Category Archives: Church Questions

Questions about the Church: What Is Vacation Bible School?

 

Vacation Bible School, or VBS, is a fun-filled program many churches offer, usually during the summer (“vacation”) months, to connect with the children and families in their communities. Vacation Bible School is an outreach meant to bring in children who don’t normally attend church and to teach them the gospel. As an evangelistic tool, VBS helps churches fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19).

Vacation Bible School began in the 1890s. A New York doctor’s wife wanted to find a way to keep children off the streets in the summertime, and so she rented a large beer hall in the East Side in order to conduct what she called “Everyday Bible School.” Her idea expanded, and eventually the New York City Baptist Mission Society established several of these Bible schools around the city.

A man named Robert G. Boville, formerly of the Baptist Mission Society, was key in the program’s expansion to other cities around the country. By 1907, he had established a national committee for Vacation Bible Schools.

Today, Vacation Bible School is a popular summer activity for Christians and non-Christians alike. Churches generally run Vacation Bible School for a week, and each program has its own theme (medieval castles, water parks, the Old West, etc.) that children can explore. A week of VBS usually includes games, snacks, crafts, skits, and, of course, Bible lessons. There is always a connection between God and the theme, allowing kids to discover God in a creative way. Many Christian publishing companies offer curricula to guide churches in setting up and running a VBS program, but some churches choose to write their own curricula.

Over the years, many churches have used Vacation Bible School as a fun, low-pressure evangelism tool. Many adults today can attest to the fact that VBS was where they first learned about Jesus Christ, resulting in their salvation. Vacation Bible School is a good way to reaffirm the commitment of God’s people through the centuries: “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord” (Psalm 78:4).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Church: What Does the Bible Say about Shunning?

 

To shun is to deliberately avoid or keep away from something or someone. In the Bible, the word shun is applied to evil. The Lord said that His servant Job was “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). Job himself confessed that “the fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding” (Job 28:28). The Bible advises us, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil” (Proverbs 3:7–8). “A wise man fears the Lord and shuns evil” (Proverbs 14:16). So, shunning evil is good.

But what about shunning people? Certain societies (such as in Bali) and religious groups (such as the Amish) practice shunning as a means of punishment against those who are considered traitorous, sinful, or apostate. Normally, the ostracized person has broken a taboo or in some way violated an established standard. The group issuing the sanction refuses to associate with the shunned person, sometimes even refusing to acknowledge his or her existence. Some cults use the threat of shunning as a tool of spiritual manipulation. Some (but not all) Mennonite groups shun an excommunicated member for life and consider him lost and without hope of salvation, regardless of his association with other churches. Does the Bible say anything about this type of shunning? Is there any justification for the practice of shunning a family member or church member?

While shunning often connotes legalistic tendencies, there is a proper place for breaking an association. The Bible teaches excommunication as a form of church discipline. In 1 Timothy 1:20, the apostle Paul said he had handed Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. The two blasphemers had been excluded from the church. Out in the world, away from the church, they would be open to the full force of the god of that worldly system. In 2 Timothy 2:17–18, we discover what these men did to warrant expulsion from the church: they had denounced the physical resurrection and were dividing the church by teaching an early form of the heresy of Gnosticism. This was no misdemeanor or petty sin. Such drastic action as excommunication is always a last resort and is never taken lightly.

First Corinthians 5:1–5 also uses the expression “to hand over to Satan” concerning a man in unrepentant, flagrant sin. In verses 12–13, Paul indicates that such discipline is meant for church members, not for the outside world: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.’ ” Verse 11 says that, in cases of blatant sin, believers must disassociate themselves from the erring brother or sister (see also 2 Thessalonians 3:14).

The goal of excommunication is restoration (Galatians 6:1). Being officially ostracised from the church, the sinner might be brought to repentance. If either Hymanaeus or Alexander later realized that he had sinned against God, he could repent and come back to the church for forgiveness and reinstatement. The same was true for the man in the Corinthian church—in fact, he later did return and was restored (2 Corinthians 2:6–11).

