SINGING OR INSTRUMENTS IN WORSHIP?

    The subject of incorporating musical instruments into worship is a topic that has been debated and contended by religious minded people for more than 1,500 years! Yet, people today are still just as confused as to what is, or isn’t, allowed in worship. I frequently find this as a top subject to have to work through during evangelistic Bible studies and religious conversations I have with precious souls searching for truth. Why is it so hard to understand? What is the truth in this matter?
    The best way to approach this subject is by first establishing a mutually-agreed-upon authority. Since, we’re all talking about worship to God, wouldn’t it make sense that God’s word should be the deciding, authoritative factor? Indeed, it should! Without it, then it’s really just one person’s opinion over another. This is often revealed in the words people use. For example, when someone says, “I just like the way it sounds,” or, “I prefer to go to a church with a band,” we should recognize that those comments are nothing more than personal, subjective preferences – not Biblically based, Scripturally supported conclusions. There’s a difference!
    This is probably the main reason why people cannot agree on the topic. It is because they mix personal preference with “Thus saith the Lord.” However, those two approaches are completely incompatible! Do you see why one has to establish where the final authority is found, then submit to that? It boils down to asking yourself, “What is more important: my will, or God’s will?” (cf. Deut. 5:29; John 14:15)
So, if we can agree to submit to the Bible, then does it tell us what we are supposed to be doing during worship? The answer is, “Yes and no.” Let’s be brutally honest! Yes, there are several verses that make some specific statements about music, but there is no verse that says, “Thou shall not use musical instruments in worship.” However, before jumping to any conclusions, understand that there is also no verse that says, “Musical instruments are permitted in worship.” So, then how do we decide? There are two points of discernment to consider that can help us draw a sound conclusion: (1) discerning the difference between the Old and New Testaments; and (2) discerning what is God’s will.
    Considering the first point, people often like to appeal to passages where instruments were used in the Temple in Jerusalem (the place of worship) such as Psalms 98, 144, and 149. However, if we are going to use these Old Testament verses as our authority for musical instruments, then this implies we must keep the entire Old Testament law, not just one aspect of that law (James 2:10). Accordingly, we would also need to offer animal sacrifices, have special clothing for priests (which are only Levites – how do we identify who is a Levite?) and use incense, as the Law of Moses commanded. In addition, ALL worshipers must play an instrument, because only priests were allowed in the temple. Doesn’t that seem absurd for today’s worship? So, not only can we not appeal to the Old Testament to justify musical instruments in worship, but we are no longer under that Old Law, nor can we consider it as obligatory in worship under the Christian dispensation (Rom. 7:1-14; Col. 2:14; Hebrews 7:22, 8:6).
    Now, concerning God’s will and the argument of no prohibitive verses for instruments; we could also just easily say that the Bible does not specifically prohibit the use of cake or milk in the Lord’s Supper. Yet, how do we know that we should not change those elements? Because we have commands and examples to teach us otherwise. Here’s the point, if God tells us what He wants, then He doesn’t need to list everything He doesn’t want. What the Bible does say and demonstrate is “singing” (Matthew 26:30; Acts 16:25; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14:15). In fact, there is not one single example of musical instruments being used in Christian worship in the entire New Testament. Every reference points only to one form of music – singing. (The references in Revelation 14:2 and 15:2 are figurative language of heavenly visions – not commands or examples for church worship). Also, according to several historians, apostolic, and church father’s writings, there is no example of musical instruments being used in worship during Christianity’s early years. The first indication of musical instruments being added to worship happened around the 7th century! The fact is, incorporating musical instruments in worship is a more modern development – not part of the original pattern of worship within the church.
    Therefore, if we are truly concerned about worshiping God according to His will, then it makes perfect sense to follow the examples and commandments for worship that are found only in His Holy Word. This means submitting to His authority. It is not a matter of personal preference, nor a question of ambiguity, nor some development in the name of progress. It is also incorrect to say, “It’s not a salvation issue,” because it actually is directly related to one’s salvation (cf. Acts 2:41-47; Matt 7:21). Let’s make wise choices when it comes to worshiping our God!


