Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “Church

The church is like the temple

According to the dictionary, the word “church” is used to describe either a building used for public Christian worship, a church service, or a group of Christian believers. In practice, the meaning is given by the context in which the word is used. In this article we look into what the Bible says about buildings used for Christian worship.

The Jewish temple

Before the church came into existence in Acts 2, the Jews were God’s people on earth. Their main place of worship was the tabernacle or temple, which was also called the “house of the Lord” and the “house of God” (Ex. 23:19; Ps. 42:4; 122:1). This was a special building which was used for festivals, sacrifices, prayers and psalms. God gave detailed specifications for the building and its furniture. God was said to live in the inner room of this building that was only entered by the High Priest once a year. However, Solomon knew that God wasn’t confined to the building (1 Ki. 8:27; Acts 7:47-50). Some thought they were safe in Jerusalem because God would always protect the temple, but Jeremiah criticised this superstitious faith in a building rather than in God (Jer. 7:4-14).

Because of Jewish idolatry, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. After the temple was rebuilt about 70 years later, Jewish sacrifices resumed and they continued until the temple was destroyed once more by the Romans in AD 70. So the physical house of God, which was associated with animal sacrifices, was destroyed and it doesn’t exist anywhere on earth today.

From about the third century BC, synagogues were also used by the Jews for worship and teaching their law. As this was the inter-testament period, they are not mentioned in the Old Testament. By the time Jesus was born, most Jewish communities had a synagogue. Jesus and Paul both taught in synagogues (Jn. 18:20; Acts 17:2).

The early church

For a brief period the early church met together in the outer court of the temple (a large open area), until persecution drove them out of Jerusalem (Acts 2:46; 5:12). Otherwise, the early church met in people’s homes. They were house churches. For example, there was a church in Priscilla and Aquila’s house in Rome and in Ephesus (Rom. 16:3-5; 1 Cor. 16:19) and in Philemon and Apphia’s house and in Nympha’s house in Colossae (Col. 4:15, 17; Phile. 2). It seems as though they may have also used public buildings such as the lecture hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:8-10).

For the following reasons, church buildings are not mentioned in the New Testament and there are no specifications given for places of Christian worship:

  • There was no longer any need for animal sacrifices at a particular place – Jesus was the “once for all” or last sacrifice (Jn. 4:20-21; Heb. 7:27; 9:26-28; 10:8-18)
  • Buildings are not essential to the Christian faith – after all it is the people who are important not the building they meet in
  • Special buildings are not required for small congregations that can meet in homes
  • Special buildings can be expensive and can’t move and reproduce quickly
  • Buildings can be a hindrance when the church is being persecuted

How the Christian church is like the Jewish temple

In the New Testament we learn that the people of the church are like a building. Paul told Gentile believers: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Eph. 2:19-22NIV).

This metaphor or figure of speech reminds us of some important characteristics of the church. God owns it, the Holy Spirit lives in it and Jesus Christ is the foundation (1 Cor. 3:10-11; Heb. 3:5-6; 1 Pt. 2:4-6). Jesus is also the builder and the “cement” that holds it together (Mt. 16:18). Each believer is like a living stone.

In particular, the people of the Christian church are like the Jewish temple:

  • God lived in the temple, the Holy Spirit lives in the church (1 Cor. 3:16-17)
  • The temple was a place of worship, the church are a people of worship
  • The temple was a place of sacrifice, the church offers sacrifices of praise and worship to God and service to one another
  • The temple was a holy place, the church is a group of holy people
  • The temple had great wealth and beauty, the church has a great spiritual inheritance and is being transformed to be like Christ

So the Jewish temple (which was the physical house of God) has been replaced by the people of the church (which is the spiritual house of God). In a metaphorical sense, any group of Christians are the house of God.

Written, October 2011


God’s plans for the church

A praising, unified and serving church

The word “church” is the collective name for all true Christians and for those that meet together regularly. It is the theme of the letter of Ephesians. In this article we look at what Ephesians says about God’s plans for the church.

Plans For The Future Era

In Ephesians 1:3-14 Paul describes the spiritual blessings we have through God the Father, the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The phrase “In Christ Jesus” (or a similar one) occurs at least ten times in this passage. Clearly, Christ is the centre of all God’s plans for the church. “In Christ” refers to the spiritual union of Christ with believers, which is symbolised by the metaphor “body of Christ” (Eph. 1:23; 2:26; 4:4,12,16; 5:23, 30). It also describes the believer’s position, but not necessarily their practice.