Jesus had this to say about church discipline: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses even to listen to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15–17). Again, we see that excommunication is a last resort, after repeated warnings (cf. Titus 3:10). Jesus’ command to treat an intractable offender as a “pagan” or a “tax collector” means simply to consider such a one as unsaved. How are we to treat the unsaved? With love and grace. They need to be evangelized. We are to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:44).

Some denominations use passages such as 1 Timothy 1:20 as justification for shunning any member of their group who has been expelled. After being cast out of the congregation, he is utterly ignored. This happens even to family members who have been expelled. Parents will no longer communicate with their children, with their own biological brother and sisters or even with their own spouse. This results in the breaking up of families. Such actions are not condoned by the Bible. To remove someone from the membership roll of a church is not the same as shunning him. Close fellowship may be broken, but we are not commanded to break all ties with those in sin. We never get to the place of “writing someone off” for good.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). That is how the church should deal with those who are subject to church discipline. The purpose of the discipline is to prompt repentance and, ultimately, to reunite our fallen brother or sister with the church body.

Scripturally, excluding a person from the church is preceded by admonition and counsel; it is only employed in the case of bona fide heresy, obdurate divisiveness, or sexual sin; and it is a last resort. After excommunication, the relationship between the former member and the church naturally changes; however, the church still has the responsibility to pray for the one being disciplined and to extending forgiveness when repentance is evident. Shunning, as defined by a refusal to speak to someone or by a total severing of all ties, goes beyond what the Bible advocates.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Church: What Does It Mean that There Is Only One Baptism (Ephesians 4:5)?

 

Ephesians 4:4–6 says, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Since there are different “baptisms” referred to in the New Testament, it can be a bit confusing when we read about “one baptism.” The word baptize always means “to submerge or immerse.” So, when baptism is discussed, it involves a person being totally submerged into something else. Baptism implies being “all in.” It also implies that a change has taken place. Baptized people are changed people.

Generally speaking, there are two types of baptism: a physical (water) baptism and a spiritual baptism. One is literal, done in water; the other is figurative, accomplished in the Spirit.

Water baptism was commanded by Jesus for all of His followers (Acts 1:8). Colossians 2:12 says, “Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Being baptized with water does not save us; faith in the finished work of Christ saves us (Ephesians 2:8–9; Romans 10:9). But water baptism is an outward indication of an inward change. It is a wonderful picture of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Being immersed in water symbolizes the cleansing of our hearts and the washing away of our sin by the blood of Jesus (Acts 2:38). Through water baptism, believers publicly proclaim their testimony that they have been born again by the grace of God.

Romans 6:3 speaks of a spiritual baptism: “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” This spiritual baptism “into Christ” is performed by the Holy Spirit the moment a repentant sinner accepts the gift of salvation and is born again (John 3:5; Ephesians 2:18; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Acts 8:12). We respond to the Holy Spirit’s drawing and are born into God’s family (John 6:44; 1 Corinthians 6:19). By this “baptism,” we are identified with the death and resurrection of Jesus; from then on, we consider ourselves “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). We choose to lose ourselves and be immersed in Him (Matthew 16:24), and the Holy Spirit makes that happen.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit was promised by John the Baptist, who said that Jesus “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16). No one understood what John meant until after Jesus had ascended back into heaven (Acts 1:9). Jesus had promised the disciples that He would send “the Comforter” (John 14:26; 15:26; Luke 24:49). His followers were to wait in Jerusalem until the “promise from the Father” came (Acts 1:4). That promise came in Acts 2. The Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples, and they were never the same again. They were bold in their witness, empowered to perform miracles, willing to endure persecution, and all but one died a martyr’s death. The church had begun. Throughout the book of Acts, that baptism by the Holy Spirit was repeated as people came to know Jesus, both Jew and Gentile, and served to unify the church as the Jewish believers realized that the Holy Spirit was poured out on their Gentile brothers as well.

There are some differences of opinion among believers concerning the baptism of the Spirit. Some Christians believe Holy Spirit baptism is identical to being baptized into Christ and that it occurs at the moment of salvation, even if the believer is unconscious of it. Other Christians believe Holy Spirit baptism is to be equated with the filling of the Spirit and that often occurs after salvation—years later, perhaps—as the believer opens himself up to the Spirit’s control. Some believe that the baptism of the Spirit is always accompanied by signs (such as speaking in tongues), and others believe that such signs are unnecessary.

When Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers about “one baptism,” he was reminding them that, regardless of their background or nationality, they all served the same Lord, shared the same faith, and had experienced the same baptism. He could be referring to water baptism; i.e., all believers have the same testimony of salvation and have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Or he could be referring to Spirit baptism; i.e., all believers have been placed into the Body of Christ through the Spirit’s power. Either way, the emphasis is on unity among Christians. Verse 3 says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” The Holy Spirit works to unify believers and provides assurance that they are children of God (Romans 8:16; Ephesians 1:13–14). By reminding the church that they all had a similar testimony and that they were all partakers in the same Holy Spirit, Paul encouraged them to work together for the cause of Christ so that the message of redemption would continue to spread throughout the world (Matthew 28:19).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Church: What Should Be the Mission of the Church?

 

The church is a creation of God (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 3:9, 17; 15:9), founded and owned by Jesus Christ—“I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18)—and directed and energized by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 10:17; 12:5–27; Romans 12:4–5). Therefore, it is the church’s joy to look to God to explain His design for the church and His mission for it. God’s mission for the church proves to have several parts. First we’ll list them, then summarize them:

  1. The mission of the church is to make disciples. Just before Jesus returned to heaven, He commissioned His disciples this way: “Going into all the world, make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you” (literal translation of Matthew 28:19–20a). A disciple is a follower, someone who attaches himself to his leader. Therefore, we reason, Jesus sent the church on its mission to acquaint people in every place with Himself. As the church makes disciples, people can admire, worship, trust, follow, and obey Jesus as their Savior and Lord. The church’s members, having become enamored of Jesus Christ, assemble around Him as Master, Leader, Savior, and Friend. Our joyful mission is to put Him on display to every nation.
  2. The mission of the church is to glorify Christ. Paul wrote, “In Christ we were also chosen … in order that we … might be for the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:11–12). Part of God’s purpose for the church is to exalt Jesus Christ by the way that the church lives and by what it does. Christ designed His church to represent His supernatural, life-saving work to the world. In His church, Christ shows to the world what a freed and forgiven people can be—people who are satisfied with God as the result of Christ’s joyful, triumphant self-sacrifice. He has planned the church’s values to be His values. He expects its lifestyle to reflect His character (2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1; Ephesians 5:23–32; Colossians 1:13, 18; 1 Timothy 3:15). As the moon reflects the sun, so the church is to reflect the glory of God to a dark world.
  3. The mission of the church is to build up the saints. The church is to encourage and comfort its individual members (1 Thessalonians 5:11; 2 Corinthians 13:11). “There should be no division in the body, but … its parts should have equal concern for each other” (2 Corinthians 12:2–5). Jesus is the chief cornerstone, and the church is likened to a building “joined together and [rising] to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19–22; see also 4:4–25). Jesus Christ designed His Church to showcase God’s family on earth, so that the pagan world can see how God builds His family around Jesus Christ and how that family cares for one another (see Mark 3:35 and John 13:35).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Church: What Roles Can Women Fill in Ministry?

 

Women in ministry is an issue upon which Bible-believing Christians can and do disagree. The point of separation centers on the passages of Scripture that forbid women to speak in church or “assume authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:34). The disagreement is whether or not those passages were relevant only to the era in which they were penned. Some contend that, since there is neither “Jew nor Greek … male nor female … but you are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28), women are free to pursue any field of ministry open to men. Others hold that 1 Timothy 2:12 still applies today, since the basis for the command is not cultural but universal, being rooted in the order of creation (1 Timothy 2:13–14).

First Peter 5:1–4 details the qualifications for an elder. Presbuteros is the Greek word used sixty-six times in the New Testament to indicate “seasoned male overseer.” It is the masculine form of the word. The feminine form, presbutera, is never used in reference to elders or shepherds. Based on the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:1–7, the role of an elder is interchangeable with the bishop/pastor/overseer (Titus 1:6–9; 1 Peter 5:1–3). And since, according to 1 Timothy 2:12, a woman should not “teach or exercise authority over a man,” it seems clear that the position of elders and pastors—who must be equipped to teach, lead the congregation, and oversee their spiritual growth (1 Timothy 3:2)—should be reserved for men only.

