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Showing posts with the label #Church

The Didache: How’d the earliest Christians behave?

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In the first century, Christian leaders wrote a “teaching” for their newbies: Stuff they felt new Christians oughta know and believe. Over time it’s become known as the didache , from its first line, Didahí Kyríu diá ton dódeka apostólon toís éthesin , “The Master’s teaching to the gentiles, from the 12 apostles.” Medieval western Christians lost their copies of it sometime in the 800s, and assumed it was gone forever, but Ethiopian Christians kept a version of it among their sacred literature, and an 11th-cenutry copy in the Codex Hierosolymitanus was rediscovered by Philotheos Bryennios in 1873. Historians notice a lot of similarities between the Didache and what the Qumran community taught in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s considered a Jewish-Christian catechism , a lesson to be memorized, and eventually practiced. Whether it’s precisely as the Twelve taught, we’ve no idea. But it’s safe to say it’s what a lot of early Christians taught. In fact, many early Christians felt the

Fearful churches.

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We Christians are meant to be holy, and consider ourselves separate from the rest of the world. No, this isn’t because we’re better than them. We’re so not. No, this doesn’t mean we’re to move into little gated communities where nobody but Christians live, isolate ourselves from everybody else, and drive out anyone we might consider sinners. This is how cults start —assuming the cult hasn’t already started, and the compound is just another creepy symptom of how we’ve gone astray. We’re distinct from the rest of the world because God calls us to follow Jesus. Not other people. Not one another. Not even popular Christian culture —especially its political or Mammonist variants. As the rest of the world does its thing, we’re to ask ourselves, “What would the Father rather I do?” or “What does Jesus do?” Then do that. Believe it or don’t, sometimes this means we do as the rest of the world does. If the culture suddenly realizes society is institutionally unjust—that violence

Sleep-deprived Sunday morning services.

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When I was a kid, I liked church. My friends were there, the pastor was a decent preacher, and the Sunday school classes were interesting. (The music wasn’t so great; as an adult I went to churches with way better music.) But even so, some Sunday mornings I really didn’t care to go. ’Cause sleep. I wanted to sleep. I stayed up way too late the night before. Usually because I watched Saturday Night Live , or Doctor Who reruns on public television, or some other late-night movie or show. I’d be up till 1 a.m.; usually 2. Yeah, television is a lousy excuse for being exhausted the next morning. But in college, I hung out with friends till very late Saturday night—and that’s no better of an excuse. So come Sunday morning, when Mom trying to get us out the door so we could be at church by 9, church was the very last thing I wanted to do that morning. I wanted sleep. Needed sleep. What good was church gonna do me if I dozed off during the sermon? You know, like my other friend

Why skipping church messes us up.

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Whenever I share Jesus with people, most of the time I discover they’re Christian. Or at least they imagine they’re Christian. In the United States, most folks have had some exposure to Christianity. Some of us grew up churchgoers. Others said some version of a sinner’s prayer at one point in our lives. Others had Christian parents, or were baptized, or attend Easter and Christmas services and figure that’ll do. People figure they believe in Jesus and that’s all it takes to make ’em Christian. Confess, believe, and we’re saved. Ro 10.9 Right? So by this metric they figure they’re Christian. They believe in Jesus. Following him is a whole other deal. They’re not religious. They’re “spiritual,” as they define spiritual, which usually means imaginary —’cause like I said, they imagine they’re Christian. Their Christianity wholly exists in their heads. You’d be hard-pressed to find it elsewhere in their lives, but it’s in their heads at least—and somebody’s assured them it c

Three focal points of church services.

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Obviously not all churches are alike. Practices vary. Even within the same denomination: Y’might have one church which is known for its Christian education, bible studies, Sunday school program, and teaching pastors… with a sister church known for its musicians. Talk to any Christian about what they like best in their church, and they’ll usually emphasize a few things they particularly like: The friendliness. The informality. The kids’ program. The decor. The amiability of the head pastor. The many outreach programs. The coffee—for once it’s not Folger’s! (’Cause Folger’s is crap. But when the person in charge of the church’s coffee doesn’t even drink coffee, guess what they always buy? Right—the cheapest stuff on the shelf. Kirkland or Folger’s, or some other awful blend which tastes like Juan Valdez’s burro rolled around in it. Churches, don’t do that to your people. But I digress.) These things aside, y’might notice churches structure their entire Sunday morning service (

When and where the church meets.

