Category Archives: Church History

He has risen

Tomorrow on Easter, I will not be going to a church building and celebrate with fellow believers. Easter will look very different this year. I feel a little sad and disturbed.  Easter is the biggest day of the year for Christians. 

I love the big event. Churches around the world pull out all the stops for this special day.  They do special music, everyone is dressed up, we usually see the biggest crowds, those who don’t usually attend show up, there may be an egg hunt on the lawn, the preacher will have his sermon refined to a fine point and rehearsed to a place where he could do it without notes.  It is a wonderful day in the controlled chaos that is called Easter. All in the hope of a spiritual breakthrough for someone on the edges of the church. 

I’m sad that it won’t be happening this year. Or at least not in the way that I’m used to.

Yet then I must take a step back and come to the realization, Church is about more than the big event happening at your building. It’s about the big event that happened 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem when it was discovered that there wasn’t a body in Jesus’ tomb.

This is a time of social distancing and face masks.  For some, it is a time which, “the Church has left the building.”

There is a valuable truth to be comprehended here.  When the Church is forced not to meet together there comes to us a lesson.  That lesson is: the church is not a building, WE ARE THE CHURCH. Church isn’t an event you go to. It’s a people you belong to.

So as you gather around your blue tinged screens, watching a message or two, please remember and set your hearts on the founder. A founder who came out of the grave on the third day.



Sadness of lost potential

I am troubled.  In my Bible studies, it is not often my emotions are bent to the melancholy. I am currently trying to comprehend the Church as it existed between Pentecost and the end of the century.  It is often characterized as the Apostolic age. The sadness comes from the fate of the Hebrew Church.  The very nature of the church in this age was inextricably tied to the faith of Israel.  For the years after Pentecost the church was a sect, a part, a division of Judaism.  What took my usually flatline mood was ultimate fate of the church that Jesus came to establish.  “First to the Jew” as Jesus said, did not come to a great revival of the Son’s of Abraham.  The church to which Jesus came to change never really happened.  The Church for the Hebrews, for all intents and purposes simply did not make it.

There was always a remnant and even today there are bits and pieces of the Hebrew church.  But for the most part, it is a gentile church.  For many in the first century and beyond, Jewish followers of Jesus did not form a different functioning religion. They lived in Judea and the Galilee, and as long as the Temple stood, they participated in its rites.

These chosen people of God who proclaimed Jesus as messiah were ostracized by their own families, their community, and ultimately by the church as it moved to a primarily gentile emphasis. The dual identity of the earliest followers of Jesus became the also rans of Christianity.  Seen as a threat to the established religion of Judaism and seen as an part of an anachronism in its death watch.

I read of some of the second generation of Christian leaders proclaiming those who believe in the Messiah Jesus and still practice Hebrew customs as an absurdity. I find a sense of intolerance in the church as it transitions across the century line which could well have contributed to the death of the Hebrew Church. 

What could have happened if the church stayed within the arms of the Mother of Judaism, we will never know. Could God’s design have been furthered by the incorporation of the traditions and customs of the Chosen people?  

Why am I sad? I would suppose, it is the could of, should of, would of world of conjecture. How much could the rich culture have added to the church’s beliefs of today?  Hence sadness.

The Changing Church

Has the church changed so much that some really cannot relate with the Bible.  Have we trod the path from Acts when Peter preached and 3,000 repented?  The church has changed from a bible believing, monotheistic, well accustomed to digging deep into scripture and willing to talk about it. The group to which Peter in Acts 2 were like that, full of knowledge and willing to understand and accept the teachings of the new rabbi.  But the church has become like the audience in Acts 17:22, “I see that in every way you are religious.”  Paul walked around in their city and what he saw was great belief in the wrong things. They even had an altar with the title, “To an unknown God.”  He accused the believers in all the religions that abounded and simply told them, “you are ignorant of the very thing you worship.”

Have we come so far as to having a form of religion without the very reason for that effort? Isn’t Paul’s logic still hold true: 

24 The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Insipid Salt

I’m no chemist, but one of the most stable substances in the world is salt.  The chemical bond is very tight. You see, sodium and chlorine are happy to become one and share their one electron. The life of the salt is very tight.  Mr. Sodium and Mrs. Chlorine are happily married.  They are like the happily married couple that just loves to be married, no matter what hits the fan. Little can separate them.

So what was Jesus talking about in Matthew 5:13?