However, elder/bishop/pastor appears to be the only office reserved for men. Women have always played a significant role in the growth of the church, even being among the few who witnessed the crucifixion of Christ when most of the disciples had run away (Matthew 27:55; John 19:25). The apostle Paul held women in high regard, and in many of his letters to the churches he greeted specific women by name (Romans 16:6, 12; Colossians 4:15; Philippians 4:2–3; Philemon 1:2). Paul addresses these women as “co-workers,” and they clearly served the Lord to the benefit of the whole church (Philippians 4:3; Colossians 4:15).

Offices were created in the early church to fit the needs of the body. Although many modern churches interchange the positions of elder and deacon, they were not the same office. Deacons were appointed to serve in a physical capacity as the need arose (Acts 6:2–3). There is no clear prohibition against women serving in this way. In fact, Romans 16:1 may indicate that a woman named Phoebe was a respected deaconess in the church at Rome.

There is no scriptural precedent that forbids women from also serving as worship leaders, youth ministers, or children’s directors. The only restriction is that they do not assume a role of spiritual authority over adult men. Since the concern in Scripture appears to be the issue of spiritual authority rather than function, any role that does not bestow such spiritual authority over adult men is permissible.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Church: Is the Distinction between Clergy and Laity Biblical?

 

Neither the word clergy nor the word laity appears in the Bible. These are terms that are commonly used today to refer to “the person in the pulpit” versus “the people in the pews.” While believers have different callings and gifts (Romans 12:6), they are all servants of the Lord (Romans 14:4).

Paul considered himself a “brother” and “fellow servant” with Tychicus (Colossians 4:7). The same was true for Paul and Epaphras (Colossians 1:7). Ephroditus was Paul’s “brother, co-worker and fellow soldier” (Philippians 2:25). Paul and Timothy called themselves the “servants” of the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 4:5). Peter viewed Silas as his “faithful brother” (1 Peter 5:12). The apostles never talked in terms of “us” and “them” in the context of serving Christ. They considered themselves to be fellow laborers with all believers in the church.

The distinction between “professional ministry” and “lay ministry” arose when churches stopped identifying leaders out of their own congregations, and began “calling” them from other places. During at least the first century of the church’s history, most churches recognized God’s hand on their own members, qualifying and calling them into leadership roles. Almost every New Testament reference to local church leadership, whether “pastor,” “elder,” or “overseer,” reveals this to be so. For one example, compare 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and 5:17–20 with Acts 20:17–38. Titus 1:5–9 is another example.

Gradually, things changed until, in some parts of the Christian world, the “professional,” full-time ministers began to be identified as representing “The Church,” while the “non-professionals” were seen as adherents or attenders instead of as fellow servants of Jesus Christ. Out of this mindset grew the hierarchical system in which the distance between clergy and laity increased.

Bible passages such as 1 Corinthians 12 through 14, much of Ephesians, and Romans 12 ought to be kept in mind. All of these passages emphasize the real brotherhood of all believers in Jesus Christ and the humility that all need to demonstrate as we exercise our spiritual gifts and offices to bless each other.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Church: What Is the Difference between Praise and Worship?

 

Understanding the difference between praise and worship can bring a new depth to the way we honor the Lord. Throughout the Bible, the commands to “praise the Lord” are too numerous to mention. Angels and the heavenly hosts are commanded to praise the Lord (Psalm 89:5; 103:20; 148:2). All inhabitants of the earth are instructed to praise the Lord (Psalm 138:4; Romans 15:11). We can praise Him with singing (Isaiah 12:5; Psalm 9:11), with shouting (Psalm 33:1; 98:4), with the dance (Psalm 150:4), and with musical instruments (1 Chronicles 13:8; Psalm 108:2; 150:3–5).

