Why Sundays and Wednesdays?

Burning Question:  I know why we “go” to church on Sundays (not Saturdays) because of the New Testament, but why Sunday nights and Wednesday nights?  When did that historically come into play?  Is it just a Baptist thing?  And why Sunday School groups?

From a biblical perspective, our “normal” church service schedules and formats aren’t addressed.  Of course, there are principles in Scripture that guide our services and formats (John 4:24, 2 Timothy 4:1-5, and others).  It appears that the Lord’s Day (Sunday) replaced the Sabbath (Saturday) as the more formal day of worship in the New Testament, but there is also evidence of the early believers meeting for worship and teaching every day during the week (Acts 2:46).

Regarding the practice of meeting on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights today, the reasons would be more practical than specifically biblical.  These additional meeting times offer additional opportunity for believers to engage together in worship, teaching, and prayer.  Rather than waiting an entire week to meet again, Wednesday evenings offer a mid-week “boost” for believers and also provide unique opportunities for ministry that are sometimes not easily accomplished on a Sunday.

I wouldn’t say that gathering together on Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings is necessarily a Baptist distinctive because other denominations also follow this practice.  However, not all Baptist churches even follow this pattern.  Here at FBCI, we changed our practice of having Sunday evening services a number of years back to replace it with a small-group discipleship ministry called DIVE.

What does seem to be the norm, and gladly so, is some form of small-group discipleship within the church so that believers can be discipled in their faith.  It has been said that life-change in a person’s life happens most effectively in the context of small groups, and I completely agree.  It’s one of the four primary things that we focus on in our church and falls under the category of GROW in our KNOW, GROW, SHOW, GO summary of our mission here.

So whether it’s called Sunday School, Life Group, Small Group, Spiritual Formation Group, or any other catchy name, believers need to be together in a life-on-life setting in order to encourage and speak into the lives of one another.  Hebrews 10:23-25 is as good of a passage as you will find to drive this point home clearly!  But while we are growing together in our groups, we must be certain that we do not become so focused on ourselves and our own growth that we fail to reach outside the walls to serve others and take the Gospel to those without Christ!  As is so often the case, balance is the key!

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Dump The Doctrine?

Burning Question:  Why do some churches get so wrapped up in “doctrine” issues, such as women in church, drinking alcohol, food restrictions, etc.?  It seems to create unnecessary division when we should be united as believers in Christ, not personal application.

Historically, believers and churches can easily become sidetracked and lose sight of those things that are of greatest importance.  We sometimes major on the minors and minor on the majors, if you know what I mean.

If we replace the word “doctrine” with the word “truth”, the above question is a bit easier to handle.  The reason for this is because God’s Word is our source of truth and, therefore, determines the doctrines that should govern our daily lives.  Churches should be “wrapped up” in truth . . . proclaiming truth, living by the truth, encouraging others to live by truth, contending for the truth, holding fast to the truth.  Well, you get the idea!

Where things get a bit difficult is when God’s truth allows for some variance as to how that truth is lived out.  When we hold fast to a specific application of God’s truth that Scripture doesn’t necessarily hold to, then we can easily cross the line into legalism.  As an example, you may hold to the conviction that playing cards is a sin based on your understanding of a specific Scripture, let’s say Ephesians 5:11.  For you, your conviction would be based on “doctrine” or “truth”.  However, I would not share your conviction as I see no issue with merely playing cards for fun and my application of that passage would be different.  For you to expect me to apply that verse to my life in the same way that you apply it, when the verse obviously allows for flexibility in its application, would be legalistic.

There are certain dangers and cautions for churches regarding “doctrine” or truth.  First, we must be willing to stand on truth whenever it is conveyed in Scripture.  Second, where Scripture allows a variety of applications for that truth, we must not hold others to our personal application alone, lest we become legalistic.  Third, we must guard against serving the “rules” above serving the Lord.  God’s truth is conveyed against the backdrop of our relationship with Him.  Abiding in His truth enables us to enjoy deep fellowship with Him.  Remember, Jesus describes Himself as Truth in John 14:6. Last, we must never sacrifice truth for the sake of unity.  Many churches in our day have amazing unity but no message, no effectiveness, and no life because they have watered down or replaced the truth of God’s Word that exists to give us life.

Paul encouraged Timothy to teach sound doctrine and warned Timothy against false doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6, 1 Timothy 6:3-5).  In his second letter to Timothy, Paul gives one of the best admonitions to proclaim truth while also laying out one of the best warnings of what happens when we don’t (2 Timothy 4:2-4).  We as believers and churches will be all the better for understanding when Scripture allows for a variety of applications and when we must stand on truth regardless of the cost.

Sunday Night Services

Burning Question:  I miss the Sunday night service.  Could we have one sometimes when DIVE is not in session?  Or maybe do both DIVE and a service?

