Category Archives: Worship

Right church, wrong church and division

Small churches become aggravated at megachurches because many leave the small church for the megachurch.  On the other hand, megachurches have a way of defending themselves that seems to lash out at small churches who criticize them.  Both groups have stereotyped the other side.  One side will say that the other only entertains, while the other side will say that the other is old and is not a church that people want to attend. This is counterproductive to the Kingdom building that is supposed to be taking place.  After all, people leaving one for the other is not an increase in God’s Kingdom.  In fact, this back and forth between these two sisters has brought much confusion to many believers.  What is more, it has brought confusion to those who find themselves in a place where they are not committed to a church, but may actually be in the process of  looking for a church.  What I mean is that they have heard the echo from those in both camps of this issue.  So this means that they are hearing this discussion between the two sisters, and I would argue it is a negative discussion, which is aiding people who are not committed to Christ choose the church in which they worship and serve at that may not be the Spirit’s leading.  With one side pointing out the imperfections of the other, it seems appropriate to outline those characteristics of what aright church looks like.  There are four universally, historically, marks that someone should look for in a church so that he or she may decide whether or not they have found a right church or a wrong church.

Those who are looking for a church should be looking for distinctive marks that seem to help define church on whether or not it is a right church, or wrong church.  Of course this type of discussion is nothing new.  In fact the Early Church set forth The Marks of The Church, which can be observed from the book of Acts.  You may recall that the book of Acts is a book that describes the birth of The Church as a result of the Holy Spirit coming to indwell those who receive and follow Christ.  According to H. Ray Dunning, in 381 B.C., The Marks of The Church were stated formally for the first time in the Creed of Constantinople” (529).  Four Marks were named in the Creed, Unity, Holiness, Catholicity (which means universal), and Apostolicity.  Dunning further pointed out that these marks are produced by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  “They are not the result of organization or administration but are the creation of the Spirit” (529).  This last statement is another discussion for later, but it certainly should cause one to pause at the role of leadership, and administration, in many Protestant churches today.  Since these marks are understood to be the creation of the Spirit, this means that people, both inside and outside, of the Church, should be able to see these traits as reality.  If these traits are not seen as reality in regard to a group, then it is possible that group may not be a right church.  Here is a little more clarification to aid understanding these marks.

The first mark in our list of four is Unity.  This mark is one that both small churches and megachurches need to consider again.  Remember the discussion in my intro of this article.  Each side tends to point out what the other side believes to be wrong with the other.  Jesus’ teaching to His followers should be applied in this situation, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, Let me take the speck out your eye, when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).  If both sides rightly understood this, then each could be beneficial to the other which would glorify Christ.  Consider a statement that makes a great point, and should be a rule that is kept in mind,  James B. Chapman said, “The Christ in me will never be at variance with the Christ in you” (Dunning 531).  This obviously should demonstrate the unity of Christ’s Church.  These two statements are important for each side to consider because these were made in reference to what leads to disunity, and what should help to create unity.  Christ is not divided against Himself.  The Holy Spirit should be aiding to keep this from happening.  Our goal as those who are part of The Universal Church is that we be united as part of, and by taking part in, God’s Kingdom.  When we work against each other it creates disunity and this means there is no benefit to the Kingdom.

The second mark is Catholicity.  This term is not about being a geographical location, or part of any particular tradition of doing church.  It means that it is universal by embracing Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you (Christians who have been saved by the Blood of Christ and have the Holy Spirit dwelling within them) are all one in Christ Jesus.”  This again seems to be another way of saying unity too (532).  Clearly, this is what Paul had in mind here, and in his other epistles.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit ties us to all who are in Christ.  This means that those who have the Spirit are part of The Universal Church.  This is important because this means that there isn’t a worship style, or a particular way of being the church.  Instead, it is an outer reality, that exists on the basis of the inward reality of the Spirit that makes the church be the church.   After all, there is only one Savior; and He is not divided in Himself.  We are “doing” church right, when we are being the Church through the aid of the Spirit.

