Archive for the ‘church’ Tag

Why Does Separation of Church & State Grow Churches?   2 comments

Image result for image of a anglican churchHave you ever noticed that Europe is largely a non-Christian society while in the United States, we value freedom of religion and have relatively higher levels of faith?

It’s sort of interesting how that works because in Europe, most countries have a state religion that is subsidized by the government while in the United States people have to dole out their hard-earned money if they want to support a church.

Seventy percent of young people in Europe identify with no religion. But almost every country in Europe has a state religion. In the UK, only 7% of young adults identify as Anglican, which is the government-sponsored religion of the United Kingdom. In Germany, where the state church is Lutheran, about 45% of young people never attend church. I’m told by a friend who is from Germany and attends our church here in the States that there is a growing independent evangelical movement in Germany.

“And we want nothing to do with the state. We’d rather meet in someone’s home than take a dime from the government because it appears the government is a killer of faith.”

His view echoes a friend from England who says the same thing — that non-subsidized evangelical churches are growing while the government-supported Anglican churches are mostly empty.

I read an article a few days ago about how the Church in the Czech Republic is almost non-existent. Meanwhile, small evangelical and charismatic denominations are thriving. These are the churches that never used the State to compel them to come in and now the faithful are willingly coming into their sanctuaries.

Of course, church attendance was declining in the United States for a long time even without government interference and I’m not convinced it has stabilized. But I just find it interesting that churches without government support do better than churches with government support.

Christians Who Don’t Care   Leave a comment

Image result for image of so what christiansSome Christians really annoy me. I am a Christian, but I am also a critic of my fellows. There are all kinds of us and some of us really aren’t true Christians – as defined at Antioch where the name “Christian” was first used as a negative label to describe Jesus’ followers. Those Antioch Christians believed:

  1. Jesus died for their sins.
  2. They were saved by that and not anything owing to their own behavior.
  3. They radically identified with Jesus so that there was no question of their allegiance.
  4. Because of that salvation experience, they were ethically required to obey God’s laws and evangelize non-Christians.
  5. They were a multi-racial church that allowed believers to live within their own culture while seeking unity on theological issues, while also allowing a plurality of voices within the congregation.
  6. They believed strongly in the local church community.
  7. They were caring and generous.
  8. They gathered often for teaching and discipleship training, for the equipping of leadership and disciples.
  9. They worshiped the God Jesus with all their hearts, minds, souls and strength.

There are other attributes I could describe, but this is the heart of what being a Biblical Christian is.

So there are a lot of other kinds of Christians and some of them give lip service to that label of “Christianity” without truly subscribing to the essence of Christianity. But rather than critique the whole Church, I’m just going to focus on one kind today. Let’s call them the “so-what” Christians. These folks, when presented with some negative assertion about the U.S. government, the military, wars, or U.S. foreign policy don’t bother with inquiring as to its validity, doing some research, or spending more than three seconds thinking about it. They simply dismiss it with “So what?,” usually followed by some ridiculous statement.

Here are some examples:

The U.S. military has bombed Afghan wedding parties:

So what? The bride and groom were going to produce potential terrorists.

The U.S. military has killed thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan:

So what? They are just collateral damage.

The United States gives billions of dollars a year in foreign aid to Israel:

So what? The Jews are God’s chosen people.

The U.S. military has a thousand overseas military bases:

So what? America is the exceptional nation.

U.S. drone strikes regularly miss their targets and kills non-combatants:

So what? America makes no apologies.

The United States has been fighting in Afghanistan longer than against Nazi Germany:

So what? It is better to fight “over there” instead of “over here.” (I actually used to believe this one!)

The real defense budget is around a trillion dollars:

So what? The military keeps us safe.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialist minister:

So what? America is still one nation under God.

The U.S. military kills innocent Muslims that were no threat to the United States:

So what? All Muslims are terrorists.

Inmates at Guantanamo are being held indefinitely with neither charge nor trial:

So what? Terrorists don’t need trials.

