Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Covenants, old and new, Abrahamic and Mosaic and Christian

  • Jeremiah refers to two covenants:
    • an old one which YHWH made with the ancestors of the houses of Israel and Judah when he took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt
    • a new one which was to be different than that old one
  • Luke 1:72-73 refers to the covenant made via oath sworn to Abraham
  • Hebrews 8 specifies:
    • that the old covenant mentioned by Jeremiah is aging and about to disappear
    • that the new, better, covenant, promised in Jeremiah, is mediated by Jesus, and it delivers the promise of eternal inheritance, and a death to provide redemption of transgressions committed under the old covenant
  • Gal 3 mentions the covenant of Abraham (the same one mentioned in Luke 1), saying that it was not set aside by the coming of the temporary covenant which came 430 years later (referred to in Jeremiah as the "old covenant"), and that the old covenant was "until the Seed came". Now that Jesus has come, that old covenant is no more, and the original Abrahamic covenant is inherited by those who, like Abraham, have faith (that is, those who "belong to Christ").


  • the "old covenant" refers only to the Law of Moses, and not to earlier covenants such as that with Abraham, Noah, or Adam, or to later covenants, such as that with David.
  • the "old covenant" has passed away now with the coming of Christ.
  • the "new covenant" replaces the old.
  • the "new covenant" is a continuation of the Abrahamic covenant.
  • the "new covenant" is a fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise that all nations (not just Jews) would be blessed through the Seed. In fact, this is a definition for the term "gospel" according to Gal 3:8.
  • unlike the old covenant which consisted of regulations for ministry, written in stone (Heb 9:1; 2 Cor 3:3,7), the "different" new covenant:
    • is one of the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law (2 Cor 3:6), and
    • does not consist of regulations (Col 2:20ff), but consists of "knowing God" in the heart (Jer 31:33-34).
    • Mature adults don't need "law":
      • mature adults choose to do "the right thing" regardless of written regulations
      • Jesus taught this principle, that heart-condition matters more than law-keeping:
        • in the specifics of adultery in the heart (intention) vs actual law-breaking action (Matt 5:28).
        • in his admonition to the Pharisees to administer justice and mercy and faithfulness rather then fussing over the details of tithing (Matt 23:23).
        • in his admonition to the Pharisees to "clean the inside of the cup", rather than to look shiny on the outside while being full of greed and self-indulgence on the inside (Matt 23:24-25).
      • "Law" was to get us to a state of maturity (Gal 3:24).
      • As a child, you needed a law to keep you from stepping out into the street; as an adult, you no longer need that letter of the law to keep you from getting run over, as you are mature enough now to keep the spirit of the law, which is to "be careful when crossing the street".
    • It is this heart-condition vs law-keeping-condition:
      • which justified Abraham by faith, prior to action (Rom 4:10), and
      • which God saw in Cornelius' group, leading him to cleanse their hearts prior to immersion (Acts 15:8), and
      • which allowed Jesus to define adultery, murder, greed, etc as a heart-condition rather than as an action, and
      • which makes the new covenant different from the old.
    • But with that freedom which comes with maturity comes a greater responsibility to honor the spirit of the law, and he who insults/outrages/spites the Spirit of grace will receive worse punishment than he who merely breaks the letter of the law (Heb 10:29).
Originally published at:

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Jigsaw-Puzzle Theology

I was recently reading an article and came across this statement:
Only by gathering everything the New Testament says on a subject and logically fitting it all together can one arrive at the truth.
This is a perfect description of what I have in recent years called "jigsaw puzzle theology".

We're well-aware that the New Covenant is "not like" the Old (Jer 31:31), with its lists of rules clearly written in stone for all to see.

The problem is that we think the difference is that now we have *different* rules, which are not clearly listed for all to see, but are a hidden treasure, scattered throughout the last 27 books of the Bible, findable only by those who hunt hard enough, who have the right way of thinking, who have been properly trained in the nuances of distinguishing which examples are binding and which are not, which commands are binding and which were simply culture-related and not binding today, who are as smart and as sincere and as diligent as we are.

In the Old Covenant, God was clear and specific about the rules; in the New, God expects us to be jigsaw puzzle masters or to burn forever in torment.

I don't believe that's what Jesus meant when he said, "Come unto me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light".

Originally published at:

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Bible is Red! No, it's Blue!

What I've come to understand in the past few years is that very few things in the New Testament which are issues for us are "clear", including the necessity or not of baptism.

Imagine a prism standing in the light, viewed by two different people who know nothing of prisms. The person standing to one side would insist that "it's clear that the prism is blue!", while the person standing on the other side would insist that "it's clear that the prism is red!". Thus it is with the Bible.

It's not that the Bible "contradicts" itself; it's that it lends itself easily to opposing things depending on one's perspective. We, in our fallible human mindsets, can't abide the notion that the Bible could be true in saying both A=B and A!=B, but I think the Bible is a bit more deeper than we are, and the prism analogy applies.

