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Archive for the ‘Q and A’ Category

Taking a short break from the studies in Matthew to answer a few reader questions…

I have a couple of somewhat related questions from two different readers: (1) how did church ushers get started? and (2) how did home communions get started? The questions are somewhat related because both have to do with servant ministries within the church, and in many churches both can be performed by laypeople.

Church ushering has a long, venerable history that begins with the Doorkeepers (or Gatekeepers) of the Old Testament tabernacle.  In New Testament times the history is not as clear, but it is possible the first Deacons assisted with doorkeeping in addition to waiting tables at church gatherings.

In modern times church ushers are usually not ordained, although they are frequently chosen from among members of the church’s governing bodies.  They have a front-line responsibility in representing the church, welcoming visitors, helping guide people to appropriate seating, handing out bulletins and other printed material, and helping collect the offerings.

Home Communions also have a long history, going back to the earliest Christians.  In the early church it was the duty of Deacons to carry some of the communion bread and wine from the Lord’s Table to those members of the church who were sick or dying, so they could be included in the ‘body of Christ’, the company of the faithful.

In medieval times a great deal of pageantry and superstition grew up around home communions, and for that reason Protestant Reformers sometimes rejected the practice.  Protestants also warned against the practice of “Private Communions” — communion for just one individual or just one family, usually held in the family home — which had become a common practice among the wealthy.  The Reformers felt the practice was against Scripture, which taught communion by definition was meant to be ‘communal’ — a meal shared by the entire church family.   Eventually most Protestant churches came to see a difference between ‘private communion’ and bringing the elements to the sick and shut-ins.  Calvin also reasoned that home communion brought consolation and nourishment to those who, through no fault of their own, were not able to receive the sacrament in church.

Today each church and denomination have different practices and regulations concerning home communion.  Some require the presence of ordained clergy; some permit church elders or deacons to take elements from the Lord’s Table after communion and bring them to the sick; but most churches have some form of home communion available to church members who request it.

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(another installment in the series of Googled questions)

Yes.

But the question, “Is there *A* God?” kind of makes God sound like an inanimate object or some vaguely miscellaneous thing out-there-somewhere.

God isn’t just any-old-god.  There are lots of any-old-gods around.  Anything that people make out to be of ultimate importance in life, things like money or power or sex or nationality, can become gods.  Anything people worship on the weekend and ignore the rest of the time is an any-old-god.  *The* God is a 24/7/365 Reality.

God isn’t “watching us from a distance” as the old song says.  God is closer than we realize.   Closer than the air we breathe, which is why the apostle wrote, “in Him we live and move and have our being”.

God also isn’t one of those six-armed deities or fat laughing deities you can buy in a head shop.  The real God can’t be bought.  The real God is not a thing but a living being.  The real God can’t be kept on a shelf and dusted off now and then.

God’s existence is the foundational principle of the universe (and the more we know about the universe, the better we understand its Creator).  “Is there a God?” might be better phrased, “Is God?”  To which God has already given the answer: “I AM.”

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(Reinstating an old series, here’s the next installment of “Q&A” – questions people ask that Google answers by bringing them here.)

“What does the Holy Spirit feel like?” Interestingly scripture never mentions this.  It talks a good deal about what the Spirit inspires people to do, such as prophesying or preaching, but the spotlight always falls on the Spirit-inspired actions and not on the Spirit Himself.  Having said that, I think the question is still answer-able — partly from scripture, and partly from the experience of believers.

Many passages in the Bible include the words “…and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him/her/them…”.  However this quotation is never followed by anything like “…and the people said, ‘whoa, what was THAT?'”  Generally speaking, when the Spirit speaks, people recognize the message as coming from God.  So the first thing I’d say is the Holy Spirit feels like truth.

The Spirit is described in various parts of scripture as fire, power, faith, peace, joy, fullness, or holiness (the seal of God’s promise in and on us).  All these things come from God and when the Spirit makes His presence known we usually feel at least some of these things in some way or another.