THE LORD’S MEMORIAL SUPPER

    Jesus mandated His disciples to remember one, very specific event. It is found in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, “when He had given thanks, He broke it [bread] and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’  In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’’ “ [Emphasis added – TS] The words, “do this” are an imperative verb form, that is, an authoritative command, which means we are obligated to obey His instruction. Of all the things Jesus did during His ministry, He only asked His disciples to remember His word (John 15:20) and this special, memorial feast. So, what is the communion and its purpose? And, when should we partake of it? If we read Matthew 26:26-29 and Luke 22:19-20, along with 1 Corinthians 11:23-29, we can identify three distinct elements as part of the supper: the bread, the cup, and prayer. Let’s look closer at each of these.
    The BREAD is not just any bread; it is something special. It is not magical, nor unusual. It is simply the same type of bread used during the Jewish Passover meal, which was an unleavened, flat bread (Exodus 12:15-39). Jesus took it and used it as an instructive symbol for His body, which was crucified upon the cross. When we eat the unleavened bread, we are to remember what He did for us. The symbolism is further seen in John 6:51, which records Jesus describing himself as “the bread of heaven.” In that discourse, Jesus reminded the Hebrews about the time God provided a bread-like substance from the heavens while they were wandering in the wilderness (John 6:49). Just as that manna (bread) descended from heaven, Jesus had descended from heaven.  
    The CUP was also part of the traditional Passover dinner of the Hebrews, with wine being served on four different occasions during the meal. When Christ offered the fourth cup, He used it to speak of his blood that would be shed during the crucifixion. The symbolism is better understood in light of Leviticus 17:11 which says that “the life of the flesh is in blood.” Why remember the blood? Because blood gives us all the elements necessary for life and just as blood gives life to the body, Jesus’ sacrifice gives life to the sinner. When we drink from the cup, it is, again, to remind us of what He did for us.
    What was inside the cup Jesus used? He called it “the fruit of the vine” (Luke 22:18). There are many fruits, but very few grow on a vine. The most common vine-grown fruit in that part of the world back then were grapes. The juice, or wine, of grapes was a very common drink at that time. According to several historians and scholars, the wines produced in that era were often watered down (for preservation purposes and to produce a greater quantity) and were also weaker in alcoholic content than our modern, genetically engineered versions. Thus, we drink grape juice during the communion.
    PRAYER is the third element of the memorial supper. Matthew 26:26 says Jesus “blessed” the bread and cup while Luke 22:19 says He “gave thanks.” As we participate in the supper, all three components of the memorial should be present, just as Jesus did it and instructed us. The purpose for doing all this is explained further by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:20-29. He states that it is not only to remind us of the great sacrifice Jesus made, but it is also a mutual communion (a joint fellowship, 1 Corinthians 10:16) between the members of the body of Christ, as well as, a time of self-analysis and re-dedication to the Lord. We are to eliminate every outside thought as we focus solely on remembering His great love and sacrifice for us. This is why we pray, individually, after partaking of each element. In doing so, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
    Finally, let’s look at when we are to participate in what is called the “Lord’s Supper.” While the Passover was an annual event for the Jews, according to the mandate in the Old Testament (Exodus 12:14), the first Christians participated in the Lord’s Supper after His ascension, on the day when the church began (Acts 2:42). According to Acts 20:7, we again find the disciples participating in it on the first day of the week. Therefore, since they did it in that way, then we simply follow this divinely approved example. Today, on every first day of the week, Christians all around the world participate in this memorial of the death of our Savior. Not once a year, or a quarter, but every Sunday so our focus and dedication to Him remains constant.


