Questions About The Church People are Really Asking: The TOP Most Frequently Asked Questions About The Church
Have Questions, Find Answers on Otakada.org – About the Church people are really asking – Daily, people turn to the Internet to find answers to their questions about spiritual matters. Topics related to spirituality are the second-most searched subjects online. Sadly, websites that present false teachings far outnumber those that proclaim the truth of God’s Word. We will provide answers as the Holy Spirit leads us from a biblical perspective. You will also need to pray to secure answers to any question you may have because one of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to lead us into all truth – John 16:13. Today, we look at Questions About the Church people are really asking and questions that relate to this with biblical answers.. Enjoy
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But before we answer questions about the Church, hereunder is the most important question that has to do with your eternal destiny with answer for your necessary action:
Question: What does it mean to accept Jesus as your personal Savior?
Answer: Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? To properly understand this question, you must first understand the terms “Jesus Christ,” “personal,” and “Savior.”
Who is Jesus Christ? Many people will acknowledge Jesus Christ as a good man, a great teacher, or even a prophet of God. These things are definitely true of Jesus, but they do not fully define who He truly is. The Bible tells us that Jesus is God in the flesh, God in human form (see John 1:1, 14). God came to earth to teach us, heal us, correct us, forgive us—and die for us! Jesus Christ is God, the Creator, the sovereign Lord. Have you accepted this Jesus?
What is a Savior, and why do we need a Savior? The Bible tells us that we have all sinned; we have all committed evil acts (Romans 3:10-18). As a result of our sin, we deserve God’s anger and judgment. The only just punishment for sins committed against an infinite and eternal God is an infinite punishment (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:11-15). That is why we need a Savior!
Jesus Christ came to earth and died in our place. Jesus’ death was an infinite payment for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins (Romans 5:8). Jesus paid the price so that we would not have to. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead proved that His death was sufficient to pay the penalty for our sins. That is why Jesus is the one and only Savior (John 14:6; Acts 4:12)! Are you trusting in Jesus as your Savior?
Is Jesus your “personal” Savior? Many people view Christianity as attending church, performing rituals, and/or not committing certain sins. That is not Christianity. True Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Accepting Jesus as your personal Savior means placing your own personal faith and trust in Him. No one is saved by the faith of others. No one is forgiven by doing certain deeds. The only way to be saved is to personally accept Jesus as your Savior, trusting in His death as the payment for your sins and His resurrection as your guarantee of eternal life (John 3:16). Is Jesus personally your Savior?
If you want to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, say the following words to God. Remember, saying this prayer or any other prayer will not save you. Only believing in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross for you can save you from sin. This prayer is simply a way to express to God your faith
in Him and thank Him for providing for your salvation. “God, I know that I have sinned against You and deserve punishment. But I believe Jesus Christ took the punishment I deserve so that through faith in Him I could be forgiven. I receive Your offer of forgiveness and place my trust in You for salvation. I accept Jesus as my personal Savior! Thank You for Your wonderful grace and forgiveness— the gift of eternal life! Amen!”
Now, Top Questions About the Church People are Really Asking:
What is the church?
What is the purpose of the church?
What is the importance of Christian baptism?
What is the importance of the Lord’s Supper/Christian Communion?
Women pastors/preachers? What does the Bible say about women in ministry?
Why is church attendance important?
What should I be looking for in a church?
Why should I believe in organized religion?
What is biblical separation?
What does the Bible say about church discipline/excommunication?
What does the Bible say about the form of church government?
What does the Bible say about church growth?
Why are there so many Christian denominations?
Why are there so many different Christian interpretations?
Why are so many evangelical Christian leaders caught in scandals?
What is the history of Christianity?
What does the “husband of one wife” in 1 Timothy 3:2 mean? Can a divorced man serve as a pastor, elder, or deacon?
What is the proper mode of baptism?
Does God require Sabbath-keeping of Christians?
What are appropriate reasons for missing church?
Question: What is the church?
Answer: Many people today understand the church as a building. This is not a biblical understanding of the church. The word “church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” The root meaning of “church” is not that of a building, but of people. It is ironic that when you ask people what church they attend, they usually identify a building. Romans 16:5 says “… greet the church that is in their house.” Paul refers to the church in their house—not a church building, but a body of believers.
The church is the body of Christ, of which He is the head. Ephesians 1:22-23 says, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” The body of Christ is made up of all believers in Jesus Christ from the day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2) until Christ’s return. The body of Christ is comprised of two aspects:
1. The universal church consists of all those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). This verse says that anyone who believes is part of the body of Christ and has received the Spirit of Christ as evidence. The universal church of God is all those who have received salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
2. The local church is described in Galatians 1:1-2: “Paul, an apostle … and all the brothers with me, to the churches in Galatia.” Here we see that in the province of Galatia there were many churches—what we call local churches. A Baptist church, Lutheran church, Catholic church, etc., is not the church, as in the universal church—but rather is a local church, a local body of believers. The universal church is comprised of those who belong to Christ and who have trusted Him for salvation. These members of the universal church should seek fellowship and edification in a local church.
In summary, the church is not a building or a denomination. According to the Bible, the church is the body of Christ—all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Local churches are gatherings of members of the universal church. The local church is where the members of the universal church can fully apply the “body” principles of 1 Corinthians chapter 12: encouraging, teaching, and building one another up in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Question: What is the purpose of the church?
Answer: Acts 2:42 could be considered a purpose statement for the church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” According to this verse, the purposes/activities of the church should be 1) teaching biblical doctrine, 2) providing a place of fellowship for believers,
3) observing the Lord’s supper, and 4) praying.
The church is to teach biblical doctrine so we can be grounded in our faith.
Ephesians 4:14 tells us, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” The church is to be a place of fellowship, where Christians can be devoted to one another and honor one another (Romans 12:10), instruct one another (Romans 15:14), be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32), encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and most importantly, love one another (1 John 3:11).
The church is to be a place where believers can observe the Lord’s Supper, remembering Christ’s death and shed blood on our behalf (1 Corinthians 11:23- 26). The concept of “breaking bread” (Acts 2:42) also carries the idea of having meals together. This is another example of the church promoting fellowship. The final purpose of the church according to Acts 2:42 is prayer. The church is to be a place that promotes prayer, teaches prayer, and practices prayer. Philippians 4:6-7 encourages us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Another commission given to the church is proclaiming the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). The church is called to be faithful in sharing the gospel through word and deed. The church is to be a “lighthouse” in the community, pointing people toward our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The church is to both promote the gospel and prepare its members to proclaim the gospel (1 Peter 3:15).
Some final purposes of the church are given in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” The church is to be about the business of ministering to those in need. This includes not only sharing the gospel, but also providing for physical needs (food, clothing, shelter) as necessary and appropriate. The church is also to equip believers in Christ with the tools they need to overcome sin and remain free from the pollution of the world. This is done by biblical teaching and Christian fellowship.
So, what is the purpose of the church? Paul gave an excellent illustration to the believers in Corinth. The church is God’s hands, mouth, and feet in this world—the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). We are to be doing the things that Jesus Christ would do if He were here physically on the earth. The church is to be “Christian,” “Christ-like,” and Christ-following.
