Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: January, 2017

THE IMITATION OF CHRIST

The apostle Paul tells the Ephesians to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (Eph. 4:32; NKJV) and to “walk in love” (5:2).  These are all noble ideals, of course, but sometimes hard to put into actual practice.  Our natural instinct is to look out for ourselves and to retaliate when wronged.  To us it seems like a simple matter of justice.  And why should I go out of my way to do good to others?  I have enough of my own problems.

And yet Paul enjoins us to be kind and to forgive, and he underpins the exhortation by pointing to the example of Christ: “forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (4:32), and “walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling aroma” (5:2).  “God in Christ forgave you.”  The verb in the Greek (echarisato) suggests open-handed generosity – to forgive freely with no strings attached..  We were guilty sinners.  We fully deserved God’s wrath and condemnation.  Yet in Christ Jesus we have been forgiven – our guilt has been removed and we are accepted as perfectly righteous persons.

But how was that possible?  If we are guilty there is no denying the fact.  The answer is that “Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God” (5:2).  He “gave Himself.”  The verb here (paredoken) means to “hand over” or to “deliver up,” especially to a person or judgment.  Jesus was betrayed, tried and crucified.  But He did it voluntarily; He could have prevented it if He had wanted to, and yet He did it anyway.  And in so doing He was basically making Himself “an offering and a sacrifice to God.”  The imagery here is drawn from the Old Testament temple ritual in which various things would be brought to the temple and offered up on the altar.  In this way the thing offered was surrendered to God.  And the reason Christ offered Himself for us  is that He “loved us” – He had enough care and concern for us, guilty sinners that we were, that He was willing to lay down His very life on our behalf.  And according to our text, this was “a sweet-smelling aroma.”  We are told in the Book of Genesis that after the Flood Noah built an altar, sacrificed some animals, and burnt their carcasses on an altar.  “And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma” (Gen. 8:21).  And thus when Christ offered Himself up on the cross it was, figuratively speaking, “a sweet-smelling aroma” to God, something to which God took exquisite pleasure.

If, then, God has shown such grace and mercy towards us, what excuse do we have if we fail to show it towards those who have wronged us?  We are to “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us” (5:2).  We should show that same care and compassion, that same willingness to forgive, as did Christ.  It is the attitude here that counts.  We should be “kind to one another,” ready and willing to do good to each other.  We should be “tenderhearted” – we should feel real sympathy and compassion in our hearts for others.  And that in turn means that we will be “forgiving one another.”  No one is perfect, but we are to love them anyway.  The hurt may be real, be we seek the other’s redemption, not his punishment.

In this way we can be a living example of Christ’s own love.  People should be able to look at us and get an idea of Christ must have been like in His earthly ministry.  And in this way by our example the world is confronted with Christ.

 

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TRUE WORSHIP

 

solomons_temple1

Model of Solomon’s Temple

What is worship?  And why do we do it at all?  In some traditional churches it is little more than a mere formality, or even second rate entertainment if a choir or soloist is involved.  In other churches it is a thinly disguised rock concert.  But what is worship really supposed to be like?

Psalm 100 gives us a brief but comprehensive view of true worship.  It is divided into two stanzas, and each stanza gives us both a “how” and a “why.”

The psalm begins by exhorting us to:

“Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!

Serve the Lord with gladness;

Come before His presence with singing.”

(vv. 1,2; NKJV)

The first thing to be noted is that true worship is directed toward God.  “Make a joyful shout to the Lord.”  Worship is not supposed to be a form of entertainment.  It is not a choir or soloist singing to the congregation; it is the congregation singing to God.  It is a means of expressing our love and devotion to Him.

Secondly, there ought to be a real sense of being in the very presence of God Himself when we worship.  We are to “come before His presence.”  It is not enough merely to be present in a church building.  It is our relationship with God Himself that counts.

Worship, moreover, is not to be a dull, mechanical exercise, a mere formality to be endured for the sake of tradition.  We are to “make a joyful shout,” “Serve (or worship) the Lord with gladness,” and “Come before His presence with singing,” or “a joyful cry,” as the word might be translated.  The idea here is that our worship ought to arise out of a sense of genuine joy (“gladness”) in our hearts.  God is not honored by grudging praise.  What He wants to see are people who are genuinely excited by having Him as their God.