- We are saved by obedience; and we are saved by faith prior to obedience. Both are true.
- Jesus is the Father YHWH; Jesus is not the Father YHWH. Both are true.
- The physical cosmos will be renewed; the physical cosmos will be consumed in fire. Both are true.
- Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; Enoch, Elijah, and Jesus all took their flesh into heaven. Both are true.

Until we come to this understanding, we'll always be picking one side of any particular issue and declaring as heretics the proponents of the other side.

Originally published at:

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Meaning of "In the Name Of"

I've often heard that the phrase "in the name of" is equivalent to "by the authority of".

I would certainly agree that this is one of the meanings, but there are at least two others as well.

The second meaning is "in honor of". For example, if my grandmother dies of cancer, and I make a donation in her name to a group trying to cure cancer, that doesn't mean I've made a donation by her authority; it means I've made it in her honor. We see this type of usage in Romans 14, where Paul says if a person does X, he does X in honor of the Lord, and if he does Not-X, he does Not-X in honor of the Lord.

The third meaning is "as a representative of". If my wife sends me in her name to the PTA meeting to vote on several unspecified issues, that doesn't mean I have to call her on every issue and ask her how she wants me to vote; it means she wants me to vote as I know she would, because I know her. I believe this is the usage intended in Col 3:17 - a form of "WWJD" (What Would Jesus Do?). Act as if you're a representative of Jesus, as his ambassador; this is living in the name of Jesus.

Granted, in all of these meanings is the inherent understanding that what you're doing is in alignment with the desire of the person in whose name you're acting. So in a sense, they are all done "by the authority" of that person. But it doesn't mean you have to have specific authority for all your actions; God has given us free will and a mind and his spirit to know how to make good decisions that make him look good.

HCSB Col 3:17 [So] whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Originally published at:

Jesus Did Not Believe in the "Nadab And Abihu" Argument for Authority In Religious Matters

Many might get riled up by the suggestion that God didn't lay down specific plans/instructions for how we are to assemble. This is a huge leap for many of us who have been trained since childhood to "keep the pattern" (a la Heb 8:5). But even within the book of Acts we can see how the "pattern" changes over time and distance, with communism being the first way of life for Christians (Acts 4:32), but moving quickly to a model allowing for private-ownership of property (Acts 5:4); with new church roles/offices being "invented" as the need arises (Acts 6:1-6); with allowances being made for different worship practices by different groups (Acts 15:6-35).

So we need to question the idea that "Everything believed and practiced in religion must have divine authority behind it."

Jesus did not believe in this principle. Please bear with me; please don't be reactive without considering what the scriptures say about it. Here are three lines of evidence that Jesus did not believe in the "Nadab and Abihu" principle:

1) He pointed out the example of David eating the showbread (Matt 12:3-4), which was not "lawful" for David to eat. The point Jesus is making is that situational need takes precedence over red-tape law-keeping.

2) Jesus himself practiced things in religion without having divine authority behind it (Example 1): He attended synagogue. Yet synagogue was never commanded, never authorized. It just magically appears somewhere between the Old Testament and New, without any God-given authority, and yet Jesus accepts it and participates in it as a customary habit (Luke 4:16).

3) Jesus himself practiced things in religion without having divine authority behind it (Example 2): He drank a beverage, and ate bread-dip, at the Passover (Mark 14:20, 23), neither of which was authorized anywhere by God. The regulations were very specific about how to keep the Passover, and there was no mention of either beverages or bread-dips, and yet Jesus participates in his Passover worship with these unauthorized things as a part of it.

Originally published at:

Instrumental Music in the Early Church

There is no indication of musical instruments being used in the non-Jewish Christian assemblies during the first six centuries or so after the Resurrection. Therefore it seems to me that a modern-day assembly that worships without instruments more closely resembles the church we read about in the New Testament.

But lacking a specific command that explicitly forbids instrumental music (some misconstrue their inferred understandings as God's commands, but this inventing of commands which God has not explicitly made is a dangerous path, which Jesus condemns in Matt 15), one must consider that perhaps this lack of instrumental music is more an accident of history than an intentional design feature.

The "ekklesia" (the "called out ones", the body of Christ, the "church") had its earliest beginnings in the Jewish Temple and Jewish homes and the Jewish synagogues. In these early days, while they were still exclusively Jewish and still doing Jewish things, like meeting in the Temple, like they had done all their lives, they considered themselves as nothing more than Jewish people, the chosen of God, who had finally found the long-awaited Messiah. They weren't something "new"; they were simply Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah.

As Jews, these Christians:

  • still continued to worship in the Temple (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:12, 42; 22:17);
  • still thought they were to not associate with non-Jews (Acts 10);
  • still participated in Jewish rituals and sacrifices (Acts 21:24-26; 24:18);
  • still considered themselves as part of the Jewish sects, such as the Pharisees (Acts 15:5; 23:6);
  • still meticulously observed the Mosaic Law (Acts 15:5; 21:24);
  • still participated in the great Jewish feasts (Acts 20:16; 24:11).
These earliest Christians, being Jewish, and still worshiping in the Temple and participating in the worship on the great feast days, participated in worship wherein instrumental music was used.

