Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Church _?_ Christ

I have been preaching for 'churches of Christ' across the country for just over ten years. When asked about the name 'church of Christ,' or when explaining it to others, I have always pointed to Romans 16:16 where Paul says, "Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you." While this was never intended to be some kind of official name for the church, I have always argued that it's a great way to describe the church because...
  1. It's a scriptural designation.
  2. It honors Christ.
  3. It's accurate, for the church is "of" Christ in that it belongs to Him.
It's the third reason that I'd like to discuss briefly in this article.

It's absolutely true that the church belongs to Christ. He founded it (Matt. 16:18), died for it (Acts 20:28) and is the head of it (Eph. 1:22-23). It's not our church; it's His church.

But some might hear this and conclude that because the church belongs to Christ that it is somehow separate from Him...as if the church is here and Christ is there. However, there is another sense in which the church is "of" Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 12, the church is called the "body of Christ," and in Ephesians 1:22-23, Paul adds that Christ is "head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." The church belongs to Jesus just a person's own physical body belongs to that person. So not only is the church His, it's Him. It's "of" Him in the sense that it consists of Him.

So when I say that I'm a member of the church of Christ in Sparks, Nevada, what I'm really saying is that I'm a member of the visual representation of Christ in Sparks, Nevada. Yes, we belong to Him. But we also consist of Him. When you come and visit with us, you are experiencing, not just a church, but Christ Himself.

Are you representing Christ? Is your church?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Breaking Bread on Sundays

In the last week, several questions have arisen regarding the observance of the Lord's Supper - when it should be observed and how often it should be observed. At the church of Christ in Sparks, we observe the Lord's Supper every Sunday because this is what we feel the Scriptures instruct us to do. 

However, other churches may only observe the Lord's Supper once a month, once a quarter, or once a year. Sunday is traditionally viewed as being the day of observance, but there are some churches who might observe it on other days of the week, or who believe that the day doesn't matter. 

In fact, based on my experiences and observations, I would say that the church of Christ is in the definite minority when it comes to the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper (on Sunday).

In this brief article, I'd like to explain why we partake of the Lord's Supper every Sunday.

In Acts 20:6-7, Luke records for us the following...
"But we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days. Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight."
The phrase "break bread" may refer to a common meal (Luke 24:35; Acts 2:46), but it may also refer to the Lord's Supper (Matt. 26:26; 1 Cor. 11:24). Only the context can really tell us whether the breaking of bread in Acts 20:7 is a reference to a common meal or the Lord's Supper, and I believe that the context points to the Lord's Supper.

Think about it. Paul was with these Christians in Troas for an entire week. Surely, they shared many meals together during that time. But when Sunday rolled around, they "came together" as a church for the purpose of breaking bread. This was special, not common. Moreover, we learn here that this was a spiritual assembly, for in addition to breaking bread, Paul preached until midnight. The details of this passage, when carefully considered, point to a spiritual assembly in which the Lord's Supper was observed.

By way of contrast, the breaking of bread in Acts 20:11 refers to a common meal. How can we know this? Because the assembly had ended, and no longer do we see a spiritual focus. Now, Paul is eating a meal in preparation for his impending journey.

Now consider 1 Corinthians 16:1-2...
"Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also. On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come."
Once again, we learn that the early churches were in the habit of assembling on Sunday. When Paul issued this command to the church in Corinth (which he had issued to many other churches), he wrote with the assumption that they were already assembling on Sundays. He merely adds another component to their worship, namely, the collection.

When you consider Acts 20:6-7 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 together, it's obvious that the early churches met on Sundays. Perhaps you're wondering how this could be so obvious when we only have two allusions to the Sunday assembly in the entire New Testament. You have to understand, though, that the early churches received direct, oral training from the apostles (2 Thess. 2:15)...something we don't have today. This is why the Sunday assembly is assumed in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. When these churches had been established, they had been personally instructed in the ways of Christianity. In many cases, the apostolic writings merely supplemented or repeated the information they already had. In other cases, such as in 1 Cor. 16:1-2, new commands were given.

