Thinking Through Scripture

"but the word of the Lord remains forever"

Tag: Church

What to Expect as a Christian

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Being a Christian is not all daisies and cupcakes.  It’s not always easy.  It’s not always friendly.  What should you expect as a Christian in this world?

Persecution from the World:

“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Persecution is a fundamental part of Christianity.  There are Christians in various parts of the world who are suffering intense persecution now, even to the point of losing possessions, freedom, and life.  This history of persecution can be traced back to the beginning of the church.  Early Christians were both persecuted by the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman Empire.  Many of the great Christians you read about in Scripture were executed for Christ.

While many modern Christians face very light persecution, and sadly many try to overplay or invent persecution stories, actual persecution really does exist here and now.  It is nearly impossible to have a discussion about any relevant moral issue once somebody finds out you are a Christian.  Your motives are attacked, you are insulted, and productive communication ceases.  Christians are often judged as being judgmental, called ignorant by the ignorant, and hated for being hateful. The hypocrisy of those who call us hypocritical is blindingly obvious.  Yet, this is one of the many ways we carry our cross while following Jesus.

Animosity from Family:

“For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.  He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me…” (Matthew 10:35-37).

Now, there are some, myself included, who have been greatly blessed as to have the majority of their physical family also be in their spiritual family.  What this means is that their family rejoices with them in their conversion to Christ. This is not always the case, however.

If you turn your life to Christ, be prepared for your family to resent you for it.  To see you as “holier than thou,” “pious,” or “judgmental.”  They might think you are throwing your life away.  They might see you as drifting farther from the family, joining a cult, or losing your mind.  This is often the initial reaction, sometimes it remains, sometimes it does not.  But this can be an extremely heavy cross to bear.

Frustration from Brethren:

“So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16).

One of the saddest truths about Christianity is that many of our biggest critics are other Christians.  Brethren divide over the most pointless and derivative minutiae one can possibly imagine. Hateful words are spoken about those who preach “grace” and about those who preach “obedience.”  Lines of fellowship are drawn over semantics, schools, political parties, evangelistic methods, and church budgets.  Commands for unity, patience, and tolerance are neglected in favor of “that time Paul rebuked someone by name,” while some brethren will condemn anyone who rebukes anyone for any reason.  And as a result, brethren drift farther and farther from each other, and the teachings of Jesus.  Even Christians will not always act like Christians.  This cross will break your heart when if you try to carry it.

It to be Completely Worth it:

“the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

There is no better life in this whole world than that of a faithful Christian.  If you really let the teachings of Christ radically change your life, you will become a better spouse, parent, friend, employee, and person.  It’s impossible not to.

The best people I have ever met are faithful, loving Christians.  They don’t get a lot of publicity. The headliner is when Christians fail, the pastor has an affair, or the church sign says something hateful.  But behind the terrible news stories, inflammatory rhetoric, and bitter vitriol are people.  Godly, real, imperfect, generous, loving, forgiving people.

I love my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I love our fellowship.  The relationships formed by the blood of Jesus far supersede any persecution from the world, criticisms from family, or immaturity from brothers in Christ. There is no comparison.

The spiritual bond of the church makes everything else worth it, but fellowship with the Lord Himself is my greatest joy.  In this relationship I have grace, forgiveness, and acceptance.  I have a mighty Friend who no enemy can overcome.  I am granted freedom from my past, unfathomable joy in the present, and access to God for eternity.  That is what you can expect as a Christian.

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”

2 Corinthians 4:17

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Terrible Reasons to Skip Worship

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Worship on the Lord ’s Day is as old as the church.  It was during this time that early communities of Christians would gather for study, singing, and the consumption of the Lord’s meal.  They would participate together in the sharing of their goods and they would spend time in communal prayer.  In many churches today, these practices continue.

