Why Gathering as Church is Necessary

Blog Photo- Church AttendanceI recently read an article entitled Is Attending Church Really Necessary for Christians? I got excited about the title and clicked the link. What I found was woefully inadequate for the actual topic. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people feel like this article, though: Jesus is somehow there, and the Bible says we should gather, so it is important. There is so much more to this issue that I felt compelled to write something on it myself.

First, when dealing with the topic of Church, it is very important to remember that Jesus founded a Church. He did not come and create a group of individuals who gather together every once in a while when they feel like it. He was explicit in Matthew 16:18 when he said that the Gates of Hades will not be able to withstand the Church. He did not say that it would not be able to withstand individuals or believers or disciples or apostles, but the Church. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:22-23, “And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” And again he writes in 1 Timothy 3:15, “if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”  If the Church is what can overcome the Gates of Hades, and the Church is the fullness of Christ, and the Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth, then there is something absolutely necessary about Church in the life of a Christian.

It is true that Christ is uniquely present in the Church. When the people of God gather to worship, the constituent parts of the Body of Christ are together. Ideally, they are all following the guidance and direction of the Head, Christ. When this happens, the presence of God is among us. This ties in to the injunction in 1 Peter 2:5 that we when we are in Christ we are living stones being put together in the new Temple of the Holy Spirit. No one individual stone can be a full temple in and of itself, and no one Christian can be independent of others.

Part of the reason that Christ is present in Church in a unique way is because it is in the context of corporate worship that we celebrate the sacraments. The presence of God and the grace of God are with us in a very real way through the faithful participation of the people of God in the celebration of the sacraments. Christians may debate how, exactly, Christ shows up when we celebrate Holy Communion, for example, but one thing we cannot deny is that Christ does show up. We have 2000 years of experience to prove that fact.

Perhaps the most important reason the Church as a communal gathering is necessary, though, is because we, as Christians, are supposed to be renewed and transformed into the image and likeness of God. You can see this all throughout the New Testament, but especially in 2 Corinthians 3:18. God is Trinity. God is an eternal communion of three persons. God is eternally in relationship among those three persons. This means that if we are to truly be transformed into the image and likeness of God, and if we are to truly reflect the likeness of God in the world, we must be in community with others. We cannot do this as individual believers who come together only when they feel like it, seeing Church as an optional add-on to their faith-walk with Christ. Our very being as Christians necessitates the fact that we be in community with others who are also being renewed in the image and likeness of Christ.

Jesus also said this in a completely different way on the night in which he was betrayed. In John 13:35 Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We can only have love for one another if we are in community and communion with one another. We can only be in community and communion with one another if we gather together on a regular basis. Therefore, if we do not gather corporately as the Church, we can never hope to show the world that we are truly Jesus’ disciples. Not only our very being as Christians in the image and likeness of the Triune God is at stake, but our growth in grace and relationship with Jesus Christ and our mission to the rest of the world is at stake.

All of this rises and falls on the very reality that Jesus created a Church, a community, through which he chose to transform the world.

Texas Planned Parenthood Decision and a Christian Response

Before I begin this post in response to the indictment decision of the grand jury in Texas against the anti-abortion activists instead of Planned Parenthood I would like to make two points very clear.

40th Anniversary March for Life in 2013. My family was here and did the March.

40th Anniversary March for Life in 2013. My family was here and did the March.

  1. I am against abortion. I was adopted at birth in 1975, two years after Roe v. Wade, and have a personal stake in the decision not to abort unplanned pregnancies. I am also a father of four and cannot even conceptualize having ended any of their lives before they had a chance to live.
  2. This is one response, not the only response, a Christian can have to this news. Obviously I believe I am correct, otherwise I would not be posting this piece. Yet I am not narrow-minded enough to think that my opinion is the only one that matters in the world.

So, now that I have made those two points, here is my take on what Christians ought to do in response to this issue.

STOP trying to have the government regulate everyone in the country to follow a Christian outlook on life! Abortion is morally reprehensible. That is a given. Any society that would willingly kill its own children is a weak and selfish society. It is a barbaric practice that we sterilize by performing it in a medical setting and calling it a procedure. It is infanticide, plain and simple.

