Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Church is in your House

In Ephesians 5:31-32, Paul virtually says that a Christian marriage is a church.  Think what a crime this makes of divorce, or even the absence of love. In Philemon 1:2 Paul refers to the “the church that meets in your home.”  And in Colossians 4:15 he writes, “Greetings to Nympha and the church in her house.”  These two “churches” were part of the congregation of Christians in Colossae.  Nympha was a “single” believer, and a woman!

So, what is a church?  Not a building.  It is wrong to say so.  Even worse, to call it “God’s house”.  And it is not the clergy, the full-time officials or even the church officers.  It is not a denomination.  There is no such thing as a Christian Reformed Church.  There are churches.  And it is not even a single congregation.  This is a para-church organization, much like the World Home Bible League.  While it may be thought of as a congregation of individual believers, it really is of families.  So, the basic, continuing, “tangible” church is a family, a home.  This the first meaning of,  “Where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, (me)…”  The Old Testament model-church was a family, beginning with Abraham.  “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”  Circumcision, passover, almost all worship “services” were family affairs.  The Early Church was comprised of small groups of families, household churches.  The church as an organization has today “taken over” baptism, the Lord’s Supper, weddings, funerals, confirmation, even “prayer”, but ideally these are all familial.

What, then, is a family, a home? (And every one ideally belongs to at lest one in his/her lifetime, by very reason of birth.)  It is not a building, though realtors and others like to speak of a house as a “home”.  It is more than a number of individuals who live together, versus a commune, or “live-ins”, or even a man and woman and some children who occupy the same house.  (Schools, businesses, etc. like to speak of personnel as a “family”.  It is an organism (a “body”), an organization, with lines of authority.  Husbands are “heads” to their wives in the same way a physical head is to a body; equally important, mutually dependent (I Cor. 11:11,12).  He is not the boss, nor necessarily always the “leader”, any more than he is smarter, stronger, older.  He is the coordinator, organizer, unifier, order-keeper, representative, which means that sometimes as an individual he has to lay down his life for the sake of wife, and family, as Christ did.  (Husband and wife, being “one”, are together the “head”of the house; the wife alone, of course, when there is no husband.) The Bible says nothing about men per se being “over” women, such as in a business, school, hospital.  The Bible’s big and jealous concern is to the integrity of homes.

The primary purpose of a home is reproduction, not necessarily in the sense of multiplication, but surely replacement, perpetuation.  Other purposes are self-fulfillment of husband-wife and the advancement of the Kingdom of heaven (via sanctification of the partners, plus the creation of children and their salvation), but these goals are realized the most by parenting.  All perversions of marriage (homosexuality, “live-ins”, and even many divorces) are only the logical consequence of making “sex” its own excuse for being (and marriage); an end in itself instead of a means to a more wonderful one.  Nothing sanctifies a person (makes him/her more like God himself) than parenting (which is more than birthing.)  While parenting is the responsibility of both father and mother, from the nature of the case (birthing, nursing, nurturing) the wife’s primary responsibility is home-making (more than house-keeping), rather than wage-earning.

What makes a home a church?  Not Bible reading, “church going”, Christian service; all this can be done by individual believers.  It is united (the finest form of) prayer.  Jesus said, “If two of you agree in prayer, it will be done.”  What finer form of such agreement is there than between husband and wife, a family?  Unity is great; “one flesh”.  Needs and reasons for thanksgiving are the most mutual.  Understanding of fellow prayers is greatest.  Families that pray together…..are the church.  Here is where “singles” come in.  The congregation is their family.  By means of prayer-partners, prayer-groups.  Members of congregations should visit “singles” homes for prayer. (Ps 68:6, James 1:27)  Singles in turn can minster mightily to others. (Isa 54:1)   The first subject of family prayers should be for other members of the local congregation; systematically, specifically. (I Tim. 5:8)   It would spare congregational crisis praying (I Cor 11:29,30).  Congregational prayer can then address concerns of community, denomination, the “world”.  Pastoral prayer – Acts 6:4 – belongs in the home, not the pulpit.