In fact, many churches have added bonus worship times on Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings.  Honestly, despite what some would say, there are some decent reasons for missing these services occasionally.  But throughout my life I’ve also heard many a terrible reason for missing worship.  Here are a bunch of them:

  1. “I have a Game that Day”
    This one particularly drives me crazy.  I love sports.  I loved playing football as a younger man and I still enjoy watching football.  But from a young age it was instilled within me that sports are secondary to my relationship with God.  And honestly, that’s probably right where I put them.  Number 2.  Sorry family, academics, and social life.  I like to think that I have matured since then and now sports have drifted down to maybe 3 or 4 on my list of most important things in the world.  But I have always known that God comes first.  Thanks Mom and Dad!
  2. “I’m Far too Stressed”
    I get it. Stress can be overwhelming at times.  It can make any and all chores seem insurmountable.  And we start freeing up our days of the things that don’t really matter in an attempt to alleviate our stress.  I just find it sad when worship becomes one of those chores we kick out of our day.  Especially since worship, prayer, and gathering with friends are powerful remedies to overcoming stress.
  3. “I Get Nothing Out of It”
    We have all heard it before but it demands repeating. Worship is not about what you get, but about what you give.  Worship is our sacrifice to the Lord.  And generally speaking, the more you sacrifice to the Lord, the more fulfilled you become.  Maybe our lack of “getting” directly correlates to our lack of “giving.”  Just a thought to ponder.
  4. “I Can Worship by Myself”
    Many times I have heard that one can have a better worship experience outside, alone, in God’s beautiful creation than in some stuffy church building.  Hey, sometimes I agree.  But I also feel that nothing can replace God-directed, community-centered worship.  Realizing that we are not alone, but that we have a family who is united with us in our stand with the Lord. And remember, there are plenty of other things you can skip to go be alone on a mountain with God.  I would encourage that.
  5. “I Don’t Have Any Friends”
    This one is very tough.  But, if we think about it for a second, you usually don’t make friends by avoiding people.  Maybe what you need is to become even more involved, active, and, you know, there.  All of my best friends in the world are people I have met at church, during worship, and congregational activities.
  6. “There are Too Many Hypocrites”
    There are too many hypocrites and sinners at church.  True.  Maybe that’s why we need you.  You can come and help straighten all of us out.  Leaving us to our own hypocritical and sinful destruction is not very loving.  Come and help us out (and maybe, just possibly, see if you have some room for growth also).
  7. “I Won’t Go to Hell”
    Yes, that is probably the worst reason to skip worship that exists.  “I won’t go to Hell for skipping.”  That’s always the best mindset to have.  Seriously, I doubt my wife will divorce me if I skip taking the trash out.  But that’s a pretty terrible reason to skip taking the trash out.  Maybe I should ask, “will my wife be happy if I toss this trash?”  Or, “will God be pleased if I spend time in worship?”  Plus, well, with that attitude…you might.

Da Vinci’s Nicaea

The Da Vinci Code:

I recently read The Da Vinci Code.  I realize I am a little bit late on this blog since most of the buzz about that book died out years ago.  But I have always been a little bit behind on social trends anyway, so I figure I’ll just sit back in my No Fear t-shirt, put in my new Hanson c.d., and write down a few thoughts.

I enjoy teaching and studying about how we got the Bible and the formation of the Old and New Testament canons.  I had negatively referenced The Da Vinci Code several times in teaching without ever actually having read it.  I referenced it based on hearsay and book reviews.  But I always felt a little uncomfortable with that, so I decided to sit down and read the book for myself.  Honestly, I kind of liked it.  I thought it was well written, an entertaining story, and a topic worthy of discussion.  Dan Brown, the author, seems to be a pretty intelligent man who knows a little about a lot.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much I am reading his earlier work Angels and Demons right now.

Historical Blunders:

There were, however, several historical blunders in Dan Brown’s book.  Probably the worst was his claim that many non-canonical gospels were discovered in the 40’s in Nag Hammadi and in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  In reality, the Dead Sea Scrolls contained the library of a Jewish community living in Qumran until about AD 68.  Their library was discovered in 11 caves by the Dead Sea in 1947.  They were not a Christian community, and no Christian gospels were discovered in their library (although a small number of scholars speculate a tiny fragment that might contain a piece of Mark was discovered in cave 7).  So Brown was way off on what he said about the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Brown also claimed that there were roughly 80 gospels that were rejected by the church because they did not present Jesus as divine.  The actual number of known (not necessarily discovered) non-canonical gospels is closer to 40, and generally these present Jesus as far more super-human than the 3 synoptics (although His Deity can still be seen in these also).  For a more in-depth critique of the historical blunders of The Da Vinci Code, see Bart Ehrman.  The blunder I want to primarily focus on was made about the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.

