Christianity 201

January 2, 2016

Give Attention to Reading

 
1 Timothy 4:13
 
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (ESV)
 
Until I get there, concentrate on reading Scripture in worship, giving encouraging messages, and teaching people. (GW)
 
Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. (NLT)
 
Till I come, give heed to the reading, to the exhortation, to the teaching; (YLT) BIble

I didn’t know where this verse would take me today, but it led me to a longer excerpt from the IVP Bible Commentary, as found at BibleGateway.com that discusses the apparent differences between preaching and teaching.

First however is the matter of reading. In context, the idea of public reading of scripture fits, but wasn’t part of the KJV text used for many centuries. Clearly, to be able to exhort and to teach, one would need to begin with a personal study of scripture, but we also need to look at this in the light of the eliminating of the public scripture reading in many modern churches. Yes, I know that now we have the scripture texts on a giant screen for closer inspection, and don’t even ask my opinion about the ping-pong style of what were called responsive readings. Still, I think this is an area where the modern Evangelical church loses out to the liturgical churches, with their inclusion of an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a Gospel reading, an Epistle, or some combination of those.

My original intention here was simply to focus on the importance of personal reading as we start a new year. (Admittedly, the verse was a bit of a proof-text when I first selected it.) But then my study took me into so many other areas. Here is the aforementioned commentary:

First, he urges consistent practice of the public reading of Scripture (v. 13). This is by no means an innovation; it was already part of Christian worship, having been adopted naturally from Jewish synagogue worship (Lk 4:16; Acts 15:21; 2 Cor 3:14). Its import lies in the way it centers attention on God, who, communicating with his people, initiates and sustains a covenant relationship. Practically, the reading of the lesson also prepares the people for the exposition and application of Scripture.
Then the writer goes on however to deal with the other two elements of the verse, and there was so much good here I could not leave it aside:

[P]roper Christian worship will include preaching. The term used here could mean exhortation, encouragement, comfort or an appeal, and it is linked to the Scriptures in Romans 15:4 and Hebrews 12:5. Romans 12:8 reveals that preaching is a Spirit-directed activity (that is, a charisma) of communicating God’s message to the people (compare 1 Cor 12:8). The starting point is the conviction that Scripture is always relevant to God’s people (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Teaching is the third activity to be consistently practiced in the worship assembly. As with preaching, a special gift is associated with this activity (Rom 12:7).

But how do these two activities differ? Passages such as this one and 1 Timothy 5:17 and Romans 12:7-8 (see also 1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11) seem to make a distinction between preaching and teaching, though the Greek terms may vary. But the precise distinction is difficult to pin down. The term used here for preaching (paraklesis) refers to appeals made to believers (Rom 15:4; Heb 13:22) and unbelievers (see 2 Cor 5:20). Teaching, however, is usually linked to the church. Knight may be correct to see the distinction in terms of purpose, preaching being the call to respond to God’s Word (which would fit an audience of believers or unbelievers), teaching being the more intellectually oriented communication of Scripture’s principles (1992:208).

It may be also that the two activities differed in style and tone of delivery. But distinctions based on content (for example, limiting teaching to Christian ethics and preaching to theology) do not seem to be in mind (see Tit 2:10-14). Yet often the two activities must have overlapped considerably: it is hard to imagine teaching without leading the people to response, or preaching without providing a reasoned exposition of a text’s principles. Nevertheless, as long as we make room for overlap and avoid distinctions that are too rigid, it seems safe to think of preaching and teaching as two applications of God’s Word in the church: (1) the call to response, whether that entails confession, receiving God’s encouragement or appropriating his promise, and (2) the building of a solid foundation for living through the systematic teaching of biblical principles that coherently and practically express God’s will.

Certainly a worship service includes a good deal more than these three activities, especially elements that are response-oriented: prayer, the singing of hymns, testimony and practical ministering of one to another, observance of the Lord’s Supper. Paul was here correcting tendencies introduced by the enthusiasts, and he focuses on the primary tasks of the minister. God’s Word, through its reading, preaching and teaching, initiates and sustains spiritual life, and its place in Christian worship is central. Without it there can be no effective ministry.


