Welcome One Another: Five Ways to Show Hospitality at Church

welcomeWelcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
— Romans 15:7 —

In the Bible hospitality is no small matter. From Abraham to the Apostles, God called his people to greet one another with love and concern. For instance, in the Old Testament it was more than a cultural faux pas to deny hospitality; it was an indictment against the whole village. Likewise, in the New Testament we find John commending the believers to welcome into their homes those who have gone out for the sake of the name (3 John 8). And Paul makes hospitality (i.e., love for strangers) a necessary part of an elder’s qualification (Titus 1:8; 1 Timothy 3:2).

In churches today, the command to welcome one another in the Lord is no less emphatic.  While Western Christians live in an upwardly mobile culture, where grocery stores overflow with food, and people typically present themselves as self-sufficient, we know from Scripture (and experience) that weakness and worry—not strength and sufficiency—is our natural condition. Accordingly, to fulfill God’s calling to love others, we must make hospitality a priority in the church. After all, Scripture says this glorifies God (Romans 15:7)

If we are going to glorify God in our church, we cannot simply put effort into good music, good preaching, and good Sunday schools; we must also give attention to good hospitality. And such an emphasis goes beyond a team of people with name tags greeting people at the door. For all of us committed to making disciples and sharing the love of Christ, we should feel a happy burden on Sundays to look for others to meet, greet, and take out to eat.

What follows, therefore, are 5 practices to help us as a church love those who gather with us know and experience the love of God. Continue reading

Love Never Ends (1 Corinthians 13:8–13)

sermon photoThis last Sunday we considered how love endures, looking at four movements in Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.

  • From the temporary to the eternal (v. 8)
  • From the partial to the perfect (vv. 9-10)
  • From the child to the man (v. 11)
  • From the mirror to face to face (v. 12)

Sermon audio is available online; discussion question and study resources are listed below.

1 Corinthians 13:8-13

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Discussion Questions

Continue reading

Thanksgiving and the Glory of God: Why Giving Thanks is More Than a Casual Habit

praying handsI will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
— Psalm 69:30 —

Thanksgiving is a practice of politeness, etiquette, and good decorum. Right? It is what we (are told to) express when Aunt Lucille buys you a sweater when you want the Super Hero action figures. Or something like that. It is a Christian command, but one that is more happenstance than a daily discipline. Right?

Well, what does Scripture say? Could it be that thanksgiving is something far more essential than we typically think? However you consider it, I am increasingly convinced the discipline of thanksgiving is a central feature of what it means to be a Christian. With it the church of God will grow in grace and love and hope, but without it Christ’s church becomes bitter, fragile, and peevish.

Could it be that one of the greatest needs we have today is the cultivation of thanksgiving as a spiritual grace and habit of holiness? Could it be that we have too casually treated thanksgiving? Maybe its just me, but I think we could use a refresher on how important Scripture makes thanksgiving. Continue reading

Building the Body of Christ: Unity and Diversity, Mutuality and Charity (1 Corinthians 12:12–31)

sermon photo

Building the Body of Christ: Unity and Diversity, Mutuality and Charity (Sermon Audio)

What is the goal of Paul’s discussion about spiritual gifts? If it is not clear from his words in 12:7, then his elongated illustration of the one body with many parts is unmistakable. Christ gave multiple gifts to his church in order for the various part to build one another up in love.

This week, we spent out time looking at four core concepts related to the body of Christ. These were (1) unity, (2) diversity, (3) mutuality, and (4) charity. When held together local church, as a concrete expression of Christ’s body, is able to grow in love as they share their gifts and their lives with one another. Paul’s discussion of the body fights against two primary lies, which some members of the body may be tempted to believe.

  1. “You don’t me.”
  2. “I don’t need you.”

Writing to erase these lies and unify the well-gifted Corinthian church, Paul gives the modern church (also steeped in individualism) plenty to consider and apply for building up the body of Christ. You can listen to the message online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and further resources are listed below. Continue reading

On Pentecost and Its Centrifugal Effects: Acts 2, 8, 10, 19 and 1 Corinthians 12:12–13

spirit2On the Jewish Calendar, Pentecost was 50 days after Passover. According to Leviticus 23, Pentecost was a Feast Day—the Feast of Weeks to be exact. It was a day when Israel worshiped God by bringing a new grain offering to the temple. But today, this Jewish Feast is best known for what happened fifty days after Christ’s resurrection.

In Acts 2, Jews from all over the world were celebrating Pentecost. And it was on this day that God poured out his Spirit. Why some confusion, and accusations of drunkenness, occurred on that day, more confusion has come since. Therefore, we need to see what Pentecost is and how Luke presents its centrifugal effect throughout the book of Acts.