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Years ago I got an email asking about what day of the week we oughta attend our church services. My church has a Saturday night service, and I started going to that instead of Sunday mornings. My sister says Saturday nights don’t count; we’re supposed to go to church on Sundays. I told her God doesn’t care when we go to church, so long that we do. Which of us is right? Which of you is right? The weaker believer. Always. Romans 14.5-6 NLT 5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6 A Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him.   Romans 15.1-2 NLT 1 We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. 2 We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. If our Christian sister or brother has a hangup, we might

The church is people.

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Church. tʃərtʃ noun. A Christian group which gathers for the purpose of following and worshiping God. 2. God’s kingdom: Every Christian, everywhere on earth, throughout all of history. 3. A denomination: One such distinct Christian organization, namely one with its own groups, clergy, teachings, and buildings. 4. A Christian group’s building or campus. If you compare the definition of church I gave, with that of an average English-language dictionary, you’ll notice a few differences. The average dictionary tends to first refer to buildings—because that’s what your average English-speaker means when they say church. “I’m going to church” means “I’m going to a church building.” Or “We’re gonna be late for church” means “We’re gonna be late for the services at the building.” But when Jesus used the word ἐκκλησία / ekklisía he didn’t mean a building. He meant a group of people. That’s what Jesus’s church is to him: His people. Mt 18.17 The church is to Christianity

Go to church!

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Church. tʃərtʃ noun. A Christian group which gathers for the purpose of following and worshiping God. 2. God’s kingdom: Every Christian, everywhere on earth, throughout all of history. 3. A denomination: One such distinct Christian organization, namely one with its own groups, clergy, teachings, and buildings. 4. A Christian group’s building or campus. Ἐκκλησία / ekklisía , the Greek word we translate “church,” properly means “group.” Yeah, you might’ve heard some preacher claim it means “a specially-called-out people.” It’s ’cause ekklisía ’s word-root καλέω / kaléo means “call.” So those who like to dabble in language assume “call” must be part of ekklisía ’s meaning. But words evolve, y’know. Our word congress used to mean “group” too… and nowadays it means “our do-nothing national legislature.” Ancient Greeks also used ekklisía to refer to their legislatures. But regardless of what it used to mean, hundreds of years before Jesus used it to refer to his grou

When a church holds firm. Or doesn’t.

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1 Thessalonians 3.6-10. The biggest worry for any apostle, for any ministry leader or missionary or evangelist, is their work might be for nothing. That everybody they’ve worked with were only running high on emotion: They were excited about this new thing they were trying out, were feeding off the adrenalin and other people’s zeal, were feeling their own endorphins instead of the Holy Spirit… or were faking it because everybody else seemed to be so into it. That as soon as the apostle leaves, everything they built just collapses, because nothing else was holding things together. Because this happens. Has happened before to a lot of apostles. No doubt happened to Paul, Silas, and Timothy. Acts records the places Paul went, and the churches he either found there, or started there… or didn’t. It doesn’t mention the churches he started which flopped. Sometimes that’s because Luke simply didn’t have the data. But if failed churches weren’t a real thing, the apostles who 1 T

Apostolic succession.

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APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION æp.ə'stɑ.lɪk sək'sɛ.ʃən noun . The action, process, or sequence of inheriting a title and office in church leadership, founded by one of Christ Jesus’s first apostles. Jesus sends his apostles on various missions, and in so doing, many times these apostles start ministries. Sometimes a church or denomination. Sometimes hospitals and hospices, schools and universities, shelters, charities, or whatever Jesus tells ’em to start. Sometimes the apostle’s job is to only start this ministry, then move along to the next task; Paul of Tarsus obviously did that with churches and schools. But a lot of times it’s to run the ministry for the rest of their lives. Or until they reach a point where they can’t physically do it anymore, and have to retire. Does this mean the ministry is over? Occasionally yes; the apostle kinda was the ministry, and without that apostle it becomes a shell of itself. (Or worse, a mockery.) But if Jesus wants it to keep going, he

What does Jesus send apostles to do?

