Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day Thoughts

I used to get a kick out of Jay Leno questioning young people about current events, history and names of certain Americans to test their knowledge. I say I used to, because it became very obvious that our young people have been cheated out of a rich knowledge of things I guess I take for granted. Not one group of 100 College Students could find six (6) majors countries in Europe on a map. That same group could not identify at least ten (10) states within the continental United States on a map. I find that sad.

I recently visited a discussion forum where someone had asked if there was a web site that had some of the Old favorite Hymns but with modern wording? I wondered why anyone would rally want that? To which I was told "to make it relevant for young people today". It seems this person thought the that the "Thee’s" ad "Thou’s" were archaic and needed some revision. Well, I did some investigation and found that while most newer English translations of the Bible have eliminated these two words from the older versions (The KJV in particular), and translate both words in the newer English versions as "You". The problem with this is that in the older English, Thee and Thou meant something entirely different. Thee is general and often plural, while Thou is singular and more specific and personal. It seems we are willing to sacrifice accuracy for relevancy and again at a cost to our young people.

One objection was made to my comment where one hymn says "we lift up our Ebenezer". The poster said a better translation would be we lift up our "stone of help" which is what Ebenezer means in Hebrew. But in doing so we miss the significance of not only the word itself but its biblical and geographical significance.
This Hymn line comes from 1 Samuel 7:12-13 (NASB)
12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far the Lord has helped us."
13 So the Philistines were subdued and they did not come anymore within the border of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.
Today Eben Haezer still exists as a small town and any student of scripture should be aware of its significance.

All this is to lead to my main point. I asked a few youth this week what Memorial Day was and why we celebrate it? One youth answered that it is the day LifeGuards officially come on duty at the beach. Another said it was the official start of summer. Anther said it was an official school holiday. Not one said it was a day we set aside to remember and honor those who have fallen in the line of duty in the protection of this great country. Not one. Have we cheated out young people to the extent that Memorial day is nothing more then a day off from school or the day they can finally and safely go into the water? One has to wonder what is being thought about when we commemorate the Lords Supper on Sunday. Is it to them what scripture tells us, a remembrance of the Lord and His sacrifice for us? A proclamation of the Lords death until He comes? Or is it just a mid service snack? Or a refrain in service in preparation for the sermon time? I think the dumbing down of America has finally come of age.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Angels and Demons?

Dan Browns first movie (actually his second book) The DiVinci Code was a very controversial one to say the least. Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus, Jesus having Children, the church only having an edited version of the scriptures and all the other nonsense. It did open the opportunity for some great discussion however and that is always a good thing.

Browns second movie (actually his first novel) called Angels and Demons is also church based in its story line but far less controversial. It concerns the kidnapping of four (4) Cardinals who are to be branded and killed and an amount of anti matter made into a bomb hidden in the Vatican during the choosing of a new Pope. This would devastate the Catholic church at its highest level.

Robert Langdon is once again the hero of the story, who must locate the Cardinals and the bomb before its too late. Throughout the movie he is led by clues left by a group called the "Illuminate". A group of science minded individuals who after the excommunication of Galileo for stating a scientific truth (that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around)set out to destroy the Catholic church. In a reaction the church sets as as well to destroy them and so they are forced to go underground. leaving clues in Art and literature as to their existence.

Like The DiVinci Code this is one of the most thrilling suspense stories I have ever read and could not put the book down. What do you think? would you see it or not?


Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Communion Controversy

As I said in a previous blog, the Lord left the church two ordinances, rites or sacraments. They are baptism and the Lords Supper or Communion. We already looked at the controversy surrounding Baptism and so now lets look at the second.

I am not going to discuss the "what Communion is" issue, whether the literal flesh and blood or Spiritually the flesh and blood or just emblems as a remembrance. That is a different discussion. What I would like to talk about is how the Lords Table is treated today and its frequency of observance.

In a recent forum discussion where Pastors from different assemblies discuss (debate) different topics, we were talking about the Lords Table and its placement in the assembly. I almost fell over when one Pastor said, "you still have one of those?" To which he explained that his church had removed the actual table as it had become "an idol" for too many in that assembly. An Idol? I had to wonder if the cross would be the next thing removed, or the pulpit?