U.S. soldiers have committed war crimes:

So what? There’s always a few bad apples in every bushel.

U.S. soldiers recite filthy cadences in basic training:

So what? I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.

The U.S. military pays sports teams for patriotic displays and troop tributes:

So what? God bless America.

The United States is increasing military actions in Africa:

So what? America is the greatest country in the world.

The U.S. military keeps brothels open overseas:

So what? The troops are defending our freedoms.

A preemptive war against Iraq was wrong because Iraq was no threat to the United States:

So what? There is “a time of war” (Ecclesiastes 3:8).

Thousands of U.S. soldiers died unnecessarily in Iraq and Afghanistan:

So what? There is no greater honor than to die for your country.

Military recruiters lie to impressionable young people:

So what? There is nothing more noble than military service.

Veterans are committing suicide at an alarming rate:

So what? They should not feel guilty for anything they did while in service to their country. (But they do, folks, so let’s have that conversation).


The U.S. military and intelligence services have tortured people:

So what? As long as it saves the life of one American.

The U.S. military has created tens of thousands of widows and orphans in Iraq and Afghanistan:

So what? The terrorists who kill Jews are Muslims.

The U.S. military killed millions of Vietnamese in the Vietnam War:

So what? The only good communist is a dead communist.

The U.S. military has bombed seven Muslim countries over the past few years:

So what? Islam is a false religion. (It is! But Muslims believe Christianity is a false religion. Would that justify them bombing us?).

The United States hasn’t constitutionally declared war on any country since World War II:

So what? Romans 13.

War is the greatest destroyer of civil liberties:

So what? Civil liberties are the concern of leftists. (Say the people who claim to be Constitutionalists)

The U.S. military is a bombing, maiming, and killing machine:

So what? The LORD is a man of war (Exodus 15:3).

It is shameful that some conservative Christians have this “So what?” attitude. It is even worse when this mindset is followed by ridiculous statements that display their willful ignorance. What to do about them? Educate them, instruct them, enlighten them and admonish them. They give all Christians a bad name and they harm the ministry of Christ.

Posted January 30, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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Let Your Dress Match Your Attitude   1 comment

Image result for image of modest Christian attire

Back in college, I took a road trip with some other Christian friends and we stopped at a church on Wednesday night. We didn’t really know anything about the church and we were just off the road. I remembering showering in cold water at a campground before we went, but I don’t think we gave any thought to dress standards. We were all Southern Baptist 20-somethings with Alaska’s practical style. Clean jeans and shirts who hadn’t sweated through were Sunday-evening-go-to-meeting garb, pretty much just like at home.

Unfortunately, the church we picked was a very fundamentalist congregation … you know, bun ladies, and dresses down to mid-calf without a female bicep in sight. The pastor changed his sermon just for us, talking about how women shouldn’t have unbound hair, or wear makeup or jewelry. As we were the only ones in the crowd that fit that description, we had no doubt as to who he was preaching at. I’d like to say we walked out or at least ran to the van for jackets to cover our biceps, but mostly we were just embarrassed and uncomfortable. So, I know what Paul’s readers felt when they reached our subject section for this week.

The church in Corinth had a problem with culture. They lived in a very pagan city and the culture around them was forever trying to creep in. We’re starting a new section in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. 1 Corinthians 11-14 focuses on how God’s people conduct themselves in a church worship setting. Through it, Paul touched on gender distinction, the Lord’s Supper, and spiritual gifts. We’re going to start with the roles of men and women in the churches.

First, remember that Paul had just concluded the last section with “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” That’s important because it provides a transition into the section we’re looking at now:

I praise you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I passed them on to you. But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every manand the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.  1 Corinthians 11:2-3

Honor your head for the sake of Biblical teaching

Image result for image of modest Christian attireNothing like starting off with a little controversy. I know women who utterly reject the Bible because this passage insults them. Of course, they haven’t read it thoughtfully and in context with the rest of the Bible. It just justifies their rejection of what they do not know or understand.