I don't believe Peter went into the Temple and refused to worship while he was there because of the instrument; if that were the case, I think Luke would have mentioned it. And if he had, it surely would have caused a stir with his fellow Temple-goers, worthy of Luke's mention. It seems to me that Luke's silence on the issue is best explained as Peter simply having no qualms with being in a place of worship wherein instruments were being used.

The same could be said of Paul, who specifically says he "went up to worship in Jerusalem" (Acts 24:11) where his enemies found him, not stirring up trouble, but simply "ritually purified in the temple, without a crowd and without any uproar" (that is, worshiping, not evangelizing - Acts 24:18). It would seem that Paul simply had no qualms with worshiping in a place wherein musical instruments were being used.

By the time the focus moved away from Jerusalem and its Temple, the dominant meeting place was the synagogue, wherein instrumental music was unknown, not because God had forbidden it, but because it was the Jewish tradition from their days as exiles in Babylon, being too sad to play their music (cf Ps 137:1-4; it might also be noted that not only was it tradition to not use instrumental music in the synagogue meetings, the synagogue meeting itself was based on tradition, not on any authorization from God; and yet, Jesus supported this non-authorized tradition as his habit - Luke 4:16). It was this non-instrumental assembly that became the normative model for Christian assemblies by the end of the first century.

So yes, by the time we have any significant records of the habits of Christian assemblies (mostly from outside of the Bible, and mostly after the first century had passed, with only a few hints within the Bible), instrument music was not part of the assemblies, at least in what we might call the mainstream assemblies. But this seems to be more an accident of history than an intentional design from God.

Originally published at:

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Ethiopian Eunuch Knew About Baptism Prior to Philip's Teaching

Archaeology has revealed large "baptistries" ("mikveh") around the Temple; people who were entering the Temple would go down the steps on one side of these baths, into the water, immerse themselves as a purification ritual, and then come out up the steps on the other side so as to not mix the pure path with the unpure path (ex.,

The Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8 would have been witness to these Jewish baptisms all week long while he was in Jerusalem during Passover Week, wishing he could be baptized, sorrowful that he could not be part of God's community because of his status as an eunuch (Lev 21:18-20; Deut 23:1). Philip preached Jesus to him starting at Isaiah 53:7-8, and when they got three chapters further in (56:3ff), the Eunuch was excited that he might could now be part of God's community. When they came to some water, the eunuch's question was, "What's to keep me from being baptized?" And after he was baptized, he went on his way rejoicing that he could now be part of God's community.

Jesus had told the disciples that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, then in all Judea and Samaria, then to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:7). Luke shows this progression in his writing: conversion begins in Jerusalem, and includes the "Judean" (that is, full-blooded) Jews (Acts 2); then the half-Jews of Samaria (first half of Acts 8); then the disenfranchised, like eunuchs (second half of Acts 8); then the non-Jewish Gentiles who were favorable to the Jewish religion (Acts 10); then the somewhat-interested-in-Judaism Gentiles (Acts 13); then the pagans (Acts 14); more of the disenfranchised, like women and those working for the hated Roman government (Acts 16); then the snobbish elite heathen philosophers (Acts 17); then the king of the world himself and his worldly government (Acts 21-28). Luke is not trying to teach us that when Jesus is preached, baptism is part of that process (the eunuch was already familiar with baptism, albeit probably not the baptism of Jesus, which Philip would of necessity had to then explain, I'm confident); rather, he's developing his theme that those who were formerly excluded from the kingdom of God, such as the eunuch, are now welcome.

Originally published at:

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Why Don't Miracle-Workers Empty the Hospitals?

All my life I've heard the question, "If someone can heal the sick, why aren't they emptying the hospitals?", as an argument that healing must therefore not be happening today.

This is the same argument the inhabitants of Nazareth used against Jesus: "What
ever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’ (Luke 4:16ff).

But look at Jesus' reply (paraphrased): "Look at Elijah; he did a miracle for ONE widow, and she was far away, when there were many widows right at his back door step. And Elisha; he healed ONE leper, a foreigner at that, when there were lots of lepers right there at his door."

And then the people hearing Jesus got furious with him.

Jesus says this argument is invalid.

Miracles have always been few and far between; they just seem like a lot in the Bible because the Bible condenses the story and focuses it so that it looks to us like those old "Biblical days" were the "Age of Miracles". Regardless of the existence or lack thereof of true miracles today, the argument that our hospitals aren't emptied by miracle-workers is not a valid argument against them.

Originally published at:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Purpose of the Assembly

Many congregations have the misunderstanding that the assembly is primarily for the benefit of believers, not for unbelievers, and therefore orient their "service", particularly the sermon, to converting the unbeliever, making sure to offer an "Invitation" at the end of each sermon.

Yes, unbelievers may be in attendance, and may be converted as a result of the activities in the assembly (1 Cor 14:24-25), but Jesus said, "Go ye into all the world and make disciples," not "Go ye into all the church". The world is our mission field for converting unbelievers; the church is our place for building up & encouraging those who already believe (1 Cor 14:26b; Heb 10:25).

