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Showing posts with the label #Church

False teachers and agitated students.

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If you’ve got an ax to grind, it didn’t come from Jesus.James 3.13-18Before James went off on his tangent about the tongue, he was writing about teachers and spiritual maturityJames 3.1-2 KWL1 My fellow Christians, don’t become “great teachers,”since you’ve known we’ll receive great criticism, 2 for everybody stumbles.If anybody doesn’t stumble in the message, this is a mature man, able to bridle the whole body.So, tangent over; we’re back to the sort of mature behavior we oughta see in a proper Christian teacher.Christians love knowledge. Heck, humans love knowledge: Everyone wants to believe they’re not dumb, gullible, nor ignorant. But Christians especially like to imagine we’re in on the truth. ’Cause Jesus is the truth, right? Jn 14.6 And we have Jesus. So there y’go.Trouble is, Jesus is right, but we aren’t. We took shortcuts or made presumptions. We don’t know him as well as we assume. And Christians get into serious denial about this fact: We insist we’re right because Jesus

Wanna teach? Get ready for criticism.

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The position of teacher comes with a whole lot of opposition.James 3.1-2Historically, the way Christians have chosen to interpret the following passage has been, “If you become a teacher, God’s gonna hold you accountable for every single thing you ever taught. And judge you harshly. If you ever taught the wrong thing, ever led anyone astray, God’s putting it all on you.”What about grace? Nah; forget about grace; doesn’t apply to teachers.That’s how we know there’s something screwy with this interpretation. So let’s look at it again. The passage du jour:James 3.1-2 KWL1 My fellow Christians, don’t become “great teachers,”since you’ve known we’ll receive great criticism, 2 for everybody stumbles.If anybody doesn’t stumble in the message, this is a mature man, able to bridle the whole body.See, according to James, everybody stumbles. A mature Christian is gonna stumble way less than a newbie, but everybody stumbles. Including James, who wrote this book.The perfect teacher—other than Jesu…

Sheep-stealing: “Hey, those were our sheep!”

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Since all the sheep belong to Jesus, what’s the real problem?Sheep-stealing /'ʃip stil.ɪŋ/ vt. Getting a Christian to leave their church and join yours. [Sheep-stealer /'ʃip stil.ər/ n.]My sister and I live in the same town. I’m a member of a small church. She’s a member of another, larger church.When people hear this, sometimes they respond, “Aww. Why don’t you go to the same church? You should be worshiping together.”Well, sometimes we do. Sometimes I visit her church. Once, she and her family visited mine. Our churches aren’t in competition, y’know. Mine may be in a denomination and hers isn’t, but both churches belong to Jesus: They’re both outposts of God’s kingdom.Why don’t we go to the same church? Various reasons. Initially it was because I was giving the churches in my denomination a try before settling on one… and this one fit. (Once it wasn’t, so I hung with the Baptists a few years.) If I had to switch churches, I don’t think it’d be too big a stretch to switch to …

Church-shopping. ’Cause sometimes you need a new church.

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Know what to look for when you’re considering a move.Church-shop /'tʃərtʃ.ʃɑp/ v. Look for the best available church.[Church-shopper, /'tʃərtʃ.ʃɑp.pər/ vt., church-shopping /'tʃərtʃ.ʃɑp.pɪŋ/ vt.]If you haven’t been going to church, or never did go to church, it’s time to start.And at certain times in a Christian’s life, we’re gonna have to go to another church. Sometimes for good reason; sometimes not. In my case it’s usually because I moved to a new city, although twice it’s been because the church went wrong.In any event, Christians decide to begin a process we Americans call “church-shopping.” We visit a new church and try it on for size. If we like it, we stick around. If not, we move along and try another.It’s not a complicated idea. It only gets complicated because certain Christians are extremely choosy about their churches. And there are other Christians who are convinced church-shopping is fundamentally wrong. Even devilish.Devilish? Yeah; it’s because they read C…

Simony: Christians who wanna make a buck off you.

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Shades of Elmer Gantry.Simony /'s(a)ɪ.mə.ni/ n. The buying or selling of religious things which are meant to be given freely, or given only to qualified individuals.[Simoniac /saɪ.mə'naɪ.ək/ adj., n.]One of my bigger pet peeves are churches who forget a significant part of our job as Christians is to preach good news to the poor. Mt 11.5, Lk 4.18, 7.22 They kinda forget they even have poor among ’em. Consequently the poor find church a surprisingly expensive place to go.Certain churches don’t want you in their Sunday services unless you’re in your “Sunday best.” I’ve actually heard a preacher justify this idea by pointing to Jesus’s story where a king throws out a guest for not wearing his wedding clothes. Mt 22.11-14 He figures Jesus is the king, and you better show up for his church in your Sunday best. Can’t afford the clothes? Try the thrift stores. Keep looking till someone finally donates a suit or dress in your size. ’Cause the people of the church won’t offer you any h…

Do we perform sacraments or ordinances?

