Reviewing “Children in Church”

It has been a while since I plugged our book, Children in Church: Nurturing Hearts of Worship. This week I will allow a well-known Christian leader and educator do the honors.

CIC coverI recently asked a well-respected evangelical leader about the statistics of the number of young adults walking away from the church. He said, ” I don’t think they’ve ever been in church…” He’s right. If we want to reclaim the rapid growth and enthusiasm of the early church we must figure out how to make church more like a family reunion and less like an adults-only club. Curt and Sandra show how it can be done – with purpose and relaxed joy – in a way that restores the hearts of the older to the younger and the hearts of both to a God who delights in children.

Jeff Myers, Ph.D. President, Summit Ministries

The book is available at ChildreninChurch.com.

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When Is a Church Not a Church?

Following up on the mostly external challenges to the Church which I posted last week, I am sharing, this week, a post from R.C. Sproul.

When Is a Church Not a Church?

FROM  Aug 03, 2015 Category: Articles

When is a church not a church? This question has received various answers throughout history, depending on one’s perspective and evaluation of certain groups. There exists no monolithic interpretation of what constitutes a true church. However, in classic Christian orthodoxy certain standards have emerged that define what we call “catholic,” or universal, Christianity. This universal Christianity points to the essential truths that have been set forth historically in the ecumenical creeds of the first millennium and are part of the confession of virtually every Christian denomination historically. However, there are at least two ways in which a religious group fails to meet the standards of being a church.

The first is when they lapse into a state of apostasy. Apostasy occurs when a church leaves its historic moorings, abandons its historic confessional position, and degenerates into a state where either essential Christian truths are blatantly denied or the denial of such truths is widely tolerated.

Another test of apostasy is at the moral level. A church becomes apostate de facto when it sanctions and encourages gross and heinous sins. Such practices may be found today in the controversial systems of denominations, such as mainline Episcopalianism and mainline Presbyterianism, both of which have moved away from their historic confessional moorings as well their confessional stands on basic ethical issues.

The decline of a church into apostasy must be differentiated from those communions that never actually achieved the status of a viable church in the first place. It is with respect to this phenomenon that the consideration of cults and heretical sects is usually delineated. Here again we find no universal monolithic definition for what it is that constitutes a cult or a sect. Both terms are capable of more than one meaning or denotation. For example, all churches that practice rites and rituals have at their core a concern for their “cultus.” The cultus is the organized body of worship that is found in any church. However, this cultic dimension of legitimate churches can be distorted to such a degree that the use of the term cult is applied in its pejorative sense. For example, the dictionary may define the term “cult” as a religion that is considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist. When we talk about cults in this regard, what comes to mind are the radical distortions in fringe groups, such as the Jonestown phenomenon. There, a group of devotees attached themselves to their megalomaniacal leader, Jim Jones, and illustrated their devotion to such a degree that they willingly submitted to Jones’ direction to take their Kool-aid laced with cyanide. This is cultic behavior with a vengeance. The same kind of thing could be seen among the Branch Davidians, the followers of Father Divine in Philadelphia, and other lesser groups that have come and gone over the course of church history.

It is noteworthy that almost any compendium that treats the history of cults will include within its studies large bodies of religion such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nevertheless, the sheer size and endurance of such groups tend to give them more credibility as time passes and as more people associate with their beliefs. When we look at groups, such as the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we find elements of truth within their confessions. Yet at the same time, they express clear denials of what historically may be considered essential truths of the Christian faith. This certainly includes their unabashed denial of the deity of Christ. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons have this denial in common. Though both place Jesus in some type of exalted position within their respective creeds, He does not attain the level of deity. Both groups consider Christ an exalted creature. Following the thinking of the ancient heretic Arius, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that the New Testament does not teach the deity of Christ; rather, they argue it teaches He is the exalted firstborn of all creation. They say He is the first creature made by God, who then is given superior power and authority over the rest of creation. Though Jesus is lifted up in such Christology, it still falls far short of Christian orthodoxy, which confesses the deity of Christ. Passages in the New Testament such as Jesus being “begotten” and His being the firstborn of creation” are incorrectly used to justify this creaturely definition of Christ.

In the first three centuries of Christian history, the biblical passage that dominated reflection on the church’s understanding of Christ was the prologue of the gospel of John. This prologue contains the affirmation of Christ’s being the Logos, or the eternal Word of God. John declares in his gospel that the Logos was “with God in the beginning, and was God.” This “with God” suggests a distinction between the Logos and God, but the identification by the linking verb “was” indicates an identity between the Logos and God. The way in which this identity is denied by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cultists is by substituting the indefinite article in the text, rendering it that the Logos was “a god.” In order to wrest this interpretation from the text, one must have a prior affirmation of some form of polytheism. Such polytheism is utterly foreign to Judeo-Christian theology, where deity is understood in monotheistic terms.

THE THREAT OF CULTIC DISTORTIONS IS SOMETHING THE CHURCH MUST STRUGGLE WITH IN EVERY GENERATION AND IN EVERY AGE.

The threat of cultic distortions is something the church must struggle with in every generation and in every age. It is also important to understand that even legitimate churches may contain within it practices that reflect the behavior of the cults. Cults can emerge within the structures of certain churches. In the Roman communion, for example, we see in Haiti a mixture of Roman Catholic theology with the cultic practices of voodoo. Also in that same communion there is no question that large groups of people venerate Mary to a degree that is beyond the limits espoused by that church itself, degenerating their worship into a cult mentality. But such can be the case among Lutherans, Presbyterians, or any group, when orthodoxy is sacrificed for the devotion to idols.

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.

 

The Challenged Church

Most of us have heard at least one sermon on the Greek word “ekklesia.” We know that it has to do with being “called out,” and that it means the assembly of those called to be in Christ. We use that word to describe the Church.

th-3I like to look at this term, “called out” from a different perspective, also.

In the jargon of the day, to call out is to challenge; often in the context of a fight. It means something like: “You and me behind the school at 3 o’clock.” The fact of the matter is that the Church is both corporately and individually, a bunch of people who’ve been challenged to a fight.

The several Greek words for fight are used sparingly. There is, however, a lot of military imagery, as in Ephesians 6:10-18, in which we are told to wear armor – and to “stand firm.” Them’s fightin’ words!

Other fighting words are found in, 1 Tim. 6:12, in which we read:

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which
you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Taking hold of the eternal life to which we are called includes fighting the good fight of faith. It means standing up to the predominant culture when it besmirches the Name of Jesus; when it ridicules the Church (not that we haven’t called a good bit of ridicule on ourselves); when it demeans members of the Church for their faith.

Paul explains this concept of fighting for the faith further when he w
ites to his young protegé Timothy, in 2 Tim. 4:7:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

To Paul, keeping the faith included having fought the good fight. Being a member of the Church, those called out by God, means fighting the good fight.
One final, and obvious, example will be offered here. It is found in Jude 3. Here we find this challenge:

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

How do we, who are members of the Church, called out both in the sense of being part of the assembly and in the sense of being challenged, contend for the faith? Learn it; understand it; act as a body as we fight on behalf of the Church. It is the role of the Church, individually and corporately to contend for the Church itself; to stand up for the Church; to understand the proper role and authority of the Church; to behave as though the Church is something special – because it is.

The Church is under extreme pressure from the dominant culture today. Challenges to out way of life and our beliefs abound. Christian merchants are not allowed to act according to their beliefs without threat of governmental oppression. Marriage has been fundamentally lettered into something that God’s Word does not recognize as valid. Human life is not viewed as sacred, but as something that is both dispensable and profitable.

In the movie “On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando uttered the famous line: “I coulda been a contender.” That means he could have fought for the title. We don’t have to fight for the title. It is already won by the blood of Jesus, which purchased the Church. We still need, however, to be contenders.