One of the great verses in Scripture is found in 2 Tim 3:15, “…and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation…” One of the reformational 'solas' is based on this verse for this teaches that no additional people or books are needed to bring us to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
During the Middle Ages, the Roman Church insisted that the clergy was instrumental in bringing people to faith, but the ‘reformers’ including Luther, Calvin, and others, insisted that this teaching was contrary to Scripture. Hence, Scripture alone, along with faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, all to the glory of God alone became part of the five solas of the reformation.
Unfortunately, some people have taken this verse to mean ministers or other Scripture teachers are all superfluous to requirements. As a result of this rather narrow understanding, we have ‘fellowships’ where there are no appointed ministers or teachers. As these fellowships meet, someone is asked to read the Scriptures or give a ‘word from the Lord’, which is then followed by a time of prayer and singing and further discussion.
However, God still uses people to teach His Word. Throughout Scripture God, appointed various people to bring His Word. They included parents, prophets, priests, apostles, and others and woe to them if they did not do it properly or disobeyed (Deut 6:1-9; Eze 34; Jonah; Gal 3 etc). It is also clear from 2 Tim 1:5ff that Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice had a positive impact on Timothy’s faith. Furthermore, most of us brought up in Christian families learn about the glorious gospel from faithful mothers and fathers and perhaps even other siblings. That is the process the Holy Spirit normally uses to bring us to faith in Jesus Christ.
However, this does not mean we or our children will understand everything they read or hear from Scripture. Some passages are very difficult to understand. The Apostle Peter even suggested that Paul wrote things that were hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). If this was true for the Apostle Peter, we shouldn’t be surprised when we come across things that are hard to understand. So don’t be too hard on your pastor or elder when they don’t know the full meaning of a passage.
Of course, preachers and teachers need to be watchful that pride doesn’t get the better of them either. It is rather easy to fall into the trap of doing ‘i-so-gesis’ rather than exegesis. “I-so-gesis” usually means that Scripture is applied in a way that is not the intended meaning of the text, hence unbiblical, but in a twisted way comforts the preacher, teacher or hearer.
At seminary, we were taught to do careful exegesis and not ‘i-so-gesis.’ Sometimes we were even encouraged to set aside passages we didn’t fully understand until the Holy Spirit revealed to us the true meaning of the text, especially as it points to Christ (Lk 24:44).
Thankfully, through the ages, God has blessed the church with many great minds and exegetes who have been able to throw light on difficult passages and we thank the Lord for His provision. Yet, we remain thankful that the Scriptures alone, when read carefully and prayerfully, with the Holy Spirit’s blessing, can make us wise to salvation. JZ
On the 31st of October, we celebrate the reformation of the church which began with Martin Luther, way back in 1517, when he nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Castle doors. These theses were usually one or two lines indicating a wrong teaching by the then Roman Church. Of course, being part of the churches that were formed after the reformation, we really appreciate what God did through men like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Cranmer and others. The great doctrines of grace which we hold dear, find their roots in the reformation. What a great privilege to know that we are saved by faith alone, grace alone, in Christ alone, guided by Scripture alone and all this to the glory of God alone.
Unfortunately, this wonderful, celebratory day has been high jacked by what is often referred to as ‘Halloween’ night. Halloween is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts and evil spirits. People often gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes.
In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honour all saints and martyrs. Since there were too many saints and martyrs for the days of the year, one day was nominated to remember them. The evening became known as “All Hallows’ Eve” which later became “Halloween.” Over time, Halloween has evolved into a secular, community-based event characterised by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating.
I guess the question needs to be asked whether we as Christians should participate in any way or should we trash it? On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much harm in children knocking at your door and asking for a trick or treat. However, knowing a little bit about the history of Halloween, and Scripture’s warning not to meddle with spirits and mediums, it is a question with which parents need to decide upon.