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Convincing Non-believers

Many people argue that the Bible is out-dated or applies to another age.  That is at the heart of arguments that denominations have regarding women in office or even same-sex marriage.  A seminary professor in our own denomination says that marriage customs are so “relative” around the world, and while that is true, that doesn’t mean that just because polygamy is OK in Africa that I can have more than one wife in the USA.  So this gives me reason to think through this subject myself which sometimes we do not examine too critically.  “Just why do I think such and such?” – Tradition? Other people’s ideas?  No reason?

Really, what it comes down to, I think, is – a person’s conception of the Bible.  A low view of Scripture, which even some of our preachers have, puts almost everything in it “up for grabs.”  Despite the arguments on behalf of the Bible inspiration, the Word of God, etc., we accept it as authoritative, basically error-free (not quibbling about dates, eg.) and applicable to all times and all people in the same way we believe in Jesus Christ, heaven, miracles, etc. – namely, by faith.  And faith cannot be argued.  (Though that does not mean it is irrational; is “above reason” in the fashion that calculus is above simple arithmetic, involving “negative numbers” etc.)

So, I don’t think we can argue with a person who doesn’t agree with us as to inspiration and infallibility of Scripture.   What is more, there are genuine Christians who make so little use of the Bible in practice (while believing it is ALL God’s word, etc.) that they do not have “the mind of Christ”, think like God himself, have his view of their lives.  Hence the divorce and what-not even right within our our relatives.

All that being said – something that occurred to me is much of our approach to non-Christians is negative:  “This is wrong with your view, that is wrong with your life” – such as “live-ins”.  We should be more positive, much like the  Lord Jesus Christ whose positive approach was “Come unto me, all you that are weary, ” etc.  We often start off with the idea that a person FIRST has to recognize his (her) sin, then turn to Christ, etc.  No!  God has given us a head start (as his witnesses) by putting into every human heart a sense of need, deficiency.  Nobody is satisfied with life as is, with himself, really.  What we do is come with Good News – that Christ is really the answer, for here and hereafter.  Real joy.  Peace.  Wisdom.

I think one point of contact is that of prayer, which (again) all people do instinctively.  “There are no atheists in foxholes.”  In the hour of trouble, not necessarily as deep as death, all people just DO pray.  I find this a sensitive common denominator in my chaplaincy and other contacts, simply testifying that “life is too much for me, all alone”, but that “God is the friend who is better than a brother”, etc.  At the very least a Christian can say to a seeker, “I sure will remember you in my prayers.”  EVERYBODY appreciates and is touched by that.

And I think God has a host of his children who don’t come in the same packages that we do, beginning with infants and small kids who don’t know beans about Jesus.  And what about even the Old Testament “saints”, before Jesus was even born?  Is like the man in the Bible, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”  The Bible says that whoever calls upon God will be heard.  As to all the mechanics of his “salvation”, that’s for God to work out.  Salvation is all his doing.  And by that I don’t mean simply getting into heaven, but a change of life, character, personality.  Prayer (even the simplest) is evidence of dependence, reaching out, looking to God.

Our big problem in America (which is why the church is neither growing nor held in very high esteem) is that we are operating in a post-Christian culture.  We have most of the benefits of Christianity – Christmas, prayer in congress, Thanksgiving Day, universities founded by Christians, equality of all men (slavery was fought by Christians, Quakers), etc.  All of which can be enjoyed without oneself becoming a Christian.  Basically, ultimately, an atheist cannot trumpet that “there is no God” if God did not “live and move and give him his being.”  Enable him to read/write, etc.  Always keep in mind through life the slogan – “In fundamentals (or essentials) unity; in non-essenstials (peripheral, adiaphora) liberty; in everything charity (or love, of course).”

We are all members of a team (just as in football, etc.) with God as the coach.  We don’t have to lead a person to Christ all by ourselves.  “One plants, another waters.” Personally, I don’t know of a single soul I led to Christ all by myself.  Think of the Bibles I used and others wrote.  Of Christian songs.  Christian teachers, etc.  Just your desire to be useful, available, is all that God wants.  And uses.

The basic question is, “What think ye of the Christ (a recognized historical figure); whose son is he, really?”  Coordinate question:  “What do I think of myself, viz. the judge of Christ and God, of others, even self?  Or am I under ‘judgement’, God’s evaluation.”  All others, even Bible questions, are peripheral, secondary, irrelevant really.