These five verses aren’t so much about how women fix their hair as about the importance of honoring your spiritual head. Paul began with praise for the Corinthians for remembering him in everything and honoring the traditions he had taught them. Was he being sarcastic? How could his praise really be sincere? The church at Corinth had been disobedient to many of Paul’s “traditions” or “teachings.” In just a few verses, Paul will adamantly state that he will not praise them! I think he started with praise so that they would be receptive to critical advice (see 1:4-9). Speaking some positive words to a person that you are in conflict with before addressing your concerns is always wise and may result in the person hearing what you have to say.

I have a dozen books in my home library by evangelical authors who differ radically from one another on their view of women in ministry. Pastors and professors I respect for their intelligent handling of the Scripture hold widely differing views on the role of women in the church, including women’s ordination. There is even a difference in opinion among leaders of my own church. They finally got over the whole a-woman-can’t-be-a-worship-leader issue when a talented female musician was the only one available to step into the role. God leading? I think so. But women still can’t teach men above the elementary school level and I struggle with that. Women still can’t be deacons and that bothers me because there were female deacons in the churches Paul founded. There is no evidence women ever served as pastors, so there is likely a line drawn there, in light of Paul’s words here in 1 Corinthians. This is one area of doctrine where all of us could use a large dose of humility and caution. Anyone who speaks with strong dogmatism on this topic is actually demonstrating his or her ignorance. This is not an easy topic.

In this passage, Paul introduced the basic premise that everyone has a “head.” The word “head” is difficult to interpret because it can have three possible meanings in Greek:

  • prominence
  • authority
  • source

The same ambiguity exists in English when we talk about the head/top of a mountain, the head/leader of a company, or the head/source of a river. In most cases where “head” does not mean a particular body part, the word carries the nuance of prominence. Thus, Paul seems to mean that just as Christ as the Son acknowledges the preeminence of the Father and men acknowledge the preeminence of Christ over them, so women acknowledge the preeminence of men in the male-female relationship (or at least the husband-wife relationship). And this is where most modern women balk at the concept and where many men try to take advantage. Prominence in a relationship does not imply superiority. It certainly doesn’t carry that meaning in the relationship between the Father and the Son, Who are coequal. So why should it mean that between men and women in the church?

Image result for image of modest Christian attireWhile Jesus was on earth, He modeled sacrificial servant leadership (see Mark 10:42-45). He always put His Father and His Father’s will first. Jesus was fully God and equal to the Father, but chose of His own accord to grant the Father prominence. Likewise, men are called to submit to Christ and put Him first in every area. This means living sacrificially for the good of others. Similarly, the head of a woman is man. Evidently, Paul referred to women who were in a dependent relationship to a man, such as a wife to a husband or a daughter to a father. Paul probably did not mean every woman universally since he said the male is the head of woman, or a woman, but not the women. He was evidently not talking about every relationship involving men and women (for example the relationship between men and women in the workplace). Paul was saying that as a wife, daughter, or church member, women ought to honor their spiritual head: husband (Ephesians 5:22-33), father (Ephesians 6:1-3), or elders (1 Timothy 2:9-3:7).

Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered disgraces his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her headfor it is one and the same thing as having a shaved head. For if a woman will not cover her head, she should cut off her hairBut if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shavedshe should cover her head. 1 Corinthians 11:4-6

Image result for image of modest Christian attireIn the 1st century Corinthian setting, men apparently didn’t have their heads covered, but women did. It took some digging to find out why. Apparently in Corinth at the time, men with covered heads were associated with idolatry, thus men in the Christian church honored Christ as preeminent by not covering their heads. Also at that time in Corinth, women covered their heads with a scarf or shawl that concealed their hair as a demonstration of their respect for their husbands and the church leadership.

