Does God care how we worship him on Sunday morning? Does it really matter what we do or don’t do? Isn’t the only thing that matters is that people are experiencing God, learning about God, enjoying church, and enjoying one another’s company? The answer to these questions depends on two things. First, one’s understanding of the purpose of the Sunday morning corporate gathering of the saints (aka, church). Second, one’s understanding of God—who he is, what he is like, and what he demands of us.
The Sequoia National Forest in central California is home to some of the most amazing and oldest trees in the world.* Sequoias are the world’s largest single standing trees by volume. They grow to a height of 164-279 feet and a diameter of 20-26 feet. The oldest known Sequoia is 3,500 years old. They have clearly been around for a long time and do not buckle easily to the harsh conditions of nature.
As a young believer I remember having the ambitious goal of reading through the entire Bible from beginning to end. I found Genesis and Exodus to be very interesting, but as I read through Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy I remember wondering to myself, ‘How much of this do I have to follow? ‘Why don’t Christians follow all these dietary laws? ‘Can Christians eat catfish and shrimp? ‘Should I be keeping the Sabbath? ‘When is the Sabbath, Saturday or Sunday? ‘Are we bound by any part of the Old Testament [OT], and if
At Tapestry Community Church we view children and children’s ministry a little differently than most churches. We don’t provide any kind of children’s church for ages 4 and up, but instead we bring them into the worship service. There are biblical reasons why we do this.
In the opening sentence to our church constitution, it reads this: “Jesus Christ, as King, has given to His Church officers, oracles, and ordinances; and has ordained His system of doctrine, government, discipline, and worship, all of which are either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary inference may be deduced from it; and to which things He commands that nothing be added nor subtracted.”[i] What this first sentence means is that we at Tapestry Community Church seek to be as biblical as possible. That means that when the elders discuss possible new ministries for the church or when we meet with the deacons to discuss new ideas or possible new ministries, the question that is always first and foremost on our minds is—Is this biblical?
In the United States, the third Sunday of every January is known as National Sanctity of Life Sunday. It was designated as such by the late President Ronald Reagan on January 22, 1984, to remember the 1973 Supreme Court decision known as Roe v. Wade. In that decision the Court ruled that selective abortion was the right of women protected by the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution. Thus, beginning in 1984, President Reagan designated each Sunday that fell the closest to January 22 to be Sanctity of Life Sunday. However, this article is not about the evil of selective abortion, nor is it about the evidence that life begins at conception. Rather, this article is about the value churches should place on children and what that should look like within the context of the local church and within the covenant community. Since life begins at conception and since children are a blessing from the Lord, children should be welcomed into the corporate worship service at as young of an age as possible. (At Tapestry Community Church we welcome children into the corporate worship service at age four.)
Joshua Harris first became a household name within the Evangelical community when he published his first book in 1997, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, at the tender age of twenty-three. The book instantly became a #1 bestseller, launching Harris into the stratosphere of success. Three years later he published another mega bestseller, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship. These two books started what became known as the purity movement within Evangelicalism, particularly among homeschoolers. Then, four short years later he became the lead pastor of his Maryland mega-church, Covenant Life Church, replacing the popular and charismatic C.J. Mahaney. By all accounts, Joshua Harris by the age of thirty had accomplished what most only dream about—two successful bestselling books, a successful and lucrative career, a beautiful young wife, speaking tours and speaking engagements. But how did all this happen?
A friend recently brought to my attention an article written by my former New Testament professor, Thomas Schreiner, whom I greatly respect, titled “Why I am a Cessationist.”[i] As I read the article it became clear that Schreiner wants to hold to a classic cessationist view, but recognizes that he does not have enough scriptural evidence to defend that position, so he wants to remain open to the “open but cautious” view as defined in the book, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: Four Views—Cessationist, Open But Cautious, Third Wave, Pentecostal/Charismatic.[ii]
What is preaching? What does it mean to preach a sermon and is there a difference between preaching and teaching? We all recognize there must be some difference because when a Sunday school teacher or Bible study leader opens the Bible and delivers a message, we say that he or she “taught a Bible lesson.” When a politician delivers a message, we say he or she “gave a speech.” But when a minister stands behind the pulpit and exposits God’s Word, we understand him to be doing something different. Why is that? And what exactly is so different?