July 29, 2015

Figures of Speech in the Bible

Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long.
 -Psalm 119:97 NLT

Consider how I love your precepts! Give me life according to your steadfast love.
-Psalm 199:159 ESV

Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!
 -Matthew 11:15 NLT

 

This is taken from the website ThinkTheology.org which I strongly recommend bookmarking in your computer. You can begin by clicking the title link for this article below. If you do, you’ll also find links in the introduction to other parts of a series, of which this is just a small part.

Figures of Speech In The Bible

Time to take a “Cat nap”. I had to “bite my tongue”. He was “putting all his eggs in one basket”. I was “falling in love”. Time for me to “hit the books”. These are all examples of idiom or figures of speech. What is an idiom? One dictionary defines an idiom like this. “an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own” I like this definition. It really captures the importance of understanding cultural context when seeking to understand an idiom. Did you know that the Bible is full of idioms? In other words the Bible is full of sayings or expressions that cannot be understood in and of themselves because they have a separate meaning of their own. In the book of Job chapter 19, verse 20 we can find a wonderful ancient Hebrew idiom preserved for us from the oldest book in the Bible. “I have been reduced to skin and bones and have escaped death by the skin of my teeth.” Job 19:20

The phrase from Job “By the skin of my teeth” does not mean that teeth have skin. The phrase can only be understood as a figure of speech. A person cannot find its meaning via literal interpretation. It wouldn’t make sense. In order to find the literal meaning of a figure of speech you need to unpack the figurative non-literal meaning of the language being used. Screenshot 2015-07-27 13.16.54

First: There are figures of speech that leave out the meaning or important words. These figures of speech affect grammar or sentence structure.
Here is an example: Matthew 11:18, “For John came neither eating nor drinking.” What does this mean literally? We know John had to eat and drink but this is pointing out that John turned down invitations to have meals with others. Because it didn’t contribute to his purpose.

Second: There are figures of speech that add (rather than leave out). Words or meaning is inserted.

Here is an example: Note the duplication in John 1:51? “Verily, verily I say unto you…” What does it mean literally?: This repetition places emphases on a word for effect by duplicating it. The New International Version of the Bible translates John 1:51 in this way “I tell you the truth”. It would be like saying the popular phrase “I guarantee it”.

Here are some other examples of figures of speech that add words for effect. This list is by no means exhaustive.

  • Repeating words at the beginning of sequential sentences. Matthew 5:3-11, “Blessed are the poor…Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the meek…”.
  • Repatative use of the word and for effect. Example: Acts 1:8, “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”.
  • Repetitive use of the words neither or nor for effect. Example: Romans 8:38 and 39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God”.
  • Repetitive use of the same word or phrase at the end of a sentence. Example: “O Israel, trust the Lord! He is your helper and your shield. O priests, descendants of Aaron, trust the Lord! He is your helper and your shield. All you who fear the Lord, trust the Lord! He is your helper and your shield.” Psalm 115:9–11.
  • Bookending a sentence with the same word. Example: Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again, rejoice.”.
  • Repetition of the same word in various forms in the same passage. Examples:““There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’” John 16:12–15, Ephesians 6:18, “Praying always with all prayer…” Revelation 17:6, “I wondered with great wonder”.
  • The use of exaggeration. Example: 2 Samuel 1:23, “Saul and Jonathan…they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.”

Third there are figures of speech that change meaning or words.

  • Sometimes the noun is changed. Example: Proverbs 10:20, “The tongue (what they say) of the righteous is choice silver.” Matthew 6:21, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart (what you think and feel) be also.”;
  • Sometimes the idea (not meaning of a word) of a word can be exchanged for another related idea. Example: Mark 16:15 “Preach the gospel to every creature (humans).” Philippians 3:19, “Their god is their stomach (they are their own god)…”;
  • Sometimes something unpleasant or crude can be changed to something pleasant. Genesis 15:15, “You, however, will go to your fathers (you will die) in peace…” John 11:11, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep (he is dead)…” One very famous, provocative and controversial euphemism is found in Ruth 3:7-9, “And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet (some scholars believe this is another way of saying she uncovered his sexual organs) and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings (consummate our marriage Ezekiel 16:8) over your servant, for you are a redeemer.””

There are so many figures of speech in Scripture! Here are some more for you to explore.