Culturally, refusing to wear such a shawl was as disgraceful as refusing to cover up in Muslim culture today. Muslims will often say that a woman who appears in mixed company with her head uncovered is seeking to attract men. That would be distracting in the worship setting. Today, it might be a really short dress or a plunging cleavage. Worship is not the time to dwell on male-female attractiveness. It’s the time to focus on God and His Word. Women have a responsibility to both God and men to dress modestly so as not to attract unnecessary attention to themselves.

Men, you’re also are responsible to vigilantly guard your minds during worship and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). We all attend church to worship God, not to eyeball the opposite sex. We all need to do our part and seek to honor one another.

So, is Paul saying Christian women must cover their heads in church meetings today? I don’t think so. I think the culture he lived in was very different from ours. The head covering is merely a cultural symbol of the honor and submission that should characterize our Christian lives. For a woman to wear a head covering today would seem to be a distinctively humiliating experience. Many women—even Biblically submissive wives—resist the notion precisely because they feel awkward and self-conscious. You might as well shave our heads if you’re going to humiliate us. Plus, it would confuse and even concern visitors and we’ll learn in 1 Corinthians 14 that the the church should not do things that might freak out unbelieving visitors.

Image result for image of modest Christian attireFrom this Scripture, we know that men and women were equally free to pray and prophesy when the church gathered. The meaning of the term “prophecy” is debated, but we will see in Chapter 14 that “prophesy” is for the edification of the church and is very close to what we would call teaching or preaching today. It is reflecting or illuminating the Word of God. It could take the form of a word of instruction, refutation, reproof, admonition, or comfort for others (see Chapters 13 and 14). Women in the early church who had the gift of prophecy were free to exercise it. They were also permitted to pray in public meetings. Paul’s churches allowed greater freedom to women than the surrounding culture did, but he drew a line at women being elders who exercised authoritative teaching gifts during the corporate worship service (1 Timothy 2:9-3:7). Moreover, they were to honor their head. Paul is not trying to repress women and to restrain their expression of spiritual gifts, but to impress upon them the need to project modesty and virtue in their dress.


Honor Your Head for the Sake of Creation

For a man should not have his head coveredsince he is the image and glory of GodBut the woman is the glory of the man. For man did not come from womanbut woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of womanbut woman for man. For this reason a woman should have a symbol of authority on her headbecause of the angels.  1 Corinthians 11:7-10

Spiritual headship has been true since God created the world. The Genesis creation narratives show that both man and woman equally bear the image and the glory of God (Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1-2). But in Genesis 2 when God created Eve, He took her from Adam’s rib. Woman was created from the man and for the man. In other words, woman completes man. As the help and strength man needs, woman helps him be all that God desires. Woman reflects the glory of man when she submits to God’s order.

But what does “glory” mean here? Ancient culture was an “honor–shame” culture, meaning people normally protected the honor of their family and the family name and would not knowingly bring dishonor and shame to it. This concept may lie in the background of this passage. By going unveiled, a woman was bringing shame on herself and her reputation, and that of her family. Paul implied that a woman should be bringing honor and glory to herself and her family, and especially to her husband and any other men in her life.

Now verse 10 is weird. It’s mysterious. “Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” My Bible study helps tell me this verse is considered one of the most difficult verses in the entire Bible. It’s an important verse, however, because Paul is clearly summing something up. You can see that in the use of the word “therefore” which means “in light of what I just said.” So we ought to seek to understand it. According to my study helps, the phrase “a symbol of” doesn’t appear in the Greek text. But that word “authority” is in there, which usually means “having the freedom or right to choose.” The best interpretation I found was that the woman has authority over her head (man) to do as she pleases. She can choose to submit or not. Maybe Paul meant that women have freedom to decide how they will pray and prophesy within the constraint that Paul had imposed, namely, with heads covered. An elder friend of mine said “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” If dressing modestly is the price to be paid for exercising God’s gifts freely, so be it.

The final phrase, “because of the angels” is a mystery to all interpreters. Really, nobody knows. Perhaps Paul was encouraging women to worship with that same submissive humility as angelic ministers, who are the guardians of God’s created order.