The third mark is Holiness.  Holiness, unfortunately, sometimes is understood in a variety of ways.  For example, does one become Holy simply because Jesus automatically gives it to those who He calls His?  Or does Jesus offer Holiness to those who surrender themselves totally to Him so that He they can receive another helping of Grace?  This is a debate without end.  Yet, as a Wesleyan, I believe that Holiness is imparted by Christ.  From John Wesley’s point of view, “Holiness of the Church is attributable because of a real, rather than imputed, holiness” (532).  It should be pointed out that the Church does have within her those who are babes in Christ.  In fact, we are becoming Holy by allowing the Spirit within to mold and shape us.  We also are learning from the Great Teacher, Christ.   This means that each person is walking in the light they are given at that particular point of their new life in Christ.  If this be so, there will be issues each church will have to deal with because of the universal impact of sin in our world.  Further, corporate Holiness also involves accountability within the church.  I recognize that writing this some might say that this leads to judgment and condemnation and more legalism in the church.  By the way, both sides of this discussion have this element to contend with.  On the contrary, I believe it is about motivation.  Holiness that comes from the Spirit is centered on love for God and others.  It is not involved in lording over other people.  Instead it is driven by the heartfelt need to keep a brother or sister from sinning.  This in turn helps to keep the purity of the Church’s witness.  In fact, this is why Covenant Memberships exist in many churches.  This, too, will be a topic for another discussion.  Holiness, as Dunning puts it, is “the conscience of the church” (533).  Moreover, it is time that we Christians understand that we are Saints; and that we should no longer be sinners.  This is the common cry of many Christians today.  It is important that we remember that God still has expectations of us.  Therefore, right churches will remain aware of this.

The final mark in this list is Apostolicity.  This is not to be understood as an office what one can seek.  Instead it is what should be present within the Church through her members.  Members who are empowered by the Holy Spirit who dwells within.  This is the same Holy Spirit who dwelt within the Apostles.  In other words, in regard to Apostolicity, “It is the truth of the gospel proclaimed in the power of the Spirit” (534).  In fact, this is why each person receives spiritual gifts.  These gifts are meant to build up the Church.  If we localize this by saying build up the church, which is part of The Church, then we realize that it is not about one person, or a few, who have the ability to attract.  It is about the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who dwells within the corporate Body, and in individuals who make up the Body.  Therefore, it is not really about the greatness of the speaker, singer, or leader.  It is more likely that it is about the greatness of God who is present in His believers and among them as well.  With this type of understanding it easy to see that each person has a gift, or gifts, which they bring to the local church so that they too can help build up that particular church.  In turn, if the church being built up has these marks, then the Kingdom is being built up.  In fact, The Bible said that the Holy Spirit places in you in a church to do just that.

The purpose of writing this is to help those who may wonder whether or not their church is a right church.  At some point, All churches who claim Christ as their Savior must stop acting as if they are the only church who is really right.  Beware of that type of rhetoric, whether it comes from large or small.  It seems more likely that God uses both megachurches and small churches.  As a small church pastor, I want people to know that I understand these marks.  In fact, I wanted to write this because my church is small and can easily be labeled as a church that doesn’t get it.  Therefore, if Christ is in me and in those who attend my church, then it is dangerous when other pastors make blanket statements about churches who are not right or productive, in their opinion, because of a certain tradition that may seem to be out of touch with this new age.  Likewise, it is dangerous when smaller church pastors preach against what God is doing in larger churches.  The damage that is being caused is only to the mission of Christ to make disciples by using His Church.

There are more developed Marks of The Church, for example Mark Dever wrote a book called The Nine Marks of  a Healthy Church.  I have looked though this book, and it looks to be a good read and teaching tool.  However, I elected to stick with what I see as the earliest work on this subject.  I say this because I am aware that there are other variations of The Marks, but each should be developed from The Creed of Constantinople in my opinion.  I believe Dever’s is.  But his is a book, and this is only article that is meant to be basic.

Once one establishes whether or not a church is a right church, and there doesn’t seem to be division of Christ taking place, he or she needs to seek and hear from God whether or not that is the place to serve.  This should be helpful for those who are wondering what a good church looks like.

Works Cited

 

Dunning, H. Ray.  Grace Faith and Holiness.  Kansas City,

MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1988.

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Altar-ology

I had athoughts recently about Christian altars in the Sanctuary.  As a pastor, I wonder if anything of supernatural value actually takes place at them as part of worship service.  I also wonder if they are a fad that has been passed by, after all, they don’t seem to make same impact that the mourner’s bench did. 

Many fight coming to the altar today.  Christians and church-goers alike do not want to go because of fear.  Yet, it is not a right fear; if there is one.  It seems that people do not go because they are afraid of what they will look like in front of others in the church.  They are afraid that people will know that they have work to do in their spiritual lives.  Hey, we all do. 