As God plans to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ, the goal toward which all history is moving is to unite all things in the physical world and the spiritual world under Christ (Eph. 1:10). The Greek word used here means “to sum up”. In a world were things don’t always make sense we can look forward to a time when everything will be brought into a meaningful relationship under the leadership of Christ.

This will happen during the Millennium (“when the times will have reached their fulfilment”), which will be when God’s kingdom will come to earth and when His will “will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). It will be a time of universal dominion: Christ will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. The one who is now despised by many will be the Lord of all, the object of universal worship; “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11NIV).

In this coming era, the church will reign with Christ over the whole universe (Eph. 1:18-23; 2:6-7). Although He is far above the rest of creation, because the church is closely related to Him, like the body is joined to the head, and it is seated with Him, it will share His rule over the universe. What a great prospect to look forward to! It’s part of our hope and inheritance.

Three times in this passage Paul praises God for His grand plan for the future (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). likewise, praise should also be our response to God’s great plan for the Lord and for His church

Plans For The Present Era

God’s plan is that people will hear the gospel and believe it to be sealed by the Holy Spirit as a deposit of the inheritance that awaits them (Eph. 1:11-14). Such people are part of His global church and should be a part of a local church. The church is God’s people of all nations (Rev. 5:9) who lived between the day of Pentecost in about 30 AD and the rapture, when all believers are resurrected and transformed to enter heaven. Unless we have accepted God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, we will not share in these plans for the church.

The church is God’s plan for the present era. It was a new category of people, a new humanity, that was made known to Paul by direct revelation from God (Eph. 2:15). God used the Holy Spirit to reveal this new truth about Christ and the church to the New Testament apostles and prophets, such as Paul (Col. 1:26).

The animosity between the Gentiles and the Jews was replaced with loving relationships when they became fellow members of the church with equal access to God (Eph. 2:11-22). This was because, “through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 3:6). So, in the church, all believers share three things in common. First, they are heirs together (“joint-heirs” in Greek), sharing the same inheritance, being “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Second, they are members together (“joint-body”), being fellow members of the same body, having equal positions before God in the church. Third, they are sharers together (“joint-sharers”), having the same promises that are the result of Christ’s work of salvation. For example, they share the Holy Spirit and all that is promised in the gospel message.

This is a radical idea. There is no basis for discrimination in the church. What a change from the Old Testament era when the Gentiles were pagans outside the promises that were made to the Jews. Now, all believers of all races and cultures and standings in life share equally in the privileges.

One of God’s purposes is to use the church to teach the angels about His manifold wisdom (Eph. 3:10-11). Although Adam and Eve sinned, God had a plan of salvation. He sent His Son to die, rise from the dead and ascend back to heaven so that sinners from all nations can confess their sin and trust in the saving work of Christ and become members of the church who will be honoured as the bride of Christ throughout eternity. Those who had been rebels were now part of God’s people. Those who were enemies were now partners. What an amazing drama!

Unity In The Church

Paul now shows how God made provisions for those in the church to live and work together in unity (Eph. 4:1-6). Christians are urged to live in accordance with their calling, which is as members of the body of Christ. In the rest of the letter Paul teaches that this means working for unity in the church, purity in our personal lives, harmony in our homes and vigilance against the powers of evil.

He lists four important attitudes and behaviors for the church (Eph. 4:2): be humble, not conceited or arrogant or dictatorial; be gentle, not judgemental or critical; be patient; don’t retaliate when provoked; and bear with one another in love, by accepting those with different convictions. These are Christlike and believers are to follow His example (1 Cor. 11:1).

Then he writes: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). When God created the church He destroyed the rift between the Jews and the Gentiles. All such distinctions were abolished in the church. All Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Nothing can destroy this fact. Nothing can destroy this unity that has been made by God. We can’t create this unity of the shared spiritual life, but we can disturb it. So, we are told to work to keep it by living at peace with one another. We all have different convictions over debatable matters, but these should be overlooked so we can work together in peace for our common good. Of course we should have unity on the essentials of our faith. For the non-essentials there is liberty and we should be able to agree to disagree in a humble, gentle, patient and loving way.

