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Once upon a time I went through and underlined every time “word of God” was used in the book of Acts.  The phrase occurred quite often in passages about evangelism, which of course is a theme of Acts. At the time I was accumulating evidence that if we wanted to be effective at converting the lost, we needed to use actual Scripture instead of our emotional phrases and cute metaphors.   A passage in 2 Timothy inspired me: “And that from Childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures of God, which are able to make you wise for salvation…”

 

Having been raised in the evangelical church, I didn’t at that time ask an obvious question.  When the apostles, Paul, the deacons, and all those famous evangelists spoke “the word of God,” to what did that refer?  Did they stand up in front of masses of Greeks and compile quotations from Exodus, Psalms, and Habakkuk to call men to faith in Jesus?  Obviously they did not yet have the New Testament written.  We do have some examples of the apostles quoting the Old Testament to people while preaching.  And there’s the story of Philip, who found the Ethiopian Eunuch reading Isaiah, so he explained how what we know as chapter 53 was a prophecy fulfilled by Jesus, and led him to salvation from there.

 

I’m skeptical that “the word of God” could have been referring to the Old Testament.  There are words to refer to those writings: Scripture, Prophets, Law, Moses, Isaiah, “as it is written.”  But Acts didn’t use those to describe the apostles’ preaching.

 

Ok, Jesus when He was being tempted quoted to the Devil that man lives by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  Jesus Himself was using Scripture, so we usually interpret this as an exemplary double-punch.  I don’t need bread; I need exactly what I’m using now: Scripture.  Except, well, what did the original author mean, the one whom Jesus was quoting?

 

If you go to the Psalms, all over the place you find references to the “word of the LORD.”  David says he delights in “Your word.” Does he mean only that he delights in the Law of Moses?  Why do we think of something different when we read, “The word of the LORD came to…” the prophets?

 

When Jesus reaffirmed that man lives by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” was He including the words God would speak during His earthly ministry?  Did He mean also those words that He heard from the Father and spoke obediently?  What about the New Testament, which we are today taught is God-breathed just like the Old Testament?  Are we to live by any other “words from God?”  I mean, if the apostles were preaching the “word of God” in Acts, and that didn’t just refer to what had been previously expressed in the Scripture or by Jesus, why don’t we have those preached words recorded?  Do we need them?  John supposes that if everything Jesus said and did were recorded there wouldn’t be books enough to contain them; why don’t we need all the words that Jesus spoke?

 

To God be all glory.

 

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In the model of church I read in the New Testament, particularly 1 Corinthians, when the believers gather, a few bring something – not by design of man, but by movement of God: a word, a prophecy (directing the people to a truth they need to hear), an edification, a testimony, a song.  In the New Testament, I believe there were no worship leaders preparing several songs for their congregation to sing.  Our churches today put the pressure on these men to open the door to worship, to lay out the path and charge ahead, teaching us to follow.  At my church there is a stage, and those on it perform – whether performing a duty or a concert, they are not “one of us.”

If a church meeting was participatory, those who brought songs to sing would have reasons.  The song would express not necessarily what we should feel or believe, but what we do believe, or do want to feel.  If a song was less relevant to me, I could sing it because I knew it was relevant to my brother or sister.  The singing would draw us together, and edify each other.

You run into practical problems.  How do people know the lyrics?  What about the tune?  Do we have a pianist?  If it’s a new song, how do we learn?  These aren’t really problems.  For centuries there have been folk songs, these melodies and lyrics rarely written, seldom studied, and almost universally known.  If you don’t know it the first time, maybe you will learn after a few times.  We carry on this custom in the practice of Christmas caroling.  No instrument.  A leader or not.

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In other ways our church is struggling.  I know the lives of at least half our congregation, and how they struggle to follow God.  Their lives are hard, and many of them have blocked God into Sunday mornings rather than reconciling their pain with His sovereignty.  We hear reports of continued failure in devotional lives and evangelism.  And we have so many factions of people who don’t get along and don’t want to.  There is dissention from the congregation about the leadership.  Members suffer illness, poverty, depression – or distraction, materialism, and pleasure-lust.

We have no joy.

Some weeks I am attentive to God’s work in my life, and the joy wants to explode at the least chink of opportunity.  Outside of church – the channeled expression of prepared songlists and sermon series – I do: spin around, jump up and down, clap my hands, lift up my voice.  Inside children are hushed.  Conversation is silenced.  Movement is confined to the row of seats where there is not even enough room to bow, let alone to dance.  What if we did?  What if one day those of us who know joy simply couldn’t contain it?  Imagine laughter, tears, hugs, jumping, swaying, bowing, leaping.  Most of us don’t even know joy like that anywhere.

We have lost joy.  We can barely even imagine it.