But why should we bother?  What is the point?  The psalm goes on to tell us to

“Know that the Lord, He is God:

It was He who made us, and not we ourselves;

We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.”

(v. 3).

First of all, we are to understand that the Lord is God.  He is the Supreme Being, the Ruler of the universe.  Secondly, He is our Creator: “It was He who made us.”  We would not exist at all if He had not made us.  We owe our very existence to Him.

Furthermore, “We are His people.”  The ancient Israelites could say this because they were God’s chosen people with whom He had made a covenant.  Christians can say the same thing because they have been redeemed by the blood of Christ.  He bought us, therefore we are His.

But significantly we are “the sheep of His pasture.”  The word translated “pasture” more properly refers to the act of pasturing or shepherding.  God actively watches over us, protects us and provides for our needs, and for this we should be genuinely grateful.

The second stanza begins by exhorting us to

“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,

And into His courts with praise.

Be thankful to Him, and bless his name.”

(v. 4)

What is pictured here, of course, is the ancient temple in Jerusalem, surrounded by courtyards and accessible through gates.  Three times a year, during the great Jewish feasts, worshippers would throng the temple courts to worship God.  And so we too are to engage in public worship, and “be thankful to Him, and bless His name.”

But why?

“For the Lord is good,

His mercy is everlasting,

And His truth endures to all generations.”

(v. 5)

What does it mean when it says that “the Lord is good”?  The verse goes on to explain.  God’s goodness consists of two basic character traits that are found in Him.  The first of these is “mercy,” or as it might better be translated “lovingkindness” (NASV) or “steadfast love” (ESV).  It is God’s kindness in bestowing favors and benefits on His creatures.  The second quality is “truth,” or as it might better be translated “faithfulness” (NASV, ESV).  This refers to God’s firm reliability, consistency and trustworthiness.  It is what enables us to trust in Him implicitly.

Moreover these attributes are “everlasting” and endure “to all generations.”  Everything we experience here on earth is subject to change, and is therefore unreliable: “here today, gone tomorrow.”  But above it all is God, eternal and unchanging.  We can count on Him to be the same forever.

What all of this means is that we do not live in a universe governed by chance and blind, purposeless natural processes.  Rather it is ruled by God, an infinite but personal Supreme Being.  Nor is He some malevolent despot in the sky, but a God whose designs are benevolent and whose word can be trusted.  For us this makes all the difference between glorious hope and the utter despair of those without God.

That hope should be reflected in our worship.  We should consciously enter into God’s presence and lift up our voices to praise Him.  And our praise ought to flow from hearts that are genuinely filled with love for God and joy over all that He has done for us.  To Him be the glory!

 

WHY SMALL GROUP BIBLE STUDIES

dscn0949

East Troupsburg Baptist Church, Troupsburg, NY

 

Today we think we know what a church is – an organization that owns a building and hires a pastor who comes in from the outside to run things.  The church puts on a variety of programs and activities, and on Sunday mornings gathers together in the building to go through a formal routine which involves a brief prayer, some congregational singing and “special music,” and a message from the pastor.  In the more traditional churches there might be a choir wearing special robes, responsive Scripture readings, and the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer or Apostles’ Creed.  And then everyone goes home, enjoys their Sunday dinner, and gets on with the rest of life.

It may come a shock, therefore, that that is not how the church in the New Testament operated at all.  First of all, there were no church buildings.  How, then, you ask, did they gather for worship?  “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart . . .” (Acts 2:46; NKJV).  The primitive church apparently operated on two levels: on the one level was the entire Christian community of a given metropolitan area – the church at Corinth or Ephesus, for example – and then there were smaller groups that met in individual homes – the church that met in Priscilla’s and Aquila’s house, for example (Rom. 16:3-5; I Cor. 16:19).