Having said that, all we have are these two passages. But what we learn from these two passages has great impact on our Christian faith.

"All Scripture" is to govern our lives and conduct in Christ (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We're to do all things by the authority of Jesus (Col. 3:17). We're not to "think beyond what is written" (1 Cor. 4:6). We're to speak where God has spoken (1 Pet. 4:11). We're to imitate the examples of the apostles (Phil. 4:9) and even the early churches (1 Thess. 1:16-17). In other words, the New Testament, though not written directly to us, contains the will of Christ and the pattern for our Christian faith.

Regarding the Sunday observance of the Lord's Supper, here's what I know. I know that when the early church met on Sunday for the purpose of observing the Lord's Supper, God approved. I don't know that God approves any other day for its observance. Am I condemned if I partake of the Lord's Supper on Monday or Tuesday? Maybe not. But I know if I observe it on Sunday, I'm right.

Here's a great verse that ought to govern our response to questions such as this...
"Test all things; hold fast what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Instead of searching for condemnation of a practice (to know that it's condemned), we ought to seek authority for a practice (to know that it's right).

This is why we at the Queen Way church of Christ observe the Lord's Supper every Sunday. It's part of our effort to obey the pattern of the New Testament. After all, we love our Lord and want to please Him in every way.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Should We Be Anti-Tradition?

There is a growing dissatisfaction among religious people with church traditions.

The word tradition is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as, "a way of thinking, behaving or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time."

There are certainly times where it's good to be dissatisfied with, and even vehemently opposed to, religious and church traditions. Jesus is very clear about this:
"Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 'Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not w ash their hands when they eat bread?...'Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men''" (Matthew 15:1-2, 8-9).
"Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ" (Col. 2:8). 
These traditions were condemned by our Lord because they were being taught as commands of God. We certainly cannot bind upon others what God hasn't bound upon us in His word. These traditions ought to be wholly rejected by those who have a sincere desire to serve and worship God. We must not advocate human traditions, but God's truth!

However, there is another sense in which even the teachings of God are called traditions.
"Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle" (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
"But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us" (2 Thess. 3:6).
And certainly, this fits the definition I cited above. The teachings of Scripture do constitute "a way of thinking, behaving or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time." The biblical definition of tradition (from the Greek word paradosis is, "transmission, that is, (concretely) a precept." None of us should be opposed to these traditions!

Finally, there are traditions that are not specifically taught in Scripture but that are, generally speaking, harmless. Here are a few examples of what I am going to call "expeditions" - expedients that happen to become traditions in many churches:
  • Sunday morning worship services. Are we ever commanded in the New Testament to assemble on Sunday mornings? No. But we know that the early church was in the habit of meeting on Sundays (Acts 20:6-7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2), and therefore Sunday morning assemblies are completely authorized. Obviously, a majority of churches meet on Sunday mornings and have done so for hundreds of years. So we might call this a "tradition." But it's a harmless tradition, or "expedition."
  • Church buildings. Are churches commanded to own their own buildings? No. Do we ever find an example of a "church building" in the New Testament? No. But we are commanded to assemble for the purposes of worship and edification (Heb. 10:24-25; 1 Cor. 11, 14) - and "church buildings" do facilitate this. Church buildings are just as authorized (generically) as song books or pews. Obviously, most churches, especially in our country, own their own buildings. Therefore, we might call this a "tradition," and we would be right. But it's not a wrong or sinful tradition.
  • Calling ourselves "churches of Christ." We see in Romans 16:16 that early churches called themselves "churches of Christ" (Romans 16:16). However, this was more of a description than an official name for the church. In fact, churches more commonly were identified as "churches of God" (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:13). At times, the church was identified based on its location (i.e. the "church of the Thessalonians," 1 Thess. 1:1). It's clear to me then that while the "church of Christ" designation is certainly scriptural, it isn't mandatory. There are other Scriptural designations. And therefore, the fact that congregations of Christ's people all over the world often call themselves "churches of Christ" is a tradition. But is it the kind of tradition that Jesus condemned in Matthew 15? Not at all.
In each of these cases, the tradition is authorized by means of expediency; they help us to reach a Scriptural end. In fact, reasoning this way is absolutely essential and even unavoidable. To fulfill any Scriptural command or example, we must depend upon expedients such as these.