Praise is the joyful recounting of all God has done for us. It is closely intertwined with thanksgiving as we offer back to God appreciation for His mighty works on our behalf. Praise is universal and can be applied to other relationships as well. We can praise our family, friends, boss, or paperboy. Praise does not require anything of us. It is merely the truthful acknowledgment of the righteous acts of another. Since God has done many wonderful deeds, He is worthy of praise (Psalm 18:3).

Worship, however, comes from a different place within our spirits. Worship should be reserved for God alone (Luke 4:8). Worship is the art of losing self in the adoration of another. Praise can be a part of worship, but worship goes beyond praise. Praise is easy; worship is not. Worship gets to the heart of who we are. To truly worship God, we must let go of our self-worship. We must be willing to humble ourselves before God, surrender every part of our lives to His control, and adore Him for who He is, not just what He has done. Worship is a lifestyle, not just an occasional activity. Jesus said the Father is seeking those who will worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23).

In Scripture, praise is usually presented as boisterous, joyful, and uninhibited. God invites praise of all kinds from His creation. Jesus said that if people don’t praise God, even the “stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40). When the Bible mentions worship, however, the tone changes. We read verses like, “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96:9). And, “Come let us worship and bow down” (Psalm 95:6). Often, worship is coupled with the act of bowing or kneeling, which shows humility and contrition (2 Chronicles 29:28; Hebrews 11:21; Revelation 19:10). It is through true worship that we invite the Holy Spirit to speak to us, convict us, and comfort us. Through worship, we realign our priorities with God’s and acknowledge Him once more as the rightful Lord of our lives.

Just as praise is intertwined with thanksgiving, worship is intertwined with surrender. It is impossible to worship God and anything else at the same time (Luke 4:8). The physical acts often associated with worship—bowing, kneeling, lifting hands—help to create the necessary attitude of humility required for real worship. Wise worship leaders know how to structure a worship service to allow participants to both praise and worship the Lord. Often, services begin with joyous praise songs and transition to a quieter, more introspective opportunity for worship.

Worship is an attitude of the heart. A person can go through the outward motions and not be worshiping (Psalm 51:16–17; Matthew 6:5–6). God sees the heart, and He desires and deserves sincere, heartfelt praise and worship.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Church: What Is the Church Age? Where Does the Church Age Fit in Biblical History?

 

An “age” is an historical period of time or an era. Some historians divide human history into many epochs and name them according to their defining characteristics: Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Middle Ages, Modern Age, Postmodern Age, etc. Biblical history, too, can be divided into different eras. When those divisions emphasize God’s interaction with His creation, we call them dispensations. More broadly, biblical history can be divided into two periods, roughly following the division of Old and New Testaments: the Age of the Law and the Church Age.

The Church Age is the period of time from Pentecost (Acts 2) to the Rapture (foretold in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). It is called the Church Age because it covers the period in which the Church is on earth. It corresponds with the dispensation of Grace. In prophetic history, it falls between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel (Daniel 9:24–27; Romans 11). Jesus predicted the Church Age in Matthew 16:18 when He said, “I will build my church.” Jesus has kept His promise, and His Church has now been growing for almost 2,000 years.

The Church is composed of those individuals who have by faith accepted Christ Jesus as their Savior and Lord (John 1:12; Acts 9:31). Therefore, the Church is people rather than denominations or buildings. It is the Body of Christ of which He is the head (Ephesians 1:22–23). The Greek word ecclesia, translated “church,” means “a called-out assembly.” The Church is universal in scope but meets locally in smaller bodies.

The Church Age comprises the entire dispensation of Grace. “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). For the first time in history, God actually indwells His creatures, permanently and eternally. In other dispensations the Holy Spirit was always present and always at work, but He would come upon people temporarily (e.g., 1 Samuel 16:14). The Church Age is marked by the Holy Spirit’s permanent indwelling of His people (John 14:16).

Scripture makes a distinction between the nation of Israel and the Church (1 Corinthians 10:32). There is some overlap because, individually, many Jews believe in Jesus as their Messiah and are therefore part of the Church. But God’s covenants with the nation of Israel have not yet been fulfilled. Those promises await fulfillment during the Millennial Kingdom, after the Church Age ends (Ezekiel 34; 37; 45; Jeremiah 30; 33; Matthew 19:28; Revelation 19).