Scripture does not speak at all about Halloween, but it does give us some principles on which we can make a decision. In OT Israel, witchcraft was a crime punishable by death (Exo 22:18; Lev 19:31; 20:6, 27). The NT teaching about the occult is clear. Acts 8:9-24, the story of Simon, shows that occultism and Christianity don't mix. The account of Elymas the sorcerer in Acts 13:6-11 reveals that sorcery is violently opposed to Christianity. Paul called Elymas a child of the devil, an enemy of righteousness and a perverter of the ways of God. In Acts 16, at Philippi, a fortune-telling girl lost her demon powers when the evil spirit was cast out by Paul. The interesting matter here is that Paul refused to allow even good statements to come from a demon-influenced person. Acts 19 shows new converts who have abruptly broken with their former occultism by confessing, showing their evil deeds, bringing their magic paraphernalia, and burning it before everyone (Acts 19:19).
So, is it possible for Christians to celebrate Halloween without compromising one’s faith? Is there anything evil about a Christian dressing up as a princess or disguising yourself in some other way and then joining some friends and knocking on doors to receive a trick or treat? Probably not. Are there things about Halloween that are anti-Christian and should be avoided? Absolutely!
If parents are going to allow their children to participate, then perhaps they need to make sure their attitude, dress, and most importantly, their behaviour would still reflect a redeemed life (Phil 1:27). So that is at one level. However, what do we do when children knock at our door asking for a trick or treat? I don’t think slamming the door in their faces is very winsome, so that isn’t an option. Perhaps, as some Christians do, we could see this as a small mission opportunity and we could have a little bible verse ready along with a sweet lolly to give them as a treat. There is nothing too tricky about that, and the blessing of knowing the way of salvation unto eternal life is not to be trashed either. JZ
One of the questions that leaders of worship have to deal with is the essence of worship. On occasions, I have been challenged to think seriously about the purpose of our worship services, including the preaching. Should our services and preaching have an evangelistic thrust or should it be targeted only at those who are Christians already? Personally, I would hope it is both. As we genuinely worship, delighting in the glorious gospel of forgiveness and salvation unto eternal life, it is my prayer that those who are not yet Christians would hear the beauty of knowing Christ and be drawn to him through the powerful work of the Holy Spirit.
At other times I have been encouraged to think more about how our singing, time of confession and assurance, our prayers and the preaching can help us to fulfil the Great Commission. On other occasions, I have been encouraged to be more practical so that the congregation may learn how to be more loving, caring, and mission minded. All good questions that need to be considered.
And then one further consideration is what to include during a worship service. For instance, leaders of worship and Church Council often have requests from individuals and other Christian organisations to give them some time during a worship service to promote their work, whether it be missions or some other good Christian work.
Well while I was considering these important questions, a friend reminded me of the book by Rev. Dr. John Piper called, “Brothers we are not Professionals.” In Chapter 28 of his book, John Piper has a chapter entitled “Brothers, focus on the essence of worship and not the form.” In this chapter, he discusses what ‘worship’ should be. His third implication of focussing on the essence of worship is worth mentioning:
“If the inward essence of worship is to find satisfaction in God, then worship can’t be a means to anything else. You simply can’t say to God, I want to be satisfied in You so that I can have something else. Because that would mean you are not really satisfied in God but in something else. And that would dishonour God and not worship Him.
But in fact, for thousands of people and pastors, I fear, that the event of “worship” on Sunday morning is conceived of as a means to accomplish something other than worship. We “worship” to raise money; we “worship” to attract crowds; we “worship” to heal human hurts; we “worship” to give talented musicians an opportunity to fulfil their calling; we “worship” to teach our children the way of righteousness; we “worship” to help marriages stay together; we “worship” to evangelize the lost among us; we “worship” to motivate people for projects; we “worship” to give our churches a family feeling, etc. We don’t say to our wives, ‘I delight in you so that you will make me a nice meal.’ That is not the way delight works. It terminates on her. It does not have a nice meal in view. I cannot say to my son, ‘I love playing ball with you so that you will cut the grass.’ If my heart really delights in playing ball with him, that delight cannot be performed as a means to get him to do something.