Miracles

We all tend to limit our definition of “miracles” to the area of physical healing, but that is just a segment of what has supernaturally taken place in nature (damming of the Jordan, feeding the 5,000) and in such commercial matters as needing exactly $6,282 and having a check for that very amount come from a total stranger.  We instinctively speak of “providence” when we miss a fatal plane flight but would it not have been providential if someone perished in such a trip? The Olympics are being telecast as I type this, and the commentator talks about the “Miracle on Ice” when the US beat the Russians in hockey.  And a few years ago a popular song spoke of the miracle of creation.  If we were all virgin-born, would we speak of Jesus’ birth as having been a miracle?

The Christian Reformed Synod officially changed the traditional “Reformed” stand regarding miracles in 1973 by asserting that we are not to restrict God’s direct workings to the “Bible” era. BB Warfield wrote a large volume in asserting that the day of miracles, especially “devine healing”, is concluded, but a more balanced colleague told me that his perspective was influenced by the fact that Warfield’s wife was an “incurable” arthritic, for whose healing they had long, and “vainly”, prayed. (Which gets us into the great realm of “answered” prayer, its power, etc.)

What I am getting around to (in typical Amerindian circuitry – and may I digress that the Navajos believe strongly in divine healing, resisting Reformed evangelism to date on the score that our initial presentations of the gospel disparaged “anointing”, non-medical “cures,” etc.) is that the Christian cause can never be proved or disproved by “proving” miracles – or disproving them.  It’s entirely an “apologetic” (philosophical) problem, as CS Lewis points out in his Miracles.  Jesus said it long before, to his contemporaries, who wanted a “sign” – after they had witnessed his miracles (including the raising of Lazarus) – and Jesus (typically) told the story of “Dives” and Lazarus (the only time a character in a parable is named) whose punch-line was this: “To the unregenerate (spiritually blind), a person returned from the dead would not provide convincing proof of the hereafter.  People who attended Lazarus’ funeral and later did business with him in Bethany took the attitude of the cynical farmer who saw a giraffe for the first (“A horse put together by a committee”), and said “There ain’t no such Animal.”  So, with regards to defending the faith as far as conversions are concerned, I concur with Elbert Hubbard’s wise remarks, “Never explain; your friends don’t need it; your enemies will never believe it.”  In one of my congregations there was a woman declared (by medical experts) as legally blind.  She mastered Braille (even taught it) and upon her “conversion” recovered 20/20 vision.  MDs described it as hysterical blindness, and I would not disagree, but the “miracle” lay in the curing of her psychological problems.

Having said all that, more or less negatively, may I say that where once I used to pray, when medical men were speaking of terminal this or that, that God would give grace for adjustment, etc., now I pray freely for healing (which is a far larger concept than physical health), having often seen medical prognosis deferred (we all die eventually, even Lazarus), and surprising health restored.  Jesus said that you and I (or He through us) will do greater works than he did!  Which reminds me to say that the Bible itself never uses the word “miracle” as we do; it is such a relative concept (one man’s miracle is another man’s legerdemain, “lying wonder”, psychological trick) that it only speaks of the unusual, unnatural, as “wonders” (which they are – until they become too common, like reproduction), “signs” (for good or ill; confirming some and “hardening” others), or simply God’s “works”.

Isn’t it amazing how we cannot agree amongst ourselves such “scientific” matters as the age of the earth and God’s chosen method of creating it?  While I believe God could have made it in one day of twenty-four hours, or instantly, he is no magician, and would only be deceiving us if he even created trees full-grown, with rings, etc.  In similar fashion, Hebrews 11, in its catalog of heroes of faith, includes those countless nameless souls who were NOT healed miraculously, or saved from unspeakable torture.

The fact that some “miracles” in Scripture (and since then) can be explained naturally does not invalidate them.  For example, the Jordan still dams up suddenly on account of the collapse of its clay banks.  The miracle lies in predicting the same, like any prophecy, at a specific time, place.  Another example of spiritual “vision”: When Joan d’Arc was asked, “Why don’t we hear your voices?”, she replied, “Don’t you wish you could?  Perhaps you weren’t listening.”