TRUE WORSHIP OF THE CHURCH

    Every Sunday, especially during the holidays, great masses of people will pass through the doors of a building with a sign out front that says, ”church,” on it. They go to participate in a service of worship, or some type of religious ritual. Sadly, with just a quick glance, one can quickly discern that vast differences exist between the various religious services offered. Quite a few have even replaced Sunday as the day of Christian worship with a Saturday evening service. So, does it really matter how one worships? Is there a specific way? Are there instructions as to what, when, and how Christians are to worship? These are all important questions for which any true disciple of Christ should seek answers. If we believe the Bible is the authority for all things religious, then let’s open it up to see what it says.
    If we search for the word “worship,” we will discover there are certain kinds of worship in the New Testament. For example, Matthew 15:9 mentions “vain” worship. Acts 17:23 mentions worship to an unknown god. Colossians 2:23 talks about self-imposed worship, Mark 15:19, 20 demonstrates a mocking worship, and John 4:24 talks about worship that is in “spirit and truth.” But, what does “worship” mean? Our English word, worship comes from the Greek word, proskunéo, which means “to kiss the hand of (towards) one, a sign of reverence; kneeling, or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication.” (Thayer)
    With this understanding, it should be clear from the above verses that there is a right way to worship and there is also a wrong way. The fact is, everyone worships something, or someone. We see this throughout the history of man and even in our society today. Man is a creature of worship. He will either worship a deity, or he will worship money, sports, fame, or anything that can become an idol. But, the Bible teaches that God is the creator of all of mankind, therefore, all mankind should worship Him and only Him. John 4:23 says, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” The fact is, God wants His creation to worship Him! So, what does it mean to worship in “spirit and in truth”? In simple terms, worshiping in “spirit” refers to the ATTITUDE one must have in worship, while in “truth,” means the manner, or the DOCTRINE by which we enact our worship. Let’s look at both of these a little closer.
    Worshiping in the right “spirit,” or the right attitude, has to do with the heart, the whole heart. For example, what does Colossians 3:16 say we should have in our hearts? What does Ephesians 5:19, say we are to do with our hearts? Matthew 15:8 also demonstrates how important the heart is in worship. What all of this implies is, it is possible to be at worship physically, but to not be there mentally. If we are not paying attention to what we saying or doing, then we are not involving our hearts in worship. Or, if our attitude is bad, rebellious, or unbelieving, then it is equal to vain worship.
    Worshiping God “in truth” means we are to follow the patterns and commands for worship as found in the New Testament. This is what is known as “doctrine.” It is a word that means “teaching.” It doesn’t take much digging to learn that the the inspired writers of the Bible taught specific commandments that we must obey and described examples that we can use to follow. According to those instructions and writings, there are five components, or actions of worship. They are:
  • Participation in the Lord’s Supper, (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Acts 20:7)
  • Singing songs of praise, (2 Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19)
  • Prayer, (Acts 2:42; 1 Timothy 2:1,8)
  • An offering, (1 Corinthians 16:1;2; Corinthians 9:7)
  • Preaching the Word, (Acts 20:7; 2 Timothy 4:2; Colossians 1:28)
    Therefore, the answer to the question, “Are there instructions for worship?” is, “Yes, there are instructions!” We must follow the examples and commandments God gave in His Word. Changing any part, or characteristic, of worship results in the corruption of God’s plan for worship and the destruction of the identity of the church. In the next few, upcoming articles, we will discuss each of these five points of worship, individually and in detail. – God bless! TS


THE WORK OF THE CHURCH GLORIFIES GOD!

    The Bible reveals that man’s purpose on earth is to glorify God (Ecclesiastes 12:13; Revelation 4:11). But what does that mean exactly? In what way are we to glorify Him? Does the Bible answer that question? Indeed, it does! In fact, the Bible teaches we must produce fruit in order to bring glory to God (John 15:8), which implies we must actively do something. It implies that we Christians, those of the church, must work! Look at the example of the first Christians in Acts 2:42-47. It says, “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. … and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” This passage implies there are three different types of work of the church.
They are:
  • Evangelism – inferred from, “the doctrine” and adding to the church, (verses 42,47);
  • Edification – inferred from, “fellowship, and prayers” (verses 42,46); and
  • Benevolence – inferred from dividing the possessions (verses 42,44,45).

    This illustrates that we can divide every work, or each ministry, into these three categories: evangelism, edification, and benevolence. There is additional Biblical support for each of these categories. Let’s look at each of these individually.

Evangelism

    Jesus left His disciples with a very specific mission, known as “The Great Commission,” (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15,16; Luke 24:47). This makes it also our responsibility, both individually and collectively as the church, to seek and save the lost – just as He had done. This is simply understood as ordinary men telling other ordinary men about the extraordinary good news of an extraordinary man. What an important responsibility!

Edification

    This is a word that comes from Greek, meaning, “the act of building; promotion of spiritual growth,” (Thayer). When we participate in fellowship activities and encourage each another, we are “building” something. This kind of action carries the idea of reciprocity. Read Romans 14:19 and 1 Thess. 5:11:3. Notice that the key idea is something “mutual,” or doing something for someone who does something for us at the same time. We strengthen our faith while helping each other.
    Living for others is the great secret of happiness! Many live in doubt and anxiety because they only think of themselves, instead of thinking of others. Selfishness does not edify anyone. Romans 14:7-8 says we belong to the Lord, while both 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 talk about us being part of “the body” of Christ. Therefore, the church is a spiritual family that unites all those who have been baptized in Christ. It is the place God designed where we can build each other up!

