Why Are There So Many Different Types of Churches?

Church Steeple

Church Steeple (Photo credit: Karen.E.Rice)

Burning Question:  Why are there different denominations of churches that believe in Jesus Christ?  Why so many separate churches, all doing their own thing?

Ahh, the question about denominations!  I once worked in a bookstore a long time ago and remember the time that someone came to the check-out and needed change.  When the check-out lady asked, “What denomination?” . . . well, you get the picture.  Needless to say, it was pretty funny!

So, what really is going on with all the different denominations?  Are they a bad thing or a good thing?  The question behind the question is:  “Why can’t churches just have unity the way the Bible speaks of?”

The Bible definitely tells us that we are to have unity as believers (Ephesians 4:11-13).  Jesus spoke of how believers of different backgrounds are called to become “one flock” with “one shepherd” (John 10:16).  We could list a page full of references where the goal is one of unity within the world of believers.  However, we can also find instances of disagreement that led to division in Scripture, even related to one of the heroes of the New Testament . . . you can check it out here.

Actually, for roughly the first 1000 years of church history, there was outward unity for the most part.  This doesn’t mean that separation didn’t occur at all, but as Wayne Grudem points out, “. . . the prevailing sentiment was one of strong opposition to division in the body of Christ.”  Since that time, when separations have occurred and new denominations have begun, they have often done so for a variety of reasons.  Really since the Reformation in the 1500s has the denominational explosion really taken place.  Sometimes because of doctrinal disagreements over minor points of doctrine, sometimes over major convictions dealing with major points of doctrine.  Sometimes the separations have taken place because of anything BUT doctrine.

Maybe it can be helpful to think of it in terms of concentric circles:  The first circle involves our different convictions regarding Scripture that, even though we disagree, do not prevent us from joyfully worshiping together.  For example, the fact that you believe Paul’s thorn in the flesh referenced his poor eyesight but that I believe it referenced a specific temptation (for the sake of argument!) should not cause us to find separate churches in which to worship . . . we should pretty much be able to work through this one.

The second circle extends a bit further and involves our different convictions regarding Scripture that may cause us to worship in separate places of worship but should not prohibit our fellowship as brothers or sisters in the same body of Christ.  Some examples here could be the issue of speaking in tongues or other “convictions” that have little to do with salvation.  Where the main components of the Gospel are agreed upon and adhered to, believers should be able to fellowship together.  However, it may be challenging for someone who believes speaking in tongues has ceased, to worship each week with one who holds firmly to the conviction that speaking in tongues is alive and well and has no problem acting on that belief.  It is at this point that Joshua Harris makes an interesting point in his book, Stop Dating the Church when he says, “So you don’t have to think of denominational differences as the enemy of unity, but as something that makes true unity more achievable.  We agree to agree on things of first importance; we agree to respect disagreements on things of lesser importance.”

The third circle would involve differing convictions on major details of doctrine that would prohibit even worshiping or experiencing Christian fellowship together at all.  Some denominations hold to completely differing views of salvation altogether.  Basic Catholic doctrine, for example, would be drastically different from classic, biblical Christian doctrine, in its understanding of grace and salvation (which led to Martin Luther’s issues at the start of the Reformation in the first place).  This is not to say that there are not Catholics who are believers, but that the belief system as a whole within Catholic theology will be vastly different from orthodox biblical theology in a number of major areas of key doctrine.  So as an example, there should be no reason to get mean and nasty with one another, but to be able to worship together and fellowship together in a way that is centered upon the Gospel when these differences occur is difficult, to say the least.

So are denominations bad?  Well, it would be best if we could all be together under one roof in our worship of Christ as Lord and King.  But rather than be sidetracked and distracted by differing beliefs and practices on peripheral areas of doctrine (tongues, baptism, church government, etc.), perhaps denominations can be a benefit.  That is, as long as we keep the main thing the main thing:  That Jesus Christ came to give His life as a sacrifice and substitute for sinners.  And that all who turn to Him in repentance and faith will be forgiven and made right with God . . . forever.

Regardless of our denominational tag, may we be found always hot in our passion for Christ and always relentless in sharing with the world the message that has changed our lives for eternity!

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You Are Welcome

welcome mat

welcome mat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Burning Question:  First time here.  I’m white from the West Coast.  I have a black lady friend on the West Coast.  Would she be welcome here?  I know there are many blacks in and around Savannah.  Is this church reaching out to them?  Honestly, I have been the only white in a black [church], and it is hard to be totally comfortable.  Maybe that is what is going on here.  Just like to hear your take on it.

I suppose every person has their “button” that, when pushed, opens a floodgate of emotion that many have never seen.  One of my “buttons” is when someone who claims to have a relationship with an unconditionally-loving God chooses to disregard or discriminate against someone of a different race.

