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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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…to a few miscellaneous questions posed by visitors via the search terms. It’s interesting to hear what people are wondering about!

Q. Did Jesus recline while eating?
A. Yes — that was the custom in his day, and all the disciples (and everyone else living at the time) would have “reclined at table” at mealtimes.

Q. What does “own Thy sway” mean?
A. This is the closing line of the beautiful old hymn The Day Thou Gavest Lord Is Ended. The entire last line reads: “till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.” The phrase is very old British-English. “Thy sway” means something like “Your power” or “Your reign.” The phrase implies the person being spoken to is the rightful leader or ruler. To “own” something in old English is to admit or acknowledge it. So the phrase “own Thy sway” means something along the lines of “acknowledge You are the rightful Ruler”. It’s the same thing the apostle Paul means when he says “every knee shall bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Philippians 2:10-11)

Q. What are the words of preparation for saying the Apostles’ Creed?
A. There aren’t any — you can say it anytime you like!

There are two other questions I’m planning to look at in separate posts in the near future: “What do ‘laypeople’ do at church?” and “Explain the hymn ‘I Am Thine O Lord’?”. Both are great questions, and I will need a little more time and space to give worthy answers — keep watching this space!

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This question from one of Getting Started’s visitors puzzled me for a moment — I had never heard of it. Whoever you are, thanks for asking.

A quick Google search returned over 9,000 websites related to Divine Prosperity, and as its name sounds, the movement has to do with money and how to make it, quick. After a surf around the ‘hood here’s what I can say about it:

  • Divine Prosperity is a false teaching.
  • Divine Prosperity is a New Age concept sometimes dressed up as Christian (usually Charismatic) and/or Catholic teaching.
  • Divine Prosperity wants to part you from your money — the ‘prosperity’ part is for your spiritual “teachers”! (You only start seeing money for yourself if and when you become a “teacher”.)
  • Divine Prosperity is therefore a cross between a pyramid scheme and an online affiliate program.

Key names that crop up on a regular basis on DP websites are: (more…)

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The above is another question that arrived via the search terms list. 

The term “Trinity” (trinitas in the Latin) was first used to describe the three ‘persons’ of God by Tertullian, a Latin Christian scholar living in the 300s.   I should note that the word trinity was not originally meant to be a proper noun but rather a word denoting a relationship in much the same way that the word ‘spouse’ implies marriage.

The word trinity does not itself appear anywhere in Scripture but there are verses such as “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (II Cor. 13:14) that list the persons of the Trinity. 

Going further back, many Christians believe the Trinity is described in the opening chapters of Genesis:  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (1:1-2)  This passage includes the Father and the Spirit.  

The Son is first mentioned, though not by name, in Genesis 3:15.  God says to the serpent:  “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”   Christians believe this is the first promise of the Messiah made in scripture, which was fulfilled by Jesus the Son.

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…is another search term by which people frequently find this blog.  Go figure.

Actually, I know what it is they’re looking for.  The sarcastic posters are not on this blog.  I know where to find them but I’m not telling because they’re not very nice, and besides, sarcasm is the lowest form of humor.   You should know better.   Do you feel properly scolded now?

It will do your heart and soul much better to look at something like these.

Go thy way and sin no more.

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The above comment came my way this past week and it made me stop and think.  Christianity doesn’t seem all that complicated to me, but then I’ve been around the faith for a long time.  What is it that gets in the way of people understanding the faith?  Organized religion?  Believers themselves?  A distorted view of Christianity learned from TV and movies?  Or does the questioner really mean “I don’t understand why anyone would be a Christian”?

I welcome any thoughts on these questions.

In the meantime let me toss out a thought or two to anyone reading who might agree with the title statement.

Christianity is complex enough to keep the minds of the world’s scholars busy trying to plumb its depths, yet at the same time it is simple enough to be understood by children.  In fact, Jesus said a childlike faith is exactly the kind of faith God looks for, not in the sense of being immature but in the sense of being unsophisticated.

Christianity is a costly faith.  Following in the footsteps of Jesus — living as He taught, not as you see the televangelists living — will take all you have to give and then some.  He wants it all — life, possessions, imagination, skills, hobbies, career, relationships…  It’s not difficult to find something worth dying for, but have you found anything yet worth living for?

It’s impossible to “get” Christianity unless Jesus is the focus.  He said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  And yet at the same time he also said:  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Jesus turns the world’s crass values upside down.  He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
      for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
      for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
      for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
      for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
      for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
      for they will be called sons of God.”

Who wouldn’t want to follow Him? 

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OK now there’s a reasonable question if ever there was one.  We who were raised in the church all know that Jesus’ hand-picked trainee group was made up of twelve men.  Quick, can you name them?

It’s embarassing to admit the question stumped a few seminary students the other day, including myself.  We ended up having to Google it!  So here, for future reference, is a list of “The Twelve”: 

Simon – Who Jesus nick-named “Peter” (“The Rock”), a fisherman from Bethsaida of Galilee.
Andrew – Simon’s brother, also a fisherman and a former disciple of John the Baptist’s.
James – the son of Zebedee, and…
John – James’ brother.  Jesus nick-named the two of them “Boanerges” (“Sons of Thunder”)

(it seems even in Jesus’ day guys were still guys and did typical guy-things like give each other silly nick-names, LOL)

Philip – also from Bethsaida.
Bartholomew – may also have been referred to as “Nathaneal”.
Matthew – the tax collector, also known as “Levi”.
Thomas – also known as “Didymous” (“The Twin”).
James – the son of Alphaeus.
Thaddeus – also known in other places as “Jude”.
Simon – also known as “the Zealot”.
Judas Iscariot – who betrayed Jesus.  After his death he was replaced by Matthias.

There you have it — twelve ordinary men who, on getting to know Jesus, changed the world.

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Here’s another question from the list of reader queries.

The “great cloud of witnesses” is part of a quotation from Hebrews 12:1-2 –  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

It’s a powerful thought, one that many Christians down through the ages (myself included) have been comforted and encouraged by. 

So who does the “great cloud of witnesses” refer to?  To find the answer we need to look to the previous chapter, Hebrews 11.  Here are the names of the people of faith listed there: (more…)

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Here on WordPress, blog-writers are able to view a list of search phrases people use to find our blogs.  Every now and then an interesting phrase or question pops up, and the title of today’s post is one of them.

What do sacraments do in the modern church?  The quick answer is “pretty much the same thing they have done for the past 2000 years” but since this answer isn’t particularly helpful, let me unpack the question a little.

First, a definition.  The best definition for sacrament I have ever heard is “an outward sign of a spiritual reality”.   In other words, a sacrament is something that teaches us about God, (more…)

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