Question: What is the importance of Christian baptism?
Answer: Christian baptism is, according to the Bible, an outward testimony of what has occurred inwardly in a believer’s life. Christian baptism illustrates a believer’s identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. The Bible declares, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3-4). In Christian baptism, the action of being immersed in the water symbolizes dying and being buried with Christ. The action of coming out of the water pictures Christ’s resurrection.
In Christian baptism, there are two requirements before a person is baptized: 1) the person being baptized must have trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior, and 2) the person must understand what baptism signifies. If a person knows the Lord Jesus as Savior, understands that Christian baptism is a step of obedience in publicly proclaiming his faith in Christ, and desires to be baptized, then there is no reason to prevent the believer from being baptized. According to the Bible, Christian baptism is important because it is a step of obedience—publicly declaring faith in Christ and commitment to Him—an identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
Question: What is the importance of the Lord’s Supper/Christian Communion?
Answer: A study of the Lord’s Supper is a soul-stirring experience because of the depth of meaning it contains. It was during the age-old celebration of the Passover on the eve of His death that Jesus instituted a significant new fellowship meal that we observe to this day. It is an integral part of Christian worship. It causes us to remember our Lord’s death and resurrection and to look for His glorious return in the future.
The Passover was the most sacred feast of the Jewish religious year. It commemorated the final plague on Egypt when the firstborn of the Egyptians died and the Israelites were spared because of the blood of a lamb that was sprinkled on their doorposts. The lamb was then roasted and eaten with unleavened bread. God’s command was that throughout the generations to come the feast would be celebrated. The story is recorded in Exodus 12.
During the Last Supper—a Passover celebration—Jesus took a loaf of bread and gave thanks to God. As He broke it and gave it to His disciples, He said, “’This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:19-21). He concluded the feast by singing a hymn (Matthew 26:30), and they went out into the night to the Mount of Olives. It was there that Jesus was betrayed, as predicted, by Judas. The following day He was crucified.
The accounts of the Lord’s Supper are found in the Gospels (Matthew 26:26- 29; Mark 14:17-25; Luke 22:7-22; and John 13:21-30). The apostle Paul wrote concerning the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29. Paul includes a statement not found in the Gospels: “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). We may ask what it means to partake of the bread and the cup “in an unworthy manner.” It may mean to disregard the true meaning of the bread and cup and to forget the tremendous price our Savior paid for our salvation. Or it may mean to allow the ceremony to become a dead and formal ritual or to come to the Lord’s Supper with unconfessed sin. In keeping with Paul’s instruction, we should examine ourselves before eating the bread and drinking the cup.
Another statement Paul made that is not included in the gospel accounts is “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). This places a time limit on the ceremony—until our Lord’s return. From these brief accounts we learn how Jesus used two of the frailest of elements as symbols of His body and blood and initiated them to be a monument to His death. It was not a monument of carved marble or molded brass, but of bread and wine.
He declared that the bread spoke of His body which would be broken. There was not a broken bone, but His body was so badly tortured that it was hardly recognizable (Psalm 22:12-17; Isaiah 53:4-7). The wine spoke of His blood, indicating the terrible death He would soon experience. He, the perfect Son of God, became the fulfillment of the countless Old Testament prophecies concerning a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15; Psalm 22; Isaiah 53). When He said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” He indicated this was a ceremony that must be continued in the future. It indicated also that the Passover, which required the death of a lamb and looked forward to the coming of the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, was fulfilled in the Lord’s Supper. The New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant when Christ, the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7), was sacrificed (Hebrews 8:8-13). The sacrificial system was no longer needed (Hebrews 9:25-28). The Lord’s Supper/Christian Communion is a remembrance of what Christ did for us and a celebration of what we receive as a result of His sacrifice.
Question: Women pastors/preachers? What does the Bible say about women in ministry?
Answer: There is perhaps no more hotly debated issue in the church today than the issue of women serving as pastors/preachers. As a result, it is very important to not see this issue as men versus women. There are women who believe women should not serve as pastors and that the Bible places restrictions on the ministry of women, and there are men who believe women can serve as preachers and that there are no restrictions on women in ministry. This is not an issue of chauvinism or discrimination. It is an issue of biblical interpretation.
The Word of God proclaims, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:11-12). In the church, God assigns different roles to men and women. This is a result of the way mankind was created and the way in which sin entered the world (1 Timothy 2:13-14). God, through the apostle Paul, restricts women from serving in roles of teaching and/or having spiritual authority over men. This precludes women from serving as pastors, which definitely includes preaching to, teaching, and having spiritual authority over men.
There are many “objections” to this view of women in ministry. A common one is that Paul restricts women from teaching because in the first century, women were typically uneducated. However, 1 Timothy 2:11-14 nowhere mentions educational status. If education were a qualification for ministry, the majority of Jesus’ disciples would not have been qualified. A second common objection is that Paul only restricted the women of Ephesus from teaching (1 Timothy was written to Timothy, who was the pastor of the church in Ephesus). The city of Ephesus was known for its temple to Artemis, a false Greek/Roman goddess. Women were the authority in the worship of Artemis. However, the book of 1 Timothy nowhere mentions Artemis, nor does Paul mention Artemis worship as a reason for the restrictions in 1 Timothy 2:11-12.
A third common objection is that Paul is only referring to husbands and wives, not men and women in general. The Greek words in the passage could refer to husbands and wives; however, the basic meaning of the words refers to men and women. Further, the same Greek words are used in verses 8-10. Are only husbands to lift up holy hands in prayer without anger and disputing (verse 8)? Are only wives to dress modestly, have good deeds, and worship God (verses 9- 10)? Of course not. Verses 8-10 clearly refer to all men and women, not only husbands and wives. There is nothing in the context that would indicate a switch to husbands and wives in verses 11-14.
Yet another frequent objection to this interpretation of women in ministry is in relation to women who held positions of leadership in the Bible, specifically Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah in the Old Testament. This objection fails to note some significant factors. First, Deborah was the only female judge among 13 male judges. Huldah was the only female prophet among dozens of male prophets mentioned in the Bible. Miriam’s only connection to leadership was being the sister of Moses and Aaron. The two most prominent women in the times of the Kings were Athaliah and Jezebel—hardly examples of godly female leadership. Most significantly, though, the authority of women in the Old Testament is not relevant to the issue. The book of 1 Timothy and the other Pastoral Epistles present a new paradigm for the church—the body of Christ— and that paradigm involves the authority structure for the church, not for the nation of Israel or any other Old Testament entity.
Similar arguments are made using Priscilla and Phoebe in the New Testament. In Acts 18, Priscilla and Aquila are presented as faithful ministers for Christ. Priscilla’s name is mentioned first, perhaps indicating that she was more “prominent” in ministry than her husband. However, Priscilla is nowhere described as participating in a ministry activity that is in contradiction to 1 Timothy 2:11-14. Priscilla and Aquila brought Apollos into their home and they both discipled him, explaining the Word of God to him more accurately (Acts 18:26).