 

November 10, 2014

Bible is Open for Enspection

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
 ~Joshua 1:8 NIV

But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.
 ~Psalm 1:2 NASB

Often we tend to rush through the Bible like we’re in one of those free shopping sprees at the supermarket; trying to cover as much ground as possible in a short time; trying to stuff as many things as we can in our ‘cart.’ In the West, we place a huge value on information, accessing it, and then either digesting it, or in a manner that well describes our educational system, spitting it out in order to complete a Bible study objective or complete a reference form for Christian service with an organization.

But that’s not how the First Century Christians understood the scripture. Most of them probably didn’t have a copy of a scripture scroll at home, either; yet they understood the ways of God, the narratives, the truths, etc., in ways I think would amaze us who are so dependent on the Bible access we have through multiple copies at home, online services, and our smart phones.

The verse numbers probably don’t serve us well, either. We have relegated God’s Word to information bits.  As I wrote a few days ago at Thinking Out Loud, the number system can easily shift the emphasis or separate certain words from their context.

Texas Pastor B. J. Routledge is no stranger to us here at Christianity 201. Each week he blogs his key sermon texts to his church several days ahead, and then directs them to use the acronym ENSPEC to inspect the text!

E – Is there an EXAMPLE for me to follow?

N – Is there a NEW THOUGHT for me to consider about God?

S – Is there a SIN for me to confess and turn from?

P – Is there a PROMISE for me to claim?

E – Is there an ERROR for me to avoid?

C – Is there a COMMAND for me to obey?

His version of choice is the NASB, but he writes,

…I got so accustomed to reading the NASB, that years later I found myself skimming the Scripture at times because I’d read it so many times in that translation. Skimming the Scripture is never a wise choice.

I still default to the NASB, but I made a choice years ago to read the Scripture in a different translation every few years in my time alone with God.  This one choice has given new energy to my time in God’s Word because I have to SLOW DOWN as I read and really contemplate the passage again.  So, if you find yourself skimming the Scripture, intentionally slow down which may mean considering the idea of reading a different translation occasionally.

I am told that in ancient times, the Jews regarded Torah in the same way one would study a fine jewel. Imagine holding a valuable diamond in your hand — picture one perhaps slightly larger than usual — and turning it this way and that so that it reflects and refracts the light differently each time. Each slight turn brings new aspects and presents something not visible before.

In the past few years, we’ve seen people suggest different ways of slowing down for that study. Inductive Bible Study (see also below) is a method whereby you take time to use a series of markings to force yourself into a deep consideration of each word and phrase in a passage and how they relate to other words used in the translation of the same text.  Lectio Divina is a contemplative reading method that involves repetition of certain textual elements. Another is Gospel Contemplation or Ignatian (after Ignatius) Contemplation (see below for excerpt). Unfortunately, if people are not familiar with these methods, they are often viewed with suspicion.

At this point, it’s possible I’ve gone a bit further than Pastor Rutledge may have imagined, but I hope that this at least opens up your mind to other possibilities in your study of scripture.

I wanted to wrap up with one more Bible verse on the subject of needing to slow down, so I asked my wife for a suggestion. She responded, “I don’t know that hurry was a First Century sin; it’s one we’ve invented since.”


 

Inductive Bible Study


(from the last link above)

In order to grow in this faith knowledge, Ignatius invited the retreatant to engage in a prayer method called contemplation. This is not some kind of mystical prayer but a prayer form in which one uses his or her senses in an imaginative way to reflect on a Gospel passage. One uses the senses, seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling to make the Gospel scene real and alive.

Here is a way of engaging in this prayer form which is relaxing and rather easy.

  1. Select a passage from one of the Gospels in which Jesus is interacting with others.
  2. Recall what one is doing in engaging with the Word of God and what one desires from this encounter. God is present and because God is present one relies on God.
  3. Read the Gospel passage twice so that the story and the details of the story become familiar.
  4. Close one’s eyes and reconstruct the scene in one’s imagination. See what is going on and watch the men and women in the scene. What does Jesus look like? How do the others react to him? What are the people saying to one another? What emotions fill their words? Is Jesus touching someone? As one enters into the scene, sometimes there is the desire to be there. So a person can place oneself in the scene, perhaps as an observer, as one lining up for healing, or as one helping others to Jesus.
  5. Some people’s imaginations are very active so they construct a movie-like scenario with a Gospel passage. Others will enter the scene with verbal imagination, reflecting on the scene and mulling over the actions. Vividness is not a criteria for the effectiveness of this kind of prayer. Engagement is and the result is a more interior knowledge of Jesus.
  6. As one finishes this time of prayer, one should take a moment to speak person to person with Christ saying what comes from the heart.