In any casein the Lord woman is not independent of mannor is man independent of woman. For just as woman came from manso man comes through womanBut all things come from God. 1 Corinthians 11:11-12

Paul then concluded with strong emphasis on the mutuality of men and women in marriage in the church. Paul was still arguing from the creation order, particularly mutual interdependence. The phrase “in the Lord” clearly envisions Christian marriage and life in the body of Christ. And this mutual dependence of man and woman speaks of full equality in personhood (1 Peter 3:7). We can’t get along without each other. We are mutually dependent on each other. We complement one another. Paul was concerned to promote love between the sexes. Neither man nor woman because of their different positions or advantages should consider themselves better, or treat the other with contempt or condescension. This mutual dependence of the man and the woman is grounded in creation. The first woman, Eve, was originally created from the man. But from that point on every single man is birthed by a mother. Paul clearly saw their inter-dependence as grounded in the Lord Himself. All things are from God, which gives us another reason for humility in the relationships between believing men and women.

It’s common to read the first part of this passage and insist Paul taught that women are inferior to men, partly on the basis of the story of the creation of woman from man in  Genesis 2, but the last two verses remind us that ever since the creation of Eve, the order has been reversed (i.e., men are now born from women). When all is said and done, there is equality between men and women. Neither of them is independent of the other; both need each other. In Paul’s prior letter to the Galatians, he’d written “there is neither…male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). Paul seems to have struggled in this passage. He didn’t want the Corinthians to interpret his letter to mean that “in the Lord” women are inferior to men. We all come from God, and all of us equally belong to God through his Son, Jesus.

Honor Your Head for the Sake of Nature’s Pattern

Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hairit is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hairit is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 1 Corinthians 11:13-15

Verse 13 is the key verse in this entire section because Paul clearly emphasized the single point of his passage: Women should stop praying with their heads uncovered. Paul oscillated back and forth between men and women in 11:4-15. In 11:13 he broke this pattern and focused solely on women. This is a literary device that Biblical writers used to bring home their point. This verse also contains the only imperative besides 11:6 where the point is that a woman should cover herself.

In the culture of 1st century Corinth, it was not proper for a woman to act as a spokesman for people with God by praying publicly with her head uncovered. To do so was tantamount to claiming the position of a man in God’s order. The apostle did not think it wise for Christian women to exercise their liberty in a way that would violate socially accepted behavior even though they were personally submissive. Let your dress match your attitude.

Obviously, when Paul referred to Nature, he was not saying that in the world of animals all males have short hair and all females have long hair. Just think about lions and recognize that’s not what he meant. Historical evidence suggests that for 1st-century men long hair was considered effeminate, even homosexual …. something that Paul in Romans 1 considers contrary to nature. By “nature” Paul evidently meant how his culture felt about what was natural.

Paul again used “glory” here when he claimed that the long hair of a woman “is her glory” (11:15). It’s unlikely he was using the word in the same sense as he used it in 11:7. That was about the honor-shame culture of the ancient Near East. Here, the word seems to refer to the beauty of women’s long hair. Because long hair can make a woman look so attractive and beautiful, Paul felt comfortable using this fact as a secondary argument for why women need a covering on their heads.

Honor your head for the sake of apostolic authority

If anyone intends to quarrel about this, we have no other practicenor do the churches of God. 1 Corinthians 11:16

Paul’s final argument appeals to apostolic authority. If any of his readers still did not feel inclined to accept Paul’s reasoning, he informed them that the other churches followed what he had just explained. Some women were evidently discarding their head covering in public worship. Interestingly, Paul brought up the idea of “practice” or custom. There are other places in Paul’s writings where he dealt with cultural practices within the church. Here, the issue is obedience to what Paul said from beginning to end. He was calling for women within the church at Corinth to obey Biblical instruction and by extension for Christian women today to be obedient to carry out God’s desire of orderly and honorable worship.