Benevolence

    This refers to “covering, or providing for the physical needs of others.” Benevolence only requires a need and an opportunity (Galatians 6:10). The word “benevolence” is not found in the New Testament, but, we can find the idea, or concept of it in its pages. A related word (from the original language) is found in 1 Corinthians 7:3, where it relates to marriage. The principle is also seen in Ephesians 6:7,8 as an attitude that we should have toward others. In Acts 2:42, the word “communion” means “fellowship, or fraternity.” which certainly implies benevolence between each other, (Thayer).
    Passages such as Galatians 6:9,10; James 1:27; Matthew 7:12; Matthew 25:32-40; and Philippians 2:4 all imply the concept of benevolence. Essentially, the primary focus is on others, not on ourselves. The church and every individual Christian should feel a responsibility toward those in need. Benevolence is an action in which God is glorified. Benevolence can even help us stay pure and avoid temptation, if we keep ourselves so busy seeking out the benefit of others, we will not have time to fall into sin!
 
    So, how do we glorify God? We glorify Him through these actions: evangelism, edification, and benevolence. All three are equally important! By doing these things, we produce the fruit that the Lord has commanded of us. In so doing, we become pleasing to Him. These are all easy to talk about, but not quite so easy to do. Yet, we must do them! If we want to hear the words, “Enter in thou good and faithful servant,” (Matthew 25:21), then every decision we make regarding church work must be based on these works. Every work or ministry can be attributed to these three categories. Therefore, as that old song says, “To the work! to the work! We are servants of God!” – God bless! TS


HOW IS THE CHURCH ORGANIZED?

    The Scriptures are very clear; God has given us a divine leadership model for guiding the church! It is not of man’s design, nor is it like many of the worldly formats with which we might be familiar. Last week, I also wrote about Jesus being the only head of the church; no other stands above Him (Colossians 1:18). We touched on the fact that there is no Biblical authority for one, singular person within the church to rise up as supreme leader over all the church. In fact, the only people mentioned in leadership positions in the Bible are the “apostles and elders” (Acts 15:6; 16:4). So, this week, let’s ask the question, “Exactly how is the church organized?” And, let’s look at what the Bible says.
    Scripture mentions several “types” of members within the church. In 1 Corinthians 12:28,29 and Ephesians 4:11. it mentions apostles, prophets, miracle workers, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Philippians 1:1 also mentions “deacons.” Here are some important points about each of these member “positions”:
  • Apostles – this refers to the twelve men that Jesus called to work alongside of Him (Mark 3:14-19). They were the main leaders over the church during its infancy (Acts 2:42). But, not just anyone could/can be an apostle. According to Acts 1:21-22, there are very specific requirements to be an apostle, which means it is impossible for anyone today to truthfully call themselves one of Jesus’ apostles. Only two other men are mentioned in the Bible as having met those requirements, they were Matthias (Acts 1:26 and Paul (Gal 1:1). We no longer have apostles as leaders in the church.
  • Prophets and Miracle Workers – this refers to those early Christians, both men and women, who received miraculous gifts from the apostles (Acts 8:14-17). They could speak in tongues, heal people, and had other abilities. This was necessary because the New Testament hadn’t been written, yet. Gifts were God’s method for spreading and confirming the word (Mark 16:20). But, once the Scriptures were complete, there was no longer a need for those gifts, so they have ceased (1 Corinthians 13:10). In addition, all the apostles, who could impart such gifts, and those who received those special abilities have all died, which means those miraculous abilities died with them. Yet, even with their unique capabilities, they were not appointed as leaders over the church.
  • Evangelists – this simply refers to a member, who happens to be able to preach. Preachers are not the leader of the church. They are just workers in the kingdom who are capable of teaching the Gospel to others.
  • Teachers – this refers to those brethren who have the ability to understand the Bible well and then transmit it to others in a way that can be understood. Some are capable of teaching before larger groups of people, while others are better suited for private settings. In either case, they are not designated as overseers of the church.
  • Deacons – These are, typically, men who have been placed in charge of a specific task within the church. The Biblical precedent is found in Acts 6:1-7. They also have very specific qualifications required in order to assume the position, (cf 1 Timothy 3:8-13). While deacons may be considered a type of leader in the church, their real purpose and job is to serve, to be a servant – that’s what the word truly means (1 Timothy 3:10).
  • Pastors – The Bible also described these men as, “Overseers, Shepherds, Bishops, and Elders.” Each are synonyms for the same person filling that position. They are the only members of the church designated in the Bible as leaders. They are the only ones to which other members are instructed to submit (Hebrews 13:7,17). Their leadership has a specific purpose – that is, to guard and watch over the souls of the flock, (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17). They must also give an account to the Lord for their assigned duty. Notice they are always referred to in the plural and never in the singular, which means no one elder is over the others. They, too, are subjected to very specific qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Being an elder is an enormous responsibility that deserves much respect from the brethren.
    I would like to encourage you to look up each of these Scriptures listed. Read the context and observe how each “position” functions within the body of Christ. Especially look at 1 Peter 5:1,2. The church’s organization was put in place by God, through His inspired writers. Let us never forget that God’s way works. Let’s never assume that our way could be better than God’s!