Moreover, a church in the New Testament was not under the control of a single pastor, or “senior pastor.”   The church was not his personal domain to govern as he wished.  Rather churches in the New Testament were under the oversight of boards of elders, spiritually mature men who were chosen from within the congregation.

But must we imitate the New Testament church today?  That was then, and now is now.  We live in the Twenty-First Century, not the First.

The answer is yes and no.  Just because something was done then does not necessarily mean it must be done now.  But it must always be remembered that Christ is the Head of the church; our aim must always be to please Him.  The real question, then, is how did Christ intend for the church to operate?

In answering that question we must distinguish between passages of Scripture that are prescriptive and those that are merely descriptive.  Just because we are told in the Book of Acts that a church did something 2,000 years ago does not mean that we have to do that today.  But the prescriptive passages, passages that command us to do something, are binding on us today.  They tell us how the church is supposed to operate.

The first thing to consider, then, is the general nature of the church itself.  It is not primarily a legally incorporated organization that owns property, nor is it a mere social club.  Rather, it is “the communion of the saints,” a group of born-again believers bound together by the common bond of the Holy Spirit in a kind of mystical union with Christ himself.  The church, in fact, is referred to in the New Testament as “the body of Christ” (Rom. 12:4-8; Eph. 4:11-16) or as a kind of building or temple (Eph. 2:19-22: I Pet. 2:5).  This is a mystical bond that transcends ethic and cultural boundaries (Gal. 3:26-29).  And the Scripture makes it clear that each member of the body has a spiritual gift and a corresponding role to play within the body (I Cor. 12:14-30: Eph. 4:7-16; I Pet. 4:10,11).  That means that if a church is functioning properly all of its members should be actively involved in the work of ministry.

The next thing to be considered is the responsibility that the members of the church have towards each other.  The most basic responsibility, of course, is to love one another, and this is mentioned in numerous passages throughout the New Testament.  But what does that mean in actual practice?  First of all, it means that all the members must be zealous to preserve the unity of the church (Eph. 4:1-4; Col. 3:14,15).  That in turn means that decisions are to be made by consensus (Rom. 12:16; 15:5,6; I Cor. 1:10; Phil. 1:27; 2:1-4; I Pet. 3:8,9).  We are to submit to each other (Eph. 5:21), and bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). We should seek to build up one another (Rom. 14:19; I Thess. 5:11).

But how is this to be accomplished?  First of all, we are to admonish one another (Rom. 15:14); and pray for one another (Eph. 6:18) and with each other (Matt. 18:19,20).  We are to speak to one another “in psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs” ((Eph. 5:18,19; Col. 3:16).  We are to provide financial aid to those in need ((Rom. 12:13; I Tim. 6:17-19; I Jn. 3:14-18), and we are to restore those overtaken in sin (Gal. 6:1).

What all of this requires is that we meet together on a regular basis.  “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:24,25).  And Christ himself has promised that “where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).*

What all of this virtually requires is some sort of small group interaction, in which believers have the opportunity to know each other on a personal level and interact with each other.  It is also significant that most of these exhortations are addressed to entire churches, but the elders are practically never mentioned by name.  The spiritual life of the church is the responsibility of all of its members and each one must do his part.  In my experience the spiritually healthier churches supplement the Sunday morning service with some sort of small group interaction in which committed disciples study the Bible together and pray together.  This is as Christ intended it to be.

 

*It is significant that He says “in My name.”  It is not to be primarily in a denomination’s name ((I Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17).

WOMEN’S HEADCOVERINGS?

 

4.2.7

Lorenzo di Credi,  The Annunciation

Review:

The Truth of Headship and Its Symbolic Practice:

A Study of God’s Grace & Government

Stephen Hulshizer

Spread the Word

50 pp.; pb

 

Stephen Hulshizer raises a question about a practice not often observed today, viz., the practice of women wearing headcoverings in public worship.  Years ago it was a common practice for women to wear hats in church, yet nowadays it is rarely seen except in a few small groups such as conservative Mennonites with their distinctive coverings.  Yet there is a passage of Scripture that seems to enjoin it – I Corinthians 11:2-16.  Is this, then, a practice we should be observing today?