What is church? Not what is the Church? But what is church? What is it that we do on Sunday mornings? When believers come together on Sunday mornings to sing, pray, fellowship, read God’s Word, listen to a sermon preached, and take the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, what is all that? What are we doing? I ask these questions because it seems there is confusion within our current generation. Consequently, there is a dumbing down of church. There is a low view of church. There is an undervaluing and under-appreciation of what is happening on Sunday morning during the corporate gathering of the saints. So what is church? Is the Sunday morning service nothing more than a snazzier Bible study? Is it simply an extension of the Sunday school class? Or, is it something more?
Back in June of 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right, I made the comment on my Facebook page that this was the beginning of the end of Western Civilization as we know it. By “Western Civilization” I mean the shared Greco-Roman ideals of a Democratic-Republic form of government and Judeo-Christian values which have been the two foundational pillars of the western world since the days of Constantine (4th century AD).
I have recently been dialoguing with a friend who struggles with the concept that humans exist for the worship of God. This is not an uncommon struggle that people often face. We like to think God created us in order to have a relationship with us. It seems arrogant and egotistical for God to create us for the mere purpose of having us worship him. These two concepts seem antithetical to each other. But are they? Below is my email response to my friend’s concern. Her name has been changed.
During the Protestant Reformation in Europe of the 16th century, the Dutch Reformed churches in the Netherlands were attended by about 10% of the population. At the turn of the century nearly 50% of the population of the Netherlands began attending Dutch Reformed churches. Although one would think this is a good thing that the Dutch Reformed churches grew so rapidly, “it became easy to confuse being anti-Catholic with being Reformed. Nominal church membership and loose living became fashionably acceptable. Spiritual and ethical sterility grew rampantly, particularly when combined with newfound prosperity.”[i] Thus, while the Dutch Reformers stood squarely on the shoulders of the Reformers who had come a century before them, they sought zealously to apply Reformation doctrine to the lives of their parishioners. Hence, the Second Dutch Reformation was “a movement in the 17th century which was a reaction against dead orthodoxy and [the] secularization of Christianity in the Church of the Reformation and which insisted on the practise of faith” [sic].[ii] In essence, the Dutch Reformers sought to show that right theology that is not lived out, that is not seen as being relative to every day life, is pointless. Right theology should lead to a life of doxology.
Anselm of Canterbury, an 11th century theologian, published a landmark book titled Cur Deus Homo (literally: Why God Became Man). In it he presents his view for the necessity of the substitutionary atonement of Christ. He argues that God had to become man in the person of Christ and had to die on the cross in order to atone for man’s sin. The weight of his argument rest on the seriousness of sin and the justice of God’s character. The book is presented as a conversation between Anselm and his friend, Boso. At first Boso seems unclear as to why Jesus had to die on the cross to pay for sins. Thus, at the beginning of chapter 21, Anselm asks this very important question: “Have you not yet considered of what a grievous weight sin is?” Anselm’s point is essentially this--if we fail to understand the magnitude of Christ’s death on the cross, it is because we fail to understand the magnitude of sin in the eyes of God.
I graduated from high school in 1991. Thus, I came of age during the Reagan years. One could say I was the generation birthed by the “Moral Majority”, whose parents were Jerry Falwell and Barry Goldwater. Consequently, throughout my adult life I viewed myself as a conservative Evangelical Christian and voted accordingly and faithfully every two years for the party I believed was most inline with conservative Evangelical Christian values—the party of Ronald Reagan—the Republican party. However, recently it appears I am watching the image of myself in the sidemirror of the Republican party becoming smaller and smaller as I am left standing on the side of the road wondering where I go from here.
According to the most recent National Health Statistics Report (NHSR) published by the Centers for Disease Control “about half of first marriages end in divorce.”[i] Unfortunately, this most recent report was published in 2012, which means that very likely the percentage is higher today. While it is true that the overall divorce rate in the United States has been trending downward (8.2% in 2000 compared to 6.9% in 2016)[ii], this is largely due to the fact that fewer people are getting married.