Some have a healthy fear of the altar.  The altar should represent death to us.  It should be a place where people come to die to selves.  In other words, this is where we come to put our inner-man to death.  Yet, some might be afraid that the pastor is going to find out something or ask them to do something that is too personal.  Well, that is what God does. 

A problem I see with is that real work is may not be happening there anymore.  When people finally respond, some might be there to “help” the pastor because they do not want him to become discouraged.  When they arrive, some may think the pastor is taking too long in prayer.  Some may be there because someone shamed them.  Some may go down there because their friends are there.  They do not want to be left out.

Here is the challenge of the altar we Christians need to consider again.  As I mentioned earlier, the altar should be a place where someone goes to die.  This is a harsh act.  We do not want to put our egos to death.  We should not see Christians who were moved to come down, simply get up from the altar because the pastor said Amen.  Instead, people should be distraught and broken while at the altar.  I find it amazing that God works on people just before lunch and accomplishes what He wants to just in time to go to lunch.   

At the altar, people should be praying through; not simply going to say sorry without having the intention to change. Praying through means that we need to stay at the altar earnestly pleading that God change us from who we want to be into who He wants us to be.  This is why the altar is a place of great work that can only be performed by the Holy Spirit.  It should be an emotional moment in our lives.  It is at the altar that we go to be transformed; not to clear our consciences, but to cleanse them. 

Spurgeon saidonce  that the altar was a place where you and I can feel the sting of sin which helps us to get away from sin.  Many today simply want to stand up or raise their hand when the sermon is over so that the pastor will dismiss them in a timely manner.  Yet, I believe that God has more that He wants to accomplish with them and bids them to come and die in front of the church so that they can be transformed. 

I realize that God can work on us anywhere, but the altar still seems to be a place, when rightly used, to accomplish His tasks.  Laying broken at the altar is when the Spirit begins to recreate that which is distorted in us.  Where else are we going to have the best chance to die with our brothers and sisters in Christ?

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God bless America

This year the Fourth of July landed on Sunday.  This is fitting since we say God bless America. 

I asked a few people how God blesses America.  I had some interesting feedback.  As I suspected, the view was that God blesses us because He has chosen us and because we support Israel. 

I think as Christians there are some things we should consider.  One thing that should be thought about is that God blesses the world and not just America.  I know that I am sounding less than patriotic.  I love America!  John 3:16-17 tells me that God blesses more than America. 

Yes, America is chosen, but God has chosen the world to be His too.  So what makes America special?  It is the way that God blesses America.  He uses His Church.  That’s right.  As unpopular the Christian Church is right now, in the West, God uses His people to bless others wherever they may be geographically. 

Another issue that should be understood in a better light, and I realize that there are other theological views, is that God doesn’t bless America because we protect Israel.  We should be allies with Israel, but God doesn’t need us for this.  We need Him to protect us.  We haven’t brokered a deal with God as we tend to think sometimes. 

Here is what we Christians need to ponder.  Do we continue to serve God through our patriotism?  Or, do we serve Him through humility?  In the OT, I am as always taken back when I consider that Israel combined patriotism to their country with Temple worship as a way that made them distinct from other nations.  Yet, in Nehemiah and Ezra, they were challenged to observe the Law to become distinct from other nations.  After all, they did not have borders during this time.   

Amazingly, churches likely preached sermons about how bad our nation has gotten all over this last Sunday.  I can hear it now, “God will no longer bless our country because of homosexuality and the fact that prayer has been taken out of school.  God is also mad that other gods are being worshipped and tolerated.  He is mad because we have publishers printing of the a different Bible version than the KJV.  Therefore, He is going to punish America.”

Now, I am being a little harsh and I know it.  Nevertheless, is God not concerned with the state that the American Church has gotten to? How many church attendees all over are focusing material things that they can get their hands on instead of making disciples?  How many even attend their churches on a regular basis?  How many give to God others who have need?  How many are practicing sexual immorality?  How many are judging others on a regular basis? How many church attendees are striving to overcome sin?

So the threats that God is going to judge America if our political leaders don’t enact laws and mottos that say we support God may not need to be focused on.  It would appear that God might have a beef with Christians because they are no longer willing to live for Him so that our country can be blessed. 