The Church Age will end when God’s people are raptured out of the world and taken to be with the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:51–57). The Rapture will be followed in heaven by the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6–9) as the Church, the Bride of Christ, receives her heavenly reward. Until then, the Church carries on in hope, exhorted to “stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Church: What Is a Chaplain? What Do Chaplains Do?

 

A chaplain is essentially a spiritual representative attached to a secular institution. Chaplains may or may not be certified, have a theological education, or be ordained or commissioned by a particular denomination, though many are. While chaplaincy has traditionally been associated with representatives of the Christian faith, the term is now used for representatives of any faith. Some chaplains are expected to represent multiple faiths, acting as a sort of neutral spiritual resource.

Chaplains are expected to serve the spiritual and emotional needs of others. Some chaplains perform wedding or funeral ceremonies, administer communion, deliver spiritual messages, offer prayer at public meetings, and provide regular counseling. Other chaplains meet the need of the moment, usually through listening and prayer. Chaplains may also function as advocates; hospital chaplains, for example, may make requests of a nurse to help meet a particular patient’s needs; military chaplains may provide for marriage enrichment retreats.

Chaplains work in many environments. Most commonly, chaplains are attached to the military, to hospitals, to law enforcement and fire departments, to political bodies (such as the United States Congress and Senate), to sports teams, and to educational institutions. Some corporations, music groups, and even households (historically the nobility, and now certain monarchs), may also employ chaplains.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Church: What Is the Tangible Kingdom Movement?

 

The Tangible Kingdom movement is described in a book titled The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community, written by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. Halter and Smay refer to themselves as “a somewhat jaded pastor” and mentors, consultants and church planters. There is no indication that the authors have any biblical or seminary training, nor is there any statement of faith, other than their being “missional.” From their website we read: “The Tangible Kingdom offers theological answers and real-life stories that demonstrate how the best ancient church practices can re-emerge in today’s culture, through any church of any size.”

However, the authors’ knowledge and understanding of the first century church is superficial and, in many cases, inaccurate. For example, in their book they suggest that the first-century Christians were “… spreading like a virus … and spilling out into the streets.” This is far rfrom the actual historical events recorded in the Bible, as well as in secular history. In actuality, they were intensely and routinely persecuted by both the Jews and the Romans (Acts 8:1, 11:19, 13:50) and spent many years in hiding.

What is misleading about this Tangible Kingdom movement is the word “incarnational.” This word is now becoming the buzz word of the postmodern, experiential method of practicing Christianity, a movement attempting to transform and unify the world under the guise of an evolving or emerging church. In such movements, the emphasis is no longer placed on the Bible or upon regeneration through the workings of the Holy Spirit. Rather, this movement emphasizes what is called a “collective experience and unifying community service.” As such, the gospel as taught in the Scriptures, including the “offense of the cross” (Galatians 5:11), is omitted along with other passages that are deemed “offensive.”

A major part of this movement is practicing “community service” in order to “demonstrate” Jesus’ love for mankind. The actual gospel message of salvation is rarely, if ever, taught. This movement teaches that those who purport to be Christians are those who serve “incarnationally” because Jesus lives in and through them. With its focal point chiefly on God’s love and quest for unity among His people, this movement fails to mention the true nature of the gospel message—repentance from sin, the blood of Christ shed on the cross, the Christian life of denying self and taking up the cross, and the promised persecution to come (Matthew 16:24; John 15:18). Naturally the idea of love and unity are appealing. Who doesn’t want to be loved and accepted? But the fact that Jesus was “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3) doesn’t appear to be emphasized in Tangible Kingdom teachings.

The Tangible Kingdom movement is misleading in that it overlooks the Bible’s teachings about the coarse deceptions of the world, its disobedient attitudes and sordid lifestyles that quench the Spirit and closes the door on the triumphant life God promises to all those who:

—trust Him implicitly and are overflowing with His love,
—depend upon God’s Word,
—choose to enter the narrow gate and small road, and
—say “No!” to compromising their faith.