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Many Protestants are weirded out by, and water down, this “sacrament” language.Ordinance /'ɔr.dɪ.nəns, 'ɔrd.nəns/ n. Authoritative order or decree.2. Religious ritual; particularly one ordained by Christ.3. What Evangelical Christians call sacraments.I refer to certain Christian rituals as sacraments. But you’re gonna find many Evangelicalsreally don’t like that word. To them, we don’t call these practices “sacraments.” We call them “ordinances.”Why? Officially, lots of reasons. Unofficially it’s anti-Catholicism.See, a lot of Evangelicals come from churches and traditions which are historically anti-Catholic. True, all the original Protestants originated from various spats with Catholicism. But these folks were raised to be particularly leery of Roman Catholic beliefs. To them, “sacrament” has a lot of bothersome theological baggage attached. So they refuse to use it.But we gotta call our rituals something, and for some reason “ritual” is out. So what these folks have chosen …

Baptism: Get saved, get wet.

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Christianity’s initial ritual.Baptism /'bæp.tɪz.əm/ n. Religious ritual of sprinkling water on a person’s forehead, or immersing them in water, symbolizing purification, regeneration, and admission to the church.[Baptist /'bæp.təst/ n., baptizand /'bæp.tɪ.zænd/ n., baptismal /bæp'tɪz.məl/ adj.]Whenever the ancient Hebrews did something ritually unclean, before they went to temple they had to make themselves ritually clean. How they did that was to simply wash themselves with water and wait till sundown. After which point they could go to temple.Since you only had to go to temple three times a year, this didn’t require a whole lot of ritual washing. That is, till the Pharisees showed up. To them, any form of worship required people to be ritually clean. So if you went to synagogue, whether daily or just for Sabbath, you needed to be ritually clean. Gotta wash.How the Pharisees (and today’s Orthodox Jews) did so was to create a mikvéh/“collection [of water].” Basically a…

Who runs the church?

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How’s the leadership of your church structured? ’Cause it matters.Short answer: Jesus.Way longer answer: When Christians are asked who runs our individual churches, sometimes we describe the leadership structure of their church or denomination. But everybody can potentially give the answer “Jesus.” It is his church after all. He is the king over God’s kingdom.But since his kingdom isn’t yet of this world, Jn 18.36 the day-to-day duties of running Jesus’s churches on earth fall to vicars. Vicar is the Christianese word for “deputy,” and means the very same thing: Lieutenants who answer to the guy who’s really in charge, and that’d be Jesus. Hopefully we truly are working on his behalf, and not for ourselves… though I leave it to you as to how well we’re doing.Now, if you were to ask your average pagan who’s in charge, most of ’em assume the pastor is. (Or the minister, priest, father, sister, bishop, apostle, prophet—whatever you call the top dog.) Pastor says “Jump” and everyone respo…

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

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You might get the idea I believe Jesus still commissions apostles. ’Cause he does. APOSTLEə'pɑs.əlnoun. Person commissioned by Christ Jesus to perform a leadership role.[Apostolic æ.pə'stɑl.ɪkadjective, apostleship ə'pɑs.əl.ʃɪpnoun]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 designated the Twelve in particular as ἀπόστολοι/apóstolë, “sent ones.” Lk 6.13 Eleven of ’em, plus another student named Matthias whom they promoted apostle, Ac 1.26 became the core leaders of his newly-created church. Apostle still refers to 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, minus Judas Iscariot ’cause he turned traitor, Ac 1.16-20 and plus the apostle Paul of Tarsus. (They’re not always so s…

Three typical forms of church services.

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Is church a struggle? Maybe you’re not at the church best suited to your personality.Not all churches are alike. Obviously. But when you ask Christians what they like best about their church, they’ll emphasize a few things which they particularly like. The preaching. The music. The solemnity—or the informality. The friendliness. The kids’ program. The decor. The way they do our rituals. The amiability of the preacher. The ministries and programs. The coffee—for once it’s not Folger’s! (’Cause Folger’s is rubbish. But it’s cheap, so it’s what people serve whenever the person in charge of the coffee, doesn’t personally drink coffee.)Practices vary from church to church. Even within the same denomination; you can have one church which focuses a whole lot on one area, and a sister church—even in the same town!—which focuses on another.But the main focus of your church’s Sunday morning service (or Sunday or Saturday evening service; what have you) sets the tone for the sort of church you a…

Sacraments: Our Christian rituals. Gotta do ’em.