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage”. (The Message)

 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes insipid, what can make it salt again? After that, it is fit for nothing, fit only to be thrown outside and trodden by the feet of men.” (Moffatt)

Jesus was talking believing followers which He calls blessed in the previous verses often called the Beatitudes.

The greatest danger which the body of believers called the church faces then and now, is to lose its tang, its zest, its cutting edge.  The Church will never die.  It is in no danger of falling on its face to a worship of the devil.  Ultimately good and God will prevail.  Never-the-less, there is an ever-present danger which lurks to snatch us unaware to become insipid. Merriam Webster defines the word insipid as: 1) lacking taste or savor, 2) lacking in qualities that interest, stimulate, or challenge; being dull, flat, ignored.

Jesus was warning to the church never to lose its bitingly Christian flavor. I just had a quantity of California Sushi rolls for lunch.  In the package was a large glop of oddly textured green material.  Some would say right away it is wasabi.  It is there to add zest and to add a juxtaposition to the mild sushi.  By the way, don’t take that whole thing and put it into your mouth.  But I digress.

What Jesus was looking for was a people with a zest, a tang, a flavor.  Jesus’ way of life was a stark contrast to the world around Him.  Jesus’ task was to add that zest that makes a difference.  A specific tang that anyone tasting it would immediately recognize it.  The only way to make salt insipid or worthless is to dilute it, to mix it with something that it is not meant to be mixed.   If we lose our tang, our zest, our taste of Godliness, if we become insipid, what good are we?

It is just too easy to sidestep the tough questions.  It is less risky to voice simple platitudes in the face of opposition. We can, and often do, straddle controversial issues and flee to a safety zone of non-committal.  It is salt that has lost its saltiness; insipid.

The Church started in this world with a cutting edge of the truth of Christ. It faced Roman culture and politics so peculiarly that it turned the world upside down.  Consequently, as it grew it became more reasonable, more sane, more strategic, more flat, less tangy, no distinctiveness. I don’t think that Jesus is happy with the adulterated salt of what goes by the name of Church.

I like that word, insipid.  A good word to ponder and concentrate upon.  Even better to think if it describes ourselves.


Danger of being institutionalized

There is a grand difference between being part of an institution and be institutionalized. But they seem to have been blurred in modern culture.  One definition for institution is provided by Dictionary dot com:

An organization, establishment, foundation, society, or the like, devoted to the promotion of a particular cause or program, especially one of a public, educational, or charitable character.

By that definition there should be no shame in calling a church, any church an institution.  It is a place where people are loved, nurtured, protected, heard and sustained.  The church has a responsibility to continue in these things.  An institution is a social mechanism for making a desirable experience easily repeatable and sustainable.

Football is an institution, Thanksgiving is an institution, so why the blurring of the lines between institution and be institutionalized?

Institutions, as we have seen are not a problem. The issue at hand is the corruption of the good of continuation and viability with the idea of a corrupt idea of institutionalization. An institution can enrich life.  But when the institution itself sees itself as only the mechanism and the goal is not the good but the continuation of the machine, it becomes institutionalized.  The method becomes more important than the product.  The system overshadows the purpose.  So how does this subtle change happen?  How does the church change from a vehicle for liberation and love to an engine of unchangeability and rigor?

The Pharisees of Jesus’s day were masters of this metamorphosis. They took the institution of the Sabbath, a weekly pause intended to renew the human spirit and turn in so imperceptibly into a life quenching list of prohibitions.  They took the idea of a coming Messiah and pointed it toward a mantra of things that had to be done to earn the coming presence of the Great King. The faith of Isaiah and Jerimiah degenerated into an engine of oppression. An engine with all the trappings the faithful.  A form of godliness without the power.

The church is an institution.  That is nothing to be coy about. It is your and my responsibility to keep our churches on an upward path.  A path of life-giving renewal. Remember that task is not as important as the people.



This Sunday, Pastor reminded us that both Valentine’s day and the beginning of Lent was on Wednesday.

“What did you give up for Lent?” was asked of me several years ago and it really did not register what that meant.  I figured it was like a second chance at a New Year’s Resolution for those who had already abandoned theirs.

In Jesus’ day, the people gamely tried to obey the written law to win God’s favor. The scribes and Pharisees scrupulously taught the law to people looking for freedom from the Romans, adding many human safeguards so there would be no chance that someone might transgress a commandment by accident.