These traditions - again, expeditions - are not inherently wrong, but can become wrong if we elevate them to "command status" and bind them on others. Then we certainly fall under the condemnation of our Lord in Matthew 15, and the result is "vain worship." So if I attend a church that happens to own a building, and we call ourselves a "church of Christ," and we meet on Sunday mornings...and sing out of song books and have a certain order of worship and separate Bible classes and folks dress more formally...I am by no means a tradition-loving Pharisee. But if I condemn other brethren who happen to meet in a home, have only a Sunday afternoon assembly, call themselves simply "the church," dress more casually, and sing from memory...then I am wrong...not my traditions, per se...but me - I am wrong for how I have handled them.

Are there some brethren who wrongly bind these traditions? Absolutely. But many brethren do not! Our objection must not be to the traditions, but to the Pharisaical brethren.

In conclusion, should we be anti-tradition? Hopefully, I've shown that the word "tradition" has a very broad meaning and application in religion. Some traditions are wrong, some are essential, and some are harmless. Let's properly distinguish between these three types of traditions...and let us be honest in making these distinctions.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Does God Owe You, Or Do You Owe God?

I've talked to a lot of religious people over the years who believe that we're saved by faith alone, NOT by "law-keeping" or obedience. It's true that we can't earn our salvation, but there is a difference between works of merit (Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:5) and works of obedience.

True, biblical obedience is not rooted in arrogance, but in faith and humility. A person who obeys God in faith isn't earning God's favor in the least. Consider what the Scriptures say about this...
"For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in tents of wickedness" (Psalm 84:10).
"But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). 
"So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do'" (Luke 17:10).
"If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 15:14).
If a person believes that because they are religious, that they have a guaranteed mansion in heaven, or that God owes them salvation, they are full of arrogance and pride...and God will reject them. That's not obedience. That's not faith. That's snobbery.

But if a person understands that they have sinned and are in desperate need of God's mercy, and they humbly seek the salvation and blessings that are available to them because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, and they eagerly submit to God's conditions of salvation...have they earned anything? Not at all. And they know it. Rather, they have made it clear by their actions that they need God and are willing to do whatever He says.

Which best describes you? Does God owe you, or do you owe God?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Alcohol...It's Not For You!

"It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, nor for princes intoxicating drink; lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the justice of all the afflicted" (Proverbs 31:4-5).
I'm not one to say that because we are a "holy priesthood" today (1 Peter 2:5), we must subject ourselves in some way, shape or form to all the rules governing the priesthood of the Old Testament. Neither will I say that because we are "kings and priests" today (Rev. 1:6), we must subject ourselves to all the rules governing the kings of the Old Testament.


I can't help but apply this passage in Proverbs 31 to Christians today.

The application is so clear and undeniable in my mind, not so much because we're royalty today (1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6), but because we have an obligation to remember and represent God's spiritual law. 

We're told that everything we do, in word or deed, must be in the name of Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:17). We're told to always be ready to give an answer for our faith (1 Peter 3:15). We're told that our speech must always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that we might know how to answer each one (Colossians 4:6). Our entire lives must be a sacrifice unto Christ (Rom. 12:1-2; Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:21). And Peter says, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

Alcohol removes our inhibitions. As God's royal children, knowing that we have an obligation to diligently follow His law and share His law with the world, why would we EVER choose to drink alcohol (for social or recreational purposes) knowing that it might hinder us in our duties as His chosen people?!?!

Lemuel's mother told him, "It's not for kings to drink wine...[or] intoxicating drink."

It's not for us either!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Is the Date of Easter of Pagan Origin?

This article shares the title of an article written on the AIG (Answers in Genesis) website. While most of their articles have to do with the biblical and scientific evidence for a young earth, Noah's flood, and a literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, this article was written to defend the Easter holiday.