The authors claim that Christians are divided into two schools of thought—those who believe in and see Jesus through the “literal interpretation of doctrine” and those “who see the message of Christ through the personality of Jesus.” The Tangible Kingdom movement prefers to see the message of the gospel through the person of Jesus Himself, rather than what He actually taught, as though the two could be separated! Their argument is that what really drew people to Jesus Himself was not what He said because His message repelled people. They even go so far as to say that during his confrontation with the Pharisees with the woman caught in the act of adultery, that He was “… drawing a smiley face” in the sand (John 8:1–11). But Jesus never encouraged people to see His message through His personality. Rather, He challenged them to prove their love for Him by keeping His commandments (John 14:15).

There is no doubt that Jesus’ message repelled people, as it still does today. It repels those who wish to continue in a sinful lifestyle and still have the benefits of heaven when they die. It repels those who reject the Bible as the only standard of faith and practice and substitute emotional experience for holy living. It repels those who want to relegate Jesus to the status of a kindly, indulgent pal who winks at sin, rather than the holy, righteous Creator of the universe who hates and punishes sin. Jesus came to provide an alternative to eternal hell and damnation, from an everlasting separation from God Himself. He came offering an eternal and lasting sacrifice for our sins. Any message that leaves out these truths is not “tangible” at all. It is smoke and mirrors.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Church: What Is the Simple Church Movement? Is It Biblical?

 

The “Simple Church” movement is basically a move to make the modern day church experience as close to the early churches of the New Testament as possible. Adherents to the Simple Church movement would say that early believers met in people’s homes and their worship had very little structure, and they therefore believe in doing the same. The Simple Church movement advocates believe that we are to be led by the Spirit in all that we do and that a ‘return to basics’ is needed because so many structures and traditions have polluted the church experience.

A “simple church” may meet anywhere with or without trained leaders, formal liturgy, programs, or structures. Like many “house churches,” a simple church is usually a small group of no more than 20–25 persons. The term “simple church” is often used interchangeably with other terms like organic church, essential church, primitive church, relational church, and micro-church. All have in common a rejection of larger churches organized along denominational lines, formal leadership, church buildings, and formal worship services. Emphasis in simple churches is on building relationships within the small group and missionary outreach.

Perhaps the primary problem with the Simple Church movement, and the house church movement in general, is that they see the book of Acts as a model for the church, which it was never intended to be. The book of Acts is the history of the early church, not a mandate for church structure throughout the ages. Acts is “descriptive” in that it describes the early church, but is not always “prescriptive” in that it is not always stating how things are supposed to be. The books of 1 Timothy and Titus give specific outlines for church government. The Lord was very clear in His Word about how He wishes His church on earth to be organized and managed, with Christ as the head of the church and its supreme authority (Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; Colossians 1:18), and governed by spiritual leadership consisting of two main offices—elders and deacons. When simple churches decry the establishment of leadership within the church, they reject God’s plan for the local church, rather than affirming it, as they claim.

A few other things seem to be overlooked within this movement as a whole. Limiting the churches to a few families or a small number of people is not mandated in the Bible. We know from Acts 2:47 that the church grew daily. We also know from studying the Corinthian letters that people began to organize as larger bodies to come together to worship together. We also know from Corinthians that this larger congregation of believers had some very significant problems that had to be dealt with, which would seem to reiterate the need for godly leadership within the body. There is nothing unscriptural about a large church and nothing to indicate that small groups meeting in a home are any more in tune with a biblical model than a church of 10,000.

In addition, some critics are concerned about doctrinal purity and accountability in the Simple Church movement. The Holy Spirit is ultimately the one responsible for ensuring purity within the worldwide church body, but God has given us the model for local churches structured under the leadership of godly elders and deacons. Yet God can certainly work both within a formal religious structure and in the midst of believers gathering in someone’s home. As with all things, Christian love and acceptance is the rule to follow. Those who “are not against us are for us” (Mark 9:40), and whether we worship in large cathedrals or small home gatherings, the important thing is the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world, the upholding of the Word of God as the sufficient model for faith and practice, and the love we have for one another.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about the Church: What Does It Mean to Be Missional? Should Christians Be Missional?