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Though there’s more than a little debate as to what they mean.Sacrament /'søk.rə.mənt/ n. Religious ritual which represents a spiritual reality, or represents an act of God’s grace.2. [“the sacrament”] Holy communion.[Sacramental /søk.rə'mɛn(t).əl/ adj., sacramentalist /søk.rə'mɛn(t).əl.ist/ n.]God does many things in our lives. Some we see. Some we don’t.When God cures me of an illness, it’s nice and obvious: Everybody, even skeptics, can see I’m well. They’ll totally disagree about how I got well. If they don’t believe in God (or don’t believe he still does miracles) they’ll doubt God was involved in the cure. Might even doubt I was truly ill to begin with. But they otherwise agree I’m well. That part’s visible enough.Now, when God forgives me of sin… what’s visible?I mean I know I’m forgiven; Jesus told us we’re given most everything. Mk 3.28 I put my faith in Jesus, so I trust when he says I’m forgiven, I am. But was there anything visible? Anything we could’ve experie…

Why I went to an all-white church.

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Wasn’t intentional. On the contrary: Lack of thought did it. And perpetuates it.When I was 11 years old, my family moved to a city in California which was about 60 percent white, 40 percent Latino, 10 percent everything else. Same as much of California south of Sacramento.I’m the oldest of four, and Mom went looking for churches which’d be a good fit for young children. We tried a few, and ended at a Evangelical Free Church, which I have elsewhere called Maypole Church. The church had an excellent Christian education program. I don’t agree with good deal of their brand of Fundamentalism any longer, but they did make sure we kids got to know our bibles, which is the important thing.This particular church happened to be 100 percent white.Every so often they’d be 99 percent white. A black, Latino, or Asian family would visit. There’s an Air Force base nearby, and airmen would get invited to Maypole by their white friends. But within a few months they’d stop attending; they’d go elsewhere…

Priests, under Jesus our head priest.

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Every Christian is part of God’s nation of priests. Elders especially.Priest /prist/ n. Person able to perform a religion’s rituals, and therefore intercede between God and his followers.[Priestlike /'pris(t).laɪk/ adj., priestly /'pris(t).li/ adj.]Protestants tend to translate presbýteros as “elder,” by which we mean the senior Christians in a church.Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and some Lutherans, translate it “priest.” Properly “priest” would be the Greek word yeréfs—but for the most part, I don’t disagree with this translation. Y’see, the elders of the church are our priests.Technically every Christian is a priest, for it was after all God’s intention to create a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. Ex 19.6, 1Pe 2.9 Jesus made his followers, us Christians, a kingdom of priests to our God and his. Rv 1.6, 5.10 Elders in particular happen to be able and mature enough to perform priestly functions. They can preach, prophesy, lead us in worship, perform baptisms, anoint sick …

Picking your label.

Everybody wants to reserve the right to define themselves. Or redefine.Years ago I joined an internet forum. As you do, when you wanna interact with like-minded or similar-minded people, and you can’t find a whole lot of ’em in your hometown, so you try out the internet. They’re a lot of fun for the first couple years, but I find they invariably deteriorate. They’re so interested in getting more members, or new members, they start letting in the cranks, and cranks ruin everything. Those of you who are cranks know what I mean.Anyway, after the numbers got up there, the moderator asked that we all re-introduce ourselves for the sake of the many newcomers. “Please tell us your religious background.” How would you label yourself?A lot of us took the opportunity to be really vague about it:“Student of Christ.”“Disciple.”“Catechumen.” (Seriously.)“Worshiper of the King.”“Christ-carrier.”“Jesus person.”“Grateful believer.”“God-chaser.”Honest to goodness, I didn’t think I’d joined a group of …

The Didache: How’d the earliest Christians behave?

Yep, we have a written record of it.Didache /'dɪ.də.kei, di.da'hi/ n. A first-century Christian manual for new believers. [From the Greek didahí/“teaching.”]In the first century, some anonymous Christian leaders wrote a “teaching” for the new members of Christian synagogues: The stuff they felt these 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.” Western Christians assumed it had been lost sometime in the 800s, but Ethiopian Christians still had a version of it, and an 11th-century 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 (usually in question-answer format, though not here) to hel…

The fivefold ministry. Or is it fourfold? Sevenfold?

