Monday, May 19, 2008

Weary of Worship?

David Field recently posed the question on his blog: 'Why was Old Testament worship so time consuming?' It's a question that should give pause for thought - after all the whole business of worship in the OT with its daily/weekly/monthly/yearly sacrifices, its feasts, and ceremonies was hugely demanding in terms of time & energy. I suspect that if a similar arrangement was being proposed today many would label it 'self indulgent'. The accusation would be that these people would be much better off doing something 'useful', helping other people, etc. Indeed, as David Field notes, wouldn't Israel have been better to use such time getting out and evangelising the Hittites and Jebusites?

Perhaps in our church or individual lives we sometimes have similar thoughts - I mean all the church meetings and services, time spent listening to preaching, singing, praying etc - all valuable time! Maybe we even think that it's a bit self-indulgent of God to demand so much of our time - surely He would be happy if we spent it in more 'productive' ways? So in our church activity the prayer time is squeezed as we have a full agenda to get through and the equipment won't put itself up! Or we skip the evening service because we have more practical (important) business to attend to.

There is a pressure in many Christian circles today on church time - a pressure that says 'less and shorter please'. Perhaps some of the thinking underpinning this is, 'I could use my time just as profitably without these services - I can survive spiritually just as well meeting God 'one to one'.

There is nothing new under the sun so we can safely assume that such pressure is not new. I wonder if Israel felt a little of this frustration - they had just come out of Egypt and were looking forward to getting to the Promised Land. They had battles to fight, houses to claim, crops to reap - they must have been straining to get on with the journey. But God slows them right down and in Exodus 25 commands construction of the Tabernacle - so that it would be a full year from leaving Egypt before they could move again. In Numbers the first ten chapters cover a period of just 20 days with great detail about in-camp preparations - the following ten chapters slide over a period of 40 years (i.e. the stories we have most interest in). In short, God clearly puts a great premium on the time His people spend attending directly to their relationship with Him.

The Tabernacle had the function (among others) of forcing Israel to prioritise God - to stop and give Him their attention. Can I suggest that our church services have a similar function - they are obstacles to weeks spent without any undiluted focus on God - they prevent us from living lifes where God ends up getting just the fag-end of our time. Without such structured breaks in our week we could very easily let our relationship with God slip onto the back-burner (goodness knows its a struggle even with the challenges, encouragements and support we get when we do attend church regularly).

Biblical salvation is God calling out individuals to be part of His 'people' (plural). We are called to become part of a new family, community and body. And like any body part the longer we are detached or isolated from the whole the more we become weakened, diminished and vulnerable.

Just as Israel met with God at the Tabernacle in a special way (I mean, it wasn't as if He wasn't with them everywhere) - so Christians meet Jesus in a special way when they come together, Matthew 18:20. Therefore when we don't meet to worship God collectively we are missing out on something extra!

So a final question to ponder: in a week of 168 hours how many hours spent in such a way do you feel is excessive - 2/4/6...?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Giant slaying - 'ANXIETY' is his name.

In the light of Ken McPhail's excellent sermon on Anxiety (wise, practical, biblical & worth getting on CD) - let me offer a few further thoughts via a college paper of mine...

...accessible HERE.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Teaching - it's a deal-breaker

On what basis does Paul break fellowship with others in church life? Well clearly he breaks fellowship in situations where an individual is continuing unrepentantly in sin - e.g. I Cor 5, where a church member is 'put out of fellowship' until such a time that he repents and changes his ways. Most evangelicals today would recognise the need for such action in the face of such blatant sinfulness.

However, Paul also breaks fellowship over teaching - that is, in situations where individuals are disseminating false doctrine. In this category would come Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim 1:20). These two individuals were clearly causing problems in the early church by teaching things contrary to Apostolic Gospel. Hymaneus was responsible, at least, for misleading Christians about the resurrection (2 Tim 2:17ff).

Paul it seems was as concerned about the purity of doctrine (teaching) as he was about the purity of lifestyles - the two, of course, being inextricably linked in Biblical faith (2 Cor 7:1). In contrast the world of C21 evangelicalism has a much less consistent approach . So church members caught with 'their hand in the till' can expect sanctions - whereas those peddling unorthodox views on the Atonement, for example, will more often than not be left unchecked - certainly at any formal level. The irony being than in turning a blind eye to doctrinal sin (let's call it what it is!) we stoke up the likelihood of moral sin among Christians - if you think that's a bit strong then read 2 Peter 2 and Jude.

Part of our propensity to fudge taking clear action against unbiblical teaching is the 'nice guy' syndrome. I'm often baffled by the apparent attitude of many in churches today that says: 'Well I know the Bible talks about there being false teachers arising from the flock - but whoever those people might be they won't be any of my friends'. The thinking being that 'so & so' is really nice person who does a lot of good things - therefore his views should be given credence (even if I personally don't agree with them).

Well let's get back Hymaneus & Alexander - Paul breaks fellowship with them not because....
a) they aren't nice guys who don't do anything commendable - actually if they weren't then Christians would probably be much less likely to be deceived by them;
b) they aren't Christians - Paul doesn't say they aren't genuine Christians - in fact his words in 1 Tim 1:20 suggest excommunication is in order to restore rather than convert.

No, Paul breaks fellowship with them because of what they teach - just as he rejected the legalists and the mystics elsewhere. It is the 'teaching' of these people that is the deal-breaker - because without truth there is no basis for salvation or holiness. So New Testament Christianity says, you may be a fine person in other respects, you may even be a genuine Christian - but if you persist in unbiblical teaching then we cannot work and worship together as brothers in arms.