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Why Keep The Church Of Christ?: Baptism

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Another great thing that the future Church should keep from the church of Christ is the importance that we have placed on baptism.  We have been at the forefront of study on this subject and have been absolutely sure to baptize everyone who comes to Jesus through our churches.

In the last hundred years, many churches have neglected baptism due to controversies and misunderstanding surrounding it but not the churches of Christ.  Although in my series, “Experiential Baptism”, I presented a slightly different view than held by the majority of the church of Christ, we have always been right to believe that a person’s Spiritual journey should begin with baptism.

In our postmodern world, experiential signs like baptism will be more meaningful than ever.  During the Modern period, we tended to let Scripture teach us about how we are saved but in Postmodernism we may just let baptism teach us about it in its intended way (without ignoring what the Scriptures teach of course).  Remember, baptism taught people about their salvation before the New Testament was even written.

Baptism is once again gaining popularity in churches that used to neglect it.  Since most of the recent scholarship on the subject has come from the churches of Christ, many will be influenced by what we have written and will write on the subject.  This puts a great weight of responsibility on us to study diligently and apply wisdom in regards to baptism.  The churches of Christ’s number one contribution to the Body of Christ might just be giving it baptism and a deeper understanding of it.

I want the future Church to be able to resurrect study on neglected topics in Christian theology and be able to do this with integrity.  Although, in my other series, I take issue with what the church of Christ has said about baptism I am ultimately glad they said it.  If they hadn’t, the practice might be all but lost in American churches or simply reduced to a meaningless act of initiation.

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Written by freeinchrist

February 28, 2010 at 8:00 am

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Worship

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[This is chapter 7.  Remember that these are extremely rough drafts.  Tell me what you think]

The next subject that I would like to draw our attention to is worship. Christian worship is a subject that has really gained popularity in the last hundred years and the church of Christ has been very interested in it from the very beginning of our movement.

Church of Christ worship has always been quite formal, yet still non-liturgical. We have generally used a formula called “the five acts of worship” as our guide in conducting worship services. We have trusted this five act method because it easily falls in line with our CENI hermeneutic and gives us a basic pattern for acceptable worship.

The five acts are: singing, praying, communion, giving, and preaching and we have generally stuck with this formula. If you go to any church of Christ in the country you can expect to see these five acts (and only these five) practiced in the worship service.

Although the church of Christ has always encouraged private worship, the corporate Sunday morning worship service has been the main worship event for church of Christ members. These services are basically the same as they were one hundred years ago. We generally sing hymns (although some churches have gone contemporary), males lead spontaneous prayers (non-liturgical), communion is served, the collection is taken, and then a sermon is given by the preacher. We call this the worship service and it is always the same week after week and year after year.

WHAT DOES THE NEW TESTAMENT SAY WORSHIP IS?

If we use our new concept on how to read the Scriptures, we will realize that the New Testament writers had a much different view of worship than the churches of Christ have today.

To start, worship in the New Testament (and even in the Old Testament) is not always formal in the same way that church of Christ worship is. Instead, it is spontaneous. When the heart of a person was led to worship by the greatness of God, that person worshiped. They didn’t wait until Sunday came around. They fell on their knees (another act of worship) and worshiped right there because that was the appropriate place and time for worship. They did not have to wait until the next scheduled worship service.

In the New Testament, we never see anything even resembling the worship service of the church of Christ. We may think that they had them but this is due to our tendency to read our current practices back into the Bible instead of letting it shape our practice.

In Scripture, there are not just five acts of worship, there are an unlimited number of acts. Anything that a person does as an expression of the love of God is an act of worship (even if its not mentioned in Scripture). Our CENI hermeneutic has caused us to limit the physical expressions that are allowed in worship. This is wrong.

A NOTE ABOUT SINGING

It seems to me that in discussions about worship, it is often singing that is brought to the forefront and I would like to challenge the assumption that singing is the main worship act. Although singing can be used as an act of worship, it is not done for this purpose in the New Testament (at least not in a Church context anyway). Where singing appears, its purpose is horizontal and not vertical. Its purpose is to encourage, teach, and admonish other Christians. The idea of singing as vertical worship is certainly biblical, but we are never told to get together for this purpose in the entirety of Scripture. Because this is so, maybe singing as an act of vertical worship should not play such a big role in our worship services.

THE KEY TO TRUE WORSHIP

The key to true worship lies in a passage that we have often quoted but have not quite understood. Jesus was once asked by a Samaritan women if God accepted worship in the Jewish Temple only or if He also accepted it at Mount Gerizim (where the Samaritans had made a temple because they were not allowed to worship in the Jewish Temple). Jesus response was “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23-24)

I’m sure that you have heard this verse before but you may have been given a different explanation of its meaning. In the churches of Christ, we have generally interpreted this entire passage through the word “truth”. We have explained Jesus’ words here by stating that what He is concerned with here is correct worship. This would be worship that is according to the CENI pattern which we basically claim to hold the patent on. If you want to be a “true worshiper” then you have to come to the church of Christ to get your true worship.