Many recently have relocated the Table to the rear of the assembly hall or meeting place. Some of these same churches do not have a communion time but tell people they can partake on their way out. I can imagine inviting some friends or relative over to dinner and telling them the food was in the garage on their way out. Is that what they were invited for?

I think we have lost our sense of what the Lords supper originated as and what it was meant to convey. It was instituted during a Passover Seder, instituted as a remembrance of Gods great deliverance of Israel from the bondage of Egypt. Jesus took this very Seder to institute another remembrance different in some ways but very similar in others. Both were memorials and had a specific purpose.
Luke 22:19 (NASB)
19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me."
The word remembrance there is anamimnēskō and does not only mean to bring to ones mind intellectually but to actually relive or participate again in something. This is why Israel was told at the Seder to read the Exodus story along with the 10 plagues. They were to go back in their minds for the purpose of never forgetting what was done for them. the idea is made clearer in Paul’s words to Timothy 2 Timothy 1:6 (NASB)
6 For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

Timothy was not only to be reminded but to kindle afresh the gift. It was more then merely remembering but to make it real again.
Paul’s account or record of that evening uses the same word for remembrance but adds some other information we need to look at.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NASB)
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;
24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me."
25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.

First this information was given to him by the Lord and is now passed on to the church in Corinth. For both the bread and cup he says in remembrance. But there is more. like Luke Paul uses the words "which will be broken" of the bread. It is in the future tense. Something not done that evening at the table but at a point we now know was on a cross. He also uses the word "often" twice. Once concerning the cup and the second time concerning both emblems. So what does often mean?

Many today have reduced the amount of times they participate in the remembrance. Some once a month, others once a year at Easter. The word for often there is hosakis and means often. No hidden meaning or difficult to understand. But it is only used three times in the NT. Twice here and once in Revelation 11:6 (NASB)
6 These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.
This really seems like little help in this matter since it seems that often in Revelation depends on desire or decision rather then a strict sense of doing it as often as possible. But how did the early church understand the Lords Supper and its participation?

Acts 2:40-47 (NASB)
40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"
41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.
44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;
45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,
47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Right after the great sermon of Peter’s on Pentecost we are told that those who received (believed) his word were baptized and at that point were added to the churches number. They then communed or fellowshipped together in specific ways. Devoting themselves to the apostles teachings, fellowship, prayer, sharing what they had with one another and doing this from house to house "daily" and with gladness and sincerity of heart. As a result the Lord was adding to their number daily those who were being saved. But I purposely left some things out (I hope you caught them). They were breaking bread from house (v 46) to house taking their meals with one another. This is a common meal shared among brethren. However in verse 42, we are told they were devoting themselves to "the" breaking of the bread. The definite article there distinguishes this breaking of "the" bread and breaking bread taking their meals together. The earliest church did both and they did it daily. That is how they understood the word often.

Not long afterwards the Lords Supper was taken only on the first day of the week when the church met to give its offerings but not until recently do we see any less then that. When the church assembled it met to offer praise and worship, hear Gods word, pray and share in the fellowship meal the Lord had left them. It was a sharing of something common they all shared. What does it say when we move the table to some outside vestibule and focus our attention on the preacher or the sermon? It says that the Lords Supper is some how of lesser importance then the man standing at the podium. What does it say when we only partake in remembrance once a month or once a year? As humans we are prone to forget and the Lord knew that. This is why he has always given His people visuals to bring their minds back to what is important.
Perhaps even more important are Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11 as to why often is a better way to partake then seldom
1 Corinthians 11:26 (NASB)
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.

This message can never be done to often. It is our proclamation of what price was paid for our redemption and reconciliation and we are not ashamed to let everyone know it.
I have heard the notion that if done too often it becomes "common". I find it interesting that this is never said of prayer, which is commanded to be done continually. Does prayer, communicating with our Lord, ever become common? I am not aware of any preacher who tells the assembly not to give their offering every week so it wont become common. Do you?


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Clergy System

So how did we get from the Elder led assemblies Paul established to the clergy system we currently have in the church today?