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The ministries God puts in our churches… versus the people who covet leadership roles. FIVEFOLD MINISTRY /'faɪv.foʊld 'mɪn.ɪs.tri/ n. The belief the five gifts Christ granted to build up his body Ep 4.11 are best held by individual church leaders.There are several different ways we Christians have chosen to run our churches. Some of ’em are run by archbishops, some by pastors, some by elders, some by democratic vote, and some are anarchist: Supposedly no one leads but the Holy Spirit. (I used to attend such a church, and discovered in practice, certain folks just happen to “hear the Spirit” far more often than others, and wind up leading by default. Sometimes they legitimately do hear the Spirit; sometimes not so much.)Some of these leadership models are based on the bible. Some not. Is there a particular way God wants Christians to run his churches? I would definitely say so—but I’m not hard-and-fast on it. ’Cause regardless of your church leadership structure, the most impor…

Elders: Because we Christians need to grow up.

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When we become spiritually mature, we can benefit our whole church.ELDER /'ɛld.ər/ n. A leader or senior figure in a tribe or other group.2. Presbyter: A spiritually mature Christian of any age, usually consulted as part of a church’s leadership, usually entrusted with ministerial or priestly responsibility.[Eldership /'ɛl.dər.ʃɪp/ n.]The term presbýteros/“elder” is used to describe the senior Christians in a church: The longtime, spiritually mature, fruitful, devout Christians. The folks we can legitimately trust to give us solid advice and sound instructions about following Jesus. The folks the leaders of our churches trust; assuming our leaders aren’t nincompoops, so can we.Elders don’t have to be senior citizens, if that’s what you’re imagining. Any 30-year-old who grew up Christian is (usually) gonna be further along in their walk with Christ than any 90-year-old new convert.Yeah, sometimes Christians assume they’re elders, or certainly oughta be considered elders, becaus…

Do you have friends in your church?

If the people in your church are nice enough people, but not really friends, I can understand not wanting to go.Christians tend to go to church for four reasons.Worship. They love music, or love ministering to the needy.Teaching. They wanna learn about God and Christianity, or otherwise love a good sermon.Sacrament. They wanna pray together, or practice any of the other rituals we can only do as a group.Fellowship. They wanna see their friends.At some other point I’ll write about the churches whose primary focus is on one of those four. Today I’m gonna bring up the fellowship thing—because it’s a way bigger deal than a lot of Christians realize.Well, some of us already realize it’s a big deal. It’s why certain churches structure things so people will interact with one another a lot. They push their small groups. They extend their “meet ’n greet” time. They have potlucks and pizza parties and movie nights and other social functions. They don’t charge for the coffee.It’s not for any ult…

Why leave your church?

Sometimes for good reasons. Sometimes bad. Up to you to decide.As I’ve said previously, at some point Christians have to switch churches. Sometimes for good reasons; sometimes not.GOOD REASONSBAD REASONSDEBATABLE REASONSGod instructs you to go elsewhere.They kicked you out.Church leaders are untrustworthy. Sinning, abusive, fruitless, jerk-like, and unrepentant; or just not doing their jobs.Ditto church members—and the leaders do nothing about it.They’re a cult, or have a cultic reputation. Too legalistic, demanding, judgmental. If you don’t obey/conform, they have penalties.They’re dark Christians: Too much fear and worry, not enough love.You, or they, are moving to a new city. Or you work for another church.Your spouse goes elsewhere, and isn’t coming back. Period.You consider church to be optional anyway. Sleep, sports, or recreation—even doing nothing—seem better options.They’re not cool enough. Or anymore.You don’t like anyone there. You have no friends there. You burned a lot of…

Really don’t wanna go to church.

Sick and tired of church? It happens for good reasons. And pathetic ones.Though we Christians need to go to church, many of us don’t. And won’t.And I get it. There’ve been times in my life when I didn’t wanna go to church either. So I found excuses not to, adopted them, and didn’t go.“I have a home church, and I’m too far from home to go.” I used this for a semester while I was in college: I didn’t care for any of the churches in the area, and figured I did have a church back home; I did go there when I was home. But I wasn’t home. So it was okay if I missed 10 weeks of church services.“I go to chapel every day, so that kinda counts.” This was my other excuse that semester. Me and a lot of other students.“I can do all this stuff on my own.” My excuse for a few weeks when I was really annoyed with the people of my church. ’Cause I totally could do this stuff on my own. Pray?—no problem. Sing worship songs?—easily done. Learn from fellow Christians?—I had their books. Study the bible?—s…