So why do we observe Lent in the Christian life today?  What are the reasons behind the tradition?  I really don’t find anywhere in the Scripture that admonishes us to observe a specific time and or season of fasting and personal supplication outside of admonishment to a continued and constant part of the Christians life.

Around the church, Lent and the Easter tradition has become an opportunity to bring us closer to God.  The Pastor is preaching on the great “I ams” of Jesus.  But in reality, it will be one more lost opportunity to be called of God to a higher place with Him. That’s surprising, especially since Lent is one of the oldest observations on the Christian calendar. Like all Christian holy days and holidays, it has changed over the years, but its purpose has always been the same: self-examination and penitence, demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter. Early church father Irenaeus of Lyons (c.130-c.200) wrote of such a season in the earliest days of the church, but back then it lasted only two or three days, not the 40 observed today.

In 325, the Council of Nicea discussed a 40-day Lenten season of fasting, but it’s unclear whether its original intent was just for new Christians preparing for Baptism, but it soon encompassed the whole Church. How exactly the churches counted those 40 days varied depending on location. In the East, one only fasted on weekdays. The western church’s Lent was one week shorter but included Saturdays. But in both places, the observance was both strict and serious. Only one meal was taken a day, near the evening. There was to be no meat, fish, or animal products eaten.

There has been many changes and interpretations to the length and scope of this season.  Never-the-less, Lent is still devoutly observed in some mainline Protestant denominations (most notably for Anglicans and Episcopalians), others hardly mention it at all. However, there seems to be potential for evangelicals to embrace the season again as a promoting fasting as a forerunner to revival. For many evangelicals who see the early church as a model for how the church should be today, a revival of Lent may be the next logical step.

Bible by Chapter and Verse

There are literally thousands of Bible study helps available.  There are commentaries written as academia and some for simple understandings.  There are handbooks, dictionaries, synoptic comparisons, expositions, translations, word studies in both Greek and Hebrew, parallel companions, daily Bible readings, prayer guides and on and on. I have to confess I have quite of few of these helps.  But every one of them depend on the work of another.  Never-the-less, without the work of a Bible scholar in England in the 13th century, it would have been much harder to study the Bible.

Stephen Langton was the medieval Archbishop of Canterbury.  He was the most prominent churchman in England. He was the one working with the Barons of England to force a faithless King John into signing the Magna Charta.  Quite a revolutionary for his time.  What this churchman is not well known for and the subject of this blog is something he added to the Bible that all the others that followed including me and you as we look through the Bible.  The next time someone asks you to lookup a verse in Isaiah they will give you a chapter and a verse number.  That convention was created by Stephane Langton.  He went through the entire Bible dividing it up in what, was to him, the most logical places to put chapters and delineate the verses.

Imagine how hard it would be to lookup John 3:16 if all you had was the text without any numbers to guide you along the way?  Each time the preacher says, “my text will be found in the fourteenth chapter and the third verse, you are depending upon the work of Stephen Langton.  Know full well his divisions were to the Latin Vulgate for the Holy Roman Church. But even after translation of scripture into all the languages of the world, Steven Langton stands in the background helping you find your favorite scripture.

Since the 13th century each expositor, scholar, printer, publisher, copier used this method.  Thank you Rev. Stephen Langton.

What is the Church?

What is a true Christian Church?  Is it the name?  Some denominations have one of the names of God: Church of God, Apostolic Church of God, Church of the Nazarene, Christ Covenant, and Assembly of God.  Some are named with reference to the Bible: Beacon Bible Church, Church of the Living Word, Word of Life Church, Word of Faith, Bible Way, Community Bible Church and Bible Church.  There are Methodists, Baptists, Christian, Presbyterian, Christian Missionary Alliance, Covenant, Lutheran, Episcopalian Pentecostal, Calvary and on and on.

Is the church the style of worship?  There are churches with traditional styled services.  There are churches with contemporary styled services.  There are churches with celebration styled worship.  There are churches with sacramental styled worship. There are churches with no music in their services.  Some churches have light shows and modern stage presentations.  There are churches with pews and others with chairs.  There are churches that are big but most are small with less than 100 members.

All Christian churches are divided first into one of three areas.  Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. From there the divisions and branches are too numerous to go any further.

What the true mark of a true Christian Church are core beliefs? Those core understandings of God are what makes a church a Church.  Looking carefully at belief systems of many churches, most fall into specific core beliefs.  There are as many, what I would call periphery beliefs from style of baptism, to stands on the Gifts of the Spirit.