In the Old Testament God required many different sacrifices and offerings from both the people and the priests. Some were required daily, some weekly, some monthly, and some yearly (see for example Lev 1-7; Num 28-29). These offerings and sacrifices would have taken both a financial toll on the people as well as a physical toll, as the Temple in Jerusalem was the only authorized place to present offerings to God. From north to south Israel is about 150 miles, and from east to west spans approximately 75 miles. Jerusalem sits in the southern part of Israel. Thus traveling to Jerusalem to offering a sacrifice would have been no small task. Nonetheless, sacrifices and offerings were the means of worship which God had prescribed in the Old Testament, and a way in which one could demonstrate their devotion to God--a way of suffering for the Lord. In fact, the word sacrifice by definition implies the suffering of loss.
On December 14, 2017, Dr. Robert Charles (R.C.) Sproul went to receive his reward. He was a pastor, teacher, theologian, and trailblazer. To say that Evangelical Christianity has lost a giant would be an understatement. Born on February 13, 1939, he earned his Doctorate degree from the Free University of Amsterdam in 1968. He is the founder of Ligonier Ministry and has authored over 100 books and articles. I will not spend much time discussing his life and ministry as I am sure there are far more qualified scholars and historians who can do that. I would, however, like to discuss the impact R.C. Sproul has had on my own life and on Evangelical Christianity.
On Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017, two terrorist bombs planted by Muslims rocked two Coptic churches in Egypt—one inside St. George’s Church in Tanta, and one just outside St. Mark’s in Alexandria where Pope Tawadros II was praying. In all, 47 Christians were killed and nearly 100 were injured. The following day Father Boules George delivered a message in St. Mark’s where he said the following:
In light of recent tragic events in Dallas, Texas, regarding the vicious attack on a Dallas Police Station and other similar attacks on law enforcement, it’s important we remember four important truths.
As we prepare to celebrate the 240th anniversary of the birth of the United States of America, we are given cause to reflect on what makes America the greatest nation on earth. Despite America’s imperfections and moral decline, America is still a nation where its citizens are governed by elected representatives—not a monarch, not a dictator, not a despot. American citizens have a voice in government and the ability to hold those in office accountable, so long as the desire to do so is present. Christians in America have the freedom to carry Bibles in public, to gather in public places of worship, to peaceably assemble in public protest, to publically share their faith, to practice their beliefs in the privacy of their homes, and to instill those beliefs into their own children without fear of government reprisal.
I was having a conversation the other day with a close friend regarding the relationship between the sovereignty of God and evangelism, and the question was posed: If God sovereignly foreordains from eternity past who will be saved—and thereby passively foreordains who will not be saved—then why evangelize? Does sharing the gospel even matter? The question stems more from a misunderstanding of the purpose of evangelism than from a perceived conflict with the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.
When George S. Patton was a young cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (1904-1909), he wrote down three rules of engagement in the cover of one of his text books which he followed throughout his military career and his campaigns in WWI and WWII--never hold, never retreat, always take the offensive. Three simple rules of engagement he never wavered from enabled him to become one of the most successful generals in history. When a person finds what works, there’s no need to change.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I love that verse! I love the truth that verse conveys! I live by that verse! What is so comforting about that verse is not only that it promises that if we confess our sins, God will forgive us of our sins, but that if we confess our sins, God must forgive us of our sins. In other words, the deeper assurance of this verse is not primarily in the forgiveness itself, but in the basis of that forgiveness.
Recently I have had quite a few discussions regarding the relationship between the Lord’s Supper and church membership. Historically churches have practiced the administering of the Lord’s Supper in one of three ways—open, closed, and semi-open. All three stem from a church’s interpretation of 1 Cor 11:27-30. There the apostle Paul, after reminding the church they should partake of the Lord’s Supper regularly, warns them to “examine” themselves lest they partake of the elements in “an unworthy manner” and become “guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” When this happens, he warns, “many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” Hence, taking the Lord’s Supper is a serious matter with life and death consequences.