Posts

Showing posts with the label #Church

The Holy Spirit’s temple: Multiple Christians.

Image
From time to time Christians talk about how you, singular, individually, are the temple of the Holy Spirit. ’Cause the Spirit is sealed to every individual Christian. Ep 1.13 He lives in the heart of every single believer. And whatever God lives in is, properly, his temple. If he lives in you, it makes you his temple. If he lives in another Christian, it makes that person a temple. Dozens of Christians are dozens of temples. Billions of Christians are billions of temples. Get it? But it’s not accurate. God has one temple. As was kinda emphasized in the bible. Moses built the portable temple at Sinai, which English-speaking Christians call the tabernacle, and that was the temple for 4 centuries till Solomon ben David built a permanent one of gold-plated cedar in Jerusalem. The Babylonians burnt that down; Zerubbabel ben Shealtiel built another of stone; Herod 1 and his successors renovated it; the Romans eventually destroyed it. It was the one and only place the L ORD int

Churches, “the Church,” and God’s kingdom.

Image
Whenever people say church they either mean a building where religious activity happens, or the hierarchy which runs the religion. Which is way different than what I mean by it. Or what Jesus and the bible mean by it. When Jesus says ἐκκλησία / ekklisía he means a flock of Christians; a group, assembly, crowd, congregation, collection, bunch, congress, whatever term you wanna use for many of us. People like to take apart that Greek word, and note its word-root is καλέω / kaléo , “to call”—and then analyze the significance of Jesus calling Christians to meet together. Yeah, whatever: By the time people used the word in Jesus’s day, it just meant a gathering. And that’s still what it means. Still, even Christians tend to use it to mean a church building, or the church leadership. Which is why we tend to forget we are the church. Church isn’t a separate thing from us; it is us. It’s us collectively; it’s why I can’t say “I am the church,” because I all by myself am definitel

Where your church meets, and where the needy are.

Image
My church (I’m not a pastor; just a longtime member) meets in a strip mall. We’re next to a Walmart Neighborhood Market. We moved in during the recession, before Walmart moved in and the building owners drove up the rental prices. The higher rent was part of the reason we had to give up our Fellowship Hall; there’s a carpet store there now. It’s next to a junior high school, next to a 7-Eleven, across the street from a health club. It’s not a good neighborhood. We got crime. We got homeless people. Which means it’s a really good place to put a church. Needy people and sinners need Jesus! So occasionally homeless folks come into the building. Usually it’s because we have coffee in the hall. They see free coffee; they want free coffee; I don‘t blame ’em. Come in and have some coffee! Sometimes we also have pastries, doughnuts, muffins, or other baked goods; they’ll eat those too. The hope is they’ll also stick around for the worship service. And every once in a while they do. We

“It counts as church, right?”

Image
When Christians figure their various spiritual activities are equivalent to “church.” Though four out of five Americans identify ourselves as Christian, only one of these five actually go to church. Nope, not kidding. Yes, the polls indicate half of all Americans are regular attendees. That’s because they play mighty loose with what “regular” means: They think it means once a month or more. Once a month counts as “regular.” How often are Christians expected to go to church? Well check out the standard expectation found in the scriptures: Luke 9.23 KWL Jesus told everyone, “If anyone wants to come with me, disown yourself. Take up your cross every day . Follow me!” Looks like the first Christians took Jesus’s “every day” idea and ran with it: Acts 2.46-47 KWL 46 Daily they stuck close together in temple, breaking bread at home, sharing food in joy, with uncomplicated motives, 47 praising God, having grace with all the people. The Master daily added to them thos

Fearful churches.

Image
Love casts out fear. But if your church doesn’t love, fear’s all you have left. We Christians are meant to 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. That’s how cults start —assuming the cult hasn’t already started, and the compound is just another symptom of how we’ve gone astray. It’s because God called us to be holy. Which means we gotta follow him , not one another. Not popular Christian culture. Certainly not the wider culture. So 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 that means we do as the rest of the world does. If the culture suddenly gets it into their head that society is

Christian leadership and age discrimination.