Originally published at:

The Crux of Christianity

Gal 6:2 Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

It doesn't matter that you're precisely on-time to your 9am Bible Class every Sunday morning; if you're not helping others in their daily struggles, you're not fulfilling the law of Christ.
James 2:8 Indeed, if you keep the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well.
It doesn't matter that you can recite the entire Bible from memory, and know the differences between the covenant of Noah and that of Abraham; if you have the resources to get your neighbor's lawn mode during Zero-Toleration Week when he can't, so he doesn't get a ticket for grass that's too high, you're not fulfilling the Royal Law.
James 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
It doesn't matter if you know all the correct doctrine, and break no rules of God, and meticulously keep the commands concerning worship and praise and church organization; if you're not making sure the widow woman has heat this winter and the orphan kids have shoes, you're not practicing pure and undefiled religion.
1 Cor 13:1 If I speak human or angelic languages but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
It doesn't matter if you have special miraculous capabilities, or extraordinary insight into Scripture, or a faith that drives to success, or even a self-sacrificing generosity; if it's not done out of love, it's no good.

The rich young ruler (Matt 19:16ff) had been a good kid all his life, keeping all the commands he knew to keep, but he still felt like maybe he wasn't good enough to be saved. Jesus told him that although he had kept all "the rules", that didn't matter; what mattered was having the right heart. The ruler wasn't willing to part with his big home and his fancy car and his fine art.

I recently saw a movie wherein the family of the main character had two vacation homes and spent no less than $10,000 per chair to redecorate the living room; this is the type of "rich young ruler" who doesn't see the family of five who's dad is working two jobs and who's mom is frantically trying to get the kids to school and to the dentist, who are struggling to pay the dentist, who are worried they won't be able to give the kids a decent Christmas or to be able to afford to let the kids go to Six Flags with the church group once a year.

The crux of Christianity is not about "keeping the rules"; it's about one-anotherness, "not looking to your own interests but to the interests of others" (Phil 2:4); helping those in need is the very reason for having a job (Eph 4:28).

Nothing wrong with "keeping the rules", particularly how we worship and what we teach in our assemblies; but we've tended to focus on that instead of the real fundamental of Christianity ("by this they will know you are my disciples, in that you love one another"- John 13:35). It's time we re-examine what we emphasize in our assemblies:
Heb 10: 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another....
Originally published at:

The "Law" of First-Century Christianity, Part 2

In Part 1, I said that "God did not give us a bunch of rules. But we have such a need to have them, like children, we find the rules anyway...".

A reader wondered if that doesn't make Christianity a "lawless Religion". Here's my response:

[Gal 3:24] So that the law has become our tutor to bring us to Christ....

The law of Moses has taught us the basic concepts of righteousness: don't murder; don't steal; don't lie; respect your parents; be humane to animals; bathe regularly; honor YHWH only as God, not this god or that goddess; keep sexually/maritally pure; bathe regularly; etc.

Concerning the "lawless"-ness of Christianity: the laws are "written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tablets of stone, but in tablets that are hearts of flesh" (2 Cor 3:3b).

I once served on a grand jury, and the District Attorney, in giving us instructions, told us that if we ever had a question or a doubt about the process, to "do the right thing". Our hearts, having been tutored all our lives by rules/regulations/guidance from our parents/peers, "know" what's right and wrong (in general), without having to resort to a list of specific rules/regulations.

But as concerns specific rules/regulations....

[Col 2:20] If you died with Christ from the elements of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to ordinances, [21] “Don’t handle, nor taste, nor touch”? ... [Gal 4:3] So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental principles of the world. ... [9] But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, why do you turn back again to the weak and miserable elemental principles, to which you desire to be in bondage all over again? [10] You observe days, months, seasons, and years. ... [5:1] Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and don’t be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. [13] For you, brothers, were called for freedom. Only don’t use your freedom for gain to the flesh, but through love be servants to one another. [14] For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” ... [Jam 2:8] However, if you fulfill the royal law, according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well. ... [Gal 6:2] Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. ... [Jam 1:27] Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Specifically in regard to the Lord's Supper, I'm saying that Biblically, it seems it was a supper (at night), and it was a full-blown meal, perhaps observed annually at first (it started out as a new twist on the yearly Passover), or perhaps daily as early as Acts 2, but traditionally, at least as early as the late 1st century (in the Didache, with hints of the transformation in 1 Cor 11:23-29), it seems to have been whittled down into a weekly early-morning nip-and-sip. Neither the frequency nor the methodology are specifically commanded; as someone else has often written, the core of the command is to remember Jesus "as often" as you do "this". The apostolic teaching/examples neither condemn nor demand the timing or the size of the meal.

And yes, that is uncomfortable. Like children who want to know the exact limits of the rules mommy and daddy have laid down, we test the "edge cases"; Can we do this? What about that? It's time to "no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; [15] but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ" (Eph 4:14-15, & read the rest of the chapter).