Now you wouldn’t be reading this unless you were willing to hear what I have to say makes the true Christian Church.

In the true Church the following is true:

  1. A belief in God as defined as belief in God the Father, Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Holy Spirit.
  2. The holiness of the Church and the communion of saints.
    1. The church membership requires salvation of the individual by faith.
    2. The church member is sent to propagate and extend the benefits of the saving grace of God.
  3. Jesus is Lord.
    1. Christ’s second coming, the Day of Judgement and salvation of the faithful.
    2. Jesus is the head of the church. Jesus is Lord.  Jesus is the ruler.
    3. Jesus is the purpose of everything that is done. This single core belief calls the church together as a community.  If the Church does not have Jesus as the purpose it is not a Christian Church.
    4. Jesus is the method of salvation. Only in belief in the forgiving power of Jesus is the power of salvation.
    5. The death, descent into hell, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.
    6. Christ’s second coming, the Day of Judgement and salvation of the faithful.

So enough with the technical and theology.  My idea of a Christian Church is a church were a united community of believers are called together to worship and empowered to go out to the world with hope and purpose.  It is a place where the past never defines the believer’s future.  In my Church there is always redemption.  That redemption there is always a new brighter, blessed, hope filled day coming.  In my ideal church no one thinks himself better than anyone else.  Even to a point that my church is not any better than any other in town.  In my church each believer is doing the best that can be done at being the best we can be.  In my church there is a belief that we believe in God and God believes in us.  The ideal church, believers would not think less of those who do not believe like us, but there is an active pursuance of them in the same love that pursues us.

At my church the believers are still learning.  Learning to learn with an appetite directed to the scriptures.  Learning to serve God and neighbors with a joy in their hearts.  Believers are learning to worship God in more of their lives than just Sunday morning.  It is worship with the entire being and everything that is done. It is a congregation of believers that live, breath, cry, laugh, and love for God’s glory, honor, praise, and fame.  There is no place for an “I” in Church.

Caution must be had here.  There is no perfect church.  Believers still make mistakes.  Leadership make mistakes.  The difference is what is done in response to error.  The true believer, the leader, the church itself has to choose to not to give up.  It is a choice to use that failure as a stepping stone to growth.

The true church is part of the world of believers held together by the resurrection of Jesus.

The true church the believers choose to believe that God is real and God wants the best in us and for us.  The church the believers strive to server others in need of a touch, a prayer, meal, or a hug.  The true church is the hands and the feet of Jesus.

The true church is always inviting, loving, hoping, living, worshiping, praying, smiling amid tears, learning, and being more than the total of the lives of the believers.

Hanging of the Greens at Christmas

The church at I attend on a regular basis is planning a special service for the Christmas season.  It is titled “Hanging of the Greens.  The hanging of the greens is a Western Christian ceremony in which a congregation adorn the church with decorations.  It is usually don on or directly before the start of Advent.  It is a preparation for the coming Christmas celebration.

So what does it mean to the average christian?  It is a start of the season celebration that is more than black Friday or cyber Monday. The is the first acknowledgement of God with us. During the Advent season we prepare for the One who has come, whom we expect to come, and who will come again. We prepare our hearts and make room for the Messiah. In the hanging of the greens we share with other Christians throughout the ages the memory and anticipation of Christ’s coming. We decorate our church with the symbols of love, joy, hope, and peace. Why do we do this? To tell the story again and then proclaim: Jesus is born. God is with us!


Church Music and the evolution of worship

First let me say I am a senior citizen. I was just thrust into Medicare and signed up for Social Security. I have not always been in the church. It started for me back when someone from the Nazarene Church came calling on a newlywed couple. Not long after we became a part of the church. It had a formula of service: Prayer, announcements, a song from the Hymnal, an offering, two more songs from the Hymnal, a special song from one of the parishioners, preaching and an invitation. Oh they mixed up once and a while by having the announcements after the offering but nothing really changed. The same ingredients just mixed a little differently. We had an organ on one side of the platform and a piano on the other. Opal played the piano. We had to be careful not to pick songs that she could not play. She was dedicated and was a blessing to all for her stewardship of time and talent. The organ was reserved for the preacher’s wife. Lofty tones of ethereal music that could thrill the soul.

The biggest change in music was in inclusion of songs from singer songwriters such as the Gaithers. We occasionally sang songs such as “The Longer I Serve Him”, “Because He Lives”, “Something Beautiful”, “He Touched Me” and “There’s Something About That Name”. They were predominantly songs of testimony. They were songs that would tell what God has done in people’s lives. They trilled the soul, sent penitent sinners to the altar, it was exciting.

Song books started to show up next to the hymnal in the pew. There seemed to be a craving for an experiential, testimonial, heart pulling type of music. In retrospect these songs were not that different from songs in the hymnal such as “Victory in Jesus”, “It Is Well With My Soul”, “Amazing Grace”, “Christ Arose”, and “He Loves Me”. But these new spiritual songs were written in modern styles and seemed to bolster the music ministry of the church.

Let us fast forward through Bible College, three different churches as a pastor, and now retirement and we now come to the new church experience. The evolution of church music has changed the church. And I am not so certain that it is a change that is good. I am afraid instead of the church changing the world the world has changed the church.

We live in an ever-present culture of consumerism and materialism. We often quote the latest commercial on television more often than scripture. This culture seems to have seduced the church to be driven by marketing rather than mission. And the music I hear is driven more by entertainment than the God centeredness of true worship.

It was A. W. Tozer who said, “The church that can’t worship must be entertained. And men who can’t lead a church to worship must provide the entertainment.” It is so sad to think that contemporary music and worship has become worship dumbed down and has become a cross between “American Idol” and “Sesame Street”. Worship in song is to lift the veil of the Holy of Holies and peek into the throne room of God. It is not the vain repetition that Jesus warned us about by singing the same words over and over and over again.

I am distressed that the church today is trying so hard to be modern and contemporary in an effort to attract new members, they succumb to things that are nothing more than marketing ploy. Instead of worship in song we substitute a variety show for entertainment.

So here is my take on what music in my church should be:

1. Truthful: Rather than trying to get dumber than a fifth grader, offer truth that grows my understanding of God. As we glorify Him in our music, as we worship Him in our spiritual songs, don’t be afraid to convey some deep spiritual truth that may change my life. After all, He is truth, it shouldn’t be that hard. The reason most of the hymns of the old timers were so good was they were filled with theology and truth.

2. Written for adults: The Church is a blood washed throng. We are intelligent, cognizant, seekers of truth. The children in the church sing little songs once and while in the church and we think that cute. But we are no longer children; I need meat in my worship. Go ahead, give us songs with deep doctrine that excite our souls. Give us something we can hold onto on a daily basis. Give us something to hum under our breath in the times you would rather scream.

3. Timeless: Let’s sing songs that reach back into the archives of songs proven to have been used of God to edify His people. Why change something that has touched people’s lives for decades if not centuries. The newest and most popular is not always the best.

4. Quality: We need to play music well. There are those who have gifts and talents to play music and to sing. And if the best you have is giving the best they can give, I am fine with that. Remember enthusiasm is no substitute for practice.

5. Worshipful: When we sing, point us to God, not toward your talents. This is not Holy Karaoke. It is not being relevant to society; it is simply conforming to the world. We need serious worship. Worship that is pointed toward God and not to the platform or the overhead screen.

6. Piety: I hear the mantra of “come as you are, God doesn’t care what you wear, it is what is in your heart that matters.” If you showed up to your child’s wedding in jeans and a pair of sandals would you say, “My child doesn’t care what I wear?” The concept of Sunday best is being lost. I know full well that we live in a more relaxed culture, but dress as if worship is nothing more than one more day is not giving God his best. Whether conscious or unconscious what we wear is a characteristic our perceived worth of the occasion. Worship calls for the best, not what is comfortable.

My Father is rich in houses and lands,
He holdeth the wealth of the world in His hands!
Of rubies and diamonds, of silver and gold,
His coffers are full, He has riches untold.

My Father’s own Son, the Savior of men,
Once wandered on earth as the poorest of them;
But now He is pleading our pardon on high,
That we may be His when He comes by and by.

I once was an outcast stranger on earth,
A sinner by choice, an alien by birth,
But I’ve been adopted, my name’s written down,
An heir to a mansion, a robe and a crown.
A tent or a cottage, why should I care?
They’re building a palace for me over there;
Though exiled from home, yet still may I sing:
All glory to God, I’m a child of the King.

I’m a child of the King, A child of the King:
With Jesus my Savior, I’m a child of the King