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.