Acts 14:23 (NASB)
23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
1 Timothy 5:17 (NASB)
17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
Titus 1:5 (NASB)
5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you,
1 Timothy 3:1-2 (NASB)
1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.
2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,

Elders appointed in every Church/City to oversee and rule in the manner of a shepherd and not a tyrant was what the earliest plan or model was. So what happened? how did we get terms like Senior Minister, Bishops, Cardinals, and even Popes? We know that many things unscriptural entered into the church over time and please do not always equate unscriptural with anti-scriptural, they are not the same. Sound systems and overhead projectors are unscriptural (not mentioned in scripture) but they are not necessarily anti-scriptural (against scriptural teaching)
Ignatius one of the earliest church fathers who lived from AD 30-107 in writing Polycarp the Bishop of Smyrna in chapter VI says this: "Give Ye heed to the Bishop, that God may also give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the Bishop, to the Presbyters and to the Deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God".

Now we do not accept the early church fathers as inspired and certainly there is much included in their writings that can be debated and rejected. My point here is that before the close of the first century, the office of Bishop and Presbyter had already been separated into two distinct offices. Many other of the early fathers spoke in this same fashion. This seems counter to what Paul had said in Acts 20, where upon calling the Elders (Presbyters) said they were made Overseers/Bishops (Episkopos) to Shepherd/Pastor (poimene) the flock. So what happened?
It seems that the church took as its form of worship and meeting the example of the synagogue model from which many had come and even remained as their model. In the synagogue there were elders but also a ruling or chief elder. He had no more authority then the others but was elected as a sort of chairperson for the purpose of orderly assembly and meeting. A leader among equals he was called. So very soon the church seems to have adopted at first this leader among equals and called him the episkopos or Bishop. The other leaders were called presbyters or lower bishops at first but eventually presbyters were called priests under the leadership of a bishop. While this original separation came quickly in the churches history, the term priest came later by way of the teaching of a man called Tertullian. He taught that since the Lords supper was a continual sacrifice, it necessitated a priesthood. That’s another topic all together.

While at first we see elders in every church, most probably house churches, since church building as we have them today did not exist and persecution was still frequent. There came a time when this lead Bishop became the overseer of an entire city or town with the lesser bishops now called presbyters overseeing local assemblies. These later became known as dioceses. The stronger and wealthier the diocese, the more influential the lead Bishop. Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Smyrna were the leaders in this system. Eventually Rome became the chief city and its Bishop considered the Bishop or Bishops and later called the Pope or papa.
Over the centuries this Bishop of Rome acquired more and more power and influence and was even said to have certain authority as if speaking from God as infallible (ex- cathedra). Their thinking was that they could trace back this unbroken and successive Bishopric back to the Apostle Peter based on Matthew 16 where upon confessing Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God Jesus says "you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church". the church in Rome saw this rock as Peter himself rather then the confession Peter made by Gods inspiration.

At the time of the reformation many different men sought to reform or change what was wrong (according to them) with the now all-powerful Roman Catholic church. they sought to change the selling of indulgences (Luther’s 95 Theses), infant baptism, the authority of the Pope and much more. the one thing they never considered however was the clergy system itself. Priests and Bishops and Arch-Bishops and Cardinals all seemed to go unchallenged for the most part. The church leaders took on the title of ministers after time with no Pope but still certain clergy hierarchy still in place.

The restoration movement under Stone and Campbell saw some early talk on Elder led churches but the few who followed this biblical model soon found they were in a vast minority. It seems people liked the system they had and so it is to this day. When we first implemented an Elder led, Elder fed system at our church I remember one minister calling and telling us we had entered upon a slippery slope. I still do not know what he meant since that is the model we see in scripture.

The difficulties are many with a Senior Minister system. First and foremost the Eldership becomes an advisory board for this Senior Minister which is not seen in scripture. Secondly at times the Eldership exerts itself too far and becomes the dictator of the Senior Minister and he is at their mercy for his job and often times his residence. Both are wrong and lead to more problems then they solve. The church is to be led by a plurality of Pastor/Elders. No Seniors among them. It is in this plurality that their authority is seen and administered and not in any one individual.