We are to concentrate on the basis of our Christian unity instead of being occupied by our differences (Eph. 4:4-6). Seven reasons are given for this: there is one body, which is comprised of all true believers from Pentecost to the rapture and as a physical body grows from a single cell and every cell shares that original life, every believer shares the spiritual life associated with the Holy Spirit and they share an eternal destiny; there is one Spirit, who indwells all true believers; there is one hope, which is to be with the Lord for eternity and to be like Him (1 Jn. 3:2); there is one Lord, who is the ultimate authority (Phil. 2:9-11); there is one faith to be believed, which is the body of truth in the New Testament (Jude 3); there is one baptism, which could be the baptism of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) or the water baptism by which believers express their allegiance to Christ; and there is one God, who is the supreme ruler of the universe.

The Lord’s prayer was that believers may be unified in showing the character of God and of Christ (Jn. 17:20-23). This unity is important for the salvation of sinners. Can they see Christ in believers as the Father was seen in Christ? When they see this unity, they have a reason to believe that Jesus was the Son of God and not just a gifted man. The unity of believers can convince unbelievers of the mission of Christ.

Maturity In The Church

Although there is a unity in the church as the body of Christ, there is also diversity. We are all different in some ways and have different gifts and roles to play, like the different parts in a body. The purpose of these gifts is (Eph. 4:12-13): to equip believers for works of service, which means that everyone in the congregation should be trained in some aspects of Christian service; then by serving one another, the church will be built up (spiritual gifts are for the “the common good” and are not to be exercised individualistically, 1 Cor. 12:7); to help maintain our unity; and to produce maturity as God wants us to be grown up, responsible and well-adjusted people. Our standard for maturity is, “How much am I like Jesus Christ?” (Eph. 4:13, 15).

This growth process is to continue until the rapture when (Eph. 4:13): we will reach unity in the faith and in our knowledge of the Lord (our unity is not based on attitudes or feelings but on the truths of scripture which involves the doctrines about Christ and a common understand about God’s Son); and we grow to maturity in our spiritual development (as the perfectly balanced character of Christ).

When these spiritual gifts are operating and the congregation are actively serving the Lord, three dangers are avoided (Eph. 4:14):

  • Immaturity – as children need exercise to grow into maturity, believers need to be involved in active service to become mature. Otherwise, they will be as the writer to the Hebrews says, “by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (Heb. 5:12). Such people don’t know what they believe and are reliant on others.
  • Instability – immature believers tend to be spiritually fickle, they keep moving around to follow the latest novelties.
  • Gullibility – immature believers can be deceived by false teachers who use religious words and appear zealous and sincere. Unfortunately they have not studied the Bible well enough to discern good from evil. As Hebrews says, “solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14).

If these characteristics are present, then we are still childish and immature.

Then Paul describes the proper process of growth in the congregation (Eph. 4:15-16). As right doctrine is essential (“speaking the truth”), we need to learn the fundamentals of the Christian faith. As the right attitude is also essential (“speaking the truth in love”), our conversation must always be accompanied with love. This is consistent with the requirement to bear with one another in love (Eph. 4:2). In fact love is another important theme of Ephesians where it is mentioned 15 times; more than in any other of Paul’s letters.

As believers are equipped to use their gifts in active service they “will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”. In every area of their life they will become more like Christ. They will more accurately represent Him before the watching world.

Next we are told that the body grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work (Eph. 4:16). The Lord is the source of this growth; it is “from Him”. After all He said to Peter, “I will build my church” (Mt. 16:18) and Paul wrote that it’s only God who brings spiritual growth (1 Cor. 3:5-9). Then the body is said to be “joined and held together by every supporting ligament”. In our human bodies the bones are held together by joints and ligaments and the organs are also attached by ligaments. Each part of our bodies needs to play its particular role, otherwise we are sick or injured. Likewise for the spiritual body of the church. Each member has a particular function to carry out and the church body grows as they carry their role. Otherwise the church is not healthy. God puts believers together in the church so that their different spiritual gifts work together in harmony (1 Cor. 12:18-24). He creates unity from our diversity.

The church grows as the congregation feed on the Bible, pray, worship, serve and witness for Christ. This is accompanied by a growth in love. As believers are equipped to use their gifts in active service and they serve and carry out their role in the church, they grow closer to one another in love and unity. In fact, maturity and unity in the church are impossible without love, which brackets these passages (Eph. 4:2, 16).