These are some of the thoughts that I had this last week of the Fourth.  Church signs everywhere talking about our God-given freedom and the threat that God may judge America because those who have not known Jesus are sinning.  Maybe it is time the Church stood up and accepted her responsibility that God has given her.  This is what makes us (Christians) distinct from those who lost in the world.

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Continuing with Jesus

Here are some quick thoughts about continuing with Jesus.  A lot of Christians tend to become discouraged with a lot things they deal with on a repeated basis.  Over the course of time, which sometimes seems to weed out the “chaff,” people fall away from Christ.  These some thoughts that I hope will make sense to you if you are one of those people who is struggling to continue on.    

  • Do not count on other Christians to lift you up when you fall into a downcast state.  That is what Jesus wants to do for you. 
  • Seek God’s approval.  Do not look for someone’s approval so that you can be blessed.  Going with Christ means seeking His blessing alone. 
  • When looking for direction, do not seek it from other people first.  Pray that the Spirit will reveal direction to you. 
  • When giving effort, do so to please your Heavenly Father.  People cannot look into your heart like your God can.
  • Do not busy yourself with ‘religious work.’  Spend time alone God.
  • Do not allow situations to discourage you.  Trust that God is working things out for your good. 
  • Do not allow unconverted people to frustrate you.  Realize that they still need Jesus. 
  • Know that there is not anything that wastes your time.  God does not waste anything.
  • When someone tries to convince you of a major life decision that you should make, always think back to what God told you first. 
  • Know that it is normal to struggle over dying to yourself on daily basis. 
  • Trust and obey God.  Do this even when it goes against everything that you feel during a crucial moment.      
  • Focus on giving worship, great worth, to Christ.  Do not look to recieve all of the time.  Giving is the seed of recieving. 
  • Draw a line in the sand and do not go beyond it spiritually.  Commit to staying with Christ no matter what. 

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Community Life of Disciples

Key Scriptures for Disciples of Christ

Key Scriptures should define key elements to a healthy spiritual life.

Matthew 22:36-40; The Greatest Commandment

Matthew 25:31-46; The Least of These Warning

Matthew 28:18-20; The Great Commandment

Christ Centered Community Life Image

Worship in mind and soul takes place through meditation, prayer, and corporate worship.

Worship in heart takes place by recognizing God’s love for us which causes us to adore Him.  Jesus has wooed us to Him by His love for us.

Worship in strength seems to be accomplished by our works of righteousness.  Plus, in my mind it should also be accomplished in our commitment to the Lord when we do not feel like remaining committed.

Loving our neighbors occurs when we realize that the DNA of God is in them since He created us in His own Image.  We are told to be imitators of Christ.  Loving those who do not love us is also part of that strength in the first commandment.

These 2 commandments set Jesus Christ up as King in the world that we live in today.

We feed the mind, soul, and heart through discipleship.  This is accomplished by learning God’s Word together or one on one.

Worship and discipleship are vehicles that the Holy Spirit uses to transform us.  We are in the process of becoming more like Christ.

Fellowship with each other helps us to learn to love our neighbor; it is the proving ground.  Paul’s letters were written to the churches about how to get along with each other.  Remember, Paul said that we are to submit to each other in unity.  This deals with strength and heart.

The author of Hebrews conveyed the importance of continuing to meet together in worship and fellowship even though these people were being persecuted; much different than being teased.

James called righteous works, or service, real religion; another proving ground.  If we are being transformed in worship and discipleship, then we are rooted in the good spring.  Therefore, good works flows from us without faking them.  They are now natural to us.  This is also back to strength again.

Jesus simply told to evangelize; another proving ground.  We love Him and others and this now becomes the natural thing to do.

I made the pieces of the pie bigger in the areas of corporate worship and discipleship because these pieces feed the other 3 pieces.  Focus on the other 3 pieces without these 2 is idolatry.

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Missing the Point

I just can’t get away from the frustration that I feel when I see or hear about churches arguing over a style of music, dress, and focus.  It really makes me feel tired.  I understand that these are serious issues in the church today.  Yet, these seem to side track us too.   

There are groups of younger people feel that they could reach more people for Christ if their churches would change their Sunday morning program to a modern music format.  In contrast, groups of older people believe that the church should not change and that the modern music is not of God.  They reason that the church must not change so that people will recognize that the church is unchanging just like God.  They also reason that their style of music is sacred and should not be tampered with.   