I am not denying that authentic worship may have a hundred good effects on the life of the church. It will – just as true affection in marriage makes everything better. My point is that to the degree that we ‘do worship’ for these reasons, to that degree, it ceases to be worship. Keeping satisfaction in God at the center guards us from that tragedy.” (pg 240-241).
Of course, we don’t need to agree with John Piper, yet it is food for thought. So often our worship services are centered around what we can get, or contribute, or what a mission organisation can raise, rather than just worshipping God for Who He is and for what He has done and is doing and promises still to do. It is my prayer that our worship this week will bring glory to God as we delight in his bountiful goodness to us. JZ.
One of the things I keep hearing is people’s opinion about worship services. I appreciate the fact that God has made us all different and all have different tastes, but I just wonder with the comments I hear whether perhaps we haven’t taken our eyes of the major purpose for worship and focus too much attention on the minor things.
We all know we come to worship because God is worthy of our worship. Not only is He our Creator God, He is also the One who has redeemed us in Christ from a hopeless way of life to one that is now full of purpose, hope, and surety of eternal salvation. He has given us His Holy Spirit to remind us that we are His children and that He is the deposit guaranteeing our glorious inheritance. Of course, there are more reasons why we worship including God’s daily provision of our needs, but these are all secondary to our wonderful salvation.
Having stated the obvious above, the duly appointed leadership of any Christian fellowship have the God-given responsibility to ensure that when the congregation comes to worship they can do just that! Hence, the place of worship, the building, the seating arrangement, the message brought by the preacher, the singing of praises, the music, the data projection, should all be structured to enhance the worship of God by the congregation. The one thing that should not happen is that people are distracted from worshipping our glorious Saviour God. For most Christians, we only have one hour a week, possibly two, where we can come together for worship, so let’s make it a time when God is most glorified and we His people can be properly engaged in worship, having every opportunity in offering the praises that are due to Him.
Since space is limited, let me briefly mention four things that are central for worship. First, the gospel needs to be proclaimed. Whoever has been appointed to bring the message must ensure that the congregation’s hearts and minds are directed to the greatest reason for worship, namely, what God the Father has done for us through His Son. This reason alone gives God the Father the greatest delight. So worship services where Christ is barely mentioned, if at all, takes away the core element for Christian worship, more than that, it denies Jesus, the very person which all Scripture is about (Lk 24:44). Second, the music needs to enhance the worship. It should be at a level where it leads the congregation in singing praises to God and not be at a level where the praises can no longer be heard. Third, in today’s technological world, if we use data screens or system that assist the sound, it should be done with some professionalism. There is nothing worse than when the sound is poor or the screen operator has failed to move to the next slide during the singing. Fourth, a more general concern for all, our behaviour and those for whom we are responsible for should not cause others to be distracted from worship.
There are also things that the members of the congregation gathered for worship should do. First, pray. Pray that your mindset might be one of worship so that you can focus on what God has done for you in Christ. Pray that your mind may not be one where you are looking for things to critique. Second, don’t allow petty things that occur, to rob you of your opportunity to worship. So what if the preacher doesn’t wear a tie. So what if the musicians were a bit loud (or too soft) during one song – they’re human. So what if the data screen didn’t move on in time. So what if the baby cries occasionally – that is what babies do. So what if someone has taken your usual seat – it’s not your seat to start with. All these things happen on occasions, and yes, they can be annoying, but don’t allow these things to rob God of the worship that is due to Him.
Perhaps we need to be reminded on occasions that we don’t come to worship ourselves or each other. Nor is worship about whether we are ‘comfortable’ with everything that happens. Things happen, times change, but our glorious God does not change. Therefore, may it be our prayer that the Lord will be pleased with our worship every Sunday and that His name will be glorified amongst us for He is worthy. JZ.