 

“Missional” or “missional living” is a Christian term that in essence describes a missionary lifestyle. Being missional includes embracing the posture, the thinking, behaviors, and practices of a missionary in order to reach others with the message of the gospel. The term “missional” gained its popularity towards the end of the 20th century with the influence of Tim Keller, Alan Hirsch, and others, as well as the Gospel and Our Culture Network. Their basic premise is that all Christians should be involved in the Great Commission of Jesus (Matthew 28:19–20).

Essentially, the idea of being missional teaches that the church has a mission because Jesus had a mission. There is one mission which says that the “missional church is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. In other words, the church’s true and authentic organizing principle is mission. When the church is in mission, it is the true church.” Yet there has been some confusion regarding the term “missional.”

Alan Hirsch, one its proponents, says that “missional” is not synonymous with “emerging.” The emerging church is primarily a renewal movement attempting to contextualize Christianity for a postmodern generation. “Missional” is also not the same as “evangelistic” or “seeker-sensitive.” These terms generally apply to what he calls the “attractional” model of church that has dominated our understanding for many years. Missional is not a new way to talk about church growth. Although God clearly desires the church to grow numerically, it is only one part of the larger missional agenda. Finally, missional is more than social justice. Engaging the poor and correcting inequalities is part of being God’s agent in the world, but should not be confused with the whole.

Hirsch also says that a proper understanding of missional living begins with recovering a missionary understanding of God. By His very nature God is a “sending God” who takes the initiative to redeem His creation. This doctrine, known as missio Dei is causing many to redefine their understanding of the church. Because the church is comprised of the “sent” people of God, the church is the instrument of God’s mission in the world. However, most people believe that missions is an instrument of the church, a means by which the church is grown. Although Christians frequently say, “The church has a mission,” according to missional theology a more correct statement would be “the mission has a church.”

Though many churches have mission statements or talk about the importance of having a mission, where missional churches differ is in their attitude toward the world. A missional church sees the mission as both its originating impulse and its organizing principle. It is patterned after what God has done in Jesus Christ, that is, to be missional means to be sent into the world; not to expect people to come to us. This idea differentiates a missional church from an “attractional” church.

The attractional church seeks to reach out to the culture and draw people into the church. But this practice only works where no significant cultural shift is required when moving from outside to inside the church. And as Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, the attractional church has lost its effectiveness. The West looks more like a cross-cultural missionary context in which attractional churches are self-defeating. The process of extracting people from the culture and assimilating them into the church diminishes their ability to speak to those outside. As a result, people cease to be missional and instead leave that work to the clergy.

Missional represents a significant shift in the way one thinks about the church. Being missional means we should engage the world the same way Jesus did—by going out rather than just reaching out. Missional means that when a church is in mission, it is then the true church.

According to Dave DeVries, author of “Missional Transformation: Fueling Missionary Movements that Transform America,” there are five biblical distinctives that form the foundation of a missional perspective:

•     The Church is sent by Jesus Christ (John 17:18; 20:21, Luke 9:2; Matthew 28:19–20; Acts 1:8)

•     The Church is sent with the Cross (1 Corinthians 1:18, Ephesians 2:16, Colossians 2:14, 1 Peter 2:24, 2 Corinthians 5:17–21)

•     The Church is sent in Community (Acts 2:42–47; 5:42; John 13:34–35; 1 John 3:16–17)

•     The Church is sent to every Culture (John 1:14; Matthew 20:28; Acts 17:22–34; Luke 5:29)

•     The Church is sent for the King and His Kingdom (Matthew 10:7; 25:34; Luke 4:43; Revelation 11:15–17; Jeremiah 10:7; John 18:36)

So, the question is asked, “Should Christians be missional?” Fundamentally, missional theology is not content with missions being a church-based work. Rather, it applies to the whole life of every believer. In truth, every disciple of Christ should strive to be an agent, a representative of the kingdom of God; and every follower should try to carry the mission of God into every sphere of his life. We are all missionaries sent into the world.

There are many ways we can do this as we’re each individually blessed with certain talents and skills to utilize to the glory of God. Jesus has told us in Matthew 5:13–16 that we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world … to let our light shine before men.

And, finally, in light of this idea of being “missional,” we can best sum it up with the words of the apostle Paul: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God … and whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17).[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.