Originally published at:

The "Law" of First-Century Christianity, Part 1

In responding to someone who objected to my claim that "there is no command as to how exactly all Christians of all times are to observe the Lord's Supper", I wrote the following:

In the very earliest days, the church was steadfast in the apostles' teaching: they met daily in the Temple (big group) and in homes (small groups; each led by a shepherd?), they broke bread together daily, and they lived as communists, with no one claiming private ownership of property but contributing their stuff to the group for distribution as needed.

In later times and other places, the "steadfastness" abated somewhat, necessitating the writing of much of the New Testament as a corrective.

Along the way, the church changed as time passed:
  • it was originally composed of Jews only, who remained observant of the law of Moses, and later accepted non-Moses-observing non-Jews into the fold as a distinct sub-group (i.e. "denomination", which "seemed good" to the Holy Spirit and to the church leaders), to an even later change wherein observance of the law of Moses was rejected almost entirely, along with an overall rejection of Jews;
  • ownership of private property was re-established, leading to the need for fund-raising appeals/drives;
  • the organizational structure was modified, adding deacons;
  • the political structure was modified, moving from a centralized government in Jerusalem making decisions binding on the entire church to a distributed localized autonomy led by local elders;
  • the Lord's Suppers morphed from being a full-blown daily evening meal which fed the hungry into a simpler ritual of a nip-and-a-sip morning Lord's Brunch;
  • there was a move from a daily everyone-participates meeting where the focus was horizontally on one-another to a weekly passive sit&listen-to-a-lecture format which became focused vertically on "worship";
  • there was a shift from the Law of Christ being fulfilled by bearing one another's burdens to it being fulfilled by a system of doctrine & practices (which, by the way, isn't spelled out clearly like the Old Covenant system was, but must be "discovered" between the lines by using the correct hermeneutic);
  • there was a shift from being known as disciples because of their love for one another to being known as disciples because of correct doctrine and practices;
  • there was a shift from being filled with the spirit and fanning that flame, to a quenching of the spirit so that his activity is reduced to only the effects which are produced by words on paper.
Depending where along the time-line you take your snapshot of "the first-century church", you'll get different pictures.

It would have been much clearer if God had simply given us a list of rules to keep, the way he did in the old covenant, but he had promised that the new would not be like the old, with its rules written down on stone and papyrus, but one of relationship where God would be with us and we wouldn't need someone to teach us rules, one which Paul says we keep in spirit rather than by the letter of the law.

So keeping to his promise, God did not give us a bunch of rules. But we have such a need to have them, like children, we find the rules anyway by focusing on this example or that inference, and condemn anyone who discerns different rules than what we've found.

The fact remains that "there is no command as to how exactly all Christians of all times are to observe the Lord's Supper".

Go to Part 2

Originally published at:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dividing, or Not, Over Divisive Issues

It's inevitable that issues will arise over which two parties disagree. When this happens, I can think of only five possibilities to resolve the difference. For example, if half of your home church congregation believes hands should not be raised in the assembly, and the other half thinks it's a good thing, here are the five options:

1. One party persuades the other party of their position. For example, the hand-raising half convinces the non-hand-raising half that hand-raising in the assembly is Biblical (or vice-versa). Unity is retained.

2. One party submits to the other party, without being persuaded. For example, the hand-raising half continues believing it's a good thing, but refrains from raising hands in the assembly in order to remain in harmony with the non-hand-raising half. Unity is retained.

3. Both parties tolerate the disagreement without splitting up. Some raise their hands in the assembly, and some don't, recognizing that each servant is accountable to God, not to "me". Unity is retained.

4. The two parties split up for "irreconcilable differences", but amicably, retaining a "one-ness" in heart while not necessarily in mindset. A separate congregation is formed so that hands can be raised in one assembly but not the other, yet the two sister congregations otherwise retain full fellowship with one another. Unity is retained.

5. The two parties split up, and "divorce" one another, making the issue a "test of fellowship". Likely, at least one of the two halves declares the other "liberal" or "legalistic', and "apostate". Unity is lost.

"Unity" does not mean "uniformitarianism". A wife and a husband may disagree strongly with one issue or another, but that shouldn't break their basic unity. It's the same with Christian unity.

Originally published at:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Notes on the "Church of Christ"

1. "church" is probably not a particularly good word for translating what Jesus promised to build, "ekklesia", which is better translated as "community" or "assembly", or even better, "those called-out into an assembly" (which is admittedly somewhat unwieldy). The earliest translators of the Bible into English knew better than to translate the word as "church", but when King James gave his approval for an English translation, one of his 14 rules upon which he insisted was to keep the old Catholic words like "baptize" and "church", thereby keeping the baggage that goes along with those words.

The point is that Jesus didn't build an organization so much as he built an organism. It might seem like a minor thing, but the concept reaches far into how we perceive our mission.

2. The church of christ in Corinth had splintered into denominations. Paul said this shouldn't be, but even so, he considered these denominational members as saints, members of the church of God (1 Cor 1:2, 10ff).