From Finding God in All Things: A Marquette Prayer Book © 2009 Marquette University Press. Used with permission.

 


 

 

 

September 15, 2013

His Word: Our Sustenance

CEB Ps. 119:11 I keep your word close, in my heart,
so that I won’t sin against you.


NCV Ps. 5:3 Lord, every morning you hear my voice.
Every morning, I tell you what I need,
and I wait for your answer. (emphasis added)


NIV Ex. 16:4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.

17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.

19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”

20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.


NLT Luke 11:3 Give us each day the food we need

Despite the fact I prepare these readings each day, I am also acutely aware of my need to find something that constitutes my own feeding from God’s word; and although I spend most of the entire day immersed in the consideration of Christian resources and doctrinal matters, I am becoming increasingly aware of the times I have omitted to include some personal time in God’s word.

Daily BreadThe graphic at right turned up this week on the Facebook page of a local church. It reminded me of an earlier time in my life when I would run to the Bible in the face of crisis. I remember one time when our family learned of the sudden, untimely death of the daughter of a family friend. As my parents drove to offer them some comfort, I found myself alone basically choking down chapter after chapter of my Bible, trying to find some meaning or peace in the face of tragedy.

But you can’t successfully negotiate a book with which you have little familiarity.

The other type of sporadic Bible readers are those who only turn to the book on Sundays. I was thinking of this today when I looked down at my Bible and realized that if anyone asked, I only use this Bible at church. But the reason is that I have at least a dozen other Bibles which I use during the week, but I only take this one  to church because it has larger print and I can read it without glasses. (My vanity Bible, I guess!) However, it gave me some insight into what it must be like for people who don’t touch a Bible during the week, or worse, people who only read from a Bible at Easter or Christmas. 

This is why I feel it’s appropriate to consider Bible reading as an application of the story of the manna in the wilderness.  In light of verse 20, I was tempted to title this, “When God’s word starts to stink.” But as offensive as that might have been to some readers, it does express what happens if we try to live on yesterday’s input from God. The Word is powerful, and will show itself to be real to you over and over again, but you need a fresh word for each day.

…The above quotation from Psalm 5 reminds us that hearing from God is one half of the ongoing conversation we are encouraged to have. Prayer and Bible reading go hand-in-hand. Here I have to be brutally honest; I spend more than a passing measure of time each day in prayer, and I endeavor to spend more than a token amount of time reading the Bible each day, but in truth, the two disciplines are rather separated. I confess that my Bible reading time and my prayer time are not integrated, and even as I write this, I realize this is a deficiency on my part.

One of the best writers in this area of spiritual disciplines is Richard Foster. On a Wikipedia page about him, someone has identified these practices as:

inward disciplines of

  • prayer,
  • fasting,
  • meditation, and
  • study in the Christian life;

the outward disciplines of

  • simplicity,
  • solitude,
  • submission, and
  • service;

and the corporate disciplines of

  • confession,
  • worship,
  • guidance, and
  • celebration

Today we’ve looked at the inward disciplines, but I believe they are foundational, and there is a reason why the list appears in this order.

Questions:

  1. Do you feel the time you spend overall in prayer is adequate?
  2. Do you feel the time you spend in prayer is consistent on a daily basis?
  3. Do you feel the time you spend overall reading your Bible is adequate?
  4. Do you feel the time you spend reading your Bible is consistent on a daily basis?
  5. Is your prayer time and your Bible time integrated or are they somewhat divorced from each other?

January 18, 2013

Avoiding a Spiritual Heart Attack

Today’s post is from Kelsey Wilson, a contributor to Jeff Jones’ blog, where this appeared in December. As always, you’re encouraged to read this at source, and check out the rest of the blog.

“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23 NKJV


What happens to you when you hear that a close friend has had a heart attack? More than likely, you are concerned and hope that your friend has been spared of any major heart damage. Because, we all know the physical struggles that a person must go through when their heart’s been damaged.

The best way for us to avoid a heart attack, and subsequent heart damage, is by doing our best to keep our hearts healthy through a healthy lifestyle and healthy choices. Today’s text is not speaking of our natural hearts– but of our spiritual hearts. It speaks of the importance of being intentional to “keep,” or really “guard,” our spiritual hearts the same way that we do our natural ones.