Perhaps the church is weak because “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” Or we do not preach the gospel to the world because that would be, “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.”  Are we striving against each other because we do not “rejoice with those who rejoice”?

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Worship has always been hard for me – at church.  I can think of maybe three times when during the singing at church I have been sincere and undistracted.  So many more times I’ve prayed through the service, offering to God my struggle and my discontent.  Pushing beyond that, I’m willing to consider that there is more going on here than my attitude, and that the atmosphere that stifles me at church might have a remedy.  When I talk to friends who go to my church, those who have experienced worship somewhere else during their lives, they agree that worship is hard there.  So this isn’t just me.

Teachers read us John 4 and say that true worship can be anywhere.  The people around you shouldn’t matter.  Neither should the color of the walls or the style of the music.  If your heart is right, they insist, you can worship.

Maybe the statement is true if your definition of worship is broad, something like: acknowledging that God is real and good and that He saved you – or even: doing what God’s will for you is this moment.  I have a few objections to the assertion made by teachers if the definition is more traditional.

  • The point of congregational worship is that you are with other people – and not just with them, but aware of them and united with them.  If they are not participating, that should bother you.  Maybe we need to stop the worship service and address what’s going on.
  • If you are standing in a room with someone whom you know is sad, and you care about that person, it is reasonable to let that sadness affect you.  On the other hand, if a friend is belting out joy to the Lord, that should affect you as wall.
  • The setting matters because it can be an ‘argument setting itself against the knowledge of God’.  I would have a hard time worshipping God in a Buddhist temple, idols all around.
  • Worship styles are not as subjective as people make them out to be.  Music has meaning.  Different genres express different emotions.  Trumpeting might be good for a battle cry or victory celebration, but less appropriate for repentance.  “Music” that gives its audience headaches or heart palpitations is not going to be conducive to worship.
  • What is being sung also matters.  Theologically false lyrics do not honor God. Some songs are theologically neutral.  Twinkle, twinkle little star is a nice song with nothing improper.  It just isn’t much about God, which worship is supposed to be.  In the same line, a song all about how we feel and what we will do for God is not really worship either, unless it is connecting this as a response to God’s work and worthiness.

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I loved these articles on the Lord’s Supper.  They’re written by a professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  So they have good Bible study, and come from a perspective I recognize: Baptist.  Professor Svendsen does delve into a lot of Greek and some early Church history.  For a summary of his points, just read the Introduction, Theological Ramifications and most importantly, the Conclusion.


Introduction

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion that the “Elements” of the Lord’s Supper Constitute a “Supper”? (Part 1) – I like this article, discussing Paul’s reference in 1 Corinthians to a supper, not just a ritual.

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion that the “Elements” of the Lord’s Supper Constitute a “Supper”? (Part 2)

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion that the “Elements” of the Lord’s Supper Constitute a “Supper”? (Part 3)

The Significance of “The Cup/One Bread” – Most churches I’ve been in take 1 Corinthians 11 as a text for their Lord’s Supper ceremony, but they ignore the chapter before that emphasizes one loaf and one bread, and the Lord’s Supper as a means of Church unity.

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord’s Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 1) “The other important point to note in Acts 2:46 is themood of the church while “breaking bread.” It was not with solemn reflection that they “took their meals together,” but rather with “gladness.” The Greek word translated “gladness” (agalliasis), a word unattested in secular writings, in its various forms often denotes the exultation that accompanies messianic expectations.”

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord’s Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 2) “So then, the Lord’s Supper that is being instituted by Jesus has an eschatological element; it is an anticipation and foretaste of the Messianic Banquet to come.”

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord’s Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 3) – “Do this in remembrance of Me” a reminder to us or a reminder to Jesus?

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord’s Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 4)

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord’s Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 5) – Maranatha!’s historical connection with the Lord’s Supper

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord’s Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 6) – “In other words, Paul is not saying one comes under judgment for eating the Supper while in an unworthy state. He’s saying rather that one comes under judgment for eating the Supper in an unworthy way;”

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion that the Lord’s Supper Would Become “Too Common” if Celebrated More Often than Once a Month? (Part 1) – The Early Church probably gathered each Sunday to “break bread” (including the Lord’s Supper).

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion that the Lord’s Supper Would Become “Too Common” if Celebrated More Often than Once a Month? (Part 2) – “In light of this emphasis on the connection between the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Supper—in the practice of both the New Testament church and the post-apostolic church—evangelical churches must begin to rethink the true purpose for meeting together as a church, and the frequency with which they partake of the Supper.”