So this is a challenging passage that presents some action points. I don’t wear dresses to my mid-calf and sleeves to my elbows, nor is my hair in a bun and I like jewelry. I dress modestly for my culture, but I don’t feel a calling to wear a hajib. But I do know Christian women from other cultures who do dress much more modestly than I do and I don’t condemn them for that. It’s their choice. I think this passage speaks about far more than clothing styles.

Wives, please consider your relationship with your husband. If you are acting in a way that undermines your husband, then you should rethink what you are doing. It’s not that he’s more capable or better than you, but he is the head, the prominent one in your relationship. Most of the world will see your relationship in that light. Thus, you demean yourself if you bring dishonor to him.

Husbands, please support your wives in their ministries. We often exhort women to support their men in their ministries, but men ought to also support women in theirs. It shouldn’t be second-place just because it’s the woman doing it. There is a man and woman in our church — she is the worship leader … she leads the choir and the congregational singing and plans special musical events for holidays. He is the audio-visual guy. Everybody knows who Lori is and nobody knows who Eric is. He’s okay with that. If you ask him, he’ll say he knows his ministry is every bit as important as hers because she can’t do her job without him and he’d have no reason to do his job without her.

Church, please reevaluate your view of women in ministry. Why do you hold the views that you do? Have you thoroughly studied what the Scriptures say on women in ministry, or are you basing your conclusions on what you have always assumed was correct or are culturally comfortable with? I challenge you to prayerfully think through some of these issues and interact with people over what role women should play in the local church.

I think there is a balance to be found in Paul’s words. We should hold up Biblical leadership and also allow women to serve in the church in more capacities than the nursery and little kid Sunday Schools and the fellowship hall. Finding that balance in a modern society will require effort, but in this way, we honor God and show His people in a favorable light.

Church at Corinth   Leave a comment

Yeah, we came back to it!


Because Corinth was a troubled church that used its God-given blessings for the wrong reasons and therefore needed discipline. Paul’s two (actually three)  letters to this church deal with many issues that exist in the churches today if we will just look beyond the 2000-year-old trappings and see that it is essentially the same.

Chapter 4 of 1 Corinthians talks about a moral cancer that was eating away at the church there. A brother in Christ was fornicating with his father’s wife and even the community around the church was shocked. The church itself was proud of being so open minded and accepting of human foibles.

Yeah — just like welcoming and affirming churches today, but I’ve already argued that many churches that are not welcoming and affirming have as deep an issue with other varieties of sexual sin and with other kinds of less scandalous sin.

I am not picking and choosing sins here. We need to get over the idea that God accepts some sins as less and others are greater. He doesn’t. We will answer for all of them.

Whatever the Corinthian Christians privately thought of their church member’s behavior, they were publicly accepting of it and proud of their affirming attitude. Paul dealt with both their attitude and the sexual sin harshly. Asserting his apostolic authority, he rendered judgment on the matter. Unless the church at Corinth wanted him to come there and discipline the church as a whole, they must discipline the individual sinner. The brother in Christ was guilty of adultery. Therefore, by the authority of Christ (Matthew 18:20) the church was to assemble and remedy the problem.

It’s important to note that the woman is never mentioned for church discipline. I think we can presume that she was not a Christian and so was not subject to church judgment or discipline. The offending brother in Christ, however, was to be “delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.”

What does that phrase mean?

  1. It is not capital punishment for church heretics, as practiced by historic Catholicism and early Protestantism. The early Christian church did not practice such. There’s no historical evidence that they did.
  2. It was not physical death, as many commentators allege. The historical evidence again says not.
  3. It was designed to “save” the spirit of the person (v. 5b), (which necessitates a living person, by the way).
  4. The procedure was the equivalent of “putting away the wicked” person, and withdrawing one’s fellowship from the individual (1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6).
  5. The ultimate goal was that the fornicator might “destroy” his ungodly “fleshly” urge, and reclaim a life of purity. See also 1 Timothy 1:20.