Yet we Christians would not have to bring legal action if we would spend more time discipling the people we have to live by a higher standard than what is legal in our country. We would not have to bring legal action if Christians took seriously Thou shalt not kill and Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me. And We would not have to bring legal action if we not only lived this way, but encouraged others to convert and live this way with us. Planned Parenthood would disappear if there was no market for their services because there was no demand by potential patients and customers. It would not matter that abortion is technically legal in the US if our society did not avail themselves of the procedure.

We need to quit trying to have the government, at whatever level, try to force us by law to live a certain way. If something is morally wrong and sinful, convert others and train ourselves to live to the higher standard God calls us to live. This is how the Church functioned in the first 300 years of its existence. We did not petition the Roman government to change laws. We simply lived according to God’s vision of life. And at that time we were persecuted, had our property confiscated, our rights revoked, imprisoned, and killed. Yet we never led a legal drive to change the laws of the Empire. We simply lived as Christ taught us. That was what converted the Empire, not law suits.

Just a thought.

Revelation 19:7-8 and the Bride of the Lamb

0c4b598464e74cf48cf92730223e6c5aGood guys wear white.  This is true in old westerns where the good guy always had a white hat, and it is true in Revelation.  If someone is wearing white, they are a part of the covenant people of God, an angel, or Christ himself.  Look at these verses towards the end of the book:

Let us rejoice and celebrate, and give him the glory, for the wedding day of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. She was given fine, pure white linen to wear, for the fine linen is the saints’ acts of justice.

The bride of the Lamb, the bride of Christ, is the Church.  She wears white because she has been redeemed.  Yet there is more to the white clothes than just being redeemed.  The wedding clothes she has were given to her.  By whom?  By God.  This is something called a divine passive voice in writing.  Jewish authors would write in passive voice (as opposed to active voice) if they were talking about something God does so they could communicate the idea without writing God.  This is one of those instances, since John was one of the original apostles, and thus Jewish.

So, the garments were given by God, yet they are white because of the saints’ righteous deeds.  There is a sense of cooperation here.  God gives grace to us, then it is up to us what we do with that grace.  Since grace is really a short-hand way to speak of God’s power and presence in our lives through the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the framework looks something like this:

God gives us his presence in the Holy Spirit, and it is up to us to allow the Spirit to conform us to the image and likeness of Christ.  When we do this, we become more and more holy and accomplish righteous deeds.  If we do not allow the Spirit to transform us, we reject God’s grace because we have turned our backs on the Holy Spirit in our lives.

There is another wedding story in the Bible that helps illustrate this point.  In Matthew 22 Jesus tells a parable of a wedding feast.  The guests would not come, so the servants are sent out to invite anyone they can find to come.  When the king is walking through the party, he sees a man without a wedding garment and has him thrown out.

My initial thoughts on this parable were always confused.  People don’t usually walk around carrying their best clothes in case they might be invited to a wedding that very hour!  But knowing how weddings worked at that time and in that culture makes perfect sense of the parable.  It was the duty of the groom’s father to provide the clothes to all the guests of a wedding.  When the servants invited people and brought them to the party, they gave them the clothes from the king to wear.  This man refused to wear the clothes provided.  In essence he was saying to the king, “I’ll accept your invitation and I’ll feast at your banquet receiving from you all the wonderful aspects of being at the party, but I’ll do it on my own terms.  Don’t expect me to conform to your desires.  I’m just here for what I can get out of it.”

God gives the garments.  God gives his Spirit, his grace.  It is our responsibility to put the garments on, to allow the Spirit to transform us.  It is not enough to be invited to the wedding feast; we must fully accept all that God has for us, which includes working with him to change and renew us in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

Revelation 7:9-17 and Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Here is a scene from before the throne of God for us all:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’

11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, 12 singing,

‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ 14 I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15 For this reason they are before the throne of God,
    and worship him day and night within his temple,
    and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
    the sun will not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat;
17 for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

Amen!Merry-Christmas-Nativity-Facebook-Cover-19

Revelation 2:20 and Tolerating Heresy

It always amazes me how many Christians will tolerate heresy within their churches and denominations. Sure, there can be differences of opinions on many different aspects of the faith which are not heretical, but there are denominations that have people in leadership who deny the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, and other central aspects of God.