You see, there are many in the Christian community who do not celebrate Easter or Christmas for the simple reason that we are not taught to do so in the Scriptures. Not only are these popular Christian holidays not found in the pages of the New Testament, many of the elements of these holidays have pagan origins. The AIG article, however, attempts to disprove some of these claims.

In this brief article, I want to respond to a few of the points made in the aforementioned AIG article which, again, was written to defend the observance of Easter. I will quote the article (in italics) and then offer a response.

Here is the first quote...
Christ’s death and Resurrection are absolutely necessary elements of the faith. These truths should bring joy to the heart of everyone who has received God’s forgiveness through Christ, giving great cause to celebrate.
I want to make it clear that I absolutely agree with this statement. Just read 1 Corinthians 15 and you will see how pivotal the resurrection is to the Christian faith. For example, Paul wrote, "And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!" (vs. 17).

The AIG article goes on to make the point that because the resurrection is so pivotal, there is reason to believe that God wants us to commemorate it annually.
Throughout Scripture, God directs His children to mark His accomplishments on their behalf with feasts and celebrations.
This was true in the Old Testament (see Leviticus 23). God gave the Jewish nation of old very specific instructions regarding the observance of certain holidays throughout the year. They were told when and how to observe these holidays. But here's the thing: not a word is said to Christians in the New Testament about holidays that we are to observe, period! If God wanted us to celebrate Easter or Christmas, wouldn't He have said so? The fact that we have zero information about Easter in the Scriptures is very revealing.
The most prominent Old Testament festival related to the celebration of Easter is the Passover. This term was used to refer to the Christian feasts and commemoration of the Resurrection in the early church and continues today.
This just isn't right! There is no connection made between the Passover and an annual Christian holiday called "Easter" in the New Testament. Now, there is a connection between the Passover and Christ's resurrection. Jesus was crucified and resurrected at the time of the Jewish Passover (John 19:14). Jesus is even called "our Passover" in 1 Corinthians 5:7, but only because He is the sacrificial lamb of God whose blood, when applied to us, exempts us from God's wrath. I would go so far as to say that the Passover feast of the Old Testament was a foreshadowing of Christ Himself! But this doesn't mean that we are to take the Jewish holiday and turn it into a Christian holiday commemorating Christ's death and resurrection. Again, if God wanted us to do so, He would have said something about it.

After attempting to provide a biblical basis for Easter, the author of the AIG article goes on to provide the historical basis for Easter. This is the main point of the article. For the sake of brevity, I will only quote a portion of the article.
It appears clear from the earliest writings of the church fathers that the Resurrection was almost universally celebrated by the church. There were, however, differences in the manner and date of the celebrations. Fasting and feasting accompanied the remembrance of the date, but when to stop the fasting and begin the feasting was disputed. The date question fell into two camps: should the celebration be held on the day of the Resurrection or the date of the Jewish Passover?
Various writings of early "church fathers" are cited to prove that there were early Christians who commemorated Christ's death and resurrection on an annual basis...and that they were NOT influenced to do so because of concurrent pagan feasts or traditions. 

I can grant that the date of Easter may not have pagan origins, and that some early Christians were sincere in their attempt to align Easter with the Jewish Passover. But there are two points I'd like to make in response.

First of all, the fact that some early Christians observed Easter doesn't mean that the Scriptures authorize the observance of Easter. There are still no commands to celebrate it, no scriptural examples of its celebration, and no inferences that it is to be celebrated. I can just as easily show that some early Christians denied the humanity of the Son of God. Others believed that Satan will be saved in the end (contrary to the teachings of Revelation 20:10). In fact, there is a long list of false doctrines that some early Christians held. Of course, this by no means proves that God authorized such doctrines. The fact that some early Christians observed Easter doesn't prove that God wanted them to do so.

This brings me to my second point. Even if there were some Christians in the latter part of the first century who were celebrating Easter annually around the time of the Jewish Passover, this shouldn't surprise us. A simple reading of Galatians and Colossians will make it abundantly clear that there were some in the first century who were blending elements of pagan and Jewish religious practices with their faith. But this was discouraged and even condemned by God! 