I know of few ways that a believer in Christ could be any more unlike Jesus Christ than when they act in such ways.  Jesus demonstrated His intense love for others regardless of racial background or identity.  One of the clearest demonstrations was when He invested His life in the life of an outcast Samaritan woman in John 4.  Samaritans in the first century were completely avoided by supposedly “upstanding” Jews because of animosity based largely upon race.  Jesus did not hesitate to cross that barrier and destroy that horrendous mindset.

In one of His most famous parables, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, He chose to make the “villains” a couple of Jewish religious leaders and the “hero” a Samaritan traveler (Luke 10:25-37).  I would have loved to have seen the faces of His hearers when He jerked the curtain back on that jewel of a story!

In one of Paul’s letters, Ephesians 2:14-16 can certainly be applied to showing the unity that should exist between races because of the unity that comes through relationship with Christ.

I absolutely despise any form of discrimination against another person because of their race.  So, the answer to the first part of this question is that any person of any background and any race is welcomed at First Baptist Church of the Islands and should be in any church that claims Christ as their Lord.  We also take steps to GO with Gospel to others in our city regardless of race, with one of the more recent steps being to involve ourselves in ministry to an urban community in our city.  The day our doors close to a segment of our population because of their skin color is the day that God likely chooses to distance Himself from this church.

Sadly, the fact exists that the most segregated hour in America continues to be 11:00am-Noon on Sunday mornings.  Perhaps greater steps could be taken by every believer of every race in churches across our country . . . steps that seek to embrace and work alongside one another for the furthering of the Gospel.  What a reflection of Christ that would be.  And what a testimony to the world that God is a God who reconciles lost people to Himself and saved people to one another!

Evangelism vs. Discipleship

Even scales icon

Even scales icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Burning Question:  What is the balance between evangelism and discipleship?

This question, turned in recently as part of our Burning Questions series, is a question that every local church ministry must deal with.  I title this entry “Evangelism vs. Discipleship” not because of the question (which is actually worded very well) but because some view evangelism and discipleship as “either/or”.  According to the Bible, evangelism and discipleship are treated as “both/and”.

In the passage known as the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus’ perspective is one of evangelism and discipleship.  This passage could actually be used as much as a rallying point for believers and churches to engage in discipleship just as much as it is used to call us to evangelism.  Jesus’ reference to “all the nations” (v.19) aims us outward in evangelism, but His references to “make disciples” (v.19) and to teach new believers to observe and obey His commands (v.20) are clearly emphasizing the real need to nurture new believers in their faith, which is discipleship.

Acts 2:41-42 also shows such a great balance in the early church in Jerusalem.  There was a natural step from evangelism to discipleship and the result was that Christianity rocked the world.

At First Baptist Church of the Islands, our mission statement summarizes what we aim to accomplish in four simple words:  Know, Grow, Show, and Go.  It is under the heading of GROW that we seek to provide opportunities for believers to mature in their walks with God.  This is the discipleship function of our church.  It is under the heading of GO that we seek to provide training and opportunities for believers to GO with the Gospel and to share the life-changing, eternity-altering message of the cross.  From a local church perspective, these two functions are where the rubber meets the road.  Success in our mission is rarely defined by how many attend morning worship services but rather by how many people are truly being reached and matured regarding faith in Christ.

Every church should prioritize these two extremely important functions of evangelism and discipleship.  They never compete with one another but rather fit hand-in-hand.  As people are introduced to Christ in salvation (evangelism), they are then nurtured and cared for (discipleship) in order to grow in their relationship with Christ.  Never a 50/50 balance (or even a 60/40 or some other ratio).  Rather, it should be a 100/100 balance of reaching out with the Gospel and reaching in to disciple new believers in their relationship with the Lord.

By the way, this is not something that we each sit back and wait for the “institutional” church to accomplish.  Every individual believer contributes to make the church what it is.  Our Christian life gets very exciting when we use it to GO with the Gospel and when we invest it to help others GROW deeply in their walk with God!

How Often to Celebrate the Lord’s Supper

Communion-1-3

Communion-1-3 (Photo credit: Weiers)

Burning Question:  Why do we observe communion only once a quarter?

Communion, also often referred to as the Lord’s Supper, obviously finds its beginnings in Scripture.  It can be somewhat traced back to the Old Testament but finds its clearest expression in the New Testament.  There, Jesus instituted it when He took bread and then the cup, both of which uniquely symbolized His pending death for our sins.  Paul would give a fuller description to the local church for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in his letter to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 11:23-34).  For the believer and follower of Christ, taking the Lord’s Supper is extremely significant and typically grows in significance as we grow in our maturity and understanding of exactly what took place through Christ’s sacrifice for us.