Some Theological Ramifications to Our Lord’s Supper Series (Part 1) – “Is the culture of the church at this point based on the surrounding culture, or is it based on eschatological reality? If in fact there is going to be a Messianic Banquet at the end of the age, and if that banquet (as we have seen) is rooted in eschatological reality, then we must see the biblical imagery of a banquet as independent of Hellenistic society.”  and “Since anything resembling the eschatological banquet is rarely found in the context of the Supper within the modern church, so too the accompanying eschatological joy is rarely found. Instead, the mood resembles much more that of a funeral.”

Some Theological Ramifications to Our Lord’s Supper Series (Part 2) – (Who can partake?  Do we have to protect the Lord’s Supper?)  “Bear in mind that the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament was a full meal, and participation in that meal was the very purpose for meeting together in the first place. In fact, the entire meeting was very likely conducted while at table, and the eating likely lasted throughout the entire meeting.”

Concluding Thoughts to the Lord’s Supper Series – “What is needed is not more adaptation of the Supper to accommodate our modern setting; what is needed is more of a willingness to conform our setting to accommodate the Lord’s Supper as revealed in the New Testament. Until we do, much of the theology of the Supper will remain lost to us—and with it, its benefits to the church.”

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“The only other big changes seem to be encouraging meeting throughout the week for fellowship, study, and prayer.  I hope to see a portion of our weekly meetings dedicated to praying together, not being led in prayer as has usually been the case.”

“I have a question,” a young man from the committee spoke.  “How do you expect to evangelize if you are not preaching or offering an invitation?”

“The way it says in 1 Corinthians and in Acts and the Gospels, too.  In 1 Corinthians, when the church met together, if an unbeliever happened to be there, and he heard the truth of God’s word taught clearly, the Spirit could convict him then and there and he could repent.  Church in the sense of gatherings of believers, in the New Testament, was not for evangelism.  It was for the strengthening and equipping of the body.  Unbelievers could see how they treated each other and how they lived.  That was a strong testimony that something supernatural was going on.  Then the Christians would go out with boldness.  Go out.  That is something of which our churches do too little.

“Now they won’t have an excuse.  Church will be a place to teach Christians to share their faith, and how to do it.  We’ll encourage them.  We are eager to hear testimonies in church of how God worked through a member to spread the gospel.  But we won’t do it for them.”

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I am still thinking about church. My ideas and questions have plateaued for a while. The concepts are still there. Church is community. Church is the Bride of Christ. Church is for edification. The Church must preach the gospel to every creature.

Two of my heroes are Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. Their words so perfectly express Christian truths. I am always challenged by the things they wrote. What’s more, their lives back up their admonitions. I found this quote by Jim about church: “The pivot point hangs on whether or not God has revealed a universal pattern for the church in the New Testament. If He has not, then anything will do so long as it works. But I am convinced that nothing so dear to the heart of Christ as His Bride should be left without explicit instructions as to her corporate conduct. I am further convinced that the 20th century has in no way simulated this pattern in its method of ‘churching’ a community . . . it is incumbent upon me, if God has a pattern for the church, to find and establish that pattern, at all costs” (Shadow of The Almighty: Life and Testimony of Jim Elliot).

A few years ago I started to do a Bible study of worship. It seemed to me that something so important could not have been overlooked by God. I also guessed that He would care how He was worshiped. Truth be told, I got bogged down in the endless supply of verses dealing with worship and praise and singing and bowing. Apparently, God has a lot to say about how we worship. The same is true, I believe, of Church.

One of the most vivid lessons I’ve ever had was taught by a man in a Bible study I attended. He put up a white board and, holding the marker up in his right hand, asked for us to list all the things wrong with the church. After we’d exhausted our many complaints, he erased it. “Good. Now forget all those things.” And then he asked what a bride should be. He received various responses from “beautiful” to “economical” to “barefoot.” Finally he pulled up another whiteboard and had us list what the church should be. Then he put the two boards side by side. If the Church is the Bride of Christ, shouldn’t we be expecting some bride-like behavior?

R.C. Sproul, Jr. and his Highland Study Center sent out an article in their bi-monthly magazine about feasting. If the Lord’s Supper is a preview of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, as indicated by Jesus’ comments about when He would again drink wine, shouldn’t it be an all-out feast? Shouldn’t we celebrate? The medieval and ancient understanding of feasting has been all but lost in our American culture. But think of any medeival feast about which you may have read. Singing. Dancing. Laughter. Platter after platter of delicious food. Smells of delicious food. Colorful fruit and costumes. Conversation that is witty and kind. Don’t you think the Church should be doing that?

Do you know how many times joy is addressed in the Bible? I don’t; I haven’t counted. But I know it is often discussed.

Rom 12:9-15
“Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil;

cleave to that which is good.

Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love;

in honour preferring one another;

Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;

Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation;

continuing instant in prayer;

Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.

Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”

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