It’s common for most churches to be led by an individual who is recognized as the senior pastor of that church, and that person is usually addressed as Pastor so-and-so, or sometimes just Pastor. This long-established practice is considered a way of showing love and respect. While love and respect are very biblical, addressing a select few within the church by official titles actually goes against the teaching of Jesus. Challenging a practice that is born out of good intentions may seem like nitpicking, but Jesus specifically addressed this issue for good reasons and we should give careful thought to what he said rather than shrugging this off as something trivial.
If a doctor knows his patient has a life threatening disease that can be successfully treated, is he being negative if he tells them their condition, or is he negligent if he keeps quite? If someone knows there are dangerous road conditions ahead, are they being negative if they warn fellow travelers, or are they negligent if they keep quite? I think everyone would agree that in these life-or-death situations, the right thing, the responsible thing, would be to speak up and clearly communicate the truth.
However, in matters of eternal life or death, we don’t seem to have the same clarity. Today’s Christian culture seems to operate from a deep conviction that above all else God wants us to say positive things. This misconception has rendered the church impotent when it comes to speaking life-or-death truths that desperately need to be heard.
Man’s highest calling is to put God first. Jesus made this clear when he said the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). This statement encompasses everything within our being, and Jesus drives the point home by using the word “all” three times. All that we are is to be directed towards God with loving devotion. Jesus’ statement of man’s ultimate purpose has great clarity in its simplicity, yet is very profound in its all-consuming goal.
Just as man’s highest calling and purpose is found only when we put God first, our greatest failings have their roots in putting ourselves first. Original sin was the result of Adam and Eve putting themselves before God; putting their reasoning before His command; giving in to the temptation that they were somehow missing out if they remained under God’s authority. When man chose to put himself first, sin, and all the suffering and misery it brings, found entrance into the world (Rom 5:12), and our relationship with God was broken by our rebellion (Rom 1:21, 25).
The gospel is God’s message to fallen man, telling us how we can be restored to right relationship with Him. Since the root problem is man putting himself first, the goal of the gospel is to restore God to His rightful position of being first in our life in every way. Yet, the gospel is frequently reduced to a people-centered message of personal salvation. The message I hear most Christians and churches proclaiming is “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”. While this is certainly true, it is only a portion of the truth, and if the gospel is reduced to this message alone, it is not actually the gospel of the Bible that restores right relationship with God.
Every Sunday morning, lots of people head out their door to “go to church”, or as some people put it, to attend a “church service”. The vast majority of these services will have a remarkable similarity, no matter what brand, denomination, or non-denomination the church is. Everyone will sit shoulder-to-shoulder, facing a stage on which a select few people will be actively involved in “ministering” to everyone else. There will probably be a greeting, a time of singing, some form of announcements, a sermon, and possibly an altar call. The style may vary to some degree but the structure will be pretty much the same in every church; so much so that you would think there must be some place in the Bible that clearly outlines this particular structure that everyone is following. But the reality is that nowhere in the scriptures does the Bible give any kind of support for an order of service at all, much less the particular order of service that most churches follow so religiously. Some will argue that the order of service is a minor issue and God doesn’t really care one way or the other. I would agree that God is not hung up on a particular order of service. However, He cares very much about what takes place when His people gather together, and if a rigid order of service is an obstacle to the ministry and interaction that God wants to take place, then yes, He is actually against that particular structure.
In Christianity, there are beliefs and practices that are sacred. They are sacred because they originate from God; things that God has instructed his people to believe and to do. If something is sacred, then it should be honored, advanced, and defended. There are many things that Christians should rightly treat as sacred. However, there are things that many Christians hold to be sacred that are not sacred at all, but are merely traditions. The way we know what originates from God, and therefore is sacred, is the Bible, the word of God. If a belief or practice is not taught or modeled in the Bible, then it must be treated as a tradition, not as something sacred.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt 7:1) is a well-known scripture that many people like to quote. It is often used to imply that being critical of anyone in anyway is a violation of how God wants us to act. However, this is only one scripture and should not be viewed as the definitive truth on this issue. The truth about any subject is found in everything the Bible has to say about that subject, and the Bible has much more to say on the subject of whether or not we should judge others and their actions.
A miracle is an extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses human and natural powers and can only be reasonably understood as a supernatural act. The word supernatural, means supercedeing the natural, or simply, beyond the natural. The Bible is full of miraculous, supernatural events. They are seen throughout the Old Testament, in the life and ministry of Jesus, in the ministry of the apostles, in the ministry of the early church, and are spoken of prophetically as something God intends to be an ongoing part of the church’s ministry (John 14:11-12). As common as miracles are in the scriptures, they are still rather controversial. Throughout history people have debated both the validity and necessity of miracles as a part of God’s plan and work on the earth. Some people take a theological stance against miracles, teaching that God no longer enables believers to operate in the supernatural. Others take more of an apathetic view, they believe miracles are possible but are not very concerned about whether they actually happen or not. Still others believe miracles to be a vital part of God’s plan, and that without them the church will struggle greatly to fulfill its mission of proclaiming the message of the kingdom of God and the gospel of Christ. There are those in the latter group who are deeply concerned at the scarcity of miracles in the American church and are committed to seeking God for answers and calling on Him for this to change.
Many churches today are very concerned about the kind of atmosphere people will encounter when visiting one of their services. They invest a tremendous amount of time, manpower, and money trying to create an environment they hope will be attractive to those who attend. It’s certainly a good thing to create a friendly, welcoming atmosphere; but endeavoring to make church appealing can be very misguided and even counterproductive to what God actually wants to accomplish when the church gathers.
Say the word “church” and many people will think you are referring to a building, others will think you are referring to an event that takes place on Sunday morning. The Bible, however, never talks about church in either of these contexts. When the Bible uses the word church, it’s always talking about people; people who have come to faith in Christ and follow him. While there is great joy in our relationship with the Lord, it is also very challenging to be a follower of Christ as defined by the scriptures. We are called to sacrifice, surrender, overcome, and endure; to lay down our lives, take up our cross, and renew our minds. This is very imposing stuff and we all need lots of help. So God has devised an amazing way for every believer to receive an abundance of the help we so desperately need. The Bible refers to this ingenious source of ministry as the body of Christ. Continue reading “God’s Ingenious Plan For Ministry”
How should a church measure success? Many churches will give lip service to the idea of discipleship and seeing people become more like Jesus, but if you examine where they spend the majority of their time and effort it becomes clear that these are not priorities. For many churches, the primary gauge of success is the number of people attending their Sunday services. They want an exact head count of each and every being on the premises and are quite perturbed if they think the ushers didn’t do their math right and came up a few people short. If attendance is increasing everyone feels quite confident that things are going well, but a drop in attendance will trigger concerns that something is wrong. Continue reading “How God Measures Success”