Almost 7 years ago, we shifted gears regarding our Sunday night schedule.  Service attendance was flailing and we were unable to attract any of the young families because there was nothing available for children.  So we shifted gears and implemented something called DIVE.  DIVE is a small group format which offers discipleship classes for all ages.  The rotation of classes changes each quarter (except during Summer).  We found an immediate increase in attendance but, more importantly, people were being engaged in Bible Study according to their personal needs and choices.

Churches constantly have to evaluate whether their ministries and events are being done for the sake of tradition or effectiveness.  You may find this post to be an interesting read when it comes to churches and Sunday evening services.  Sometimes, we have to “sacrifice a sacred cow” in order to be more effective in overall ministry.  The day will come when DIVE has outlived its effect or God leads in a different direction for our church.  The question will always be:  “Are we willing to follow God’s lead, even in the face of change, in order to be who He has created us (as individuals and churches) to be?”

 

Is There Ever A Bad Time To Pray?

Burning Question:  Why does the choir disperse during prayer?  It seems irreverent.  Why not postpone “greeting your neighbor” until the choir joins the congregation?

Burning Question:  I am a visitor.  Something that really bothered me was when your praise and worship leader prayed, the choir went back to their seats.  So is this prayer for real or just a convenient way to spend time while the choir takes their seats?

For those unfamiliar with our Sunday morning schedule, our choir typically leads worship each Sunday.  As the service transitions from the singing portion into the preaching portion, the choir disperses from the front in order to sit with their families/friends, attend Sunday School, or to serve elsewhere for the remainder of the worship service.  During the time that they transition down from the front (about 30 seconds to a minute), our Worship Pastor leads in prayer.

These questions were surprising to me, to be honest.  However, I think they are beneficial and a reminder that we must evaluate the motive behind everything we do.  For that reason, these questions were actually quite helpful.

Personally, I see no issue with praying while the choir disperses.  I typically pray throughout the service and don’t feel that it is disrespectful at all to pray while others return to their seats.  It seems to me that filling the time the choir returns to their seats by speaking to God in prayer is much better than simply remaining silent during that time.  Prayer during that time period actually makes good use of the time from my perspective.

Regarding whether the prayer is “for real” or “just a convenient way to spend time” could only really be answered by the one who is praying.  For us as a ministry, I would hope we would never use prayer as a tool other than it’s purpose . . . to connect with God on a personal level.  It reminds me of the story of Bill Moyers, who was the special assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson.  President Johnson asked him to ask for God’s blessing on the food one day in the White House.  Moyers began to pray in soft tones and the President interrupted him, telling him to speak louder.  Mr. Moyers stopped President Johnson politely but boldly with the response, “I wasn’t addressing you, Mr. President.”

At the heart of the matter is the authenticity of the one speaking to God in the moment.  For us, it is simply the best place in the service for our choir to relocate.  Rather than to do so in silence, we redeem the time by talking to God in prayer.

Wine or Grape Juice?

Burning Question:  Why do most Baptist churches only drink grape juice during the Lord’s Supper?  It appears from the verses in the Bible that actual wine was used.

So here is a question that will likely be answered less from the Bible and more from cultural norms and practical guidelines.  It is significant that the Bible does not prescribe in “Thou Shalt Use” form (think booming voice there) wine as the drink of choice in the observance of the Lord’s Supper.  When Jesus spoke of believers celebrating the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26:29, he referred to the drink as “the fruit of the vine” and not “wine”.  In fact, verse 27 in that same passage refers to Jesus taking “a cup” and giving the command to drink from it.  Mark (Mark 14:23-25) and Luke (Luke 22:17-20) follow this same pattern.  Paul follows the same pattern, also, as he refers to “the cup” with no specific reference to wine in 1 Corinthians 11:25-27.

There really does not seem to be any clear instruction in Scripture that prescribes or even details the use of wine for the Lord’s Supper.  “Fruit of the vine” could mean juice as much as wine.  In 1 Corinthians 11:20-21, Paul references the Corinthian believers as being drunk at the Lord’s Supper (not a good quality, by the way!).  It could even be said that this is a great argument against the use of wine at the Lord’s Supper.

From a practical and cultural perspective, using wine to celebrate the Lord’s Supper simply creates issues that are not beneficial for such a meaningful act of worship.  Imagine the new believer with six months of Christian maturity under her belt, with such excitement about partaking for the very first time in observing the sacrifice that her Savior made for her.  She comes to the Lord’s Supper with such gratitude over the reminder that her sins have been forgiven, and for her a part of her sin was the addiction to alcohol that once ravaged her life.  As she nervously, yet with such joy, takes of the bread that represents the body of Jesus given on the cross for her, she can only weep with happiness over her new life.  Yet as the mere taste of wine passes her lips, she is not now celebrating the blood that Christ shed for the payment of her sins, but is suddenly and unexpectedly pushing away the demons of her past that have been awakened by the mere taste of a drink so powerful in one’s life.  Practically speaking, why turn the recognition of such a beautiful expression of worship, meant to celebrate our Savior’s sacrifice for us, into a stumbling block to be endured by some for whom the taste of wine may not be so easily handled?