In Romans 16:1, even if Phoebe is considered a “deaconess” instead of a “servant,” that does not indicate that Phoebe was a teacher in the church. “Able to teach” is given as a qualification for elders, but not deacons (1 Timothy 3:1- 13; Titus 1:6-9). Elders/bishops/deacons are described as the “husband of one wife,” “a man whose children believe,” and “men worthy of respect.” Clearly the indication is that these qualifications refer to men. In addition, in 1 Timothy SH IS and Titus 1:6-9, masculine pronouns are used exclusively to refer to elders/bishops/deacons.
The structure of 1 Timothy 2:11-14 makes the “reason” perfectly clear. Verse 13 begins with “for” and gives the “cause” of Paul’s statement in verses 11-12. Why should women not teach or have authority over men? Because “Adam was created first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived.” God created Adam first and then created Eve to be a “helper” for Adam. This order of creation has universal application in the family (Ephesians 5:22-33) and the church. The fact that Eve was deceived is also given as a reason for women not serving as pastors or having spiritual authority over men. This leads some to believe that women should not teach because they are more easily deceived. That concept is debatable, but if women are more easily deceived, why should they be allowed to teach children (who are easily deceived) and other women (who are supposedly more easily deceived)? That is not what the text says. Women are not to teach men or have spiritual authority over men because Eve was deceived. As a result, God has given men the primary teaching authority in the church.
Many women excel in gifts of hospitality, mercy, teaching, and helps. Much of the ministry of the local church depends on women. Women in the church are not restricted from public praying or prophesying (1 Corinthians 11:5), only from having spiritual teaching authority over men. The Bible nowhere restricts women from exercising the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12). Women, just as much as men, are called to minister to others, to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), and to proclaim the gospel to the lost (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15).
God has ordained that only men are to serve in positions of spiritual teaching authority in the church. This is not because men are necessarily better teachers, or because women are inferior or less intelligent (which is not the case). It is simply the way God designed the church to function. Men are to set the example in spiritual leadership—in their lives and through their words. Women are to take a less authoritative role. Women are encouraged to teach other women (Titus 2:3-5). The Bible also does not restrict women from teaching children. The only activity women are restricted from is teaching men or having spiritual authority over them. This logically would preclude women from serving as pastors/preachers. This does not make women less important, by any means, but rather gives them a ministry focus more in agreement with God’s plan and His gifting of them.
Question: Why is church attendance important?
Answer: The Bible tells us we need to attend church so we can worship God with other believers and be taught His Word for our spiritual growth (Acts 2:42; Hebrews 10:25). Church is the place where believers can love one another (1 John 4:12), encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13), “spur” one another (Hebrews 10:24), serve one another (Galatians 5:13), instruct one another (Romans 15:14), honor one another (Romans 12:10), and be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32).
When a person trusts Jesus Christ for salvation, he or she is made a member of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). For a church body to function properly, all of its “body parts” need to be present (1 Corinthians 12:14-20). Likewise, a believer will never reach full spiritual maturity without the assistance and encouragement of other believers (1 Corinthians 12:21-26). For these reasons, church attendance, participation, and fellowship should be regular aspects of a believer’s life. Weekly church attendance is in no sense “required” for believers, but someone who belongs to Christ should have a desire to worship God, receive His Word, and fellowship with other believers.
Question: What should I be looking for in a church?
Answer: In order to know what to look for in a local church, we must first understand God’s purpose for the church—the body of Christ—in general. There are two outstanding truths about the church. First, “the church of the living God isthe pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Second, Christ alone is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; Colossians 1:18).
In regard to the truth, the local church is a place where the Bible (God’s only Truth) has complete authority. The Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice (2 Timothy 3:15-17). Therefore, when seeking a church to attend, we should find one where, according to biblical standards, the gospel is preached, sin is condemned, worship is from the heart, the teaching is biblical, and opportunities to minister to others exist. Consider the model of the early church found in Acts 2:42-47, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
In regard to the second truth about the church, Christians should attend a local fellowship that declares Christ’s headship in all matters of doctrine and practice. No man—whether pastor, priest, or pope—is the head of the church. All men die —how can the living church of the living God have a dead head? It cannot. Christ is the church’s one supreme authority, and all church leadership, gifts, order, discipline, and worship are appointed through His sovereignty, as found in the Scriptures.
Once these two fundamentals are in place, the rest of the factors (buildings, worship styles, activities, programs, location, etc.) are merely a matter of personal taste. Before even setting foot inside a church, some homework is in order. Doctrinal statements, purpose statements, mission statements, or anything that will give insight into what a church believes should be carefully looked over. Many churches have websites where one can get a feel for what they believe regarding the Bible, God, the Trinity, Jesus Christ, sin, and salvation.
Next should be visits to the churches that seem to have the fundamentals in place. Attendance at two or three services at each church will be helpful. Any literature they have for visitors should be scrutinized, paying close attention to belief statements. Church evaluation should be based on the principles outlined above. Is the Bible held as the only authority? Is Christ exalted as head of the church? Does the church focus on discipleship? Were you led to worship God? What types of ministries does the church involve itself in? Was the message biblical and evangelical? How was the fellowship? You also need to feel comfortable—were you made to feel welcome? Is the congregation comprised of true worshippers?
Finally, remember that no church is perfect. At best, it is still filled with saved sinners whose flesh and spirits are continually at war. Also, do not forget the importance of prayer. Praying about the church God would have you attend is crucial throughout the decision-making process.
Question: Why should I believe in organized religion?
Answer: A dictionary definition of “religion” would be something similar to “belief in God or gods to be worshipped, usually expressed in conduct and ritual; any specific system of belief, worship, etc., often involving a code of ethics.” In light of this definition, the Bible does speak of organized religion, but in many cases the purpose and impact of “organized religion” are not something that God is pleased with.
In Genesis chapter 11, perhaps the first instance of organized religion, the descendents of Noah organized themselves to build the tower of Babel instead of obeying God’s command to fill the entire earth. They believed that their unity was more important than their relationship with God. God stepped in and confused their languages, thus breaking up this organized religion.
In Exodus chapter 6 and following, God “organized” a religion for the nation of Israel. The Ten Commandments, the laws regarding the tabernacle, and the sacrificial system were all instituted by God and were to be followed by the Israelites. Further study of the New Testament clarifies that the intent of this religion was to point to the need for a Savior-Messiah (Galatians 3; Romans 7).
However, many have misunderstood this and have worshipped the rules and rituals rather than God.
Throughout Israel’s history, many of the conflicts experienced by the Israelites involved conflict with organized religions. Examples include the worship of Baal (Judges 6; 1 Kings 18), Dagon (1 Samuel 5), and Molech (2 Kings 23:10). God defeated the followers of these religions, displaying His sovereignty and omnipotence.
In the Gospels, the Pharisees and Sadducees are depicted as the representatives of organized religion at the time of Christ. Jesus constantly confronted them about their false teachings and hypocritical lifestyles. In the Epistles, there were organized groups that mixed the gospel with certain lists of required works and rituals. They also sought to put pressure on believers to change and accept these “Christianity plus” religions. Galatians and Colossians give warnings about such religions. In the book of Revelation, organized religion will have an impact on the world as the Antichrist sets up a one-world religion.
In many cases, the end result of organized religion is a distraction from the intent of God. However, the Bible does speak of organized believers who are part of His plan. God calls these groups of organized believers “churches.” The descriptions from the book of Acts and the Epistles indicate that the church is to be organized and interdependent. The organization leads to protection, productivity, and outreach (Acts 2:41-47). In the case of the church, it could better be called an “organized relationship.”
Religion is man’s attempt to have communion with God. The Christian faith is a relationship with God because of what He has done for us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. There is no plan to reach God (He has reached out to us— Romans 5:8). There is no pride (all is received by grace—Ephesians 2:8-9). There should be no conflict over leadership (Christ is the head—Colossians 1:18). There should be no prejudice (we are all one in Christ—Galatians 3:28). Being organized is not the problem. Focusing on the rules and rituals of a religion is the problem.
Question: What is biblical separation?
Answer: Biblical separation is the recognition that God has called believers out of the world and into a personal and corporate purity in the midst of sinful cultures. Biblical separation is usually considered in two areas: personal and ecclesiastical.
Personal separation involves an individual’s commitment to a godly standard of behavior. Daniel practiced personal separatism when he “resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine” (Daniel 1:8). His was a biblical separatism because his standard was based on God’s revelation in the Mosaic law.
A modern example of personal separation could be the decision to decline invitations to parties where alcohol is served. Such a decision might be made in order to circumvent temptation (Romans 13:14), to avoid “every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22), or simply to be consistent with a personal conviction (Romans 14:5).
The Bible clearly teaches that the child of God is to be separate from the world. “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17; see also 1 Peter 1:14-16).
Ecclesiastical separation involves the decisions of a church concerning its ties to other organizations, based on their theology or practices. Separatism is implied in the very word “church,” which comes from the Greek word ekklesia meaning “a called-out assembly.” In Jesus’ letter to the church of Pergamum, He warned against tolerating those who taught false doctrine (Revelation 2:14-15). The church was to be separate, breaking ties with heresy. A modern example of ecclesiastical separation could be a denomination’s stance against ecumenical alliances which would unite the church with apostates.
Biblical separation does not require Christians to have no contact with unbelievers. Like Jesus, we should befriend the sinner without partaking of the sin (Luke 7:34). Paul expresses a balanced view of separatism: “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world” (1 Corinthians 5:9- 10). In other words, we are in the world, but not of it.
We are to be light to the world without allowing the world to diminish our light. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
Question: What does the Bible say about church discipline/excommunication?
Answer: Excommunication is the formal removal of an individual from church membership and the informal separation from that individual. Matthew 18:15-20 gives the procedure and authority for a church to do this. It instructs us that one individual (usually the offended party) is to go to the offending individual. If he/she does not repent, then two or three go to confirm the situation and the refusal to repent. If there is still no repentance, it is taken before the church. This process is never “desirable,” just as a father never delights in having to discipline his children. Often, though, it is necessary. The purpose is not to be mean- spirited or to display a “holier than thou” attitude. Rather, the goal is the restoration of the individual to full fellowship with both God and other believers. It is to be done in love toward the individual, in obedience and honor to God, and in godly fear for the sake of others in the church.
The Bible gives an example of the necessity of excommunication in a local church—the church at the city of Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). In this passage, the apostle Paul also gives some purposes behind the biblical use of excommunication. One reason (not directly found in the passage) is for the sake of the testimony of Christ Jesus (and His church) before unbelievers. When David sinned with Bathsheba, one of the consequences of his sin was that the name of the one true God was blasphemed by God’s enemies (2 Samuel 12:14). A second reason is that sin is like a cancer; if allowed to exist, it spreads to those nearby in the same way that “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7). Also, Paul explains that Jesus saved us so that we might be set apart from sin, that we might be “unleavened” or free from that which causes spiritual decay (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). Christ’s desire for His bride, the church, is that she might be pure and undefiled (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Excommunication is also for the long-term welfare of the one being disciplined by the church. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5:5, states that excommunication is a way of delivering the unrepentant sinner “over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” This means that excommunication can somehow involve God’s using Satan (or one of his demons) as a disciplinary tool to work in the sinner’s life physically to bring about true repentance in his/her heart.
Hopefully the disciplinary action of the church is successful in bringing about godly sorrow and true repentance. When this occurs, the individual can be restored to fellowship. The man involved in the 1 Corinthians 5 passage repented, and Paul encouraged the church to restore him to fellowship with the church (2 Corinthians 2:5-8). Unfortunately, disciplinary action, even when done
in love and in the correct manner, is not always successful in bringing about such restoration. But even when church discipline fails to achieve its goal of bringing repentance, it is still needed to accomplish the other good purposes mentioned above.
We have all likely witnessed the behavior of a young boy who has been allowed to do as he pleases with no consistent discipline. It is not a pretty sight. Nor is such parenting loving, for it dooms the child to a dismal future. Such behavior will keep the child from forming meaningful relationships and performing well in any kind of setting. Similarly, discipline in the church, while never enjoyable or easy, is not only necessary, but loving as well. Moreover, it is commanded by God.
Question: What does the Bible say about the form of church government?
Answer: The Lord was very clear in His Word about how He wishes His church on earth to be organized and managed. First, Christ is the head of the church and its supreme authority (Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; Colossians 1:18). Second, the local church is to be autonomous, free from any external authority or control, with the right of self-government and freedom from the interference of any hierarchy of individuals or organizations (Titus 1:5). Third, the church is to be governed by spiritual leadership consisting of two main offices—elders and deacons.
“Elders” were a leading body among the Israelites since the time of Moses. We find them making political decisions (2 Samuel 5:3; 2 Samuel 17:4, 15), advising the king in later history (1 Kings 20:7), and representing the people concerning spiritual matters (Exodus 7:17; 24:1, 9; Numbers 11:16, 24-25). The early Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, used the Greek word presbuteros for “elder.” This is the same Greek word used in the New Testament that is also translated “elder.”
The New Testament refers a number of times to elders who served in the role of church leadership (Acts 14:23, 15:2, 20:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14) and apparently each church had more than one, as the word is usually found in the plural. The only exceptions refer to cases in which one elder is being singled out for some reason (1 Timothy 5:1, 19). In the Jerusalem church, elders were part of the leadership along with the apostles (Acts 15:2-16:4).
It seems that the position of elder was equal to the position of episkopos, translated “overseer” or “bishop” (Acts 11:30; 1 Timothy 5:17). The term “elder” may refer to the dignity of the office, while the term “bishop/overseer” describes its authority and duties (1 Peter 2:25, 5:1-4). In Philippians 1:1, Paul greets the bishops and deacons but does not mention the elders, presumably because the elders are the same as the bishops. Likewise, 1 Timothy 3:2, 8 gives the qualifications of bishops and deacons but not of elders. Titus 1:5-7 seems also to tie these two terms together.
The position of “deacon,” from diakonos, meaning “through the dirt,” was one of servant leadership to the church. Deacons are separate from elders, while having qualifications that are in many ways similar to those of elders (1 Timothy 3:8-13). Deacons assist the church in whatever is needed, as recorded in Acts chapter 6.
Concerning the word poimen, translated “pastor” in reference to a human leader of a church, it is found only once in the New Testament, in Ephesians 4:11: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” Most associate the two terms “pastors” and “teachers” as referring to a single position, a pastor-teacher. It is likely that a pastor-teacher was the spiritual shepherd of a particular local church.
It would seem from the above passages that there was always a plurality of elders, but this does not negate God’s gifting particular elders with the teaching gifts while gifting others with the gift of administration, prayer, etc. (Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11). Nor does it negate God’s calling them into a ministry in which they will use those gifts (Acts 13:1). Thus, one elder may emerge as the “pastor,” another may do the majority of visiting members because he has the gift of compassion, while another may “rule” in the sense of handling the organizational details. Many churches that are organized with a pastor and deacon board perform the functions of a plurality of elders in that they share the ministry load and work together in some decision making. In Scripture there was also much congregational input into decisions. Thus, a “dictator” leader who makes the decisions (whether called elder, or bishop, or pastor) is unscriptural (Acts 1:23, 26; 6:3, 5; 15:22, 30; 2 Corinthians 8:19). So, too, is a congregation- ruled church that does not give weight to the elders’ or church leaders’ input.
In summary, the Bible teaches a leadership consisting of a plurality of elders (bishops/overseers) along with a group of deacons who serve the church. But it is not contrary to this plurality of elders to have one of the elders serving in the major “pastoral” role. God calls some as “pastor/teachers” (even as He called some to be missionaries in Acts 13) and gives them as gifts to the church (Ephesians 4:11). Thus, a church may have many elders, but not all elders are called to serve in the pastoral role. But, as one of the elders, the pastor or “teaching elder” has no more authority in decision making than does any other elder.
Question: What does the Bible say about church growth?
Answer: Although the Bible does not specifically address church growth, the principle of church growth is the understanding that Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). Paul confirmed that the church has its foundation in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11). Jesus Christ is also the head of the church (Ephesians 1:18-23) and the church’s life (John 10:10). Having said that, it should be remembered that “growth” can be a relative term. There are different kinds of growth, some of which have nothing to do with numbers.
A church can be alive and growing even though the number of members/attendees is not changing. If those in the church are growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, submitting to His will for their lives, both individually and corporately, that is a church that is experiencing true growth. At the same time, a church can be adding to its rolls weekly, have huge numbers, and still be spiritually stagnant.
Growth of any kind follows a typical pattern. As with a growing organism, the local church has those who plant the seed (evangelists), those who water the seed (pastor/teachers), and others who use their spiritual gifts for the growth of those in the local church. But note that it is God who gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7). Those who plant and those who water will each receive their own reward according to their labor (1 Corinthians 3:8).
There has to be a balance between planting and watering for a local church to grow, which means that in a healthy church each person must know what his/her spiritual gift is so that he/she can function within in the body of Christ. If the planting and watering get out of balance, the church will not prosper as God intended. Of course, there has to be daily dependence upon and obedience to the Holy Spirit so His power can be released in those who plant and water in order for God’s increase to come.
Finally, the description of a living and growing church is found in Acts 2:42- 47 where the believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” They were serving one another and reaching out to those who needed to know the Lord, for the Lord “added to their number daily those who were being saved.” When these things are present, the church will experience spiritual growth, whether or not there is numerical increase.
Question: Why are there so many Christian denominations?
Answer: To answer this question, we must first differentiate between denominations within the body of Christ and non-Christian cults and false religions. Presbyterians and Lutherans are examples of Christian denominations.
Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are examples of cults (groups claiming to be Christian but denying one or more of the essentials of the Christian faith). Islam and Buddhism are entirely separate religions.
The rise of denominations within the Christian faith can be traced back to the Protestant Reformation, the movement to “reform” the Roman Catholic Church during the 16th century, out of which four major divisions or traditions of Protestantism would emerge: Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, and Anglican. From these four, other denominations grew over the centuries.
The Lutheran denomination was named after Martin Luther and was based on his teachings. The Methodists got their name because their founder, John Wesley, was famous for coming up with “methods” for spiritual growth. Presbyterians are named for their view on church leadership—the Greek word for elder is presbyteros. Baptists got their name because they have always emphasized the importance of baptism. Each denomination has a slightly different doctrine or emphasis from the others, such as the method of baptism; the availability of the Lord’s Supper to all or just to those whose testimonies can be verified by church leaders; the sovereignty of God vs. free will in the matter of salvation; the future of Israel and the church; pretribulation vs. post tribulation rapture; the existence of the “sign” gifts in the modern era, and so on. The point of these divisions is never Christ as Lord and Savior, but rather honest differences of opinion by godly, albeit flawed, people seeking to honor God and retain doctrinal purity according to their consciences and their understanding of His Word.
Denominations today are many and varied. The original “mainline” denominations mentioned above have spawned numerous offshoots such as Assemblies of God, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Nazarenes, Evangelical Free, independent Bible churches, and others. Some denominations emphasize slight doctrinal differences, but more often they simply offer different styles of worship to fit the differing tastes and preferences of Christians. But make no mistake: as believers, we must be of one mind on the essentials of the faith, but beyond that there is great deal of latitude in how Christians should worship in a corporate setting. This latitude is what causes so many different “flavors” of Christianity. A Presbyterian church in Uganda will have a style of worship much different from a Presbyterian church in Colorado, but their doctrinal stand will be, for the most part, the same. Diversity is a good thing, but disunity is not. If two churches disagree doctrinally, debate and dialogue over the Word may be called for. This type of “iron sharpening iron” (Proverbs 27:17) is beneficial to all. If they disagree on style and form, however, it is fine for them to remain separate. This separation, though, does not lift the responsibility Christians have to love one another (1 John 4:11-12) and ultimately be united as one in Christ (John 17:21-22).
Question: Why are there so many different Christian interpretations?
Answer: Scripture says there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). This passage emphasizes the unity that should exist in the body of Christ as we are indwelt by “one Spirit” (verse 4). In verse 3, Paul makes an appeal to humility, meekness, patience, and love—all of which are necessary to preserve unity. According to 1 Corinthians 2:10-13, the Holy Spirit knows the mind of God (verse 11), which He reveals (verse 10) and teaches (verse 13) to those whom He indwells. This activity of the Holy Spirit is called illumination.
In a perfect world, every believer would dutifully study the Bible (2 Timothy 2:15) in prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit’s illumination. As can be clearly seen, this is not a perfect world. Not everyone who possesses the Holy Spirit actually listens to the Holy Spirit. There are Christians who grieve Him (Ephesians 4:30). Ask any educator—even the best classroom teacher has his share of wayward students who seem to resist learning, no matter what the teacher does. So, one reason different people have different interpretations of the Bible is simply that some do not listen to the Teacher—the Holy Spirit. Following are some other reasons for the wide divergence of beliefs among those who teach the Bible.
1. Unbelief. The fact is that many who claim to be Christians have never been born again. They wear the label of “Christian,” but there has been no true change of heart. Many who do not even believe the Bible to be true presume to teach it. They claim to speak for God yet live in a state of unbelief. Most false interpretations of Scripture come from such sources.
It is impossible for an unbeliever to correctly interpret Scripture. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). An unsaved man cannot understand the truth of the Bible. He has no illumination. Further, even being a pastor or theologian does not guarantee one’s salvation.
An example of the chaos created by unbelief is found in John 12:28-29. Jesus prays to the Father, saying, “Father, glorify your name.” The Father responds with an audible voice from heaven, which everyone nearby hears. Notice, however, the difference in interpretation: “The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.”
Everyone heard the same thing—an intelligible statement from heaven—yet
everyone heard what he wanted to hear.
2. Lack of training. The apostle Peter warns against those who misinterpret the Scriptures. He attributes their spurious teachings in part to the fact that they are “ignorant” (2 Peter 3:16). Timothy is told to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). There is no shortcut to proper biblical interpretation; we are constrained to study.
3. Poor hermeneutics. Much error has been promoted because of a simple failure to apply good hermeneutics (the science of interpreting Scripture). Taking a verse out of its immediate context can do great damage to the intent of the verse. Ignoring the wider context of the chapter and book, or failing to understand the historical/cultural context will also lead to problems.
4. Ignorance of the whole Word of God. Apollos was a powerful and eloquent preacher, but he only knew the baptism of John. He was ignorant of Jesus and His provision of salvation, so his message was incomplete. Aquila and Priscilla took him aside and “explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:24-28). After that, Apollos preached Jesus Christ. Some groups and individuals today have an incomplete message because they concentrate on certain passages to the exclusion of others. They fail to compare Scripture with Scripture.
5. Selfishness and pride. Sad to say, many interpretations of the Bible are based on an individual’s own personal biases and pet doctrines. Some people see an opportunity for personal advancement by promoting a “new perspective” on Scripture. (See the description of false teachers in Jude’s epistle.)
6. Failure to mature. When Christians are not maturing as they should, their handling of the Word of God is affected. “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly” (1 Corinthians 3:2-3). An immature Christian is not ready for the “meat” of God’s Word. Note that the proof of the Corinthians’ carnality is a division in their church (verse 4).
7. Undue emphasis on tradition. Some churches claim to believe the Bible, but their interpretation is always filtered through the established traditions of their church. Where tradition and the teaching of the Bible are in conflict, tradition is given precedence. This effectively negates the authority of the Word and grants supremacy to the church leadership.
On the essentials, the Bible is abundantly clear. There is nothing ambiguous about the deity of Christ, the reality of heaven and hell, and salvation by grace through faith. On some issues of less importance, however, the teaching of Scripture is less clear, and this naturally leads to different interpretations. For example, we have no direct biblical command governing the frequency of communion or the style of music to use. Honest, sincere Christians can have differing interpretations of the passages concerning these peripheral issues.
The important thing is to be dogmatic where Scripture is and to avoid being dogmatic where Scripture is not. Churches should strive to follow the model of the early church in Jerusalem: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). There was unity in the early church because they were steadfast in the apostles’ doctrine. There will be unity in the church again when we get back to the apostles’ doctrine and forego the other doctrines, fads, and gimmicks that have crept into the church.
Question: Why are so many evangelical Christian leaders caught in scandals?
Answer: First, it is important to point out that “so many” is not an accurate characterization. It may seem like many evangelical Christian leaders are caught in scandals, but this is due to the vast amount of attention such scandals are given. There are thousands of evangelical Christian leaders, pastors, professors, missionaries, writers, and evangelists who have never participated in anything “scandalous.” The vast majority of evangelical Christian leaders are men and women who love God, are faithful to their spouses and families, and handle their activities with the utmost honesty and integrity. The failures of a few should not be used to attack the character of all.
With that said, there is still the problem that scandals do sometimes occur among those claiming to be evangelical Christians. Prominent Christian leaders have been exposed for committing adultery or participating in prostitution. Some evangelical Christians have been convicted of tax fraud and other financial illegalities. Why does this occur? There are at least three primary explanations: 1) Some of those claiming to be evangelical Christians are unbelieving charlatans, 2) some evangelical Christian leaders allow their position to result in pride, and 3) Satan and his demons more aggressively attack and tempt those in Christian leadership because they know that a scandal involving a leader can have devastating results, on both Christians and non-Christians.
1. Some “evangelical Christians” who are caught in scandals are unredeemed charlatans and false prophets. Jesus warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves … Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:15-20). False prophets pretend to be godly men and women and appear to be solid evangelical leaders. However, their “fruit” (scandals) eventually reveals them to be the opposite of what they claimed to be. In this, they follow the example of Satan, “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).
2. The Bible makes it clear that “pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). James 4:6 reminds us that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The Bible repeatedly warns against pride. Many Christian leaders begin a ministry in a spirit of humility and reliance upon God, but as the ministry grows and thrives, they are tempted to take some of this glory for themselves. Some evangelical Christian leaders, while paying lip-service to God, actually attempt to manage and build the ministry in their own strength and wisdom. This type of pride leads to a fall. God, through the prophet Hosea, warned, “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me” (Hosea 13:6).
3. Satan knows that by instigating a scandal with an evangelical Christian leader, he can have a powerful impact. Just as King David’s adultery with Bathsheba and arranged murder of Uriah caused great damage to David’s family and the entire nation of Israel, so has many a church or ministry been damaged or destroyed by the moral failure of its leader. Many Christians have had their faith weakened as a result of seeing a leader fall. Non-Christians use the failure of “Christian” leaders as a reason to reject Christianity. Satan and his demons know this, and therefore direct more of their attacks against those in leadership roles. The Bible warns us all, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
How are we to respond when an evangelical Christian leader is accused of or caught in a scandal? 1) Do not listen to or accept baseless and unfounded accusations (Proverbs 18:8, 17; 1 Timothy 5:19). 2) Take appropriate biblical measures to rebuke those who sin (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Timothy 5:20). If the sin is proven and severe, permanent removal from ministry leadership should be enforced (1 Timothy 3:1-13). 3) Forgive those who sin (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13), and when repentance is proven, restore them to fellowship (Galatians 6:1; 1 Peter 4:8) but not to leadership. 4) Be faithful in praying for our leaders. Knowing the problems they deal with, the temptations they suffer, and the stress they must endure, we should be praying for our leaders, asking God to strengthen them, protect them, and encourage them. 5) Most importantly, take the failure of an evangelical Christian leader as a reminder to put your ultimate faith in God and God alone. God never fails, never sins, and never lies. “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3).
Question: What is the history of Christianity?
Answer: The history of Christianity is really the history of Western civilization. Christianity has had an all-pervasive influence on society at large—art, language, politics, law, family life, calendar dates, music, and the very way we think have all been colored by Christian influence for nearly two millennia. The story of the church, therefore, is an important one to know.
The Beginning of the Church
The church began 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection (c. AD 35). Jesus had promised that He would build His church (Matthew 16:18), and with the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), the church—ekklesia (the “called-out assembly”)—officially began. Three thousand people responded to Peter’s sermon that day and chose to follow Christ.
The initial converts to Christianity were Jews or proselytes to Judaism, and the church was centered in Jerusalem. Because of this, Christianity was seen at first as a Jewish sect, akin to the Pharisees, the Sadducees, or the Essenes. However, what the apostles preached was radically different from what other Jewish groups were teaching. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah (the anointed King) who had come to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17) and institute a new covenant based on His death (Mark 14:24). This message, with its charge that they had killed their own Messiah, infuriated many Jewish leaders, and some, like Saul of Tarsus, took action to stamp out “the Way” (Acts 9:1-2).
It is quite proper to say that Christianity has its roots in Judaism. The Old Testament laid the groundwork for the New, and it is impossible to fully understand Christianity without a working knowledge of the Old Testament (see the books of Matthew and Hebrews). The Old Testament explains the necessity of a Messiah, contains the history of the Messiah’s people, and predicts the Messiah’s coming. The New Testament, then, is all about the coming of Messiah and His work to save us from sin. In His life, Jesus fulfilled over 300 specific prophecies, proving that He was the One the Old Testament had anticipated.
The Growth of the Early Church
Not long after Pentecost, the doors to the church were opened to non-Jews. The evangelist Philip preached to the Samaritans (Acts 8:5), and many of them believed in Christ. The apostle Peter preached to the Gentile household of Cornelius (Acts 10), and they, too, received the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul (the former persecutor of the church) spread the gospel all over the Greco- Roman world, reaching as far as Rome itself (Acts 28:16) and possibly all the way to Spain.
By AD 70, the year Jerusalem was destroyed, most of the books of the New Testament had been completed and were circulating among the churches. For the next 240 years, Christians were persecuted by Rome—sometimes at random, sometimes by government edict.
In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the church leadership became more and more hierarchical as numbers increased. Several heresies were exposed and refuted during this time, and the New Testament canon was agreed upon. Persecution continued to intensify.
The Rise of the Roman Church
In AD 312, the Roman Emperor Constantine claimed to have had a conversion experience. About 70 years later, during the reign of Theodosius, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Bishops were given places of honor in the government, and by AD 400, the terms “Roman” and “Christian” were virtually synonymous.
After Constantine, then, Christians were no longer persecuted. In time, it was the pagans who came under persecution unless they “converted” to Christianity. Such forced conversions led to many people entering the church without a true change of heart. The pagans brought with them their idols and the practices they were accustomed to, and the church changed; icons, elaborate architecture, pilgrimages, and the veneration of saints were added to the simplicity of early church worship. About this same time, some Christians retreated from Rome, choosing to live in isolation as monks, and infant baptism was introduced as a means of washing away original sin.
Through the next centuries, various church councils were held in an attempt to determine the church’s official doctrine, to censure clerical abuses, and to make peace between warring factions. As the Roman Empire grew weaker, the church became more powerful, and many disagreements broke out between the churches in the West and those in the East. The Western (Latin) church, based in Rome, claimed apostolic authority over all other churches. The bishop of Rome had even begun calling himself the “Pope” (the Father). This did not sit well with the Eastern (Greek) church, based in Constantinople. Theological, political, procedural, and linguistic divides all contributed to the Great Schism in 1054, in which the Roman Catholic (“Universal”) Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church excommunicated each other and broke all ties.
The Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages in Europe, the Roman Catholic Church continued to hold power, with the popes claiming authority over all levels of life and living as kings. Corruption and greed in the church leadership was commonplace. From 1095 to 1204 the popes endorsed a series of bloody and expensive crusades in an effort to repel Muslim advances and liberate Jerusalem.
Through the years, several individuals had tried to call attention to the theological, political, and human rights abuses of the Roman Church. All had been silenced in one way or another. But in 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther took a stand against the church, and everyone heard. With Luther came the Protestant Reformation, and the Middle Ages were brought to a close.
The Reformers, including Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, differed in many finer points of theology, but they were consistent in their emphasis on the Bible’s supreme authority over church tradition and the fact that sinners are saved by grace through faith alone apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Although Catholicism made a comeback in Europe, and a series of wars between Protestants and Catholics ensued, the Reformation had successfully dismantled the power of the Roman Catholic Church and helped open the door to the modern age.
The Age of Missions
From 1790 to 1900, the church showed an unprecedented interest in missionary work. Colonization had opened eyes to the need for missions, and industrialization had provided people with the financial ability to fund the missionaries. Missionaries went around the world preaching the gospel, and churches were established throughout the world.
The Modern Church
Today, the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church have taken steps to mend their broken relationship, as have Catholics and Lutherans.
The evangelical church is strongly independent and rooted firmly in Reformed theology. The church has also seen the rise of Pentecostalism, the charismatic movement, ecumenicalism, and various cults.
What We Learn from Our History
If we learn nothing else from church history, we should at least recognize the importance of letting “the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly” (Colossians 3:16). Each of us is responsible to know what the Scripture says and to live by it. When the church forgets what the Bible teaches and ignores what Jesus taught, chaos reigns.
There are many churches today, but only one gospel. It is “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). May we be careful to preserve that faith and pass it on without alteration, and the Lord will continue to fulfill His promise to build His church.
Question: What does the “husband of one wife” in 1 Timothy 3:2 mean? Can a divorced man serve as a pastor, elder, or deacon?
Answer: There are at least three possible interpretations of the phrase “husband of one wife” in 1 Timothy 3:2. 1) It could simply be saying that a polygamist is not qualified to be an elder, a deacon or a pastor. This is the most literal interpretation of the phrase, but seems somewhat unlikely considering that polygamy was quite rare in the time that Paul was writing. 2) The phrase could also be translated “one-woman man.” This would indicate that a bishop must be absolutely loyal to the woman he is married to. This interpretation focuses more on moral purity than marital status. 3) The phrase could also be understood to declare that in order to be an elder/deacon/pastor, a man can only have been married once, other than in the case of a remarried widower.
Interpretations 2) and 3) are the most prevalent today. Interpretation 2) seems to be the strongest, primarily because Scripture seems to allow for divorce in exceptional circumstances (Matthew 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:12-16). It would also be important to differentiate between a man who was divorced and remarried before he became a Christian from a man who was divorced and remarried after becoming a Christian. An otherwise qualified man should not be excluded from church leadership because of actions he took prior to coming to know the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior. Although 1 Timothy 3:2 does not necessarily exclude a divorced or remarried man from serving as an elder/deacon/pastor, there are other issues to consider.
The first qualification of an elder/deacon/pastor is to be “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2). If the divorce and/or remarriage results in a poor testimony for the man in the church or community, it may be the “above reproach” qualification that excludes him rather than the “husband of one wife” requirement. An elder/deacon/pastor is to be a man that the church and community can look up to as an example of Christ-likeness and godly leadership. If his divorce and/or remarriage situation detracts from this purpose, perhaps he should not serve in the position of elder/deacon/pastor. It is important to remember, though, that just because a man is disqualified from serving as an elder/deacon/pastor, he is still a valuable member of the body of Christ. Every Christian possesses spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-7) and is called to participate in edifying other believers with those gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7). A man who is disqualified from the position of elder/deacon/pastor can still teach, preach, serve, pray, worship, and play an important role in the church.
