the case of the man who was captured by the Vietcong and tortured horribly.  Finally, he sees his chance to escape, so he capitalizes, running as far and as fast as he can.  Unfortunately, he can’t get far enough fast enough and is about to be captured again.  Wishing not undergo that torture again, he makes the decision to take his life.  Consider also the cases of those who have chemical imbalances.  They are certainly far from their own minds, and often put into a lasting and deep depression.  Ultimately, to escape their misery (brought on by no fault of their own; the chemicals in their brain are simply not behaving as they ought to), they take their life.  Perhaps it is possible that a people who truly are in Christ can commit suicide.
                One of the great arguing points of the church is the availability of forgiveness for suicide.  Traditionally, the Catholic Church has argued that suicide cannot be forgiven.  In a way, I can see where this thought would come from.  Practically a sin cannot be forgiven after death because forgiveness requires to be asked, and the dead cannot ask forgiveness.  The nature of forgiveness dictates that it cannot be given for a grievance that has yet to be committed, and cannot be granted in advance for a grievance when the intent to sin remains.  The problem with this thought is that it binds God’s forgiveness to our linear timeline.  I think, probably, that the forgiveness of God exists outside of time with God Himself.  Thus, it was sufficient to atone for the sins of men who lived before Christ came to Earth (in regards to the sacrificial system – I think that it might have served more as allegory to the coming Christ than full atonement.  This would certainly leave room for explanation as to how men were saved before God instituted the sacrificial system**), the sins of men who live now, and the sins that have yet to be committed.  So, while in life we still must ask forgiveness and repent from our sins, the grace of Christ has already sufficiently atoned for all of our sins.

                In conclusion, while I am yet not entirely convinced that a Christian can commit suicide (I concede that it might be possible, but I do not necessarily know), I feel confident to say that, if it is possible, any Christian man who does so will be welcomed with open arms into the Kingdom of the Father.

**Keep in mind that much of what I am here discussing is speculation.  I feel that I do not have the authority to say with decisiveness anything that God Himself has not revealed completely to us in His Word.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The initial post and thoughts on a cultural trend

I've decided to create this blog to share my thoughts (however infrequent, for I tend to go great spans of time without having any relevant thought at all) on life, scriptural topics, and the like.  The name is derived from an irritation I came upon while going through town and noticing the presence of RedBox machines and Self-Checkout stations.  Simply put, I love people, not machines.  I don't like the impersonal attitude of our world in which we try to minimize human contact as much as possible.

So here it is, the initial post...
                Anyone who knows anything much about me at all surely knows that I am currently a student at Mississippi College.  When I arrived in Clinton last August, I encountered a relic from the time when I grew up: on highway 80 and less than a mile from campus is a video store.  My home town (Grenada, Mississippi, for those who may be unaware) hasn’t had a video store since I was a tween; it has moved on to the convenience of RedBox machines.  I can immediately think of three locations that have these machines: Wal*Mart (if I’m correct in my remembering, there are two there); CVS Pharmacy (has two sitting beside each other on the sidewalk about twenty feet from the entrance); and Walgreens (has one along the outside wall facing highway 8).  This is the standard with most places I’ve been in recent years.  The day of the video store has passed and, it seems, the machine is here to stay. 
                Where I take issue is with the impersonality of the RedBox machine (and I am only using the machine as an example; it is merely a result of the direction our culture is moving).  These machines are just another part of a current trend in which it is becoming more and more possible for people to go through life without having to deal with each other.  Some would see this as a wonderful advancement; I disagree.  Humanity was engineered to live in society; our spirits crave fellowship.  This also raises another issue which just happens to be the entire point I am currently wishing to address.
                My point is this: I absolutely hate the impersonality our world is moving towards.  Like I said, the RedBox machine is just one example of how our culture is moving to a point where we have less to do with each other.  For discipleship, impersonality is a terrible thing.  I may have never directly stated the following thought, but I have certainly insinuated it: discipleship without personal relationship is certainly not possible.  If we are to create disciples (note that I am speaking of discipleship and not the act of making converts; I’ll touch on this in a footnote), then we must be prepared to form and build personal relationships with the people around us.  How am I to lead a man to spiritual maturity in Christ if I cannot even talk to him?
                We face issue in that as our world becomes more closed to open relationship with each other it becomes more difficult for us to build the relationships necessary for discipleship.  If we are not engaged in discipleship, then we are failing in our purpose as parts of the body of Christ.  If we are failing in our purpose as the body of Christ, according to the scriptures, we are useless in the Kingdom.  Keep in mind the words of Christ during the Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”  Remember also the words of James in his letter: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.’”  James continues to make the point that simple intellectual acknowledgment of God being who He is simply is not enough by saying that even the demons know who He is and shudder at His name.  The point in all of this paragraph is that we must be engaged in discipleship and that we are facing ever increasing obstacles to the spread of the Gospel.
                I suppose what bugs me the most is that now it happens so much that it has actually become an issue that people ask each other out, and in cases even begin relationships, without ever having really spoken to one another in person.  How far must we go before we realize that this impersonality is simply insane?  Of all things, even if nothing else in our lives were to be personal, shouldn’t discipleship and relationship with someone who we may spend the rest of our lives with be personal, taken care of in person with real contact and communication and not through text?  To the reader I issue this plea: seek to live your life making relationships with people and not pulling away from society.  If the cause of Christ is to be advanced, then we absolutely must reach out to the world and not confine ourselves from it.

**On the topic of discipleship and how it differs from making converts: the commission given us in Matthew 28 says that we must “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  The very nature of this command defines more than telling them about the Gospel and seeing them say a prayer and, as we tend to say, “Get saved.”  We must teach them to observe the commands of Christ – that is to say, we must lead them into living the changed life outlined in the scriptures as part of the body of Christ.  Discipleship requires us to pour our lives and our time into the people around us such that they may truly come to know Christ and not just acknowledge who He is.