3. The "church of God" is, as are many other terms, just as Biblical as "church of Christ".

4. In Acts 15:28, it "seemed good to the Holy Spirit" and to the church leaders and apostles, that the church be composed of two distinct groups, having different practices (one observed the law of Moses; one didn't). We see this same division elsewhere in the New Testament. Yet these two "denominations" were united as one body, united in spirit but not practice, nor even in name (e.g., "Circumcision" vs "Non-Circumcision). Even when one group sees a particular issue as sinful and the other group does not, the apostle instructs the "freer" group to sacrifice their freedom for the sake of the weaker group, without necessarily "believing the same things" (Rom 14). "Being of like mind" does not mean "believing exactly alike"; it means staying united despite having different ways of seeing things.

5. Any person properly converted is added by the Lord to his ekklesia. Even if that person mistakenly believes himself to be an Apollosite or a Baptist, he's still a member of the church of Jesus Christ, just one who is in error, like those Corinthian Christians. (But then, who of us is not in error in some unknown way, at some point in our walk with Christ?) Such a person should heed the call to come out of those man-made organizations, to be in nothing more than the called-out assembly of Christ.

Originally published at:

Sunday, August 03, 2014

The "Worship Assembly" is Foreign to the New Testament

The concept of a "worship assembly" is foreign to the New Testament.

The assembly in Heb 10:25 is an "irritate one another to love and good works" assembly (v. 24).

The assembly in 1 Cor 11:17ff is one in which we're supposed to focus not on ourselves, but on the body, on each other, making sure the poor get a portion of the community meal.

The assembly in Acts 20 starts as a long-winded lecture, but concludes as an all-night discussion (see the Greek for this distinction if your English translation doesn't make it clear).

Concerning the assembly in 1 Cor 14, we're specifically told that "all things in the assembly must be for edification" (v. 26); we're not told that things in the assembly are to be for worship. The entire description in this chapter is that "all of you ..., one by one" can use his God-given gifts to build up the others, so that "all may learn, and all may be exhorted" (v. 31). When the unbeliever comes in, he's not convicted by the preacher's sermon; rather he's "reproved by all", "judged by all", revealing the secrets of his heart, bringing him to a new-found conviction to worship God (vv 24-25).

Our modern day assemblies are not geared so that each person contributes something that "irritates" the others to love and to good works and to being built up.

In the New Testament, we see sermons preached to non-Christians in the streets and in the pagan temples and in the Jewish synagogues, but in the assemblies of Christ, the sermon gives way to an "everyone participation". Until we do this, our assemblies may be "our way", but they're not what we see in the New Testament.

Originally published at:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Privacy of Giving, &tc

But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.

-- Jesus, Matthew 6:3-4a
And yet, when we take up a collection at church, we pass around a plate, making it obvious to all what is (or is not) being put into the contribution (especially on Sunday nights in some congregations, in which individuals are less-able to blend into the crowd).

Some churches use a soft cloth bag, which adds privacy and which protects against spills in case of a drop, but also perhaps adds to the potential of having funds stolen out of the bag.

The Temple used a drop-box (Mark 12:41), but it also offered no privacy. (I think a locked drop-box would work well at the doors of a building, encouraging even small gifts of pocket-change as one walks in/out of the building.)

The early church was well aware of some big contributions by individuals (Acts 4:36-5:11), thus demonstrating that the early church didn't always get all the details quite right in following Jesus' teachings (see his teaching in quotation above).

Should we rethink our plate-passing tradition in favor of something more private?

Should churches offer an auto-debit plan from a bank account, or on-demand credit/debit-card capability?

Should the average Christian in the pew have the power to distinguish between giving a gift for the poor[1] and giving a gift to the on-going work of the congregation[2], or should that budget decision be solely in the hands of the elders?

I ask these questions because we get comfortable in our traditions, and sometimes those traditions then become man-made commands, which we then teach as doctrine, which as we all know is "vain worship". And sometimes questioning can lead to a better, more efficient, sometimes even more Biblical, way of doing things. For example, would it be more Biblical to make our giving more private than passing around a plate in full-view of everyone? It's good to question every so often why we do things the way we do them.

1. 1 Cor 16:1ff (which was a one-time year-long fundraiser as per 2 Cor 8), and its related passages in Acts 11:27-30; Romans 15:25-28; Acts 24:17; Gal 2:10

2. 1 Cor 9:1-18, esp v. 14; 1 Tim 5:17-18; Phil 4:10ff

Originally published at:

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Pray with the Spirit / Pray with the Understanding

In my church circles, the following passage is often used in an unscriptural manner:
KJV 1 Cor 14:15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
Nearly always the meaning is that our singing/praying is to be done with a heartfelt sincerity, and with full understanding of what we're singing/praying about.

But this just highlights how easy it is to take Scripture out of context. If we read the verse above out of context, it sounds exactly how it is often used - that we're to be fully aware of what we're singing/praying at all times, and we're to be sincere about it.

But in context, that's not what the phrase says at all.