Image
If your church lacks young people in leadership, it’s gonna lose all its young people. Just you wait. Arguably Timothy of Lystra first met Paul of Tarsus when he was a teenager; old enough to come along with the apostles on their travels, but young enough for Paul to think of him as a son. Pp 2.22 When Timothy became the leader of a church in Ephesus in the 60s of the Christian era, Paul would’ve been in his 50s and Timothy in his 30s—certainly old enough to lead, but certainly not the oldest guy in that church. Quite possibly not even the one who’d been Christian longest, since Paul had evangelized Ephesus years before he ever met up with Timothy. In any case being in your thirties meant it was necessary for Paul to make this comment in his first letter to Timothy: 1 Timothy 4.12 KWL Nobody gets to look down upon your youth! Instead become the faithful Christians’ example in word, lifestyle, love, faith, and purity. Because people will look down on your youth. I kn

Deacons: Those who serve the church.

Image
As described in the scriptures, the church’s workers—whether we give ’em the title or not. DEACON /'di.kən/ n. Minister. Might be the leader of a particular ministry, but not the leader of a church: Deacons are nearly always subordinate to the pastor or priest. [Diaconal /di'ak.(ə.)nəl/ adj., less properly deaconal /di'kən.əl/ adj. ] The word diákonos /“deacon” originally meant “runner,” like someone who runs errands. You know, someone we’d nowadays call a gofer—as in “go fer coffee,” or run any other errands. Deacon first shows up in the bible when Jesus said if we wanna become great, we need to be everyone’s servant. Mk 10.43 Or when he said if anyone serves him, the Father values them. Jn 12.26 Deacon is used to describe the folks appointed to run the early church’s food ministry. Ac 6.1-6 The Twelve didn’t give them any more responsibility than that. But they picked mature Christians, and as a result people recognized these servants as leaders in their

What does your church believe?—your REAL church.

Image
Some Christians do better in a church with more structure. Recently a pastor friend of mine posted on social media, “One of the core values at our church is…” something. I don’t remember specifically what. Some virtuous practice. All I remember is immediately thinking, “No it isn’t.” Because it isn’t . Oh, I’ve no doubt it’s one of his core values. A virtue he no doubt wants his church to have. Probably preaches it in his sermons, includes it in his vision statements, sticks it on the church website. Likely practices it in his personal life. But as I keep reminding Christians, the leadership of a church is not the church. The people are. Your pastor’s core values are not your church’s core values. Your leadership team’s convictions are not your church’s convictions. Your statement of faith and official doctrines are not your church’s theology. Because the church is people. And your people believe all sorts of things. And if your people aren’t solid, growing Christians, y

Liturgy: A formula for worship.

Image
Some Christians do better in a church with more structure. LITURGY /'lɪd.ər.dʒi/ n. Detailed order of service for (Christian) worship. 2. [capitalized] The eucharistic service in an Orthodox church. [Liturgical /lə'tər.dʒə.kəl/ adj. , liturgist /'lɪd.ər.dʒəst/ n. ] Some churches—namely the older ones—are liturgical : They have a very particular order of service, and all the churches do it the same way. Go to nearly any Catholic church anywhere on the planet, and you’ll instantly find it familiar, because all of them use the very same prayer book, the Roman Missal. True, it’s been translated into all the local languages, but whether the service is in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, or Italian, it’ll be the very same order. Same bible readings. Same prayers. Same songs. Same everything . Everywhere. Some Christians are bothered by this level of conformity. They don’t get it: The point isn’t conformity, but unity . All these Christians are worshipi

Women and covering up. Or, frequently, not.

Image
On covering one’s hair, and why many Christians don’t bother. 1 Corinthians 11.3-16 I was asked to say a little something about this controversial passage, so what the heck. I’ve gone to Protestant churches all my life. Visited Catholic and Orthodox churches too. In most of the churches I’ve visited, American Christians utterly ignore this passage. Our women don’t cover their heads. Now yeah, there are parts of the bible which the bulk of Christians figure no longer apply to us. Like the curses upon humanity, Ge 3.16-19 which we figure Jesus undid. Or the commands about ritual cleanliness and sacrifice, which we figure Jesus rendered redundant. Or all the commands in the Law, which we figure Jesus nullified —which is absolutely not what he said. Mt 5.17 In general, Christians tend to assume Old Testament commands ( except maybe 10 ) are out, and New Testament instructions are in. Yet this is totally New Testament. Comes right before the apostles’ instructions on how to

How we treat enemies—and how we oughta.