Why is that so important? Well, it tells us right here in the text– “…for out of it (our hearts) springs the issues of life.” The New Living Translation says it this way, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”

I want to share with your three ways to keep your spiritual heart healthy:

(1) Eat Right

Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, “…Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (NKJV) In the same way that we can’t eat junk food all the time and expect to stay healthy, we need to always be feeding on the pure and healthy Word of God.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t read other things, but just think of those other things as snacks, or a dessert, but our main course should always be the Bible.

“Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.”  Jeremiah 15:16, NKJV

A daily diet of God’s word brings us spiritual strength and helps us to maintain a spiritually healthy heart.

(2) Be Forgiving

Nothing brings on a heart attack and ultimately heart damage faster than unforgiveness. People can mess with us, so we really need to diligently guard our hearts from unforgiveness. While we can’t stop people from saying things or doing things that hurt us, we can protect our hearts from it.

Jesus said in Matthew 11:25,  “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive them, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (NKJV)

So make it a point to be forgiving– forgive quickly, and forgive often. If someone hurts you or offends you, loose them and let them go. Your heart will be thankful that you did.

(3) Exercise Through Worship

We all know the importance of exercise. Some of us are great at it, others— and you know who you are– are not so great at it. But again, just like we need physical exercise, we need to spiritually exercise on a regular basis. One of the best ways to engage our hearts with the Lord is through times of daily worship.

“So I will sing praise to Your name forever, That I may daily perform my vows.” Psalm 61:8, NKJV

This is just another reminder that every day is a good day to worship God through song. It’s a great way to keep your heart healthy.

Jesus said in Matthew 22:37, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” (NKJV)

So let’s make today a heart healthy day, by reading God’s Word, being quick to forgive, and experiencing a bit of worship throughout the day.

Say It: “God I thank You for a strong and healthy heart. Today I will do what it takes to keep my heart in good shape, I will read Your Word, I will be quick forgive when others wrong me, and I will worship You with my whole heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen!”

October 16, 2012

When Bible Verses are Coupled

I have to confess that I’ve always read this verse:

1 Peter 3:15
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect

In the light of this verse:

Luke 12:11-12
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

But then on the weekend I was reading the former verse and realized I was reading it as “always be ready,” when in fact it is saying, “always be prepared.” These verses may find themselves coupled into the same sermon — and rightly so — but they are dealing with two very different things.

Being prepared requires preparation.

As someone who has spent the majority of his time in an Evangelical environment, I know that sometimes we tend to “wing it.” Some Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics even abhor the idea of printed prayers or scripted sermons.

Make no mistake, there is a time for that. The second passage indicates that when you are suddenly thrust into the spotlight; when you suddenly find yourself defending your faith; in those times you have to lean on the Holy Spirit for supernatural help.

This happens to me in my particular ministry. People arrive without warning and I am suddenly in the middle of a conversation that I had no forewarning about even thirty seconds previous. At those times I have to breathe a quick, silent prayer, “Holy Spirit help me.”

Actually that’s the short version. The long version is, “Holy Spirit help me to say only what you want said, and not to say anything that is of me. Help me not to get in the way and screw things up!”

But even those situations are grounded in preparation that has taken place before. It involves study, for sure; but that study will be motivated by a passion for the subject matter at hand; a passion for the unknown, potential person with whom you might share any given insight.

That passion is often missing among Christ-followers. In our town, we’re currently having a series of five “discussions” with the atheist and agnostic community. Several of them have come, and there are many people there from the organizing committee and what you might call the host church (even though they’re using a public space). But there are entire churches not represented at all; and without being too judgmental, it disturbs me that there isn’t one person in those churches who would turn up out of passion for apologetics.

I can’t finish unpacking the I Peter passage however without underlining that it says, “do this with gentleness and respect.” I think of some of the people who gain much U.S. media attention who have missed this whole aspect of witness. You have to display a loving kindness and a respect toward the people you want to reach. It’s not about winning an argument, and even if it were, nobody wins a debate based on the volume of their words.

In this case, it’s more about the gentleness of their spirit.