Lessons For Us

God has definite plans for His church, which we need to take into account when developing the vision and goals for our local church. Christ is the centre of these plans. With respect to the grand plan for the future to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ, we should be a praising church. With respect to His plan for the present, we should be a unified church. Are we working hard to maintain the unity of the Spirit by living in peace with each other, praying for one another, forgiving one another and not holding grudges?

Are we equipping believers for works of service? Are we in active service for the Lord? Are we becoming more like Christ? Are we doing our work in the local church? Are we helping the congregation grow and be built up towards maturity? Are we God’s co-workers; His agents, His subcontractors (1 Cor. 3:9)? Are we honest and loving? Let’s not hinder God’s plans, but work together with Him.

Remember God has put us in the body of Christ where He wants us to be, among the Christians He wants us to be with, because we need them and they need us. As each part of the body accepts this and serves one another, each part is doing what it was designed to do. We need to accept one another and let each carry out their function to ensure a healthy church.

Written, September 2008


The local church in a changing world

The need to be culturally relevant

How can the local church, which originated almost 2,000 years ago, survive in a world of diverse languages, customs and ways of life? In particular, how does the church balance a changeless message in an ever changing culture?

The Church is Multicultural

History shows that Christianity and the church have been multicultural across both time and space. They have survived from the first century to the twenty first century. During this period, Christianity was practised in the Roman Empire, in the feudal hierarchical system of the Middle Ages, in the Reformation of the 1500s, in the revivals of the 1700s and 1800s and in the modern world. These were all radically different cultures with different technology, different languages, different ways of life and different customs. So, the church has adapted to various cultures across history.

Through missionaries, Christianity and the church has spread geographically across the world, first across the Middle East and then around the Mediterranean Sea and across Europe, and finally to colonies across the world as they were visited by European nations. Today, there are churches in virtually every country, although in some places they meet in secret because of persecution. In all these countries there are different cultures with different technology, different languages, different ways of life and different customs. So, the church has adapted to various cultures across the world. Today, it is multicultural.

It was God’s intention that the church be multicultural. On the day the church began, God did a linguistic miracle, so those present could all hear the wonders of God in their native language (Acts 2:1-13) . Christianity was to go to all language groups. As this was a new thing, when Peter was about to visit a Gentile, he was given a vision that taught him that God accepts believers from all nations (Acts 10:35). Peter needed to be retrained to know that God doesn’t have any favourites in the church. So, Christianity was to go to all nations, to all cultures. That’s why before He ascended, the Lord told His followers, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8TNIV). They took Christianity to the ends of their known world and today it has spread across the globe.

Finally, in heaven Jesus will be praised because He “purchased for God members of every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). So, Christianity will go to all tribes, to all language groups, to all nations, to all cultures across the world.

Now we will look at how the church survives in these different cultures. The Bible records the history of the Jewish nation over a period of about 2,000 years. The coming of their Messiah had such an impact that Scripture is divided into two parts: the Old and the New Testaments.  The Old Testament describes what life was like before Christ and the New Testament what it was like after Christ. Let’s see what the Lord said about this change.

The Importance of Wineskins

In Luke 5:33-35 the religious leaders criti­cized Jesus because His disciples did not fast (go without eating) as was their custom. Jesus gave a reason for not following all the religious customs of that time and He explained it further with a parable: “People do not pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins” (Lk. 5:37-38).

In ancient times goatskins were used to hold wine (1 Sam.1:24). After the animal was skinned, the skin was tanned, the openings were sewn shut, the neck of the goat was used for the spout, and unfermented grape juice was poured in. Afterwards the neck was sewn shut and the fermentation process began. As the fresh grape juice fermented it gave off carbon dioxide which stretched the new leather wineskin (Job 32:18-19).  Only a new wineskin would have the capacity to stretch and not break during the process of fermentation. A used wineskin would break because it was already stretched and hardened and was no longer elastic or flexible. It had lost its power to stretch any more and so was no longer an effective container for the wine. Jesus’ hearers knew not to use old skins with new wine.

The wine­skin contained the wine and pro­tected it from the outside environment. This is shown schematically in the diagram as three components: the wineskin (represented by a circle); the wine inside the skin and the environment outside the skin.

This parable, which is reported in Matthew, Mark and Luke, illustrated a truth that Jesus was teaching. From the diagram it can be seen that the wineskin is the point of contact between the wine and the world (or the surrounding envi­ronment).  Old “wine” represented the OT law and old “wineskins” represented the Jewish practices of carrying out the law, both of which are described in the Old Testament.  Jesus introduced the “new wine” of the gospel of God’s salvation through the death of Christ as a substitute for us all (Rom. 7:6; 2 Cor.3:6). The lesson was that the Jewish practices were too old, weak and rigid for the gospel. They needed to be replaced. The gospel would be destroyed if they tried to express it through the Jewish practices.  Because there was a new wine, there needed to be a new wineskin. So, because the gospel was new and different to the Old Testament law, it could not be expressed by the Jewish customs and practices that were related to the law. This problem was faced by the early church in Galatia and other places.

Instead, new Christian practices were required to express Christ’s teachings: “Pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are pre­served” (Mt. 9:17). The new covenant which Jesus was instituting must bring with it new structures, new forms, new practices; which are those for the church. The application of this illustration to the church era is shown schematically as three components: Christian practices (represented by the circle), Christian principles inside the circle and circumstances outside the circle.

Action is essential for putting the principles into practice. Our practices are important because they are the visible aspect of our faith. For example, Jesus said that people will recognize His disciples if they love one another (Jn. 13:35). Furthermore, James wrote, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” and John wrote “let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (Jas. 2:15-17; 1 Jn. 3:17-18). So genuine faith and love will produce action. The practices are the action part of our faith, when the principles are expressed in an active way in our world.

Next we will look at the wineskins and then the environment outside the skins.

Multicultural Wineskins

There is an important difference between the “wineskins” of the Old Testament and those of the New Testament. This is a difference between Jewish practices and Christian practices.

The Old Testament has many detailed laws about how the Jews were to behave including: social life; the tent and temple where sacrifices were made to God; the sacrifices; the priests; health regulations; and religious festivals; even down to circumcising male babies. These characterised the Jewish way of life.

But Christ freed us from slavishly following the Old Testament law and its regulations (Gal. 5:1; Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:14; Heb. 9:10). So detailed regulations are absent from the New Testament, where the emphasis is on principles that can be expressed and practiced in many ways in different cultures. For example, Jesus summarised the law as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:37-39).

We need to distinguish between the principles and the practices. Scriptural principles are fixed by Scripture. However, we need to interpret these and sometimes there is more than one interpretation. On the other hand, Christian practices are expressions of divine principles in a particular human situation. They can change according to local circumstances. They are multicultural. They enable the changeless principles to be applied to any culture. This is one of the liberties of the Christian faith.

Having the practices between the principles and the circumstances also reflects our dual citizenship. We live under human government and we serve the Lord of heaven: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mt. 22:21). Our values are heavenly and our impact and service is earthly.

Responding to Circumstances

We now look at how this applied to the early church. In the above parable, Jesus taught that if the principles (wine) changed, then the practices (wine­skins) should change. What if there are changes to the circumstances we live in, which are represented by the outside environment in the illustration? Biological organisms respond to changes in their envi­ronment, otherwise there is no evi­dence of life. Likewise, the early church was urged to address the circumstances it faced.

In the first century, local churches in different places faced different circumstances. This is reflected in the topics of the letters that were written to these churches.  For example, some of the issues they faced were:

  • Corinth: factions, immorality, litigation, disorder, false teaching
  • Galatia: legalism
  • Ephesus: false teachers, lacked love
  • Thessalonica: persecution, misunderstandings about death and the second coming, idleness
  • Smyrna: persecution, poverty,
  • Thytaria: immorality and idolatry
  • Sardis: lacked spiritual life
  • Loadicea: material wealth, stagnant.

In all these situations the writer was inspired by God to tell the church how to respond to their particular circumstances. In particular, the elders at Ephesus were told to be alert for false teachers: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). They are told to “keep watch” over themselves and the congregation, to “Be shepherds of the church of God” and to be on their guard for threats to the congregation (Acts 20:28, 31). This means being vigilant and aware of the circumstances that are faced from both within and outside the local church. They were to protect the congregation like a shepherd protected their sheep from predators. So church elders are to be active and responsive to the circumstances being faced, not passive and unresponsive.

Past, Present and Future

Human behavior is influenced by past experiences, present cir­cumstances and goals for the future. This means that the circumstances faced in the local church can relate to the past, the present or the future.

Influences from the past may be traditions handed down from previous times. These are practices that were followed beforehand. Jesus called the religious leaders hypocrites for placing more importance on their traditions than on God’s commands (Mk. 7:1-9; Lk. 6:1-11). They imposed many laws on the common people and treated their traditions as though they were scriptural truths.