Beliefs about the Council of Nicaea:

There have been many times in personal Bible studies, primarily with college-age skeptics, that the Council of Nicaea was brought up.  I have been told that the Council of Nicaea started Christianity.  I’ve been told that the only reason I worship on Sunday is because of a decree by the Council of Nicaea.  I have been told that the only reason that I believe Jesus is divine is because of the Council of Nicaea.  I have been told that the only reason my New Testament contains 27 books is because of the Council of Nicaea.  It seems like people toss the Council of Nicaea around as the origin of any uniquely Christian belief or practice.

I always wondered where on earth people got the idea that the Council of Nicaea did any of these things.  Especially that it had anything at all to do with the New Testament canon.  Thanks to Dan Brown, I might have figured it out.  Sir Leigh Teabing, a major character in The Da Vinci Code, makes the claim numerous times that Emperor Constantine decided which books would make up the New Testament at the Council of Nicaea.  This is completely fabricated.  The Council had zero to do with the canon.  However, it was an important council.  In the event that you are curious or someone brings it up to you, it might be helpful to know a few things about it.

The Truth about the Council of Nicaea:

The Council of Nicaea was the first major ecumenical council of the ancient church.  It was called by Emperor Constantine, the first Emperor to pay lip service to being a Christian.  In Alexandria, Egypt there had been several large disturbances.  There had been a serious disagreement about the nature of Christ by a prominent teacher, Arius, and a bishop, Alexander.  Arius taught that there was a time when Jesus did not exist (Arianism, not to be confused with Aryanism).  Thus, Jesus was a created being, lesser than the Father.  Alexander taught that Jesus was eternal, and equal to the Father.  After excommunications, lines being drawn, riots in the streets, an attempt to unify the empire was called in AD 325 in Nicaea.

Bishops from all over the ancient world assembled and discussed many issues.  The date at which Easter would be celebrated, the exaltation of bishops in Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch, and the substance and nature of Jesus were among those issues.  The 27 year old Athanasius argued on Alexander’s behalf for the eternal equality of Jesus to the Father, and Eusebius (not the church historian, who was also present) argued for Arianism.  The council agreed with Athanasius, and made an official decree about the eternal nature, substance, and equality of Jesus with the Father.  This decree actually didn’t influence the church for very long, since Arianism grew exponentially after the council’s decree, leading to the excommunication of Athanasius.

What the Council Did Not Do:

The Council did not decide that Sunday would be the day of Christian worship.  That practice had been the norm since the days of the New Testament (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2), and was unanimously confirmed by many Christian writings which predate the Council of Nicaea (Didache, Ignatius, Epistle of Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Epistle of the Apostles, Tertullian, and Eusebius).  Consider this quote from Justin Martyr around AD 155:

“And on the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a city or a rural district.  We all make our assembly in common on the day of the Sun, since it is the first day, on which God changed the darkness and matter and made the world, and Jesus Christ our Savior arose from the dead on the same day.  For they crucified him on the day before Saturn’s day, and on the day after (which is the day of the Sun) he appeared to his apostles and taught his disciples these things” (Apology, I, 67:1-3, 7).

The Council did not have anything to do with the New Testament canon, which had already started forming in the days of the New Testament (2 Peter 3:15-16).  In the 2nd century, Irenaeus wrote about the four Gospels, “It is not possible for the Gospels to be more in number than they are nor again to be fewer.  Since there are four regions of the world in which we live, and four universal winds (and the church is scattered over all the earth), and the gospel is the pillar and support of the church and the spirit of life, it is fitting for the church to have four pillars” (Against Heresies 4.11.8).  His reasoning might not be great, but he does help us learn about the four gospels in his day.  Long before the council of Nicaea, certain books were being collected, copied, circulated, and viewed as Scripture.

Finally, the Council did not create the doctrine of the deity of Jesus, as Dan Brown claims.  The Gospel of John is replete with reference to the Deity of Jesus (John 1:1-3; 8:58; 20:28), and His equality with the Father (John 5:18-29).  This belief is corroborated with many other New Testament references (Matthew 3:3; 14:33; Mark 1:3; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 1:8; Titus 2:13, etc.).  Even Pliny the Younger, the governor of Bithynia at the beginning of the 2nd century, after learning more about Christians, wrote that they habitually gathered early and sang hymns “to Christ as to a god.”  Long before the council of Nicaea, Christians viewed Jesus as divine, eternal, and equal to the Father.

Dan Brown is a talented writer, but an early Christian historian he is not.  Myths about the Council of Nicaea rage, but knowing a few facts about it can help you be prepared when you’re called on to give an account for what you believe.

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