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When people investigate what an apostle is, mainly they wanna know whether Jesus still makes them, or whether they’re just a first-century, back-in-bible-times phenomenon. Especially when they don’t want there to be any more apostles, ’cause they don’t like the idea of Jesus designating leaders himself, with no input from them. (I already discussed this in my article on apostles.) The rest of the time they’re usually looking for a job description. ’Cause some Christian has claimed, “This is what an apostle does,” and they wanna know whether that’s true. Do the scriptures tell us that’s what an apostle does? Or is this person all wet, and claiming some heretic weirdness instead of something truly biblical? Here’s the thing: The bible doesn’t spell out an apostle’s job description. Because it’s not actually a particular job. It’s a person. The word ἀπόστολος / apóstolos means “one whom [God] sent.” That’s a person. An individual. A woman or man to whom Jesus appears,

Apostles: Those whom Jesus sends out to do his work.

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APOSTLE ə'pɑs.əl noun. Person commissioned by Christ Jesus to perform a leadership role. [Apostolic æ.pə'stɑl.ɪk adjective , apostleship ə'pɑs.əl.ʃɪp noun ] Jesus didn’t just have the 12 students. The actual number fluctuated, as some joined the group, Mk 10.52 and others quit in frustration. Jn 6.66 Jesus had loads of student-followers. But he designated the Twelve in particular as ἀπόστολοι / apóstoli, “sent ones.” Lk 6.13 Eleven of ’em—including another student named Matthias whom they promoted apostle Ac 1.26 —became the core leaders of his newly-created church. And apostle still designates anyone whom Jesus, or the Holy Spirit on Jesus’s behalf, sends forth to do his work. Well… in some traditions. Y’see, various Christians insist the only apostles in human history are Jesus’s original 12 guys. Well… okay, they concede Judas Iscariot turned traitor and died, Ac 1.16-20 and Matthias replaced him, so Judas is out and Matthias is in. And okay, P

Hypocrisy in leadership: It can get really bad, really fast.

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Most Christian leaders know better than to let hypocrisy grow among their leadership structure. It’s poison. It’s how scandals start, ruin churches, drive people to quit Jesus (or at least give ’em an excuse ), and give all of Christianity a lousy reputation. So they take great care to keep hypocrites from ever being put in charge. Others take no such care, and are full of hypocrites. I used to single out particular churches, with particular leadership structures, for being particularly hypocritical. And yeah, it’s much easier for phonies to hide in churches with few to no accountability structures. (Or even with tremendous accountability structures, like the Roman Catholic Church… but the catch is their structure only offers forgiveness, not consequence , and that’s why so many evil leaders can get away with what they do.) It’s almost a given you’re gonna find hypocrites in anti- denominational churches : They want no oversight, no one to tell them to behave. But it’s hard

On not giving to certain churches.

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Recently the subject came up about funding one’s church… and about whether we oughta fund churches which really doesn’t need the money. Fr’instance a megachurch. People assume bigger churches are successful, and flush with cash, so it doesn’t matter whether they give these churches any money: The churches already have money. The Roman Catholic Church is loaded with expensive buildings, priceless artwork, huge tracts of land; heck, Vatican City is a sovereign nation-state which prints money and postage stamps. Hence whenever a Catholic diocese actually does need money, most people’s first response is, “Oh come on; you guys have money.” And don’t give. Now yes, churches with a lot of people are gonna need a lot of resources. More pastors, obviously. More support staff: More secretaries and assistants, janitors and groundskeepers, bookkeepers, security guards, IT and website personnel, counselors and life coaches, drivers and pilots… the organization can get pretty huge. Plu

How do we fund our churches?

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Back in high school I invited a schoolmate to my church. After the service he confessed he was really bothered by the offering plates. We passed offering plates right after the worship songs, but before the karaoke. (Many Christians call it “special music.” It’s where someone gets on stage and sings along to an instrumental track. Exactly like karaoke. ’Cause it’s karaoke.) People put cash and checks in the plates. Sometimes in little envelopes, so people can’t see how little they actually give. Sometimes not, so people can. This bugged him. In the church where he was raised, they had an offering box in back of the auditorium. If people wanted to inconspicuolusly put money or gum wrappers into it, they could. The box, he felt, was way more appropriate than our ostentatious “Look what I gave” display—which reminded him much too much of this story: Mark 12.41-44 NRSV 1 [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many ric

Bishops: The head leaders in a church.