In Galatians 4:9-11, Paul wrote, "But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain."

Paul made a similar point in Colossians 2:20-22 when he wrote, "Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations - 'Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,' which all concern things which perish with the using - according to the commandments and doctrines of men." The AIG article points out that these early observances of Easter involved fasting - "Do not taste." Such imposed regulations were not commended, but condemned!

So perhaps it is true that some early Christians chose to incorporate the observance of Easter into their Christian faith using the Jewish Passover feast as their model. This is actually in line with what the apostle Paul said was happening in the first century. But again, this wasn't a good thing. The early Christians were warned by Paul NOT to add such observances and regulations to their faith.

Now an admission from the author of the AIG article...
For those who claim the celebration of Easter was assigned by Constantine as an accommodation of pagan practices, they must contend with the records of Irenaeus and others. However, at the Council of Nicaea in 325, the issue was finally settled by the church as a whole.
Maybe it is true that the date of Easter wasn't chosen to accommodate pagan practices, but this quote from the AIG article makes it clear that the Easter holiday itself was something that was infused into Christianity, not by the apostles in the Scriptures, but by early Christian traditions. As we have seen, such traditions were discouraged by the apostles in Galatians and Colossians.

And finally, the author of the AIG article makes an admission in his closing remarks...
Although they didn’t have an explicit command from Scripture, various traditions arose to commemorate the risen Savior.
The author of the AIG article finally admits that there is no scriptural precedent for the observance of Easter. How, then, can we treat Easter as a necessary part of biblical Christianity? And why is it that those of us who do not celebrate Easter as a religious holiday are branded as loons, even heretics by some? And why are some Christians so eager to defend it?

I'm not writing this article to discourage your family's Easter traditions. Feel free to paint eggs, shower your children with candy, decorate your home with cute little white bunnies, and host family gatherings and Easter dinners. But the observance of Easter as a religious holiday is far from a biblical practice. If anything, as we have seen, God is pleading with us to abandon such practices and regulations and to return to the simplicity of His revealed will.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Sense of Entitlement

For about the last year, a man has stopped by the church building on many occasions during the week while I've been here working. He's also attended a few of our services. I hesitate to call him homeless, because I think he usually stays in a hotel or with a friend, but clearly, he's very poor. He rides a bike around town and is always in need of some kind of help. 

We do not believe in using the church's common fund to help non-Christians; we believe that the church is only authorized to aid needy saints (Acts 11:28-30; Romans 15:26-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8-9). Having said that, we do believe in helping folks...as individuals...and we have helped this particular man on many occasions. We've bought him shoes and fed him. Certain individuals have even dished out hundreds of dollars to pay for a hotel room for this man and his family...more than once. We've given him rides and have always offered him spiritual counsel along the way.

Despite all that we've done for this guy, he gets angry if we don't help him. He's stormed off a time or two for this very reason. I talked to him just a while ago and he promised that he'd be coming to church more often, but then when I told him I couldn't help him with a hotel room or give him any money, he was visibly upset and walked away. Thankfully, there hasn't been a serious altercation.

I say this, not because I want to tear this guy down (we've talked to him many times about these very things), but because I think many Christians can act the same way toward the church. It's an attitude of entitlement. They'll come to services so long as the sermons are good enough and folks pay attention to them, but if they stop "getting" what they feel entitled to, they begin to complain...or perhaps even leave the church altogether.

Obviously, we ought to be getting something from the church. In fact, if the church is what it OUGHT to be, everyone ought to be getting a LOT from the assemblies, classes and fellowship (Eph. 4:16).

It's not that we shouldn't expect anything from the church. It's about attitude and perspective.

I just read this in Philippians 2 today...
"Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others" (Philippians 2:1-4).
Are you a giver or a taker? What best defines you? That's the real issue.

If I were to fall on hard times, I would expect my brethren to come to my aid. But would I demand it? Would I pressure them into it? Would I complain about those who didn't? Would I threaten to leave the church if they didn't meet my demands in a timely manner? Hopefully not.

Let's avoid a sense of entitlement and focus on being givers.