The problem with this interpretation is that it ignores the context of the passage. If this interpretation were true, Jesus would have said: “The Temple in Jerusalem is the right Temple and you are not allowed in it so you cannot worship. You temple at Mount Gerizim is fake”. This is technically the right answer. This conversation is taking place under the Old Covenant and the Temple in Jerusalem is where God had taken up residence. Mount Gerizim was a fraud, but this isn’t the point that Jesus is making in these verses.

If we want to rightly understand Jesus’ meaning, we have to interpret the verse through the word “spirit”. Jesus is actually saying: “The time is coming (and now is) where God won’t be worshiped through a Temple at all, He will be worshiped Spiritually because God is Spirit. True worshipers will worship in Spirit”.

The “truth” in this passage is not in the sense of factual truth but in the truth of character. Its like if I said “that man is truly a Christian” you would know what I meant. I would not be saying that the man had met the minimum requirements for being a Christian (factual truth). I would be saying that the man had a truly Christ-like character. The truth in these verses is more like the words “integrity” or “sincerity” than it is doctrinal truth. Doctrinal truth is important, but not the point of this saying.

True worship is Spiritual. It is from the heart. It is the way that our hearts move when we catch a glimpse of the glory of God. It cannot be manufactured and put inside of a service. We can have as many services as we like and still not have any real worship taking place.

ACTS OF WORSHIP

I have already said that there can be any number of acts of worship. An act of worship is anything that a person does when their heart is moved by the glory of God. While the five acts of worship are certainly appropriate, there are many other acts that are appropriate as well. If you look through the Scriptures, you will find many acts of worship that have not traditionally been practiced in the churches of Christ.

Knowing which worship acts to practice is a matter of being led by the Spirit into worship. Whatever the Spirit leads you to do will always be pleasing and honorable to God. If an act is not according to the will of God, it cannot be the Spirit leading you into it. This will protect us from error. Any evil act cannot be from the Spirit of God and is thus inappropriate for worship. All acts that are good and edifying to the Church, must be deemed appropriate.

THE FUTURE OF CHURCH OF CHRIST WORSHIP

As we go on into the future, the churches of Christ should focus more on the Spiritual nature of worship instead of on a pattern of acts. We should also stop thinking that we can manufacture through having services. Our meetings should be more about encouraging one another more than being about vertical worship. As we encourage our brethren, we ourselves will be encouraged and that may lead us to worship our Father in Heaven. Corporate worship can be very beautiful but only when it is real and from the heart.

Written by freeinchrist

February 26, 2010 at 8:00 am

Father, Forgive Our Sins

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One of the points that Andrew Farley makes in “The Naked Gospel” is that it is inappropriate for Christians to ask God to forgive our sins because He already has when Jesus died on the cross.

I really agree with this.

I remember growing up always hearing people ask God to forgive them of their sins and really thought nothing of it.  I was taught to pray this way as well.  We are probably all taught to pray this way because (even if we aren’t taught to say it) we are taught to use the Lord’s Prayer as a model for how to pray under the New Covenant.

But there really is a problem with this; the Lord’s Prayer was given under the Old Covenant.  The stuff about the kingdom coming was said before the kingdom came (yes, you could argue that the kingdoms mission has not come to fruition, but not that it hasn’t come) and the stuff about forgiving us was said before the forgiveness came.  Isn’t it now inappropriate to ask God to forgive us since He already has.

The reason given by most is “I ask God to forgive me to remind myself of my sin” but I would have to ask:  If God doesn’t remember our sins, should we?  This is important.  One of the best ways to avoid sin is to take its power over our lives away.  This is what Christ did on the cross.  By forgiving all of our sins, Christ made us not have to worry about it anymore.

Its like when you are a kid and you mom says “don’t eat that cake that I just made” and it makes you want the cake even more.  If she hadn’t said anything you probably wouldn’t have even thought of the cake but now that she said something all you want is the cake.  The Apostle Paul said much the same thing when he said that the Law of Moses made him want to covet by telling him not to covet.  This is how these things work.  When we are told we can’t have something, we want it all the more.

But in Christ, Christians are given total freedom and total forgiveness.  This allows the Spirit to change what we want so that we will want the right things instead of the wrong ones.  We no longer want things just because we can’t have them because we can have them, we just no longer want them.

So, stop asking for forgiveness and learn to live in the forgiveness that you have received.

Written by freeinchrist

February 24, 2010 at 8:00 am

A Great Site For Nerds (Like Me)

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If you are kind of a “bible nerd” (and I am definetly one) you would probably like this site

Biblical Training

It provides a number of great classes at all levels about a number of biblical subjects. Just thought I would let you guys know.