However, the Bible is silent regarding exactly who is to administer the Lord’s Supper and also how often it is to be celebrated.  It is here that we find a variety of practices within local churches.  1 Corinthians 11:26 captures the words of Christ when He says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup . . . .” [italics mine].  Since Scripture leaves the issue of frequency wide open, it would seem to be wise to find the balance between taking it so often that it becomes routine on one extreme and downright neglecting and failing to celebrate it on the other extreme.  Regarding our ministry at First Baptist Church of the Islands, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper four times per year.  Each time, it is done during each of our morning services when the greatest number of believers are able to participate.  Typically, the entire service is geared around this celebration and rightly so, as it recognizes the cost of our salvation and the responsibility that we inventory our walks and lives to insure that our walk with God is authentic and holy.

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service?

flip flops

flip flops (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Burning Question:  Can we make wearing t-shirts, shorts, flip flops, and jeans the norm in church wear?

I have to admit . . . I love this question!  Probably in part because I really don’t like wearing a coat and tie if I don’t have to!  I actually addressed this question in a fun way in a message titled “From Me to We” during our Burning Questions sermon series recently (hear it here, beginning at the 3:40 mark in the message).  I was surprised when someone turned in another Burning Questions card, commenting on my comments to the original card (confused yet?).  Long story short, this topic struck a chord!

I love the phrase “norm in church wear”.  Never have really seen a church wear catalog anywhere and have never seen a report from the Commission on Church Wear and Appropriate Worship Attire.  So, I may be operating from a bit of a disadvantage here.

In all seriousness, though, this is a real issue for some today in churches across America.  They feel that God deserves our best and that our best should be demonstrated in how we dress when we attend services each week.  I certainly do not disagree that God deserves our best and feel that many of us as believers could offer far more in our service to God than we actually do.  However when one begins to treat as an expectation, if not an unspoken requirement, that we walk into a church service each week dressed to the max, it seems to be more legalism than it does excellence.  I have had conversations with people who feel that they don’t have what they need to be dressed well for church . . . I tell them that it really doesn’t matter, just come on.  I have met many people, in a variety of settings, who would stand out like a neon sign because they would be dressed in a less than “worthy” manner if they showed up at church . . . doesn’t matter (or at least it shouldn’t matter), so come on anyway.

“Oh, but what about the priests in the Old Testament?!  God was very specific about their attire, so we have to be mindful to dress our best also”, some would say.  One small problem . . . we are not Old Testament priests and we do not live in Old Testament days.  To assume God’s demands upon the priestly attire in the Old Testament are to be treated as prescriptive for a 21st century generation as they attend church makes little sense.  I am not saying that the Old Testament is useless and anyone who knows me knows that I consider it as God’s inerrant Word.  Just saying that it is a huge leap to assume God was prescribing appropriate worship attire for today’s church attenders when he laid out the wardrobe for the priests of the nation of Israel!

So what is God concerned about regarding this issue?  Here are a couple of principles to consider:

1.  God is concerned far more about one’s heart than one’s dress.  Just like your grandma taught you, what’s on the inside is more important than what’s on the outside.  Check out 1 Peter 3:3-4 or Romans 12:1-2 to see this principle supported in Scripture.

2.  God is concerned about holiness more than flashiness.  I doubt God is impressed by my new Easter outfit regardless of how much I paid to show my best to Him.  But I do get a sense that when one has a genuine desire to honor God through a life of integrity and holiness, this is what God is looking for.  Link Isaiah 29:13-14 and    1 Peter 1:15-16 to see this applied in Scripture.  Obedience has always meant more to God than sacrifice . . . anyone can sacrifice but only those fully devoted to Him will consistently obey Him (1 Samuel 15:22-23).

3.  God desires no obstacles to reaching those separated from Himself.  Yes, the church is for believers.  But we have to understand that on any given Sunday, there are many in attendance at churches across the country who do not know Jesus.  It just happens, and thankfully so.  Doesn’t it just make sense that when they come, they get to rub shoulders with people just like them . . . dressed like any other comfortable person?  The only difference is that hopefully those on the “inside” have authentic walks with Christ that others would desire for themselves.

You may completely disagree with me, and that is fine.  It would be as legalistic for me to force my view on you as it would be for you to expect me to wear my coat and tie each Sunday!  May we simply keep the main things the main thing.

So bring it on . . . flip flops, t-shirts, shorts, and the like!  Just a couple of words of caution.  Be sure your attire does not outright dishonor God or cause another person to stumble or struggle with temptation.  And remember that no matter how you dress, come with a heart to engage with the One who gave Himself for you on the cross.