Paul was very insistent upon the actions of the church in this regard. The church must desist in its pride and “glorying” (v. 2) and get serious about morality before the entire congregation became infected, just as leaven permeates dough. In the Old Testament, Passover required the purging of all leaven from the entire house. Christ is our passover, Christians, and we must rid ourselves of malice and wickedness, and pursue the unleavened bread (figuratively speaking) of sincerity and truth.

Paul had written previously to the church at Corinth. Although the letter was not preserved, Paul refers to it. He had admonished the Corinthian Christians to “have no company with fornicators.” He specifically mentions he had not meant to include pagan fornicators as Christians cannot avoid all associations with the world. While we are to have no fellowship with the world’s sinful practices (Ephesians 5:11; 1 Peter 4:4), we are not to isolate ourselves as hermits or monks. Instead, our “light” and “salt” must be allowed to influence others (Matthew 5:13-16).

Paul was discussing renegade church members and here the matter was altogether different. After formal disciplinary action, the faithful Christian is “not to keep company” with:

  • fornicators (those engaged in illicit sexual intercourse),
  • the covetous (brothers obsessed with materialism, either to obtain or retain),
  • idolaters (those who place “things” or “persons” above God),
  • revilers (verbal abusers),
  • drunkards (people who become intoxicated on alcohol or, I suspect, recreational drugs), and
  • extortioners (those who take from others by force or inordinate pressure).

These are specific actions worthy of radical “surgery” (verses 9-11). While we are not licensed to discipline the world (God will handle that), Christians have the moral responsibility to check outrageous sinfulness in the church (verses 12-13a). The unrepentant sinning Christian is to be expelled from church fellowship (v. 13b). Looking at that list, it appears there may be a lot of church members who are subject to church discipline.

In his second letter to the Corinthian church (written perhaps 6 months to a year after the first letter), Paul appears to discuss the disciplinary case addressed in 1 Corinthians 5 (refer to  2 Corinthians 2:5-11). His comments reveal that the greater part of the church had yielded to his previous instruction, and the fornicating brother had been disfellowshipped. The withdrawal had been effective in that the rogue brother had abandoned his sinful activity. From Paul’s statement in verse 6 we know:

  1. The punishment of fellowship withdrawal was inflicted.
  2. While some (a minority) refused to honor it, the majority did.
  3. After a forceful and sustained isolation of the offender, sufficient to produce a convincing result, the apostle urges the Corinthian saints to “forgive” and “comfort” the penitent brother, that sorrow over his sin might not “swallow him up” in grief, and prevent his continued fidelity.

Sustained and stubborn rebellion generally cannot be cured quickly. In a disciplinary action the church must be “tough,” and let the offender feel the full measure of the consequence of his or her sin. When it becomes apparent that the offender truly has changed, in contrast to a quick, “I’m sorry” that hasn’t been evidenced by fruit (Matthew 3:7; Jonah 3:10), he or she should be warmly embraced and encouraged in faithfulness.

There are very few churches that actually do this anymore. In fact, I can only think of the Amish and the Mennonites as practicing this form of discipline in an ordered and recognized way. Yes, they have some who leave and never return, but they also have a great many who return, repentant. An older lady in our church who was raised a Mennonite tells me that the beauty of this system is that when you repent, the church never brings it up again.

And, yeah, we’re going to discuss it.

Sacred Space   Leave a comment

The other day I happened to be reading an article on urban planning, in which the author wrote at length about what is wrong with suburbia and, by extension, rural communities. He spent a considerable amount of space lamenting the lack of “sacred space”. I thought was strange since most urbanites I know are not all that into going to church while, conversely, rural and suburban dwellers go fairly regularly. Then I read his definition of “sacred space”. To him, it was not a place to worship God so much as it was a building with breathtaking architecture. Think St. John’s Episcopal in New York City or the Crystal Cathedral, which is now a Catholic church. He lamented that evangelical Christianity “infests” the suburbs and evangelicals just don’t know how to worship God. We inspire good works, but not great ones, he said.