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BISHOP 'bɪʃ.əp noun . A senior member of the Christian clergy. Usually in charge of multiple churches, like a district or diocese; usually empowered to appoint other clergy. 2. A chess piece. Each player gets two, and they only move diagonally; one on white squares, and one on black. [Episcopal ə'pɪs.kə.pəl adjective .] When Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus about church leaders, one particular word he used was ἐπίσκοπον / epískopon , “supervisor.” The King James Version translates this word as “overseer” Ac 20.28 KJV and “bishop.” 1Pe 2.25 KJV We actually got the latter word “bishop” from epískopon ; you just have to drop the -on ending and swap the epí- for bi- , and soften the k sound. Language evolves like that. Every church has supervisors of one form or another. But not all of ’em use the word “bishop” for them; not all of ’em are comfortable with that word, ’cause they think of it as a Catholic thing. So they use other words, like “pastor” or “minis

Presbyters: The grownups who run a church.

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PRESBYTER 'prɛz.bə.dər, 'prɛs.bə.dər noun . An elder in a Christian church. 2. The formal title of a minister or priest, in certain Christian denominations. [Presbyteral prɛz'bə.dər.əl adjective , presbyterial prɛz.bə'tɪ.ri.əl adjective , presbyterian prɛz.bə'tɪ.ri.ən adjective .] You likely know the word presbyterian because there are presbyterian churches, and a few presbyterian denominations. The word’s in their names. Y’might not know what it means : It indicates these particular churches aren’t run by the head pastor, nor run from afar by a bishop, nor are they a democracy where all the members get a vote. They’re run by a limited number of qualified mature Christians. They’re run by elders. The New Testament word which we translate “elder” is πρεσβύτερος / presvýteros , and in the Latin bible this became presbyter . So yeah, it’s a Latin word. Still means “elder.” The ancient church was run by elders for a few centuries, but it gradually

Elders: The grownups in the church.

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ELDER 'ɛld.ər adjective . Of a greater or advanced age. 2. [ noun ] A person of greater or advanced age. 3. [ noun ] A spiritually mature Christian, usually consulted as part of a church’s leadership, often entrusted with ministerial or priestly responsibility. [Eldership 'ɛl.dər.ʃɪp noun. ] After Jesus was raptured, his church had to continue without him physically here. Which was fine, ’cause he’d already trained apprentices, and designated 12 of them as apostles. One was dead, so the other 11 picked a replacement Ac 1.26 and went back to 12. (It’s God’s favorite number, y’see.) Running the church with only 12 leaders quickly became a problem, because the church immediately surged by 3,000 people, Ac 2.41 and soon after another two or five thousand; Ac 4.4 it’s debatable. In any event that’s a lot of people to train to follow Jesus; the food ministry alone was chaos, with accusations of prejudice against Greek-speakers. Ac 6.1 The apostles recognized th

The church café.

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Some churches offer refreshments before, after, or even during the service. My current church did, before the current pandemic made us suspend it. At one of my previous churches, one of our pastors’ wives who loved to cook (who became known as our “minister of munchies”) would have so much food available, you may as well skip breakfast at home, ’cause there was plenty of food at church. But many churches—namely the churches which get so big, refreshment tables get cleaned out within minutes—have decided to go with cafés. They stick it somewhere near the front of the building, and sell coffee and doughnuts—and other drinks, and other foods. A friend likes to sarcastically call them “concession stands.” To him, the church café is just a money-making scheme… kinda like the moneychangers Jesus had to throw out of temple ’cause they turned it into a marketplace. Mk 13.13-17 In some churches, that’s precisely what their cafés feel like. But the purpose of this article isn’t to b

When Christians won’t even let you think.

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Some Christians get awfully dogmatic. Dogma is another word for doctrine , Christianity’s fixed ideas or official beliefs. It’s an old-timey word, so you tend to only hear dogma in older churches, or used to refer to that one movie about fallen angels who try to take advantage of a dogmatic loophole. But while the adjective doctrinal tends to mean “deals with doctrine,” dogmatic tends to mean “demands we follow doctrine.” Dogmatists are the doctrine police of Christendom. And while the older churches have a settled, limited, fixed number of dogmas… certain Christians kinda crank out a new doctrine every week. Fr’instance this one Texas pastor I know; I’ll call him Alfons. He has a newsletter called “These Doctrines,” in which Alfons goes over all the things he expects the Christians of his church—and really, Christians everywhere—to believe. For the most part they’re typical Fundamentalist principles: God’s a trinity, Jesus is both God and human, Mary was a virgin w