The letter to Thyatira, contained within Revelation 2, deals with this issue. Jesus dictates seven letters to seven different churches, and this one has issues like this. Jesus praises the church in Thyatira, and then he follows it up with this:

20 But I have this against you: you put up with that woman, Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. You allow her to teach and to mislead my servants into committing sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols.

Jesus counts it as a sin for righteous and faithful people to tolerate heresy being taught within the Church.

This Christmas, as we celebrate the Incarnation of the Living God, we would do well to remember that differences of opinion are one thing, heresy is something completely different. A good starting point to tell the difference would be a few questions:

  • Does this opinion contradict who the Church proclaims God is? Does it deny the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the personhood of the Holy Spirit? Does it try to blend the identity of our God with other gods through teachings, rituals, or other corporate events?
  • Does this opinion lead people to behavior or condone behavior that the Church has taught is immoral?

If any of these questions can be answered yes, then you may want to take Jesus’ warning to Thyatira seriously for yourself.

Jolly old St. Nicholas did not tolerate heresy. He is famous today for giving gifts to children, but he was also famous during his lifetime in the 300s for punching Arius at the Council in Nicaea in 325 when he heard Arius’ position that Jesus was not God but was created.

Nicholas-Icon-Meme-2

2 John 6 and Loving God

Love God. That is the greatest commandment. It is one of the two commandments from which the entire Covenant is formed (the other being to love others). Truly, though, the commandment is a bit abstract. How do we love someone who is completely different from us, even in ways we cannot comprehend, and we have never seen?

John gives us a very simple and basic statement of what it means to love God:

This is love: that we live according to his commands. This is the command that you heard from the beginning: live in love.

That is it. To live in love is to live according to God’s commands. In other words, those that truly love God will obey him. Those that seek to love him more fully and completely will seek to obey him more fully and completely in their lives.

One representation of the Sermon on the Mount

One representation of the Sermon on the Mount

Remember, God’s commandments are all-encompassing in our lives. He tells us how we ought to act and react. And he tells us how we ought to treat others around us. The best summation of the commandments given to the followers of Christ are found here: The Sermon on the Mount.

Do not forget as well, that Jesus also gave a commandment to evangelize. I know people who claim to be entirely sanctified and refuse to share the Good News with other people. They think they perfectly love God and others and yet will not even invite other people to church. If they are going to break this fundamental commandment of Christ, then their love is not perfect.

God does not demand perfection from us. He expects growth. When we sin and fall short, we confess those sins and seek his help in truly repenting from them so we do not sin in that manner again. As we grow in our faith, we obey Christ more fully. We systematically overcome sins in our lives and obey him. The Holy Spirit, who lives in us, helps us to do this. The Church, the covenant community Christ set up on earth, is founded to help us do this. As we grow, we begin to love more deeply and fully. This leads to more obedience to Christ’s commandments. It is a beautiful image of a spiraling effect working its way from us to Christ.

Love God by obeying what he set before you. It is really quite simple, and he will help us to do just that.

1 John 2:1-6 and Christmas Gifts and Holy Living

71cc576fe952ab951258150e0766797dChristmas is in a few short days, and as Christians we try to remember that the best Christmas gift was Jesus himself. We have signs and bumper stickers saying Keep Christ in Christmas and Jesus is the Reason for the Season. It is all true. As a sign I saw yesterday proclaimed, Mary wrapped the first Christmas present. Jesus’ person is the best Christmas gift, and a holy life for us is the second best gift. Look at what John wrote:

My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world. This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commandments. The one who claims, “I know him,” while not keeping his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in this person. But the love of God is truly perfected in whoever keeps his word. This is how we know we are in him. The one who claims to remain in him ought to live in the same way as he lived.

Jesus is our advocate before the Father if we fall into sin. Gift #1. We do not have to fall into sin. Gift #2.

When we try, with God’s grace and love, to keep his commandments, we are enabled to do so. In fact, John goes so far as to say that God’s love becomes perfected in us when we try to keep the commandments. If we fall short and still sin, we can thank God for Gift #1. But what we cannot do is cease trying to live a holy life. Christ is our redemption so that we can live a holy life. When we cease trying to live how God would have us live, how Jesus lived, then the truth is not in this person, according to John.

As we get closer to Christmas, thank God for Jesus Christ, Christmas Gift #1. And ask him to help you with holy living, Christmas Gift #2.