Jesus also said, “And none of you, after drinking old wine wants the new, for you say, ‘The old is better’” (Lk. 5:39). This indicates people’s reluctance to replace the old for the new. In context, it meant that the Jews of the first century would find it hard to make the change to accept Christianity. They would be reluctant to give up their traditional Jewish ways and try the gospel. It was probably directed at the Pharisees who questioned Jesus. Given this trait of human nature, today some will be reluctant to accept new practices. There is a tendency to perpetuate long-established practices, but our security should be in the principles, not in the practices.

Influences from the present are current circumstances that demand a response. For example, language, way of life and geographic spread of the congregation. These circumstances change with time because life is dynamic.

Influences from the future may be goals that the local church has agreed to move towards.

The balance between these influences will control the practices within a local church at a given point in time. This is shown schematically in the diagram, where the changeless is shown in blue and the variable is shown in black.

Lessons for us

God has established the local church so that it can function in all cultures across the world. The truths of the gospel and the church should be expressed by the practices of the local church in a manner that takes account of changes in culture, technology, language, way of life and customs. That’s how the church is multicultural.

We need to distinguish between Scriptural principles and Christian practices: principles are fixed, whereas the practices can change and should change when there are significant changes in circumstances. We should know the purpose behind our practices, and periodically con­sider whether other methods would be more appropriate. A practice shouldn’t be viewed as better only because it is old, or better simply because it is new.

Local churches all face different circumstances. Today we need to be aware of the circumstances we face, including the changing culture of our world. If the local church is to be sustainable, we need to know our circumstances and decide how they affect our expression of the principles. If its practices don’t change, the local church becomes a stagnant and unresponsive subculture that will die out. There is no future for churches that are content with the old and caught up in the traditions and the forms of 50 or 100 years ago. Let’s face it, the world we live in has changed drastically over the last 40 years.

This is a challenge that is faced by all local churches, particularly in times of rapid cultural changes. It’s not enough to be a church that is based on Scripture; there is also a need to be culturally relevant. Our vision should include these two components: Scriptural principles that reflect our Lord and our heavenly citizenship and practices that relate to the physical world we live in. Let’s be a Biblical church that is culturally relevant.

Written, November 2007

See earlier article on scriptural principles and practices:
Practicing scriptural principles


An outline of future events

Revelation is the major prophetic book in the New Testament.  It is the best reference that Christians have on future events because:

  • the Bible is a progressive revelation of God’s dealings with humanity;
  • John wrote down what was revealed to him by God (Revelation 1:19); and
  • It is the Bible’s final prophecy – the words are not to be changed in any way (by addition or subtraction) (Revelation 22:18-19).

Timeline

The timing of future events is evident from the sequence of topics in the book of Revelation (see below).

At present the church is on earth (Revelation 2-3) and the next event is the “rapture” when all believers (dead and alive) will be resurrected to heaven.  The rapture is not mentioned specifically in Revelation; but in Revelation 4, the church is in heaven.  While the church is in heaven (Revelation 4-5), there will be a period of tribulation on earth (Revelation 6-18), which will end with the “appearing” of the Lord Jesus Christ in great power and glory (Revelation 19:11-21).  This will be followed by the 1,000 year reign of the Lord on the earth (the millennium) (Revelation 20:1-10), and then the eternal state of the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21-22).

The key to understanding the second coming of the Lord is that the second coming is associated with a series of events, not one event and these occur over a period of time, not all at once. From the order of events in Matthew 24:15-31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11, it is clear the “rapture” is before the tribulation and the “appearing” is at the end of the tribulation. Jesus said the great distress (tribulation) occurs immediately before His second advent (Mat.24:21-31). Also, the judgements in Rev. 6 – 18 are associated with the great tribulation (Rev. 7:14), and they conclude with Christ appearing as “King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16).

“The Tribulation” will be a time of suffering for those on the earth.  The church is not mentioned during this period because it is in heaven (Revelation 6-18). Instead there are 144,000 Jewish witnesses (Rev. 7 and 14), a Jewish temple (Rev. 11:1-13), and Jewish persecution (Rev 12). Also, the advice “Whoever has ears, let them hear” is addressed to Christian churches in Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22 whereas in Revelation 13:9, it is addressed to believers, but there is no mention of the church.