Some have suggested that this would lead to a rash of Seminary and Bible college closings but I disagree. Leaders in Christ’s church still need training in preaching, council, Theology and so much more. Churches should be willing and even desire to send their men to be the best equipped leaders they can be. With home courses now so readily available they would not even have to leave their ministries to get this training.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Baptism Controversy

The Lord left the church two ordinances, rites, sacraments depending on your church affiliation for the purpose of comforting, uniting and proclaiming who we are and who we serve. Sadly both have become a source of confrontation and separation and at times down right discord. The first I will address is baptism. There are nine instances of conversion in the book of Acts and all nine include baptism. To consider conversion apart from baptism is simply not biblical. The last words of our Lord recorded in the gospels concerned the Great Commission, in which Jesus told the apostles to go into all the world and make disciples. Disciples are students or learners which is what we all are. The master teacher is the Lord Himself. The way they were to accomplish this was "…baptizing them… and teaching them all that I have commanded you"

At the very onset, at Pentecost in Jerusalem, Peter preaches the first church sermon, and the result is that a question is asked after the listeners have been convicted that what Peter preached was true (they were cut to the quick). The answer came immediately: Acts 2:38 (NASB) 38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
It seems to me unthinkable that Peter speaking by way of the Holy Spirit would have gotten it wrong on the very first occasion but some seem to think he did. At the very least they think it is merely a misunderstanding of a word Peter said that day.

Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; the word in question is "for". Are we baptized for (in order to receive) forgiveness of sin, or are we baptized "for" (because we have already received) forgiveness of sin? Opponents of baptism for the remission of sin will say the later is what Peter meant in the same way we take an aspirin "for" a headache. Not to receive a headache but because we already have one. In the same way wanted posters would say, "Wanted, Billy the Kid for bank robbery". They do not want Billy so that he can rob a bank but because he has already robbed one. But this is a limited view of the Greek word "eis" (for) as can be seen by comparing how it was used with the same end in mind.
Matthew 26:26-29 (NASB)
26 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body."
27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you;
28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.
29 "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."
At the Last Supper Jesus says that the cup, representing the new covenant in His blood was for the forgiveness of sin.

Opponents say baptism does not wash away or forgive sin and so Peter had to mean we are baptized to symbolize that our sin has already been washed away. But then wouldn’t the same hold true for what Jesus said that evening? His blood poured out for (eis) the forgiveness of sin would then mean that our sins were forgiven at some earlier point and Jesus shedding His blood was only a symbol of what has already taken place? even the opponents would reject that as do we.

The problem has been the argument over "what saves" us. Scripture is clear on this point and I think both sides can agree. We are saved by grace through faith as Paul tells us. But that is really an over simplified statement. It neither tells us how, or by who or from where. The who is obvious from taking the whole of scripture into account and it is God who saves us. The how is by the death burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the "from where" is where the two sides part waves. Some think this can be accomplished while driving your car, standing in the line at the supper market or just about anywhere you make that decision to accept and follow Jesus. But there is little if any scripture to support that position.
I am not a fan of names or titles so please do not take what I am about to say the wrong way. The position of anywhere by accepting Jesus through faith has been called the "Faith Alone" position. Let my first response be this. The words faith and alone only appear once together in all of scripture and they appear in the negative.
James 2:24 (NASB)
24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
That is the only time the words appear together.
Contrary to popular belief we are not saved by faith alone. As Paul tells us we are saved by grace through faith. But this grace as undeserved does not mean without any participation on our part.

Example: Noah believed God was about to destroy the earth and that he and his family would be saved. But would simply believing this have been enough had he not obeyed God and built and entered the Ark?
How about Abraham? He believed God was going to establish him in a Promised Land and give him more descendants then could be numbered. But would Abraham have been so blessed had he not obeyed and left Ur?
A negative example would be Israel who were told the Promised Land was theirs. God had already given it to them. But because of fear they refused to enter in and so were marched around the wilderness until that generation died.

While the water of baptism is nothing more then water. The place itself is where we are told to be so that God may bestow the grace through faith already mentioned. It is not a "by what" argument but rather a "from where" argument. Only from within that water grave, where Paul tells us we must die to self and be joined to the death of Christ, are we told we are raised to new life in Christ. We can say this is symbolic or a type but then we have to show where the reality takes place and scripture shows only one place this occurs. It is also the only place from where we are told we are clothed with Christ, and where our sin is washed away calling on the Lord. Yes we are saved by grace through faith but from where God said He would bestow such grace and not where we choose.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Who is the Pastor?