Written by freeinchrist

February 22, 2010 at 8:00 am

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Why Keep The Church of Christ?: Going Against The Grain

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The first thought that came into my head when thinking about this series was the idea that the churches of Christ have always been willing to go against the grain of popular Christianity to devote ourselves to our understanding of the Scriptures.

I think this will be a great asset to the future church and one of the things that I think we should keep from the church of Christ tradition.  So many churches are tossed to and fro by every movement that goes through Christendom.  We have never been effected in this way and have stayed solid when other churches have failed.  We have successfully avoided the Charismatic movement, the liberal movement (in the true sense of the word), the Jesus movement, the seeker movement, the Purpose-Driven movement, the emerging movement, and every other fad that has come upon Christendom and then fizzled out.

This shows our integrity in testing claims made by others and our wisdom in moving slowly into change.  You may think that I am contradicting my other series here but I’m not.  I want people to think long and hard about how we are supposed to read the Bible and ask a lot of questions before making any changes.  I expect the church of Christ to use the same wisdom that we used to avoid faddish movements to accept the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Written by freeinchrist

February 20, 2010 at 8:00 am

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Why Keep The Church of Christ?: Introduction

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Some may wonder why I would stick with and insist on transforming the churches of Christ.  This small group basically exists in the southern states (which I do not live in) and only has around 2 million members.  In the scheme of things, you might ask:  Why not just let it die out and start something new?

I want to use this series to show the parts of the church of Christ tradition that I think should follow us into the future.  I do think that we will have to start some new churches (like the Fulcrum Community) but why throw out the baby with the bath water?  There are many things to celebrate in the churches of Christ and I would like to highlight some of them in a series that will run concurrently with my “book” series of critiques.  I would hate to be considered only a criticizer of the church of Christ and not a praiser of its good qualities.

Should be fun.

Written by freeinchrist

February 18, 2010 at 8:00 am

Offering

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This is chapter 6 of the book that I have been working on.  Remember, that these are just rough drafts so any input would be very much appreciated]

In the churches of Christ we have nearly always taken a collection of funds to support the work of the local church and I really don’t see a reason to discontinue the practice. These funds are needed to pay for building expenses, salaries, missions, and for benevolence.

I would, however, like to say a few things about the meaning of the offering and how it has been traditionally practiced. I think there are some ways to improve upon it as we look at the history of the New Testament.

WHAT IS THE OFFERING?

We should start by asking: What is the offering and why is it taken? I think many have been confused as to what exactly the offering is.

First of all, it is not an offering but a donation. The only offering that we will ever need was given to us by Jesus Christ on the cross and we no longer need to make any offerings for any reason. It is inappropriate for Christians to make offerings under the New Covenant for this reason.

Some may be offended by my calling the collection a “donation” but that is what it must be seen as if we are to take a New Testament understanding of a local church (see chapter 4). The universal Church is a living thing (an organism) but the local church is a business (organization). The government is actually quite correct in calling a local church a non-profit organization. This means that a local church does not exist to make money but must make money in order to operate. This is the real reason that we take a collection.

I think we have (although I don’t think that anyone intended to) “spiritualized” the donation so as to feel more holy in giving it. We have also had to twist Scripture to make it command us to give so that the collection could be a part of our CENI pattern for work and worship. When Paul asked for a collection of funds to be taken, he was only asking for money so that he could give it to people who had suffered under a famine in Jerusalem. He was not expecting us to emulate that practice for the rest of the history of the church. Paul’s collection has been used as a proof-text to force people to give ever since.

WHY DOES THE CHURCH TAKE MONEY?

We need to be sure that we are always honest about why the local church takes money. We should not ever say that the money is being taken “for the Lord” (or some other similar saying) when most of the money goes to pay for our building and preacher salaries and so little goes to benevolence. The Lord did not say we had to have church buildings and paid preachers so it is wrong to say that the money is going to Him when we choose to pay for them. There is nothing wrong with a local church having these things, we just need to be honest about where the money is actually going.

It is very appropriate to say that the money is being taken to further the mission of the local church and very good for a person to give to an organization that is honest about why it is taking your money. Let’s just not make the collection into more than it actually is by trying to spiritualize it.

THE POOR

The last thing that I would like to say about the collection is concerning the poor. It seems that one of the main reasons for the collection historically has been largely forgotten by the churches of Christ.

Many churches started taking collections for the poor before they took them for facilities and salaries. Giving to the poor is also what many people assume they are doing when they put money into the collection plate but this isn’t always the case. Very few local churches (in any denomination) give more than two percent of their total collection to the poor and many give far less (and some do not give anything). This trend seems to miss the point of the collection all together. When I put money in the plate it is to help people, not just to support the organization.

We need to try to increase the amount that we budget for benevolence in every local church and dealing with the problem of poverty should be in every churches agenda in their own community. This may mean sacrificing some things, but then maybe we could actually say that we are taking the money “for the Lord”:

“…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt. 25:40)

Written by freeinchrist

February 16, 2010 at 8:00 am