WHO IS THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH?

    There are many, even in the the body of Christ, who do not understand the organization of the church very well. Think about it for a minute. We are all part of the church that Jesus said He would establish, which began in Jerusalem, on Pentecost, with His apostles. They were the first leaders of the church (Acts 6:2-4). However, Jesus is no longer on this Earth and neither are His apostles. So then, who is the leader of the church, or the person who directs its operations today? Is Jerusalem the headquarters? Or, is there a specific manual that directs us? Can we identify a leadership model within the church? These are all very important questions because many people, with good intentions, have made serious mistakes in their attempt to answer these questions. In this and the next few articles, we will deal with the topic of church leadership and present the Biblical view.
    Knowing that Christ, and only Christ, is the head of the church is a fundamental principle every Christian should clearly understand (Ephesians 1:20-23; Colossians 1:18). This is a key concept which directly addresses the organization of the church. It includes how the church is governed, what method is used to govern it, and who is involved.
    It is important to distinguish Biblical truth from secular judgment because man has a natural tendency to place one person “in charge” of others (1 Samuel 8:19,20; Judges 11:6) and/or an insatiable desire to seize power of authority for themselves (2 Samuel 15:4; 1 Kings 1:5). Just a cursory look at man’s history reveals a long succession of kings, commanders, sultans, chiefs, dictators, presidents, and so forth. Even during the time of Jesus and the apostles, there existed a hierarchy of government to which all were subjected, the Roman Empire. When the church came out of persecution and was recognized by the government of the time – that of Roman Emperor, Constantine (313 AD) – it should not be surprising that the leadership model of the era was eventually imposed upon church, or crept into it in other ways. It was what the people were familiar with at the time. In fact, it is not uncommon to see our modern leadership methods creep into the church today! For example, I have witnessed some elderships operating in the same manner as a board of directors. This was simply because some of those elders were CEO’s or Presidents of businesses or other organizations. It is the leadership model with which they were familiar and knew.
    This mentality is also what has led many religious institutions, who use the name “Christian,” to set up hierarchies within their own organizations. They will install a system of ranking, which usually includes a top leader, several levels of sub-leaders, and assistants. There will often be a central office, or headquarters with a primary document that outlines every aspect of government within the church. In fact, just enter “organization of the ___________ church” in your web browser and you will be amazed at all the variations of church government! Can all of this be right? Is this what Jesus intended for His church? Or, is there a specific, divinely inspired standard, or guide for how the church is to be organized and governed? Indeed there is!

     First and foremost, recognize that the Bible presents a pattern for each congregation, that is, each assembly of the church of Christ as being autonomous (meaning: governed by itself, not influenced by any outside authority). This alone implies:
  • There is no headquarters or central office, nor an earthly organization that is authorized to govern the church. There is not a single verse, or example, that approves of such an arrangement.
  • There is no single human leader over the whole church, but only Christ (Colossians 1:18).
  • There is no example of a single human leader who governs, or “oversees” any one congregation, but instead, there is always a plurality of leaders (Hebrews 13:17).
  • There is no verse or example of a leader of one congregation having authority over another congregation (Acts 20:28).
  • The kingdom (the church) is not of this world (John 18:36), so its inter-workings are not the same as those of the world.
  • There is no other guide, creed, catechism or manual outside of the Bible which is authorized or contains instructions regarding the church. The Bible alone is completely sufficient! (2 Timothy 3:16,17; 2 Peter 1: 3).
There is a divine leadership model for the church! We will look into each of these points in greater detail next week.