Throughout this entire chapter, Paul is contrasting the value of heart-felt sincerity in worship versus educational, church-strengthening information.

He's not saying we should do both at the same time; he's saying there's a time and a place for "brain-dead", "spirit-based" worship, and there's a time and a place for "brain fully-engaged" thinking. And he will do both. Not at the same time, but when each is appropriate.

His emphasis throughout the entire chapter is that in the assembly (i.e., when we "do church" with others), the spiritual worship is inappropriate, and only the understandable worship is appropriate.

Notice how he makes the contrast starting in the very beginning of the chapter, starting at verse 1 (I'm going to switch away from the KJV to a more understandable version, the Holman Christian Standard Bible):
Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and above all that you may prophesy. For the person who speaks in another language is not speaking to men but to God, since no one understands him; however, he speaks mysteries in the Spirit. But the person who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and consolation. The person who speaks in another language builds himself up, but he who prophesies builds up the church. I wish all of you spoke in other languages, but even more that you prophesied. The person who prophesies is greater than the person who speaks in languages, unless he interprets so that the church may be built up.
Notice that speaking in another language is not speaking to men, but to God, and is mysterious.

He continues with this thought, but I'll skip a fair portion of it and jump to verse 13:
Therefore the person who speaks in another language should pray that he can interpret. For if I pray in another language, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with my understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with my understanding. Otherwise, if you praise with the spirit, how will the uninformed person say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? For you may very well be giving thanks, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in other languages more than all of you; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, in order to teach others also, than 10,000 words in another language.
Notice the context. He's talking about speaking in another language, which no man understands; even the speaker himself has unfruitful understanding. He says such prayer is perfectly acceptable worship ("you may very well be giving thanks"), but that it's of no value in the assembly. Such prayer builds up the one doing the praying (v. 4), but it doesn't build up the assembly, and everything in the assembly is to be geared toward "edification" (building up of the "edifice"), as he explicitly says in verse 26:
Whenever you come together ... [a]ll things must be done for edification.
Paul is not saying that when he sings/prays, he'll do so with both spirit and understanding at the same time; he's saying that sometimes he'll sing/pray with the Spirit, when he has no understanding of what he's saying (brain-dead glossalolia, (either human or angelic language-speaking (1 Cor 13:1)), or perhaps moaning, chanting, etc, but in any case, nothing understandable), and in some cases he'll sing/pray with his brain engaged, with understanding. Singing/praying with the spirit is mutually exclusive to singing/praying with the understanding. Biblically, it's impossible to do both at the same time.

When we try to use this passage to teach that we are to sing/pray with the spirit at the same time that we sing/pray with the understanding, we have changed the meaning of "with the Spirit" to something other than what the Scriptures actually say. We have become unscriptural.

Originally published at:

Saturday, May 03, 2014

The More Faithful, the Less Need to Hear God's Voice?

I know that most people in my circle believe that God does not speak directly to us today; but a few in my circle do believe so, and even fewer claim to have experienced it.

I find no reason to claim that God does not speak directly to us today. I grew up with this belief, and know all the arguments. On re-examination of those arguments in more recent years, I find them unconvincing.

So I'm open to hearing God's voice speak to me. Have been for a few years now. But I've never heard it (at least to the extent that I would recognize it as such).

One person has told me that God speaks to me often, but that I don't hear him, because I'm too "brainy"; you can't think your way into hearing God's voice. When I first heard this, I dismissed the idea, having grown up with the notion that the Scriptures teach that we are to always have our brains "turned on".

But then I heard teaching from another source, and it pointed out that in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul contrasts two different worship styles: "with the spirit", and "with the understanding". Paul clearly says that when he prays in the spirit, his understanding is not informed of what's being prayed:

HCSB 1Cor 14:14 For if I pray in another language, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.
Paul then goes on to say that he will worship in both styles:
HCSB 1 Cor 14:15 What then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with my understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with my understanding.
But he makes it clear that within the assembly, he will only pray/sing with the understanding, and not with the spirit. The reason he gives is that the assembly is for the purpose of building up one another (the purpose is not to worship, although worship takes place in the assembly; rather, worship is the purpose of life (Rom 12:1), whereas the assembly has the purpose of building up one another):
HCSB 1 Cor 14:26 .... All things must be done for edification.
Since praying with the spirit is not understandable to us mere mortals, and the purpose of the assembly is to increase understanding, then praying with the spirit, although fine worship, is inappropriate within the assembly:
HCSB 1 Cor 14:2  For the person who speaks in another language is not speaking to men but to God, since no one understands him; however, he speaks mysteries in the Spirit. But the person who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and consolation. The person who speaks in another language builds himself up, but he who prophesies builds up the church.
16 Otherwise, if you praise with the spirit, how will the uninformed person say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may very well be giving thanks, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in other languages more than all of you; 19 yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, in order to teach others also, than 10,000 words in another language.
27 If any person speaks in another language, there should be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and someone must interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, that person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God.
I point all of this out to make it clear that there are times when it is perfectly acceptable worship for us to "turn off" our brains, our understanding. When Paul prayed in the spirit, he did so with his brain "turned off"; his understanding was "unfruitful" (v. 14).

