What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (The Assembly, Part 2)

churchofchristWhen we read in the scriptures that we are to become like Jesus, we tend to interpret “like Jesus” based on our own personalities and religious upbringing.

For example, many take “like Jesus” to mean “sinless,” which is true but largely misses the point.

The Eastern Orthodox define “sin” as “missing the mark,” and they define “the mark” as Jesus. And I think they’re right. Adam and Even were driven from the Garden because they fell from the image of God. When they sinned, they didn’t just break a rule, they acted contrary to the image in which they’d been created, and so the image became broken. Continue reading

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What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (The Assembly, Part 1)

churchofchristLet’s see. We assemble to edify one another.

(1Co 14:4 NIV) Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.

(1Co 14:5 NIV) I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.

(1Co 14:17 NIV) You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.

“Edify” translates the Greek word from which we get “edifice,” that is, a building. To edify is to “build up,” as the ESV and many other translations say. Continue reading

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What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (Singing, Part 4)

churchofchristThere’s a pretty good argument from 1 Corinthians 14 that the purpose of the assembly is for us to “edify” one another. Paul also speaks in terms of encouragement, strengthening, and comfort, but edification is the recurring theme that holds the chapter together. Hebrews 10:25 supports the thesis.

“Edify” means to build up, but it tells us nothing about what that means. Is this about building up my self esteem? My courage? My holiness? My humility?

Is the goal for me to leave “spiritually fed” so that I’m nourished to get through another week. Is this a spiritual pit stop?

I would like to suggest a hypothesis. I think the central purpose of the assembly is the spiritual formation of the congregation, that is, so that the congregation will become more and more like Jesus.

I could give you some scriptures, but what fun would that be? Rather, I’ll pose this as a question. What is the central purpose of the assembly — and why?

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What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (Singing, Part 3)

churchofchristDoes God care at all about the quality of the singing during the Sunday morning assembly?

I’ve often heard the platitude that God cares nothing about the quality of the singing, and so I wonder if that actually holds true on close examination.

The question is not whether God finds poor singing “acceptable” — meaning, I suppose, that God gives credit for having performed one of the five “Acts of Worship” despite how poorly the act of singing is done.

That’s a  check-the-box approach to Christianity and worship that I believe to be entirely foreign to the scriptures — both testaments. Rather, I’m asking whether God might be disappointed when we do a poor job of singing when we could easily do better?

And I’m not asking whether we have to be perfect in our singing (which is undefinable to me), but whether God expects us to be concerned about whether we’re on key, on the beat, in harmony, and otherwise singing well  — assuming we aren’t tone deaf or otherwise incapable of singing on key, on the beat, in harmony, etc. (“God does not exact day labor, light denied.”)

And why or why not?

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What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (Singing, Part 2)

churchofchristSo in the last post I asked why God teaches us to sing as Christians. It’s not a test of our faithfulness. God teaches us to sing for a reason. And until we grasp the purpose of singing, we really have no business being doctrinaire about the rules for how to sing in church.

So let’s start with the lyrics. Obviously, if the songs are spiritual songs, hymns, or psalms, the lyrics will praise God or carry another spiritual message. The lyrics matter because they carry a rational message that those singing and those listening hear. Continue reading

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What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (Singing, Part 1)

churchofchristThe New Testament is clear that the early church sang in their assemblies. And contemporary scholars struggle to determine why that is.

Beginning sometime in the 19th Century, historians of the early church once thought that the early church adopted the singing of hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs from the Jewish synagogue, but recent studies conclude to the contrary.

You see, the synagogues did later come to adopt singing as part of their Saturday practice, but every record from the time before the Romans destroyed the Temple makes no mention of singing in the synagogues. There are plenty of references to the synagogues as places of study, especially study of the Torah, and as places of prayer, but precious little evidence that singing was a part of their practice. Continue reading

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Out of Gas

out of gasI’m taking a few days off. Fighting a virus.

Not out of ideas — just don’t have the energy to write or comment daily.

See ya’ll in a few days.

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What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (Communion, Part 5)

churchofchristDenominations that only allow members of their own denomination (or certain approved denominations) to take communion with them practice what’s called “closed communion.”

Denominations that allow all other believers to take communion with them practice “open communion.”

As a rule, Christian denominations do not allow non-believers to take of communion. And most do not allow the unbaptized children of members to share in communion.

The Restoration Movement are somewhere in between open and closed, because they follow Alexander Campbell’s advice to neither “invite nor debar” visitors to or from communion. This is rather like Paul’s advice to the Corinthians not to ask whether meat they are offered has been sacrificed to an idol. Continue reading

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What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (Communion, Part 4)

churchofchristI want to focus on a phrase that is rarely discussed. It was said by Jesus at the institution of the Lord’s Supper but is not recorded in any of the Gospels, only in –

(1Co 11:25-26 ESV)  25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Jesus’ language could be taken as imagining the possibility that the meal might be taken other than in remembrance of him. Which certainly suits Paul’s point, but hardly would seem appropriate at the original institution of the meal.

Continue reading

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What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (Communion, Part 3)

churchofchristI need to add another thought from a book first published in 1916, written by a man born in Syria to explain the light shed on the Bible by Near East customs and culture –

It is also customary for a gracious host to request as a happy ending to the feast that the contents of one cup be drunk by the whole company as a seal of their friendship with one another. Each guest takes a sip and passes the cup to the one next to him until all have partaken of the “fruit of the vine.”

I have no doubt that it was after this custom that the disciples drank when Jesus “took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave to them: and they all drank of it.” Continue reading

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