Question: What is the proper mode of baptism?
Answer: The simplest answer to this question is found in the meaning of the word “baptize.” It comes from a Greek word which means “to submerge in water.” Therefore, baptism by sprinkling or by pouring is an oxymoron, something that self-contradictory. Baptism by sprinkling would mean “submerging someone in water by sprinkling water on them.” Baptism, by its inherent definition, must be an act of immersion in water.
Baptism illustrates a believer’s identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3-4). The action of being immersed in the water pictures dying and being buried with Christ. The action of coming out of the water illustrates Christ’s resurrection. As a result, baptism by immersion is the only method of baptism which illustrates being buried with Christ and being raised with Him. Baptism by sprinkling and/or pouring came into practice as a result of the unbiblical practice of infant baptism.
Baptism by immersion, while it is the most biblical mode of identifying with Christ, is not (as some believe) a prerequisite for salvation. It is rather an act of obedience, a public proclamation of faith in Christ and identification with Him. Baptism is a picture of our leaving our old life and becoming a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Baptism by immersion is the only mode that fully illustrates this radical change.
Question: Does God require Sabbath-keeping of Christians?
Answer: In Colossians 2:16-17, the apostle Paul declares, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” Similarly, Romans 14:5 states, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” These Scriptures make it clear that, for the Christian, Sabbath-keeping is a matter of spiritual freedom, not a command from God. Sabbath-keeping is an issue on which God’s Word instructs us not to judge each other. Sabbath keeping is a matter about which each Christian needs to be fully convinced in his/her own mind.
In the early chapters of the book of Acts, the first Christians were predominantly Jews. When Gentiles began to receive the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, the Jewish Christians had a dilemma. What aspects of the Mosaic Law and Jewish tradition should Gentile Christians be instructed to obey? The apostles met and discussed the issue in the Jerusalem council (Acts 15). The decision was, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood” (Acts 15:19- 20). Sabbath-keeping was not one of the commands the apostles felt was necessary to force on Gentile believers. It is inconceivable that the apostles would neglect to include Sabbath-keeping if it was God’s command for Christians to observe the Sabbath day.
A common error in the Sabbath-keeping debate is the concept that the Sabbath was the day of worship. Groups such as the Seventh Day Adventists hold that God requires the church service to be held on Saturday, the Sabbath day. That is not what the Sabbath command was. The Sabbath command was to do no work on the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:8-11). Nowhere in Scripture is the Sabbath day commanded to be the day of worship. Yes, Jews in Old Testament, New Testament, and modern times use Saturday as the day of worship, but that is not the essence of the Sabbath command. In the book of Acts, whenever a meeting is said to be on the Sabbath, it is a meeting of Jews, not Christians.
When did the early Christians meet? Acts 2:46-47 gives us the answer, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” If there was a day that Christians met regularly, it was the first day of the week (our Sunday), not the Sabbath day (our Saturday) (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). In honor of Christ’s resurrection on Sunday, the
early Christians observed Sunday not as the “Christian Sabbath” but as a day to especially worship Jesus Christ.
Is there anything wrong with worshipping on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath? Absolutely not! We should worship God every day, not just on Saturday or Sunday! Many churches today have both Saturday and Sunday services. There is freedom in Christ (Romans 8:21; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 5:1). Should a Christian practice Sabbath-keeping, that is, not working on Saturdays? If a Christian feels led to do so, absolutely, yes (Romans 14:5). However, those who choose to practice Sabbath-keeping should not judge those who do not keep the Sabbath (Colossians 2:16). Further, those who do not keep the Sabbath should avoid being a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 8:9) to those who do keep the Sabbath. Galatians 5:13-15 sums up the whole issue: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”
Question: What are appropriate reasons for missing church?
Answer: Many people have an improper and/or unbiblical understanding of church attendance. Some people feel that they must attend church legalistically, being at church virtually every time there is any kind of service or meeting. Some people experience a feeling of guilt whenever they miss a Sunday morning service. Sadly, some churches encourage this guilt by putting excessive pressure on people to attend regularly. In the matter of church attendance, the most crucial thing to understand is that the quality of a person’s relationship with God is not determined by how often he/she is in church. Similarly, God’s love for His children is not based on the number of times they attend formal services.
There is no doubt that Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, should attend church. It should be the desire of each and every Christian to worship corporately (Ephesians 5:19-20), to fellowship with and encourage other Christians (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and to be taught God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Attending church should be a joy, not a dreaded and dreary assignment. Just as God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), so He is pleased with a genuinely cheerful church attendee (Hebrews 10:24-25).
What then are appropriate reasons for missing church? Is it acceptable to miss church to attend a sporting event? Yes. Is it acceptable to miss church while on vacation? Yes. Is it acceptable to miss church when you are sick/ill? Yes. Is it acceptable to miss church because you are tired from a difficult week? Yes. Is it acceptable to miss church simply because you do not feel like attending? Yes.
Like so many other issues in the Christian life, church attendance can become legalistic instead of a matter of grace. A person does not have to attend church to be saved, to be a good Christian, to grow spiritually, etc. Rather, a Christian should attend church to learn about the greatness of God’s gift of salvation, to learn how to become more like Christ, and to have opportunities to minister to others.
Why do you attend church? Is it to make yourself appear spiritual? Is it to interact with possible business contacts? Is it out of legalistic thinking that says the more frequently you walk through the doors of a church, the more God is pleased with you? Is your Sunday morning filled with family strife, arguing, and screaming, followed by attending church with pasted-on smiling, happy faces? In such an instance, it would be better to stay home and work on biblically resolving the conflict in your family, instead of making a token appearance at church.
It all comes down to perspective and priorities. The busyness of many people’s lives makes church attendance more of a chore than a blessing. If attending church is not important enough, or valuable enough, to make it a priority, either something is wrong with your church or something is wrong with your attitude about church. Is your church attendance nothing more than arriving one minute before the service starts, sitting bored and inattentively through the worship and sermon, and then leaving immediately after the service ends? If so, you might as well have missed church, as you did not take anything from it, and you contributed nothing to it.
We should want to attend church so we can fellowship with others who have also experienced the amazing grace of Jesus Christ. We should avoid missing church, whenever possible, because we recognize the importance of hearing God’s Word, applying it to our lives, and sharing it with others. We should attend church, not to collect spiritual bonus points, but because we love God and recognize what His Word says about the importance of corporate fellowship and worship (Hebrews 10:24-25). Every Christian should attend church regularly. At the same time, missing church for a good reason is in no sense a sin or something that should cause feelings of guilt.
When you miss (do not attend) church, do you miss (have a longing for) church? If so, that is a sign you have a good and biblical connection with church. If not, that is a sign you need to reevaluate your choice of church and/or participation in church. God knows our hearts. God is not impressed by a person attending every Sunday morning service, Sunday evening service, mid-week service, and Bible study opportunity a church offers. God’s desire is that we utilize the local church for our own spiritual edification and the use of our spiritual gifts to minister to others.
Hereunder are Links for Questions and Answers on hot topics that people are really asking:
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