Mr. Hulshizer is associated with a fellowship of believers known to outsiders as the “Plymouth Brethren.”  In his booklet “The Truth of Headship” he argues the case for women wearing headcoverings in public worship.  It is a thought provoking study to say the least.

Mr. Hulshizer begins by laying out the general principles of God’s government of the universe.  From the very beginning the universe was structured in such a way that everything was subject to some sort of authority, with everything ultimately subject to God’s authority.  Mr. Hulshizer traces the great biblical themes of creation, fall and redemption to show that the governing principle is “loving authority and willing submission.”  When man fell he rebelled against God’s authority and created a dysfunctional state of affairs as a result.  The purpose of redemption, by the same token, is to restore creation back to its original state of harmony, and with it the basic principle of authority and submission.  This observation is especially striking, coming as it does from a teacher from among “the brethren in the assemblies,” since the sharp dispensational contrast between “law” and “grace” can be traced back to one of their early leaders, John Nelson Darby.

Mr. Hulshizer points out that the Father is the Head of Christ, Christ is the Head of man, and man is the head of woman.  This sounds like a radical proposition today, but it goes right to the heart  of what ails contemporary society – our casting aside of authority altogether.  We talk endlessly about “freedom” and “equality,” but cannot make a marriage work with all of its duties and responsibilities.

With all of this in mind Mr. Hulshizer turns to the passage in question, I Corinthians 11: 2-16.  On the surface the passage seems clear enough: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head [i.e., her husband . . .] (v. 5; NKJV).  But there is a problem here.  The passage seems to imply that a woman may pray or prophesy as long as she has her head covered.  But I Cor.14:34 specifically states, “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak . . .” The commentators have long puzzled over this.  John Calvin took the position that “when the apostle disapproves of the one thing here he is not giving his approval to the other” (Commentary on passage).  Mr. Hulshizer takes a similar position.  In his view I Cor. 14:34,35 absolutely forbids women to speak in public worship.  Thererfore, in Mr. Hulshizer’s view, I Cor. 11:4,5 condemns two different things simultaneously: women leading in prayer and having their heads uncovered in public worship.  But his exegesis here is forced.  Passage is clearly describing a woman praying or prophesying.  It tells us how she should comport herself when she does so.  It does not say that she should not pray or prophesy.

The answer, as we have suggested before, is that I Cor. 11 apparently small private gatherings where the Lord’s Table was observed, while I Cor. 14 discusses what should happen when “the whole church comes together in one place” where unbelievers might be present (vv. 22-24).  In fact, it could be argued that the whole purpose of the headcovering is to permit women to pray or prophesy while still recognizing their husbands’ authority.  Prophesy was clearly a spiritual gift that some women had (Acts 21:9), and was a gift that should be encouraged (I Cor. 14:1, 5; I Thess. 5:19,20).

But does the passage in I Cor. 11 require women to wear some sort of hat or scarf on their heads?  Mr. Hulshizer points out that “there is a definite action implied in the text with regard to being covered or uncovered” (p. 38 – you “covered” your head or “uncovered” your head, implying that you are putting on or taking off something).  He also notes that simply having long hair was all that Paul had in mind verse 6 would be a nonsense statement (“For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn,” i.e. if she is not covered, let her be uncovered).  The Greek terminology that Paul employs in the passage suggests that what he had in mind was some sort of shawl or mantle that a woman can pull up over her hair, effectively covering it.

But isn’t the practice of a woman covering her head merely a cultural adaptation?  Something that applied to ancient Middle Eastern society, but not to us today?  But Paul goes back to the order of creation, appeals to the sensibilities of angels, and concludes by saying “But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God” (v. 16), all of which transcend local culture and custom.

What shall we say, then?  Mr. Hulshizer raises an important question but gives a faulty answer.  Women praying and prophesying in small private gatherings are clearly in view in I Cor. 11, but they are required to wear something on their heads when doing so.

The passage should clearly be given more serious consideration than it is today, and we are grateful to Mr. Hulshizer for raising the subject.