Some groups dress casual and others dress formal for church service.  Some pastors believe that dress can be a barrier for people to attend their church.  Both believe that the way the other side dresses will run people off.  In my opinion, these groups that worry about these issues have spent their entire lives in church.  Both want to leave something of themselves in the church.   

Most of the time these groups grew up in church rebelling against what was established beforehand.  Each generation fights the other.  Each sees where the other generation has faltered in some way.  Each side uses Scripture from the letters that Paul wrote to different churches to justify why they believe what they believe.  What is unique about Paul’s letters is that he stressed the importance of unity and submitting to one another within the Church.  He even, in a few letters, dealt with how each generation was supposed to treat the other.  Are we missing the point? 

I asked the pastor I was saved under if he remembered when I came to the church for the first time.  I reminded him that I did not grow up in church.  My point was that I did not have any traditions that were following me through life to worry about.  I reminded him that when I came to Christ I did not say to him, “Hey, I will accept Jesus as my Savior if you wear a certain type of clothing.” I also did not say to him that I would get out of my Lazy Boy chair and come to church if they would assure me that they would play the right style of music.  He confirmed that these were not issues that I struggled with in the beginning. 

People! Listen to me!  There are not any people who are lost sitting in their homes tonight saying to themselves, “If the church would play my style of music, I would get saved.”  Or, “If the pastors would dress like I think they should would get saved.”  The only thing that  I was interested in was finding salvation.  The only Person I wanted to meet, was not the cool pastor who thinks that the Church is not doing enough to save the starving children, but I wanted to meet Jesus.   

Yes, I do care about the starving children and other injustices.  My point is that we Christians focus on the wrong things too much.  Don’t you think the devil loves our disunity over trivial issues?  My point is that we need to keep the focus on Jesus instead of on the non-essentials. 

When it is all said and done; I think the problem is that we just want to look like what we think a real Christian looks like.  We want to impress people with our huge compassion for the things that matter to the world.  We want to show people how intelligent we are by connecting the Word of God to the issues today.  We want to be the new, and improved, church.  Or, we want to be the church that did not change so that we can look super spiritual.  God’s point is, “When will His people get the point of Scripture and simply be the Church?”  In other words, when will we learn that we can find Jesus when we choose to look? 

I am not hindered by the style of clothing that I, or anyone else, wears.  I am able to enjoy all music that points me to Christ.  Why?  Because I know that I was lost, but now I am found.  I know what fate I avoided because of my desire to let Christ love me and save me which caused me to want to live for Him.  That is the point.

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Sunday Ups and Downs

We had a good attendance at Smith Chapel yesterday.  I got to teach about the importance of being connected to church.  Our text was 1 Corinthians 12 and I read from verse 4 to the end of the chapter.  While reading we noted that this chapter is about more than simply trying to figure out what our spiritual gifts are.  The bottom-line is that God connects us to The Church, the church, Him, and connects us (the church) with a lost world so that Jesus can connect to those who do not know Him.  That is it in a nut shell. 

During our service we able to baptize a man, which connected him to The Church, and hopefully to the our church too.  It was a good moment in our worship.  Some of his family was there with tears in their eyes.  This helped us as a Body to focus on Christ and the importance of knowing Him which led to singing praises from our hearts. 

Later, a young man shared with me that he is a universalist.  I hate to admit it, but it is refreshing to meet someone who is honest in the Bible-Belt about their view of God.  Most really do not know what they believe and why they believe.  He challenged me to dig for intelligent answers.  It has been a long time since I’ve focused on Apologetics.  It might be time for a refresher.  Nevertheless, for those who think that there really is not much of a mission out there that requires Christians to share Christ, here is your reminder. 

Finally, I capped off the day going to see someone who might be hours from slipping into eternity.  This person has not received Christ as Savior and Lord.  These are always tense moments for me as a pastor.  There are nurses and family around who do not want you to bother someone who is passing away.  I understand.  However, we must realize that receiving Christ is also how someone can pass away peacefully.  I asked the question, “Would you like to receive Jesus Christ as your Savior?”  There was no answer.  We must remember that God gives us all a choice.  I wish I had better news, but I don’t. 

Sunday started out with a sense of victory, but it ended with the reminder that there are still many who do not know who Jesus Christ is.  Further, there are many who choose not to know Jesus Christ.  Yet, God is merciful and longsuffering.  He continues to astound me by trying to save right up to the last breathe.  To Him be all glory and honor forever.

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