Wow! Color me embarrassed in mediocrity.

First, we’re guilty on the architecture charge. Evangelical churches are rarely grand affairs and when they are, they’re usually big not beautiful. Are we just architecturally challenged or is there a reason for this austerity?

I can’t speak for megachurches because I’ve never been a member of a megachurch, but I’ve been a member of some small Great Commission (aka Southern) Baptist churches. They were simple affairs, rows of pews for sitting, hardwood or low pile carpet for floors, a low stage in the front with a simple pulpit for the preacher to put his notes on and a Lord’s Supper table before it. My husband was raised Catholic and his first question upon seeing my church was “Where are the statues?” Now he understands that we consider statues in God’s church building to be idolatry, but more we structure our chapels so as not to distract from the worship of God. He’s center-stage, not the building.

This is partially because evangelicals do not consider our church buildings to be “sacred space”. The heart of the believer is God’s holy temple. The building where we hold Sunday service and teach English and citizenship to the foreign born is … well, a building. It’s convenient that we own it, but its main purpose is to house the congregation in collective gathering. I don’t feel the loss of a glorious space to worship in because I don’t worship God in that building. I worship God where I am at the moment – in my home, at work, driving through traffic, and sometimes in the church building. Biblical Christianity started in people’s homes and in the streets of Jerusalem. It didn’t need a glorious cathedral then and it doesn’t need one now. So, if our church buildings are uninspiring it may be that we’re spending our collective money on more important things.

Great works versus good works? What constitutes a “great” work? Evangelical Christianity was responsible for two “Great Awakenings”. The first one ended slavery in England and the second one was headed toward ending slavery in America when it got derailed by the Civil War, though some used it as an excuse for the Civil War. Evangelical Christianity sent missionaries throughout the known world to spread Christianity throughout Mediterranean Europe, Africa, the Middle East and as far as India while Christians were being persecuted by Rome. Modern Evangelical Christianity sent missionaries to the third world with the good news of Christ. Congregationalist evangelical Christianity’s church polity undergirds the American system of federalism. Evangelical Christianity drove German, Danish, and Dutch Gentiles to smuggle Jews out of Nazi controlled areas (google Corrie ten Boom). Evangelical Christianity smuggled Bibles into communist-bloc countries. Evangelical Christianity sends thousands of emergency workers to natural disaster sites with food, clothing, reconstruction experience (google Southern Baptist Disaster Relief). So,

I guess it depends on your definition of “great works”. It’s true that Evangelical Christians did not build the great cathedrals of Europe, but my spiritual ancestors were busy being the victims of the Inquisition and then, when they got to the United States (escaping religious persecution, by the way), we (in our loosely affiliated congregations) felt it best to concentrate on things we’d already excelled at – like, evangelism, prayer, Bible study, and convincing people that the wholesale slaughter and/or enslavement of your fellow human being is not a godly thing to do. We left the building of great edifices to denominations with more monetary resources and less important things to do.

I love great architecture. There’s not a lot of it in Alaska, so one of things I like about traveling to other places is poking around looking at aesthetically pleasing buildings – including churches. That is “glorious space”, but if you require awe-inspiring architecture to “get your God on”, there is something lacking from your relationship with the Divine. There is a portion of me – call it my heart, call it my spirit – that is “sacred space” that goes with me wherever I go, so that I am never out of touch with God unless I choose to be. That is worshipping Jesus in “spirit and in truth” and not creating “high places” where we bow down to the idols of God of our own design and hierarchal superstructure. In this way, we walk in the dusty footsteps of great past believers like Abraham, Moses, the prophets, Saul who would become Paul, Mary of Bethany, the church at Philippi, and Peter.

For a true believer in Jesus Christ, God is always right here with us and we need no more “sacred space” than our own heads.

Valentine But

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