~PW

March 1, 2012

Early Church Snapshot

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42 NASB)

The mantra that “we’ve always done it this way before” applies to more than just local church situations; it also applies to “church” as a whole. We who “do” church think we know how to do it, and that our version of it is consistent with how the capital-C Church has met together for 2000+ years.  But as this post at the blog Not For Itching Ears reminds us, it ain’t necessarily so.

Read what Jim Greer says here, and if you’re interested in knowing how this might play out in practical ways in a church that’s open to change, be sure to read a comment response from Jim.  Here’s the link to the original post, titled: What Did a Church Service Consist of in 150 A.D.?

In the movie “Back To The Future”, 17 year old, Marty McFly, lives a lousy life. His dad, George, a nerdy scaredy cat, and his mom, Lorraine, is an alcoholic, who met George through pity, when her dad hit George with a car. All he has ever known is this reality. The only thing that he can do for fun, is hang out with the local scientist, Dr. Emmit Brown (Doc) who has created a time machine. You know the story. Marty goes back in time and changes how his parents meet. In the process everything that was wrong with his life and family is dramatically changed for the good.

When I contemplate the current state of the American Evangelical church, I wish we could get into that Delorean and head back in time. If we could, perhaps we would be able to intervene at just the right moment so that today’s church reflected God’s design rather than our own. We can not time travel back to the first century, but we can read their documents to see how they understood “Church.” It is good to look at history to observe how things “were”. We often look at how things “are” and assume that’s this is the way things are supposed to “be”…

What was a Christian worship service like in the early church? We have a very good description of a normal worship gathering in the writings of Justin Martyr. The following description was written around 160 AD, less than 70 years after the death John, the last apostle. This description is about one generation away from the actual writing of the New Testament. We, in the 21st century, are almost 2000 years farther away from the New Testament than they were.

“On the day called Sunday there is a meeting of all believers who live in the town or the country, and the memoirs of the apostles, or the writings of the prophets, are read for as long as time will permit. When the reader has finished, the president in a sermon urges and invites the people to base their lives on these noble things. Then we all stand up and offer prayers. When our prayer is concluded, bread and wine and water are brought; and the president offers up prayers and thanksgiving to the best of his ability, and the people assent with Amen.
 
Then follows the distribution of the things over which thanks have been offered, and the partaking of them by all, and the deacons take them to those who are absent. And those who are prosperous, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.
 
We hold our common assembly on Sunday because it is the first day, on which God put to flight darkness and chaos and made the world; and on the same day, Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead.” Apology 1.67

From this account, we learn that the main elements of the “worship service” in the early church were:

1) the extended reading of Scripture
2) a sermon based upon the reading and a challenge to shape ones life by these things
3) extended prayer
4) communion and
5) giving for the needy among the church.

Now let us compare this with today’s modern service and see what the differences are, shall we?

First we sing for a long time. Very little scripture is read. There are announcements. There is a sermon. A short prayer is usually offered somewhere by a leader. An offering is always taken, but it is to pay for the building expenses and all the staff, not for fellow believers in need. Then we sing some more. Of course, I am generalizing. But this does seem to be the pattern I have witnessed in the past two years of visiting different church fellowships.

Do you notice what I notice? Communion held a remarkably high place in the early church. The local churches celebrated it every Sunday and it formed a big part of their service. You barely even find it in today’s church service. Singing, which for many modern believers is such an important element of corporate worship is not even mentioned here. We do know that the early church sang, but it was not such a big deal. In my view, it looks like we have replaced communion, prayer and the public reading of scripture with extended singing. Could this be one of the reasons the church has become so anemic?

It is always difficult for people to see the fallacy of what they are doing when they are steeped in the middle of it. It is hard to ask ourselves the question “are we doing this thing right?” It is easier to just keep things the way they are.

Marty McFly, couldn’t see what his life could be, because he was overwhelmed with how things “were”. Perhaps we can get in that Delorean and go back and makes things right. Who knows?

For more on this topic read our post titled “Whatever Happened To The Message of the Cross?”

~Jim Greer

November 19, 2011

N. T. Wright on Enjoying the Bible

Thanks to blogger and friend Jon Rising for getting me on to a N. T. Wright video binge today.   Check out Jon’s posting of a recent piece, A Parable About a Parable, especially if you don’t have time for what follows.  Today’s piece is a 30-minute television program produced at Calvin College in Grand Rapids.