THE CHURCH AND ITS RELATIONSHIPS

Article by Cody Westbrook
God purposed in eternity to create an entity in which all people would dwell together in unity (Eph. 2:14-18; 3:9-11). It was to be an institution in which race and gender were inconsequential (Gal. 3:28). Members were meant to work together (Phil. 1:27), suffer together (Phil. 1:28), grow together (Eph. 4:15), and glorify God together (Rom. 15:5-6). This great Divine institution is the church of our Lord Jesus Christ – purchased at Calvary (Acts 20:28) and ushered into existence on the first Pentecost following His ascension (Acts 2). The church is the body of those who have been called by the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14) to come out of the world and be God’s people (1 Pet. 2:9). This call is extended to everyone (2 Pet. 3:9) and that is one of the many characteristics that make the church so unique. The church is composed of individuals from all walks of life. Different skin colors, different languages, different cultures and backgrounds are all found within the body of Christ. All those who obey the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Eph. 4:4-6; etc.) are added by the Father (Acts 2:47) and dwell together in love as brothers and sisters in Christ – as members of the family of God (1 Pet. 3:8-9; 1 John 3:1; Eph. 1:5).
    Paul wrote about this relationship in one of the key passages of 1 Timothy, “But if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth,” (1 Tim. 3:15). Ephesians 5:1 says, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.” Being a child of God is a privilege that carries with it certain responsibilities. We are to imitate our Father and strive to be like Him in all things (cf. Matt. 5:48; 1 Pet. 1:16). This was also Paul’s concern for Timothy and his work as a gospel preacher in Ephesus. The church is the house of God and as such there is a certain pattern of behavior that is demanded. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul addresses God’s requirements of the church pertaining to doctrine (Ch. 1), worship (Ch. 2), leadership (Ch. 3) and priorities (Ch. 4). Chapter 5 gives attention to the church and its relationships. As has already been mentioned, the church is composed of many different people from many different walks of life – young, old, rich, poor, black, white, and much more. Notwithstanding our differences, we have all obeyed the same gospel and are members of the same body (Gal. 3:26-28). Therefore we are brothers and sisters in the family of God and as such we are obligated to treat one another with a certain level of respect and dignity.
    The chapter begins with general guidelines for all members of the church to follow. Young men have a responsibility to older men, older men have a responsibility to younger men, young women have a responsibility to older women, older women have a responsibility to younger women, and so on (1 Tim. 5:1). The next section deals with widows and their care. Paul instructs the church to “honor widows who are really widows” (1 Tim. 5:3) then proceeds to describe different categories of widows and their care. The third section of the book deals with elders, only this time reference is to those who hold the office of an elder (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-7) as opposed to those who are elderly in general. God’s people are instructed to honor their elders and refuse to hear an improper accusation levied against them (1 Tim. 5:17-24). The final section of the context extends to 1 Timothy 6:1-2 and deals with the relationship between slave and master. Servants were to “count their own masters worthy of all honor” (1 Tim. 6:1). They were to be careful not to look down on a master who was also a brother in the Lord but rather to “serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved” (1 Tim. 6:2).
    The instruction in this context is only a small sampling of the Bible’s teaching concerning the church and its relationships. James 3:17-18 describes “the wisdom that is from above” and how a person who possesses that wisdom acts as a peacemaker amongst his brethren. Peter wrote, “Likewise you younger people submit yourself to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility…” (1 Pet. 5:5). We are to “be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Rom. 12:10). Galatians 5:13 exhorts, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Time and again the New Testament emphasizes our need to love, serve, submit, pray for, think about, and care for one another. Though following through with God’s will on the matter is not always easy.
    Personality conflicts, misunderstandings, differences of opinion, and such will always be a reality in the church because the church is composed of people. It is not a new problem, however. Consider Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2) and the instruction pertaining to matters of opinion in Romans 14 as two examples. Though problems arise periodically, our love for the Lord and for one another pushes us to solve them. We are children of God and not of the world. Therefore, our desire should be to constantly grow in our love for one another and to strengthen the relationships that we possess with all of our brethren in Christ.


WHEN AND WHERE DID THE KINGDOM BEGIN?

    Last week we presented the case, from Scripture, that the kingdom of God is already here. This provoked a few questions from some inquisitive students of the Bible asking, “Can we identify with certainty when and where the kingdom began?” The answer is, “Yes! We can.” Again, simply by studying the Scriptures, we can distinguish precisely when and where. Still keeping in mind all the important aspects about the kingdom of God that we discussed in the previous article, let’s now look at some additional verses that teach about its inauguration.
    We’ll start with Mark 9:1, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.” Pay close attention to all the words of that verse! This statement places a very specific time limit on the event. This is Jesus speaking to His disciples, to whom He says some will live to see that day, with their own eyes, when the kingdom shall come into existence. He also states that it will come “with power.” These same words are also found in Matthew’s account, right after He had told Peter that He would give him “the keys to the kingdom,” (Matthew 16:19). Add to this, Jesus also uses the words “church” in verse 18 interchangeably with “kingdom.”
    Now, in Acts 1:6, the disciples ask Jesus if He was going to “at this time restore the kingdom to Israel.” They were thinking of a physical, earthly kingdom like the days of David and Solomon. But, notice what Jesus says in verse 8, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you …” Do you see the connection and consistency with Mark 9:1? Read the first few verses of the next chapter, Acts 2:1-4. What do we see? We see miraculous power come to (or rather, fall upon) the apostles in the form of the Holy Spirit! Exactly as Jesus had promised in John 16:7-13.
    Thinking back on the words of Mark 9:1, Jesus had said “some” would see the kingdom arrive. This implied that not all of them would, meaning some of them standing there wouldn’t be around on that day. So, were any of the apostles not there, or had someone died between the time Jesus had spoken those words and the day of Pentecost? Indeed, Judas, one of the men who was with Jesus back then had since passed on, (Acts 1:16-18; Matthew 27:5). Isn’t that exactly what Jesus said would happen? His words came true! And, speaking of fulfilled prophecy, look also at what Jesus said in Luke 24:46-48. He stated, “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.” Where were the apostles when Peter preached that first Gospel message that we read in Acts 2:14-36? (Here’s a hint: Acts 1:12). The kingdom of God began on the Day of Pentecost, some 2000 years ago. It began in Jerusalem and is still in existence today. It is not some future event, nor will it be an earthly, physical kingdom, as so many erroneously teach. The identifying marks are easy to identify with Bible study, which refute such doctrine.
    However, the most important lesson we can learn from the inception of God’s kingdom is what was said on that day. The apostle Peter stood up and began preaching. He preached Jesus. He preached the Gospel of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. He preached that He is the Messiah and is sitting at the right hand of God. What was the result of that sermon? Men were convicted of their sins (Acts 2:37), they responded to the invitation of Jesus by being baptized (Acts 2:38-41), and they were added to the church (Acts 2:47). What just happened there? Peter used the “keys of the kingdom” to open up the door (cf John 10:9) and the first converts were ushered in. That’s the main lesson for us! If we want to be saved, we must be IN His kingdom – the church of Christ, the Son of God (2 Timothy 2:10; Colossians 1:18; Galatians 3:27).


THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS HERE!

    Jesus spoke often about the “kingdom of God/heaven.” What was He talking about, exactly? Many religious groups teach that the kingdom to which Christ is referring, is something that has not yet arrived – it is still coming sometime in the future. One of these doctrines is known as “premillennialism.” It suggests that when Jesus returns, He will then establish a kingdom on earth for a thousand years. This theory is derived from misconstruing several passages. Sadly, this teaching has greatly confused many people. So, what is the truth about God’s kingdom? Is it possible to accurately discern its establishment or existence? Indeed, it is possible. It is not at all hard to determine the truth. We must simply look into the Bible to find the answers.
    First, we read where prophets like Daniel and Isaiah prophesied about a coming kingdom (Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 2:2; 9:7). It would be a special kingdom, like no other before it. Daniel even specifies the time-frame of its establishment, saying, “In the days of these kings.” He refers to a fourth kingdom to arise after the present one of his time. History shows us that this was the Babylonian kingdom, which was followed by the Medo-Persians, the Greeks, and then the Romans. So, according to the prophecy, God’s kingdom would be established during the reign of the Roman Empire. That’s an important point!
    Secondly, when Jesus came to earth and preached, He said the kingdom “was at hand” (Matt 4:17) and He also stated that, “the kingdom has come near you” (Luke 10:9). This indicates a close proximity of time for its establishment. Remember, Jesus lived during the time of the Roman Empire. Galatians 4:4 also teaches, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” God’s timing was involved.
    Thirdly, one must simply look for specific, identifying characteristics that indicate the presence of a kingdom. For example, every kingdom must have a king, subjects to that king, its own territory, and its own law. If it can be established that those four elements are present today, then we can conclude that the kingdom exists today. So, if you will diligently study the following passages, you will see that not only does the “kingdom of God” already have all these characteristics present, but it has also already arrived and is among us! Start with the question, “Does the kingdom have a king? If so, is he reigning now?” Look in John 18:33-36; 1 Corinthians 15:25,26; 1 Timothy 6:14,15 and Ephesians 1:20-22. According to these verses, is Jesus the king? Is He already reigning? If so, where is He?
    Next, consider whether or not the kingdom has subjects. What does John say about himself in Revelation 1:9? What does he say he is “in’? Now, look in Colossians 1:2,12,13, 18 and Hebrews 12:28. What does this indicate about Christians? Do we not all belong to God according to Romans 6:17-22? Now, what about its territory? Notice that in Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus uses the terms “church” and “kingdom” interchangeably. Now, consider the words “church” and “body” are used interchangeably in Ephesians 1:22-23. Both Acts 2:47 and Galatians 3:27 teach that we are added into Christ (the church) upon our obedience to the Gospel (1 Corinthians 12:13). Then, notice that Jesus describes the kingdom as one that isn’t physically visible, but rather, it is within us (Luke 17:20-21). The territory of the kingdom is found among the hearts of the disciples (Romans 14:17).
    Lastly, does the kingdom of God have a law? If you compare Colossians 2:14 and Galatians 6:2 alongside with what Jesus taught in Mathew 5:21-48, it should be obvious that all Christians live under a new law – the Law of Christ. This is because we are also under a new covenant (Matthew 26:28).
    According to what we have observed and studied here, we may deduce that the kingdom of God does, indeed, already have its king – Jesus Christ. It has subjects to the king – His disciples, Christians. It has a territory – the hearts of those in His church. And, it has its own law – found written in New Testament. All these verses categorically confirm that the kingdom of God has come, it is here, it currently exists. Therefore, it is not some future institution waiting to still be established one day. This leaves a another implication – one that is very serious – are YOU part of His kingdom? If you want to be among the saved, get in!