(By the way, if it really is a matter of giving God our best, why do we not wear tuxedos and evening gowns each Sunday?!)  OK . . . I’m done!

See you Sunday!

 

 

To Stand Or Sit

English: 4th day of Evangelism training at Hun...

English: 4th day of Evangelism training at Huntington Beach provided by LivingWaters Ministry which encourages and equips Christians to share their faith biblically the way Jesus did by obeying Jesus command to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to everyone.” Mark 16:15 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Burning Question:  Why do pastors stand preaching instead of sitting down teaching?  It appeared that was the norm for teachers such as Jesus.

What an interesting question!  Not sure that you will find any type of biblical admonition for standing over sitting while proclaiming the truth of God’s Word.  In fact, you will find a variety of examples in Scripture regarding how one communicated in those days.  For example, Jesus taught while sitting (Matthew 5:1-2), while sitting in a boat (Luke 5:3), while walking in the temple (Mark 11:27-33), while traveling on the road (Mark 8:27-33), while standing (John 7:37-38), and while reclining and eating with His disciples (Mark 14:18).  Other references to Jesus teaching and preaching simply do not say if He was standing or sitting (Luke 8:4-18).  In addition, this doesn’t even address how Paul and the early church leaders communicated as read in Acts (also showing a variety of ways to communicate).  So, I think it is safe to say that the manner in which we proclaim God’s truth is less of an issue than whether we choose to proclaim it at all.

Whether standing or sitting while communicating has a lot to do with the personal preference of the communicator and also the environment in which they are communicating.  For me personally, I have always been most comfortable while standing when I am preaching.  Even then, I usually don’t stay still in one place for long, since it’s harder for someone to hit a moving target!  There are other instances, usually in a small-group setting, where I am more comfortable sitting and engaging in conversation/dialogue as I teach. It’s really just a matter of preference and what best fits the environment.

The “norm” for an audience must be taken into consideration as it would be a distraction for a pastor to communicate in one way when an audience is accustomed to a different way of being taught.  Jesus reclined with his disciples while teaching and eating the Last Supper (reclining while eating was the Middle Eastern “norm” in the first century) but He did not use this method of communicating while teaching large crowds, for obvious reasons!

When the dust settles, the absolute most important ingredient when communicating the truth of God’s Word is not whether one is sitting, standing, reclining, leaning, or kneeling (I think I covered every possibility!), but whether or not the Holy Spirit is working through the message to drive it into the hearts of the hearers.  May our prayers be that every believer is bold to proclaim God’s life-changing truth and that God’s Spirit uses it to draw people to Himself.  Now, get out there and sit/stand/recline/lean/kneel while you tell others about the Truth that changed your life!

Voices and Hands

MercyMe

MercyMe (Photo credit: susieq3c)

Burning Question:  Why is the church so quiet and no acknowledging of God’s Word with “Amens” and raising of hands?”

As a collection of individuals who have their faith in and surrender to Christ as their common bond, every local church has its own personality.  Usually, this personality is experienced pretty quickly by those who visit.  Some churches are very warm and hospitable while others are  . . . ahem, a bit cooler, for example!  Wrapped up in a church’s personality is also what could be called a “style of worship”.  Not so much style as it relates to music selection, but rather how a church expresses worship to God.

You may have worshipped with churches that were very expressive in worship and engaged in an almost ongoing conversation with the speaker or pastor throughout the message.  I remember my first experience with this in a small church where I served on staff years ago.  One man in particular, who had such a genuine passion for Christ, was not at all shy about voicing his approval when the pastor made a strong statement worthy of consideration.  You have to be careful here, though, because pastors have a tendency to speak longer when there are a lot of affirmations from those listening . . . kind of like “sic ’em” to a bulldog, if you know what I mean!

Actually, there is some biblical evidence of this kind of thing in the Bible.  Nehemiah 8:6 speaks of how the people lifted their hands and proclaimed “Amen, Amen!” in response to Ezra’s reading of God’s Word.  And this was a little over 400 years before the New Testament church was implemented.

So why not more affirmations and hands raised in church today?  It may have a lot to do with the personality and  worship style of that church family.  It may have something to do with the individuals actually in the worship service and whether they are close to or far from God, whether they are engaged or distracted, whether or not they are still captivated by the incredible-ness (yes, incredible-ness!) of the Gospel and the mere fact that God has adopted them as His own.

Probably any pastor or speaker would say that it is a real encouragement to hear and see people engaged as they hear God’s Word proclaimed, but it is not an absolute necessity.  We have to remember that God is not impressed with any outward expression of our worship.  He always has and still today looks at the heart.  What matters most is that the heart is engaged authentically as one worships God and responds to the proclaiming of His Word.