As the following events haven’t happened yet, they are still in the future, as they were for John in 95 AD when he called them “what will take place later” (Rev. 1:19):

  • At the Rapture, all true Christians will be taken from the earth.
  • There will be a Jewish temple in Jerusalem during the tribulation (Rev. 11:1-13), whereas this has not been the case since it was destroyed in AD70.
  • At the Appearing, Jesus Christ will return to the earth and defeat all His enemies (Rev. 19:11-21).
  • During the millennium, Satan will be bound so he can’t deceive people (Rev. 20:1-3).

Learning from the past

Prophecy about the future will be fulfilled literally, just as has prophecy of the past. For example, when the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah predicted that the Jewish captivity would be 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12), it turned out that this prediction was literal, not symbolic.

Since the prophecies about Christ’s first coming were fulfilled literally, then the prophecies relating to His second Coming will also be fulfilled literally.  Although symbols and figures of speech are used in giving both of these prophecies, this does not affect their historical and prophetic fulfillment.

Written, March 2010


Fathers And Their Children

A Father’s Day message

This Father’s Day, let’s look at three examples of fathers – in the Godhead, the family and the Church.

Father In Heaven
God is everyone’s Father because He created humanity in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). But not all are His children: Jesus told unbelievers that their father was the devil: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire” (Jn. 8:44 NIV).

Believers have been adopted as sons into God’s family: “God sent His Son … to redeem … that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts … who calls out ‘Abba, Father.’ … Since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (Gal. 4:4-7; Rom. 8:15,23; 9:4). Believers are God’s spiritual children. He provides their needs, guides their lives, and offers them a wonderful inheritance. His presence and promises bring strength and security.

Believers are to depend on God like children depend on their parents. That’s why they call Him “Abba, Father.” The English equivalent for “Abba” is “Dad.” It expresses the close personal relationship between believers and their heavenly Father. In New Testament times servants were forbidden to use this word when addressing the head of the household, as it was reserved for family members. Jesus used the same word “Abba” when He prayed to His Father in the garden of Gethsemane (Mk. 14:36).

Believers should respect and revere their heavenly Father and obey His commands (1 Pet. 2:17; 1 Jn. 5:3). He should also be the object of their prayers, praise and thanksgiving (Eph. 5:20; Eph. 3:14-19; 1 Pet. 1:3).

Fathers In The Family
A father is a provider and leader for those in his household. The Bible says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). This describes a father’s role in the family – to train, instruct, discipline and correct his children. He is to be their coach, but not treat them in such a way as to cause anger or discouragement (Col. 3:21). The training should be “of the Lord,” which means in accordance with God’s will as it is revealed in the Bible. Earthly fathers should be models of the heavenly Father.

Children should honor and respect their parents and obey them “in the Lord.” This means obeying them in all matters that are in accordance with God’s will (Eph. 6:1-2; 1 Tim. 3:4). This is important because their relationship with their earthly father can influence their relationship with their heavenly Father.

Fathers In The Church
During a missionary journey to the city of Thessalonica, Paul, Silas and Timothy preached, taught, and established a church. After leaving, Paul wrote them a letter that said, “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory” (1 Th. 2:10-12). They set an example for leadership in the local church by caring for the congregation as “a father deals with his own children.” This involved encouraging, comforting and urging them to live lives worthy of God. They were coaches and mentors of the congregation.

They also established elders to continue this work after they left (1 Th. 5:12-14). The elders were told to do four things. First, they were to “warn those who are idle.” Some had stopped working and were busy bodies. They needed to be warned to get back to work and stop being lazy and living off charity. Second, they were to “encourage the timid.” Those who were shy, introverted or afraid needed friends to bring them out of their shell. Third, they were also to “help the weak.” Those weak in the faith needed support and reminders of God’s power. Finally, they were to “be patient with everyone.” They were not to get angry or irritated when provoked, but be sympathetic and accept those with different convictions on debatable matters.

Elders should also be models of the heavenly Father in the local church. The congregation should respect them, “hold them in the highest regard in love” and obey them (Heb. 13:17).

Fathers And Children
We are all children, and some of us are fathers. As children of God, in the family and in the church, the Bible says we should respect our fathers and hold them in highest regard, valuing our close relationship with them. They help us grow physically, emotionally and spiritually. Those who are fathers are to be like coaches and mentors in the family and in the church. May we all respect and serve each other faithfully in accordance with these biblical principles.

Published, June 2006


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