In most cases in scripture the arrival of the Spirit is followed immediately by someone speaking God’s word or prophesying.  The Spirit of God brings God’s word, and when the Spirit inspires, it feels impossible to keep quiet about the Word.

The Spirit is, truly and literally, God within us.  Sometimes a person can sense the presence of a Being far greater than can be imagined; I’m sure when the Spirit touches us, He holds back a great deal otherwise we’d be completely overwhelmed.

In conjunction with healing and other miracles, the presence of the Spirit is often described as “warmth”, “a tingling sensation”, “electrical” or “breathtaking”.  These sensations do exist (and they’re quite pleasant) but they should not be looked for as “proof” that a person is feeling the Spirit.  Every believer receives the Holy Spirit when becoming a Christian, and always has the Spirit in him or her whether His presence is felt or not.  What the Spirit does give daily is deeper insight — eyes to see and ears to hear — or as Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, and more abundantly”.  The Spirit gives a deeper, more meaningful life in every sense of the word.

Above all, the relationship between the believer and the Spirit is just that — a relationship, a community of two, in which the Spirit feels like the embrace of a friend, brother, or soul-mate.  One then becomes aware that the Holy Spirit has the same community-of-two relationship with every believer on the planet, which defines the family of God, the community of faith, the true Church.  And in that sense, the Spirit feels like home.

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“Who started the Prosperity Movement?” – I found this question in the Search Terms list this morning and it piqued my curiosity enough to drop everything and find an answer. What I discovered is… very revealing, and helps explain why so many ‘traditional’ Christians find the movement, sometimes called the “Word of Faith” movement, vaguely disturbing. (more…)

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Reader questions make me do a double-take sometimes! This is one of them. How to answer?

Two things up front: First, even though I was raised in a Presbyterian church I have never considered myself strictly Reformed. Second, one of my favorite Reformed pastors has experienced a miraculous cure of cancer, so my Reformed friends aren’t particularly ‘traditional’ either.

So I’m probably not the best person to be representing Reformed theology, but I’ll give it a shot. (more…)

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After writing a lengthy post on what NOT to believe in — that is, how to identify quasi-Christian movements that are NOT the real thing — a couple of people challenged me to take on a more difficult question: what TO believe in. In other words, how can you tell if the church or group you’ve come in contact with is the real thing?

Before venturing out to visit a church or Christian group, first turn on your inner BS-o-Meter. Then search for churches that reflect the following: (more…)

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Another good reader question! First I’ll need to define the word laypeople, and after that I’ll talk about what my church — the Anglican church — teaches about the role of laypeople. I’d love to delve into every church’s teaching on the subject but if I did this post would get way too long! So I’ll welcome comments from people in other church traditions.

The words “lay” and “laity” stem from the Greek word laos meaning “the people”. In Scripture laos takes on a more specific meaning: the people of God.  “My people” — laos mou — becomes God’s term of endearment for those who love Him.

So in the strictest sense, ‘what laypeople do’ is anything any believer might do at any time of the day or night!

In everyday usage, though, the word “laity” has come to mean any believer who is not professional clergy. In the Roman Catholic church, the laity are people who have never received Holy Orders. In Protestant churches, Holy Orders are not considered a sacrament, but generally speaking the laity are people who are not ordained.

However in Anglicanism the laity are ordained, at confirmation, by the bishop’s laying-on of hands. We are ordained into the “fourth order” (after bishops, priests, and deacons), recognizing the scripture’s teachings regarding the commissioning of all baptized believers into Christ’s service.

In the Anglican church (as in most other churches) laypeople may serve in the church as musicians, in governing bodies such as church or parochial school boards, as lay readers, as people who carry crosses or light candles during worship, as church staff, Sunday School teachers, ushers, and so on.

More importantly, though, Anglicans believe all baptized people are expected to minister in Christ’s name. According to the Book of Common Prayer, the laity is “to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.”

Laypeople therefore have an extremely important role to play, not only in the church but also in the world.  In fact the true role of the bishops, priests, and deacons is to be “the servants of the servants of God” by helping us laypeople fulfill our mission to reach the world for Christ.

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