February 12, 2011

Devotional Interpretation

I often get asked about the two dominant study Bibles on the market, The NIV Study Bible (also reprinted in NASB, KJV and TNIV) and The NLT Life Application Bible (also reprinted in NIV, NKJV and NASB).  It’s an over-simplification on my part, but I usually fall back on this line:

“The NIV Study takes us in to Bible times and shows us some of the background of the text in its context; whereas the Life Application notes brings the Bible into our time and explains the revelance of the text to our lives today.”

Of course, the individual study notes in both number in the thousands, and shouldn’t be reduced to this generalization, but it works to some degree.  Another generation would be to say the Life Application notes are more devotional in nature.

Back in June 2010, Darrell Buchanan wrote a blog piece he called Devotional Interpretation; two words I had never mentally combined before…

I recently came across John Goldingay’s explanation of “Devotional Interpretation” in a section of his larger entry on “Hermeneutics” in the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (InterVarsity Press: 2003).

Specifically focusing on the Pentateuch, Goldingay says devotional interpretation is interested in the significance of a text “for people’s personal lives, especially their personal relationship with God” (390). This is a big reason why so many with good intentions to read through the Bible make it through Genesis and Exodus but usually give up when they reach the middle of Leviticus!

What a devotional reading forgets is that the focus of much (most?) of the Bible is on the community – Israel in the OT and the church in the NT.  Or, as Goldingay puts it: “[T]he Pentateuch instinctively thinks corporately, as modern readers do not. It thus has the potential to rescue devotional reading from some of its individualism” (391).

The Christian Faith Institute blog seems to take a very un-charitable view of devotional interpretation at first glance, though I suspect their concern is when it waters down preaching, which requires study at greater depth.

…A common practice is to interpret scripture “devotionally” or “privately”. By “devotional interpretation” we mean reading the scripture assuming what it means to us personally, without taking the trouble to see if that is the intended meaning of the passage. Devotional study is a positive practice, but the casual use of it is what we are referring to here. Devotion to God must be based on what God actually says…

…The first step in applying the scripture is to understand what it meant to the generation when it was written. Scripture does not mean what we think it means, because we feel that God has spoken to us from it in a particular way. The scripture means what it meant to the generation it was addressed to.

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke, as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet 1:20-21).

“Private interpretation” means we interpret the Bible personally, without first finding out what it means contextually (in its own context). The meaning of prophetic scripture is not arbitrary, according to our view, but it is according to what the Holy Sprit originally said…

F. E. Stoffler (as cited by E. J. Swensson) provides some historical background:

Later [Pietism] was opposed to the Enlightenment attempt to reduce Christian commitment to the acceptance of a few propositions held to be rationally demonstrable…Pietists strove to restore to Protestantism a theology based on a commonsense, untortured, more-or-less literal, and basically devotional interpretation of the Bible.

I’ve stated here already that the Jewish mindset was that the scriptures were like a diamond; and just as a diamond refracts the light differently when held at different angles to both the light source and the human eye; so also are the various ways that the scripture can be interpreted.   Therefore, I believe that the ‘face value’ of a text may be valid for some, while the historical context interpretation may serve others better.  But I do not risk suggesting that the one is better than the other.

December 26, 2010

Five Reasons to Read the Bible

  1. For the truth about God. The world gives us a multiplicity of meanings as to who God is and what He is all about.   The Bible gives us a proper standard for truth by which to test everything else we hear or read.  For the LORD gives wisdom;  from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path.  (Proverbs 2: 6, 9 NIV 2011)
  2. To keep our thoughts focused. Living in the world, we think worldly things.   That can cut off our focus on God and our communication with him.   It’s a tug of war.   God’s word will draw us to Him even as the world tries to draw us away.   Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2 NLT)
  3. Because we need direction. Just as our thoughts can be drawn away from God so our will and decision making can be drawn away from His best.   Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.  (II Tim 3: 16, 17 The Message)
  4. As an act of obedience. If we love God, we will want to do the things that please Him.   He should keep it with him all the time and read from it every day of his life. Then he will learn to respect the Lord his God, and he will obey all the teachings and commands.  (Deut 17: 19 NCV)
  5. As a weapon of our spiritual warfare. The Bible is described as the “sword of the Spirit.”   It can be used against the ideas that Satan confronts us with through others, or simply puts into our minds.   Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'”  (Matt 4:10 ESV)