Since learning this, I've tried to be open to hearing the voice of God. Alas, my brain (or something) still gets in the way.

More recently, another person, who has heard God's voice, as clearly as if someone was sitting in the car talking with him, has echoed that first message, telling me that God is going to speak to me. I told this person that I had been open to hearing God's voice, but frankly, it ain't happ'nin'.

His response floored me, and is the main point of this very long, rambling post. He asked me who had the most faith, him (who I believe to be a faithful man of God, and who has heard God's voice), or Job.

Well, given that choice, I guess I'd have to answer "Job".

He then pointed out that Job never heard God's voice during all of his travail, until that period of testing was over.

The point resonated with me: the more faithful one is, the less the need to hear God's voice.

And then shortly afterward I read the passage in John 20 wherein Thomas doubted the resurrection, insisting on physical evidence. Once that physical evidence was presented to him, Thomas humbled himself to proclaim faith. Jesus' answer coincides with what my friend said above:
HCSB John 20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
I'm not saying I'm particularly faithful, but it was a comforting idea, that God trusts me enough to live my life independent of directly hearing his voice (or seeing the physical evidence with my own senses) so far in my life. Of course, that comforting thought is contrasted with the realization that according to the first person, God is talking to me, but I'm just too dense to hear him.

Originally published at:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Baptism of John vs The Baptism of Jesus

HCSB Mark 1:4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
 Notice that John's baptism (Biblical Greek = "immersion") is for:

1. Repentance
2. Forgiveness of sins

How does John contrast his baptism with that of Jesus?
HCSB Mark 1:7 He was preaching: “Someone more powerful than I will come after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of His sandals. I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
John makes the distinction that the baptism of Jesus involves the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus was baptized of John:
HCSB MArk 1:10 As soon as He came up out of the water, He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending to Him like a dove.
When Peter tells the first listeners to be baptized, he said:
HCSB Acts 2:38 “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Years later, Paul comes across a dozen men, whom Luke (the writer of this record in Acts 19:1-7) calls "disciples", and whom Paul says have "believed". He doesn't see obvious manifestations of them having received the Holy Spirit when they were baptized, and seems to have expected to do so. So he asks them about it, and they answer that they didn't even know a Holy Spirit existed. Being further tutored by Paul, they then were baptized in the name of Jesus. Paul laid his hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit, which manifested in their speaking in tongues and in prophesying.

Also concerning the Holy Spirit when we heard/believed:
HCSB 2 Cor 1:22 He has also sealed us and given us the Spirit as a down payment in our hearts.
HCSB Eph 1:13 When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. 14 He is the down payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory.
It has been thought by some that the difference between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus is that the first was a "baptism of repentance" and that the second was a baptism of "forgiveness of sins".  But we see from Mark 1:4 that John's baptism was also one of forgiveness. Rather, it seems to me that the significant contrast between the baptism of John and that of Jesus is that the baptism of Jesus baptized us with and put into us the Spirit of God.
HCSB 1 Cor 3:16 Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you?
HCSB 1 Cor 6:19 Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God?
Paul finishes that last verse with an admonition to "Live like it!":
HCSB 1 Cor 6:19b You are not your own, 20 for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.
I believe those who claim that the Spirit of God dwells in us only via the "indwelling of God's Word" have misunderstood the Scriptures. Few of us would doubt that Satan knows the word of God very well; it dwells in him; yet I think we'd all be agreed that Satan does not have God's Spirit. And the word of God dwelt in those twelve disciples whom Paul found in Acts 19, yet they didn't have the Spirit of God.

The Spirit of God is Alive, and dwells within us. And that's the result of being immersed in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Originally published at:

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ding-Dongs have Shrunk

Anybody else notice that Hostess Ding-Dongs have really shrunk?

When they went bankrupt last year, I thought I had had my last Ding-Dong. Too bad, as I've maintained for years that Big Red and a Ding-Dong comprise the breakfast of champions.

Then when Hostess made a resurrection, I happily looked for Ding-Dongs on the store shelves. I found Twinkies and Cup Cakes, but not Ding-Dongs.

Finally, I started seeing Ding-Dongs on the shelves, and I bought a couple of boxes.

When I opened them, I was a little disappointed to notice that the snack cake had shrunk a little bit, but understanding something of the need for cutting back on expenses, I chose to be understanding, and to accept the change.

Then a few boxes later, I noticed the individual packing had changed, such that instead of a blank white plastic wrap, it was now a white plastic wrap with the red Hostess logo patterned onto it.

But as soon as I had one of the individual packages in my hand, I strongly suspected the new packaging was an attempt to distract the buyer from the real change -- the snack cake is now about half the size it was prior to the bankruptcy.

I'll finish my current box of Ding-Dongs, but if my now-planned future purchasing pattern is any indication of Hostess' fortunes, the treat-maker will soon be facing another bankruptcy.

Originally posted at: