Category Archives: Ekklesia

Edify or Amplify?

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The Case for Rejecting Instruments in the Assembly

Churches of Christ (the a cappella segment) seem to be becoming very different very quickly.  Several larger congregations and a number of smaller ones (I have no idea of the actual numbers) have opted for adding mechanical (as opposed to vocal) instruments to their assemblies (I absolutely refuse to call them “worship services” as that description of assemblies of the saints is nowhere to be found in Scripture – and, when you think about it, it betrays an ignorance of the meanings of both “worship” and “service”).  For over a century, one of the distinguishing marks of churches of Christ was strong opposition to the use of instruments in assemblies.  Countless debates, articles and divisions occurred with both sides remaining unconvinced.

It will not be my purpose here to pile more verbiage on the tons of arguments by taking one side or the other.  I’m not sure it would serve any purpose except to put me in one opposing camp or another.  No, my point will be something different.  I want us to take an honest look at our motives.  WHY are we ditching our a cappella tradition?

The most common reason given is some variation on the desire to attract a younger, hipper crowd into our buildings.  One group is currently remodeling their auditorium to add a stage for the musicians.  If we build it, they reason, they will come.  Sound familiar?  Put simply, it is an attempt to increase attendance at their “worship services.”

At this point let me ask a question that seldom seems asked: what are assemblies for?  No…not what do you WANT them for but what are they REALLY for?  By that I mean what does Scripture say they are for?

·         Are they for “seekers?”  Can you show me a passage for that?

·         Are they for the entertainment of the members?  Passage?

·         Are they for the excitement of the members?  Passage?

·         Are they for the encouragement of the members?  Bingo!

·         Are they for the edification of the members?  Score!

Our purpose for assemblies and our conduct during them seems to be the focus of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in chapters eleven and fourteen.  He deals with several subjects but his emphasis; especially in chapter fourteen is edification.  Edification has absolutely nothing to do with attracting a crowd and blowing them away with sanctified rock (make no mistake, I like to rock as much as anyone).  To edify is to instruct and improve especially in moral and religious knowledge…promoting the spiritual growth and development of character of believers, by teaching or by example.  Look it up.  Paul goes so far as to say, “…let all things be done for edification” (I Corinthians 14:26).

So.  How do we instruct and promote each other’s spiritual growth?  One of the most important and effective ways is by singing to one another (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16).  Notice that our singing is for teaching and admonishing one another.  Sorry folks, well-choreographed and orchestrated performances accomplish nothing assembly is designed for.  In truth, they hinder the process.  Inevitably, the volume gets louder and louder.  How can we edify one another if we can’t hear the singing of the one standing next to us?  Read lips? Not likely!

Could this be the reason we are commanded to sing to one another?  Singing with thankfulness is not assisted by a groovy drummer, hot guitarist, deft keyboardist and a soloist who’s been listening to a lot of contemporary Christian radio.  Save all that for a concert.

Are there exceptions?  Of course.  Some of the new contemporary music conveys wonderful spiritual, edifying truths.  Even a cappella churches have adapted and incorporated some of these songs in our assemblies.  In my experience, however, the mechanical instruments overwhelm the potential edification as they play louder and louder.

Here is the crux of the problem as I see it: we have turned our assemblies into something they were never intended to be.  They are times of encouragement and edification.  When this is not accomplished, our assemblies are failures no matter how well choreographed they are.  When we leave behind principles and purposes taught by Scripture; when we replace them with innovations never envisioned by the Spirit; when edification and encouragement are no longer the focus of our assemblies; when synthetic externals take precedence over spiritual internals — we can expect to fail.  In the words of Hosea (8:7), we have sown the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind.

Here are a couple of articles that, while I don’t agree with everything they say, help make my point: http://churchformen.com/uncategorized/have-christians-stopped-singing/  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/afewgrownmen/2013/05/why-men-have-stopped-singing-in-church/

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Filed under "Worship Services", Assemblies, church, Church Buildings, Churches, discipleship, Edification, Ekklesia, Encouragement, History, Holy Spirit, Ignorance, Music, Restoration, Singing, Songs, Thankfulness

10 Things Christians Must Do Now

Do we want to be taken seriously?  Do we want to overcome misconceptions about our faith and practice? Do we hope to ever fulfill our mission and make an impact on our culture?  Then here (in no particular order) are a few things I believe we must do:

  1. Refuse to let public lies (false teachings) stand publically unopposed.  When someone lies publically, someone needs to publically expose and oppose that lie and tell the truth no matter what it costs.  That is part of our job as the called-out of Christ.
  2. Refuse to be lulled into the toleration and acceptance of immorality.  Think about what we tolerate which would never have been accepted twenty years ago.  If it was truly wrong then, it is truly wrong today.  If it was ever a sin, it is a sin now.
  3. Ignore those who equate Christianity with established religious groups…no matter how ancient.  Foolish and ignorant critics will blame Christ-followers for the excesses of those who, over the centuries, falsely labeled themselves “Christians.”  True followers of Christ were never involved in the exploitation, suppression, torture and/or death of any person or group.
  4. Rise above the prevailing gloom and hopelessness of today’s culture.  We enjoy and offer the world a way of hope, abundant life, joy (not the same as “happiness”) and an eternal end of suffering.  We are “light-bringers.”
  5. Renounce materialism and greed.  We must recognize the love of money and “stuff” for what it is – the source of evil.  Christians must learn to be content with what is needed for life.  Food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and transportation are all we need.  The overflow needs to be shared.
  6. Combine good deeds with good news in holy symbiosis.  One without the other will not accomplish our mission.  Very few will be persuaded by a failure to combine these initiatives.  This is what Jesus did…this is what we must do.
  7. Renounce citizenship of a country in favor of citizenship in God’s kingdom.  Jesus’s kingdom is not of this world.  Political parties and their candidates have serious flaws and faults; the Kingdom is perfect and flawless.  We are not mere Americans, Germans, Poles, Russians, Australians, etc.  We are citizens of a nation with no boundaries, no racial, linguistic barriers.  Thy kingdom come!
  8. Get out of our meeting places and into the streets.  Quit expecting people to come to us and do what Jesus did: go to the people.  Do good deeds!  Proclaim Christ!
  9. Quit “going to church.”  Restore the true purpose of assemblies.  Assemblies are a means to an end, not an end.  “Faithfulness” is far more than attendance.  Assemblies are for edification and encouragement.  If they fail in that regard, they are useless.
  10. Think and act as the counter-culture we were meant to be.

“The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)

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Filed under Altruism, Christlikeness, church, Culture Wars, discipleship, Edification, Ekklesia, Encouragement, Evangelism, Good & Evil, Integrity, Jesus Christ, Kingdom Growth, Missions/Evangelism, morality, Politics, Preaching/Teaching, Quotations, Religion

Enemies Within

trojan-horse-from-troy-the-movieBrethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things (Ephesians 3:17-19).

The most effective enemies are those of which we are unaware…the ones we fail to recognize as enemies.  In our subconscious we probably already know some entities are not helping the cause of Christ; that they are, indeed, major hindrances.  They are hindering enemies especially because we have become familiar and comfortable with them.  It is much like making a pet of a tiger.  We pet them, feed them, love them…and then one day, they have us by the throat.  They are attitudes, actions and situations that divert us from truly following Christ.  The world notices and these same diversions become hindrances to unbelievers and ammunition for anti-Christian activists.  And here is the kicker: so often, we shoot ourselves in the foot (pun intended).  This is a post that hopefully will challenge us to do some thinking about who and what our enemies are.  As usual, your comments, pro and con, are welcomed.

Striving for Acceptance

It’s not easy being different.  And yet, being different is part of our Christian walk.  We are different from the world not because we try to be but because following Christ separates us from those who aren’t.  Sadly, many who claim to be Christians lie, cheat and steal just like their worldly counterparts.  But the similarities don’t end there.  Too often our values and ambitions are the same as those outside of Christ.  To place our hope in riches, to ignore injustice, to place comfort above compassion and status above service proves we are still of the world.  Here’s the truth: the way of Christ runs counter to the ways of the world.  Never forget it. Continue reading

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Filed under Apologetics, Atheism/Theism, Christlikeness, church, Community, Culture Wars, Devil, discipleship, Ekklesia, Good & Evil, Ignorance, Infidelity, Jesus Christ, Kingdom Growth, Missions/Evangelism, morality, Politics, Preaching/Teaching, Religion, Respect, Satan, Science, Scripture, Theism

IMITATION

gules-dorsiMy good friend and fellow co-worker in the kingdom, Bob Marks, is the preacher for the Warringah church in Sydney, Australia.  In this post, I want to feature his excellent article about imitating Christ.

According to the dictionary an imitator is one who patterns their life or some aspect of it on another.

Last weekend’s Sunday Telegraph contained a story about Gules D’Orsi, a 25 year old university student from Adelaide who was informed that she looked a lot like Princess Diana.  She was in Madrid when a homeless man came up to her shouting over and over, “Diana, you’re not dead!”

Gules said she was always a tomboy, but she got to a point where she knew she had to present herself better. “I used to be a major drag.” She started wearing her hair short like Diana and since then people often come up to her, take pictures of her, and ask permission to put them on Facebook. People the world over love to see images of Princess Diana even so long after her passing.

Princess Diana memorabilia still is very collectible.  It’s interesting to see people’s fascination with seeing a real live version of Diana! They like to be reminded of their favourite princess!

All of this reminds me of the desire that Christians have, or should have, to imitate Jesus. In Ephesians 5:1 Paul tells us to “be imitators of God”. He uses the Greek word mimetai from which we get our word to “mimic.” The idea is to copy closely, to repeat another person’s speech, actions, behaviour and mannerisms. We should be so like Jesus that when people see us, they see Jesus in us, and are drawn to him through us. To God “…we are a fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” and we should be spreading all around us this fragrance we have through the knowledge of Jesus! (2 Corinthians 2:14,15)

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Pinto or Maserati?

murphysinamericansamoa4ha7Is your church (if you are part of one) a Maserati or a Pinto?  My friend Philip Murphy, an attorney in American Samoa, has written an excellent post about how churches (groups of Christians who serve, work and worship together) should see themselves.  It has a lot to do with what our communities think of us.  How they see us has an impact on our evangelism.  See it here and do him the honor of making an intelligent, apropos comment.

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Filed under Change Agent, church, Community, Ekklesia, Kingdom Growth, Missions/Evangelism, Religion, Respect, South Pacific

Satan, the Opportunist

“Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose…(Acts 6:1)”

“When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:13)”

Success for God is failure for Satan. He will oppose, in any way he can, the progress of the kingdom. We can count on it: when things are looking good, Satan is looking for an opportunity. And, being a thorough demon, he usually finds one.

The church in Jerusalem was enjoying a brief run of popularity. In spite of the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, “…the people held them in high esteem. And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number” (Acts 5:13,14). Then, all Hell broke loose. The first trouble came from outside: the arrest and flogging of apostles with a warning to shut up about Jesus. Then it came from inside with a complaint of unfair distribution of food. When it originates inside the body our out, it is the work of our adversary. Satan will not abide such advancement since it means retreat for him.

It is highly dangerous to discount his ability to disrupt any forward movement on our part. He will shut us down us if we let him. It is wise to aware of his schemes and strategies and to be assured that he will employ them against us. The warnings are clear:

“Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:26,27).
“…so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
“Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:11).
“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

It is when disciples are growing numerically and everything looks good that we should be on guard. I have, with my own eyes, seen savage wolves filled with the lust for power, tear successful churches apart. The carnage is horrible.

In the case of Jerusalem, seven godly men were chosen to answer the complaint and the tables were turned on Satan. “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).

In Australia, several churches are making decisions and plans to recapture the purpose and mission of the church. God will surely bless such decisions but we must be warned: Satan is also making decisions and plans.

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Why Do Mission Churches Grow?

“Mission church” is a good example of faulty nomenclature. Not only is it faulty, it is misleading and damaging. It is misleading in that such terminology assumes there can be churches which are not “mission churches.” It is damaging for the same reason. There really shouldn’t be any difference between churches in the so-called “mission field” and churches where the Christian population is thicker, like my home town of Abilene, Texas.

In Abilene, with a church of some kind on every major street (many of them churches of Christ), you still can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who needs to hear the good news. So does that make Abilene a “mission field?” I would argue that it does. Does that make Abilene churches “mission churches?” In theory, it must. In actual practice, however, few churches in Abilene conduct themselves as such.

I think we will all agree that not all mission fields are in other countries. Churches in the U.S. send missionaries to places in this country where the Christian population is thin, such as the Northern tier of states. My definition of a “mission field” is any place where there is a mission to fulfill. So, what constitutes a “mission field?” It must be a place where people need to hear the gospel. In fact, I walked through the door of my Abilene home today to run some errands and backed out of the driveway into the “mission field.”

In these first years of the new millennium, we find ourselves moaning and groaning about the fact that churches of Christ in the West are not growing[1]. We actually have this in common with the evangelical denominations including the Southern Baptists. Thirteen years ago, Dr. Flavil Yeakley, Jr. wrote,

The good news is that Churches of Christ are not declining as some reported. The bad news is that they are not growing and have not been growing for over 13 years. It is not that we do not know how or that we do not have the necessary resources. We have the man power; we have the money power; we have the brain power; and, most of all, we have the power of God. All that we need is the will power.[2]

Now, another 13 years later, The Christian Chronicle has featured a series of articles asking, “Are We Growing?”[3] In one of those articles, Rich Little and Charles Cook, had this to say: “There has been a disconnect between the doctrine of evangelism and the practice of evangelism,” said Rich Little, a minister in Naperville, Ill. “While we passionately believe we should reach the lost, we are not passionately seeking them.” Charles Cook, now working with Sunset International Bible Institute’s new branch school in Singapore says, “We primarily convert only our offspring, and only a small percentage of these are remaining active in the church as grownups. Not until the whole church again catches the evangelistic spirit … will we experience growth and retain our young people.”

Mission churches grow because their leaders understand the mission and diligently pursue it. Missionaries and their senders understand they are sent to make disciples. Unlike their counterparts in plateaued and declining churches at home, they know they are not sent to build buildings and hold “worship services.” Every person they meet, every situation they encounter is seen as a potential opportunity to make disciples and gather them into fellowships; God-powered growth results.

“Swelling” will not do. Real growth only occurs when a lost person is saved, discipled and added to the body of Christ. The process is simple: we become salt and light by living lives that adorn the gospel which is consistently planted and watered. God then causes the growth. That’s the way Jesus and the apostles did it. That’s the way we must do it.


[1] This is most certainly not true in developing countries. It is estimated that at least two thirds of members of churches of Christ live in Africa, India and other “developing nations.” But this illustrates the point: mission churches grow because of intense outreach.

[2] Church Growth Magazine 10 (January – March, 1995): 9 – 11. Accessed 25 May, 2008 at http://4churchgrowth.com/chur4148.htm

[3] The Christian Chronicle, “Are We Growing?” Accessed 25 May, 2008 at http://www.christianchronicle.org/article611~Population_outpaces_church

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