Pentecost Proper

Importantly, Pentecost was the day Jesus began to build his new covenant temple. This was the day when the church was born. And this was the day when the apostles were filled with the Spirit, empowering them to go into the world and proclaim the gospel—the means by which the church would be founded.

In Acts, Pentecost is accompanied by powerful signs and wonders. Fire from heaven touches earth; tongues of fire are located above the heads of the people. Just like the pillar of fire stood above the tabernacle, and just like Solomon’s temple was filled with the Holy Spirit, so now Christ’s Spiritual temple (i.e., his covenant people) is indwelt with the Holy Spirit. And as the book of Acts displays, the Spirit they received is also shared with Gentiles as the Gospel goes forward.

At Pentecost, we also hear reports of tongues being spoken. Most wonderfully, these tongues are not inarticulate utterances, or some heavenly prayer language. They are real languages, proclaiming the wondrous works of God. Acts 2:9–-10 list more than a dozen nations from around the Mediterranean. And v. 11 says: “Both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

On Pentecost, therefore, the Gospel is proclaimed in other languages. Just as at Babel (in Genesis 11) God gave the people new languages to divide the nations. Now God is giving new languages to preach the gospel to the nations. Whereas the first ‘gift’ of tongues was a curse, now this gift of tongues is a true nation-uniting blessing. Pentecost, therefore, is the foundation of the universal church and the beginning of the Spirit-empowered mission to unite all nations through the preaching of the gospel.

Still, we might ask the question: What about the baptism promised by Christ, what we might call Spirit baptism? Does it always look like Pentecost, or might Pentecost be a one-time event? Continue reading

Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists (pt. 1): The Church’s Three Foundational Offices

 

churchThe apostleship was the Divine expedient to meet the emergencies of the Church at its first establishment and outset in the world, and not the method appointed for its ordinary administration; and the peculiarities distinctive of the office, to which I have now referred, could not, from their very nature, be repeated in the case of their successors, or be transmitted as a permanent feature in the Christian Church.
— James Bannerman, The Church of Christ 223 —

In his discussion of the Church and its founding, James Bannerman notes the way in which Apostles played a peculiar (and unrepeatable) role. In his second volume ofThe Church of Christ, he shows from the corpus of the New Testament how we should understand these “pillars,” whom God used to found the church (Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 2:20).

In what follows, I’ll trace his argument to help us better understand the uniqueness of these men. My hope is that by understanding their place in God’s new covenant temple, we will better understand our need for their message and the discontinuity of signs, wonders, and mighty works which accompanied their ministry. I believe local churches have risen and fell with commitment to the apostles’ gospel, not the continuation of their miraculous gifts. But in our charismatic age, this distinction is often missed.

We need to recover an understanding of God’s designs for the early church, and how though dead, the words of the Apostles still speak. In the next post, I will consider the Prophets and Evangelists—two offices that complement the Apostles. But for today, we will look at the unique role of the Apostles. Continue reading

Blessed Assurance: “Jesus Is Yours”

breadAssurance.

It is a precious gift the Lord gives his people. As 1 John 5:13 says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Yet, despite God’s promise of assurance, sometimes experientially our personal assurance wanes. There are many reasons for this—some caused by God’s sovereign and mysterious providence; others caused by spiritual neglect or worldly indulgence. Fortunately, salvation depends on God not our personal assurance. Nonetheless, assurance is a gift we should desire to possess and retain. Therefore, in seasons of doubt,  it is worth asking:

How can I grow in assurance?

Why have I lost assurance of salvation?

What means has God given to assure me of my salvation?

Typically, when we turn these questions over in our minds, they remain . . . in our minds. Trained in a culture of individualism and equipped with so much therapeutic self-help, we are primed to look within ourselves and ask:

What sin or pattern of sins have I committed that are robbing me of assurance?

What habits of holiness do I need to improve to increase my assurance?

When did I last have assurance, and what can I do to get it back?

To be sure, self-examination is a healthy part of a Christian’s growth. Paul says we are to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:4), and part of preparation for the Lord’s Supper includes personal reflection and confession (1 Corinthians 11:28–32). But is assurance, if it is a gift from God, meant to be wholly preserved by ourselves? What if assurance is meant to be a team effort, a gift God gives you through the local assembly of believers who know and love you?  Continue reading

Why the ‘Founding of the Church’ Is Different from the ‘Founded Church’: James Bannerman on the Uniqueness of the Early Church

pillarsAnd he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
— Ephesians 4:11–12 —

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, he says that the exalted Lord has given gifts to the church (4:7–11). These gifts, he lists, are apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers. (The last two words describing one office). From these four “word workers”—i.e., men who preach the word—the church is equipped to build itself up in love (4:12–16). Yet, what are these four offices and how do they work in the history of the church?