At the end of the day, don’t allow the big picture of the Lord’s Supper to be clouded by questions of procedure not addressed in Scripture.  Don’t miss the forest for the trees, as they say.  But also don’t check wisdom and common sense at the door.  Churches must determine to place no stumbling block in the path of those who come to humbly honor Christ for who He is, what He has done, and how He re-defines the life that follows Him!

What To Preach

Burning Question:  Why don’t preachers preach more on Revelation and the end of time?  Sometimes reading the Bible, especially in Revelation, I don’t understand it completely.  Would love for you to take and preach on that like we do other books of the Bible.

Burning Question:  Why can’t you preach on the good things that Heaven has to offer and what Heaven is like?

Burning Question:  Why don’t you teach on the moral issues that are destroying our country (our children and our families), like abortion?  Being a godly country, political issues (without being political or taking party sides)?  Encourage voting — Christians are among the lowest percentage of voters.  Divorces among Christians are as high as non-Christians.  America is becoming and ungodly nation.  Our children will suffer!

These questions really cut to the heart of how preaching today is to be defined.  There seems to be wide variety as to what the aim should be for those who stand and preach on a weekly basis.  Sadly for many preachers today, the pulpit is turned into something other than a platform for the declaration of the Gospel and the truth of God and His Word.  For a fair share of pastors and preachers, the pulpit has become a platform to display themselves or to advance certain causes (or both).

For me personally, my desire over the long haul is that people are engaged with the truth of Scripture and that they determine to apply that truth to their daily lives.  For some, that means choosing to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ.  For others who have made that decision, it means to apply God’s Word in a way that brings growth and maturity to their relationships with Him.  All of it, by the way, is for God’s glory.

The way that I seek to do this is by maintaining consistent focus on Scripture with an aim toward making it applicable.  Whether I preach through a book of the Bible (as I am currently in 1 Corinthians) or preach through a topical series, it is in response to what I feel are the needs of those who will be here each week and how God seems to be directing me.  Always, however, the intent is to communicate Scripture as it applies to our lives and culture.

Inevitably within a crowd of people, there will be some who have certain desires or thoughts as to what should be addressed.  As with the questions above, some may desire a deeper study on a specific book of the Bible.  Others may desire a certain topic addressed which is important to them.  This is understandable but what has to be kept in mind is that the preacher has only about 30-40 minutes per week to address the things that matter most.  It is unreasonable to expect that every major topic being discussed today can be addressed quickly and thoroughly.  Additionally, the aim is not for the preacher to simply preach whatever he desires to preach but what he senses God would have to be preached.  For me, my conviction is that when Scripture is preached faithfully and when the hearer is open to the work of the Holy Spirit in their life, God takes His Word and applies it in a variety of ways.

One word of caution here is that the preacher of God’s Word must be very careful to find the balance needed in his preaching in a relevant way today.  As Titus 2:1 would encourage, we must be willing to address any topic (politics, abortion, morality, etc.) but in a way that does not lose sight of the bigger picture (that people need a Savior).  Our world does not need more Christians who vote, more people to stay married, and better government nearly as much as it needs to walk with Christ and honor God in every area of life.  When the preaching of God’s Word puts Christ on display and communicates God’s truth, and when people heed that Word and apply it to their lives, the results will be Christians who do the right thing, vote the right way, stay committed to their spouses, and bring light to a dark world.  The apostle Paul, responsible for the bulk of the New Testament, made it pretty clear that he really only had one message when he involved himself in the lives of the Corinthian people (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).

Hopefully no one can ever say that I backed away from a topic related to life in this world, no matter how touchy or controversial it may be.  But hopefully it can be said that I did so, not to promote myself or my view, but what God’s take is on the topic so that lives can be aligned to His truth for His glory!

 

Church: The Beginning

Burning Question:  How did church originate?  Who started Christianity?

The book of Acts details the beginning of the church as we know it just a few weeks after the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2).  It was here that the Holy Spirit was sent to indwell all who would turn from sin and place their faith in Christ for salvation.  Ever since that point in time, we have experienced the concept of “the church.”

I believe that it can be argued, however, that the concept of church can be seen in the work of God long before the events of Acts 2.  God made a promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 that He would bring forth a select group of people who would walk in relationship with Him.  In Exodus 12:3, the people of God are called a “congregation” for the very first time in Scripture.  Even before “the church” was birthed in Acts 2, Jesus makes reference to “the church” in Matthew 16:18 and also in Matthew 18:17.

In the reference in Matthew 16:18, Jesus makes it very clear that it is His responsibility to grow the church.  So according to God’s Word, it is God who started Christianity.  He started it in miraculous fashion and the existence of Christianity is not another religion in this world but rather the expression of the only way a person can know God . . . through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, who died and rose for our sins so that all who come to Him can be redefined, forgiven, and part of His church in this world.  It is not a man-made religion but rather a Christ-centered relationship, offered to any who will come to Him on His terms.