This would greatly depend on who you ask and from what denominational affiliation they follow. Some would say the Senior Minister but finding such a person in scripture will be difficult. The word most times translated "Minister" in scripture comes from [diokonos] and is translated either minister or servant. It is where we get our English word (transliterated) as deacon.

The word for Pastor or shepherd is found 18 times in the New Testament. most times it refers to a literal shepherd of real sheep. It is however found three times in reference to church leadership. The first is in Acts 20 where Paul upon returning to Jerusalem and knowing he most likely will not see the churches he established again calls for the "Elders" of Ephesus for some final instructions. he concludes with this:
Acts 20:28-31 (NASB) 28 "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 "Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.

Paul first calls the Elders (presbuteros) and this is their title or designation. they are the spiritually more mature within the church.
Paul tells these men that the Holy Spirit has made them overseers (episkopos) sometimes translated as bishops in the church. This is their ministry or the work they have been called to do.
Finally Paul says they are to shepherd (poimene) the church (also translated Pastor) and this refers to how the overseeing is to be accomplished. as a shepherd tends to his flock. lovingly. kindly, compassionately but also with a firm hand.

All three designations, Elder, Overseer and Shepherd/Pastor refer to the one man or one office. His title, his mission and the way the mission is to be carried out. I is he who is the protector of the flock from false teaching and teachers. This is a very serious and special ministry because those under the care of the Elder/Pastor are tending those purchased with a special price, His own blood.

These men are to be qualified as required in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. It is not a popularity contest! We do not appoint men Elders merely because we need Elders. We do not appoint Elders because they are the biggest givers or the most influential or have great influence over others. They are to be Spirit gifted and qualified men who strongly desire the office first and foremost.

The Holy Spirit gave four offices for church leadership as is recorded in Ephesians 4:11 (NASB) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,. The keen eyed reader will notice there is no "and some as" between Pastors and Teachers. I fully believe this is the same office. Pastor/Teacher or the Pastor who teaches. we do not see Senior Minister in that list. The Pastor/Elder is the Spirit designated shepherd of Christs flock as under-shepherd of the Chief or Great Shepherd. In a future blog we will examine how this system of Ministers came about.

The third passage that speaks to this man is 1 Peter 5:1-2 (NASB) 1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;
Peter exhorts the Elders as a fellow Elder to Shepherd (poimene) or Pastor the flock. not by compulsion but by a strong desire (voluntarily) as scripture tells us in I Timothy 3 and according to Gods will for the church and not his own will or desires and not with a view to what he will get out of it. I know of few men who become elders thinking they will either get rich or some elevated praise. usually the exact opposite is the case.

Finally, we are told that Paul appointed Elders in every church/City as was his habit. He did not appoint Ministers or those with the proper credentials (degrees from one of our colleges) or any other recent requirement. He appointed Elder/Shepherds to continue the work after he left. He also commanded that Timothy (an apostolic delegate) do the same. This is not to say that those fine men we call Ministers today cannot be one of the Elders in the church in which they serve. Many a church has made this restriction and frankly it is unscriptural. Whether it is for better control over the man or some other misguided agenda, it is just plain wrong. A man gifted and qualified by the Holy Spirit should not be treated any less then any other man simply because we have chosen to hire from without.

I have talked with many ministers who quite frankly feel like monkeys who are made to dance for the organ grinders (elders) to receive their weekly coin. They are treated merely as employees and given the least amount possible for the most amount of labor. Is it any wonder that so many churches today focus on numbers? Numbers are what keep the paid minister in the good graces of the Elders and are his job protection. As a part of what is called the Restoration Movement of Churches it has been our goal to restore the church of the first century. In many areas we have succeeded. we have no man made creeds, no denominational affiliations, the scriptures are our only rule of faith and we accept any and all as brothers who adhere to Gods word and what it demands, but in the area of church leadership, we have sadly failed to even address the topic.