Answering that question, James Bannerman writes a chapter in the second volume of his The Church of Christ that masterfully shows the unique role of the apostles, prophets, and evangelists. Like last’s weeks look at Ebenezer Henderson’s ‘Divine Inspiration‘, with its look at spiritual gifts, here is another old book worthy of our reading.

What follows is an introduction to these three offices. Tomorrow, we’ll return to see what he says about each office and how they work to lay the foundation of the church. For those looking for a better understanding of why the miraculous, sign gifts do not continue today, I cannot commend Bannerman and Henderson’s works highly enough.

On the Origination of the Church

Bannerman first considers the genesis of the church. He begins,

In discussing the question of the kind of Church Government delineated and appointed in Scripture, it is a matter of some importance to fix the date when the Christian Church was formally organized or set up. It is plain that this is a question of considerable moment in the discussion; for, by a mistake as to the date of its formal establishment, we may be led to confound the extraordinary circumstances of its transition state with the ordinary circumstances of its normal and permanent condition. (214)

From this introductory question, Bannerman goes on to posits that the church in its institutional formation began after Christ’s resurrection. To be sure, the people of God, who he calls a church, were extant before the time of Christ, but the church in its formal membership did not come into existence until Christ was raised and the Holy Spirit was sent. Bannerman explains why this is and show us how the church was founded in the days of apostles and prophets (cf. Ephesians 2:20). Continue reading

The Church’s One Foundation: Spiritual Gifts and the Universal Church (1 Corinthians 12:1–13)

sermon photo

The Church’s One Foundation: Spiritual Gifts and the Universal Church (Sermon Audio)

This week’s sermon looked more closely at the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10. I argued that the sign gifts were given to the apostles and prophets to “lay the foundation” of the universal church, which is described as Christ’s body in 1 Corinthians 12:13.

Just as Paul described himself as a wise master builder (1 Corinthians 3:10), the first generation of Christians understood the apostles, prophets, and evangelists to have a unique calling to preach the gospel and the lay the foundation of the universal church. Accordingly, God confirmed their ministries with signs, wonders, and mighty works of power (see Romans 15:13–21 and 2 Corinthians 12:12). This view is called cessationism, and it argues that the miraculous gifts do not continue today.

In this sermon, however, I do not make a strong argument for the “cessation” of the gifts. Rather, I argue for the divine intention for these gifts to establish the infant church. In so many ways, the cessationist position does not, should not, revel in the cessation of spiritual gifts. Rather, we celebrate the way these supernatural gifts confirmed the message of the apostle and prophets. The gospel we find in the New Testament was confirmed by these workings of power.

Hence, today the sign gifts (listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10) still bear fruit by pointing us to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. We celebrate the way these gifts recorded in Acts and the rest of the New Testament secure the foundation of the church, and remind us that no additions are needed to bolster the church’s firm foundation. This does not, in any way, diminish the power of God. Instead, it understand the power of God to be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Romans 1:16–17 and 1 Corinthians 2:1–5).

You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions are below, as are resources for further study.

Continue reading

In Praise of Old Books, Like Ebenezer Henderson’s Work on Divine Inspiration and the Spiritual Gifts

boooksI love old books. Even more, I love old books that I find by serendipity—a real research method (see Thomas Mann, The Oxford Guide to Library Researchpp. 23, 61). That is to say, I love when I go looking in one book (or one bookstore) for one thing, and find something else even more helpful.

That took place last week as I read Calvin’s commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:8–11. There in Calvin’s translated work, the Scottish editor inserted a footnote which reads: “One of the most satisfactory views of this subject is that of Dr. Henderson in his Lecture on “Divine Inspiration . . . ”

This comment sent me searching and what I found was 500-page work by Ebenezer Henderson, a nineteenth century, Scottish Reformed Congregationalist or Baptist (if his training under Robert Haldane means anything). As the Dictionary of Scottish History and Theology puts it, Henderson was an “agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society . . ., linguist, and exegete” (398). In his lifetime, he spread the gospel and gospel tracts to the nations of Denmark, Russia, and Iceland. He founded in the first congregational church in Sweden in 1811. In this countries, he also “distributed vernacular Scriptures and encouraging formation of local Bible societies” (ibid.). Thereafter, he participated in Bible translation in Russia and Turkey, and after political turmoil in those places led him to resign his post wit the Bible Society, he received an appointment to the Congregational Theological College in Highbury, Scotland.

From that location, “he edited and revised a number of translations and exegetical works and published his own Old Testament commentaries” (ibid.). In this period, he also wrote the work cited by Calvin’s editor, a series of lectures whose title would make any Puritan proud. In 1847, he published, Divine Inspiration; or, The supernatural influence exerted in the communication of divine truth and is special bearing on the composition of the sacred Scriptures : with notes and illustrationsToday, this book can be found online, as well as through various reprints. (Incidentally, the online copy was owned by William Henry Green, an eminent Old Testament scholar from Princeton). Continue reading