Image
The “ Matthew 18” principle—for when people sin against us. Luke 6.27-36 KWL 27 “But I tell you listeners: Love your enemies. Do good to your haters. 28 Bless your cursers. Pray for your mistreaters. 29 To one who hits you on the jaw, submit all the more. To one who takes your robe and tunic from you, don’t stop them . 30 Give to everyone who asks you. Don’t demand payback from those who take what’s yours. 31 Just as you want people doing for you, do likewise for them. 32 If you love your lovers, how’s this an act of grace from you?—sinners love their lovers. 33 When you benefact your benefactors, how’s this grace from you?—sinners do so themselves. 34 When you lend from one from whom you hope to receive back, how ’s this grace from you? Sinners lend to sinners so they can receive an equal payback . 35 In contrast: Love your enemies. Do good. Lend, never expecting payback . Your reward will be great, and you’ll be the Most High’s children: He’s kind to the

Do you trust your church’s leadership?

Image
If not, you need to do something about it. Either you trust your pastor and your church’s leadership structure, or you really don’t. Ain’t no third option. You may claim there is so a third option; that I’ve made this sound like a black-and-white issue when there are plenty of shades of gray. Y’see, we trust everyone up to a point—because everyone but Jesus is fallible. So we trust the leadership of our church to a point . After all, the devil’s constantly on the prowl, 1Pe 5.8 tempting church leaders to fumble and fail, so we gotta be on our guard constantly, lest we crash and burn right along with ’em. Okay, in principle I have no issue with this reason. Makes sense. Seems consistent with the Christian principle of testing everything. 1Th 5.21 But in practice, it becomes an excuse for holding a church at arm’s length. In practice, it’s not that Christians trust their leaders for the time being, yet stay vigilant lest they slip up: They stay disconnected. Uncommitted. Ready

Telling your pastor you’re leaving.

Image
Are we obligated to give our church an exit interview before we leave? Got a question from a reader : “Last year my pastor preached about the steps you need to take before you leave the church. One of them was you first have to go to your pastor and talk it over with him. But most of the reason I’m leaving my church is because of him. Do I really have to talk with him first?” No. You don’t have to say a word. You can go to another church immediately. This “You gotta talk to the pastor before you leave” idea doesn’t come from bible. It comes entirely from pastors. They wanna know why you’re leaving. Ideally, it’s because pastors wanna help. People leave churches for all sorts of reasons. And the pastors are hoping maybe, just maybe, they can help you work out some of those reasons, and change your mind. (I think it’s naïve of them to hope so, but many of them will try it just the same.) Often, and more realistically, they’re troubleshooting. They wanna know why you’re leaving

Touch not the Lord’s anointed.

Image
When leaders try to evade accountability by the very verse which makes ’em accountable. 1 Chronicles 16.22, Psalm 105.15 Today’s out-of-context scripture is found in two places in the bible, ’cause either Chronicles is quoting Psalms or vice-versa. (Hard to tell, since they were written round the same time.) To get the full effect, you gotta quote it in the King James Version. 1 Chronicles 16.22, Psalm 105.15 KJV Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. The way it’s typically quoted is in the third-person form of “Touch not the L ORD ’s anointed!” But it doesn’t take that form in the bible. I’ve seldom heard preachers quote it. More often I’ve heard it from people in church leadership, or people who are defending church leadership. Usually it’s to discourage us from questioning, critiquing, condemning, or otherwise interfering with those leaders. ’Cause they were anointed by the L ORD —and look, it says right there in the bible you’re not to touch the L ORD

False teachers and agitated students.

Image
James 3.13-18. Before James went off on his tangent about the tongue, he was writing about teachers and spiritual maturity — James 3.1-2 KWL 1 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 made us that way.

Wanna teach? Get ready for criticism.

Image
James 3.1-2. Historically, 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 KWL 1 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 Jesus—who’s never ever go

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

Image
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 s

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

Image
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

Simony: Christians who wanna make a buck off you.

Image
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’

Do we perform sacraments or ordinances?

Image
Many Protestants are weirded out by, and water down, this “sacrament” language. ORDINANCE 'ɔr.dɪ.nəns, 'ɔrd.nəns noun. 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 Evangelicals really 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