WHY ARE THERE SO MANY CHURCHES? (Part 3)

    This is our third installment concerning the question of, “Why are there so many churches in the world today?” We have approached the question by considering both history and the Bible. We began with observing the source of division that produced the various denominations of Christendom today (Part 1) and then we discussed why the church of Christ is not one of those denominations (Part 2). There remains a third element to addressed. It is the question of, “If the Church of Christ is not a denomination, then why are there several different ‘types’ of churches of Christ?” Sadly, this is a question we often avoid, or only speak about in private circles. But, it is important for brethren to know the differences and the history behind it. Let’s see if we can explain.
    After the prominent men of the Restoration Movement were successful in convincing the hearts and minds of God-fearing people to turn back to the Bible in order to restore the Lord’s church, it was no time at all before departures surfaced once again, this time from within the church. As early as 1849, questions and opposing opinions emerged over church cooperation within missions, the inclusion of musical instruments in worship, and other methodological disputes. This lead to differing practices among the various congregations around the country. In 1906, the U.S. Census revealed just how far and wide the sectioning had truly reached. It exposed the fact that the Restoration church had segmented into two distinct groups: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the Church of Christ. The primary difference between the two was instrumental music. Only the Church of Christ maintained the practice of a cappella singing in worship. It didn’t stop there, the sectioning continued among those two branches as differing factions among their membership developed over the next several years. All the work that had been done to unify Christians in returning to the Scriptural model of the church had fragmented into different bodies.
    Among the Churches of Christ, these differing factions grew in number over the course of the twentieth century. Quite frankly, this should be one of the expected results of true autonomy. When independent congregations started “working out their salvation” (Philippians 2:12), strong opinions develop over all kinds of Scriptural interpretations. The various views that emerged within the churches of Christ lead to some groups assigning special identities to themselves, such as, “Mutual Edification, Non-Institutional, One-cup, Main-Stream, etc.” Sadly, there are some who have attributed pejorative labels to the various groups, also. This means that just because it says “Church of Christ” on the sign doesn’t always guarantee that a particular group practices the exact same thing as another church of Christ down the street.
    Perhaps, the biggest problem with all of this division is the lack of love and respect so often displayed between the various groups. So often, it is just a matter of differing OPINIONS! The sad reality is, these opinions have turned into “tests of fellowship,” where one faction won’t have anything to do with another just because of the differences. Some of these groups are downright hateful toward each other, either directly or indirectly. Certainly, matters of opinion (or even doctrinal differences) are never grounds for treating someone with contempt and hatefulness!
    So, what does all of this history teach us regarding, “Why are there so many churches in the world?” It teaches us that although God has given man the Bible, man still hasn’t quite worked it all out perfectly. We’re still learning! The only answer to all of this – from the beginning of the church’s history until now – is to study the Scriptures diligently (Acts 17:11). Jesus clearly taught that only those who DO God’s will shall enter into heaven (Matthew 7:21). So, we must find His will in His word and obey it if we want to be acceptable to Him. It is as simple as that.