Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Syriac Orthodox, Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Quad Centum (Issue 400) Souvenir Edition

Volume 7 No. 400 March 1, 2017
 

Chapter 8: Church

The Four Pillars of the Christian Life

Our fundamental mission of the Church is to lead people to encounter Jesus Christ in such a way that they are changed - The life of the Christian and the Church. This personal and communal encounter with Christ is offered through Word, Sacrament, fellowship and prayer. The transformative relationship with Christ rests on four pillars or practices. ...

Ten Truths About The Church of The Lord Jesus Christ

Because the church is made up of people who are flawed and sometimes malformed and always still in process, the Lord's church is often in trouble, forever struggling, and frequently an embarrassment. ...

The Four Marks of the Church

In the Nicene Creed, we profess, "We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church": these are the four marks of the Church. They are inseparable and intrinsically linked to each other. ...

The Church Christ Prefers

When Jesus looks at a church, he's not studying outward things. He's looking for the deeper signs of growing faith, fervent love, and abiding hope. He wants his churches to be motivated by love, founded on the truth, strong under pressure, and unashamed of his name. ...

The Church is a Bride, not a Widow

God is faithful and his Church is ever young. Great reforms are underway and seem destined to continue, perhaps in spite of us! ...

How Jesus Builds His Church

The Lord blessed the church with growth when the church was faithful to be characterized by certain things. It was His job to grow the church; and it was the church's job to be faithful to what it was supposed to be. If we seek - in the power of the Holy Spirit - to be faithfully and steadfastly characterized by the things that we find in this passage, we cultivate the kind of church environment in which the Lord is pleased to add those who are being saved...

Obligation of Church Members

There is no effective way by which the church can present the claim of our Lord, if the people who make up the church neglect to fulfill their obligations. ...

What We Need to Learn from the Early Church

The early church surely looked like it was on the "wrong side of history," but instead it changed history with a dogged adherence to the biblical gospel. That should be our aspiration as well.  ...

Chapter 8: Church

The Four Pillars of the Christian Life

by Msgr. Charles Pope

I and twelve other pastors, have been meeting recently to embark on a period and plan for renewal in our parishes. which focuses back on the fundamental mission of the Church, and of our parishes, and which seeks to restore a kind of back to basics approach to Church life.

For too often many parishes are reduced from being lighthouses to clubhouses; from being thermostats which set the temperature of culture, to thermometers that merely record the temperature; from being places where Christ is central, and it is his wedding, to being places where Christ is merely an invited guest at our wedding feast.

Too often we maximize the minimum and minimize the maximum. We spend all sorts of energy and resources arranging spaghetti dinners and Superbowl fellowships, and too little time feeding our souls and taking heed of the true spiritual contest between life and death. We argue with each other over minutia such as what color to paint the Ladies restroom or who didn't clean the kitchen, and and have no real answers to the world's arguments against us. We contend against each other instead of instead of the principalities and powers in the high places.

Well you get the point. So easily we get lost in the weeds. And even as numbers continue to erode in most parishes, we just do "business as usual." It's time for some renewal and to act differently. Thus twelve parishes are coming together to begin to pray and reflect on our central mission and how to act both locally and regionally to better live our of our mission and get back more whole-heartedly to the the basics pillars of Church life.

And what is the central mission of the Church? Stated briefly it is to bring people to a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ; it to disciple them in such a way that they enter into a life changing and transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. This is our fundamental task. It is not merely to have meetings in the hall, dinners in the cafeteria, sponsor fundraisers etc. As the Pope recently warned, it is not enough to give turkeys to the poor at Christmas, we have to give Christ, and feed the poor not just materially but spiritually.

Our fundamental mission as a Church is to lead people to encounter Jesus Christ in such a way that they are changed - The life of the Christian and the Church. This personal and communal encounter with Christ is offered through Word, Sacrament, fellowship and prayer. And that leads us to the fact that the transformative relationship with Christ rests on four pillars or practices.

These four pillars, a kind of four-point plan, are found in Acts 2. Peter has just preached a sermon where he warns his listeners to repent and believe the Good News. In effect he has led them to encounter Jesus Christ. They, having encountered him in his Word, are now cut tot he quick and ask what they must do to be saved. He said to them: "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:40-41).

Now they are baptized and in the Church of the Living of God. And unlike some of our Protestant brethren who hold a kind of "once saved, always saved" mentality, the text does not stop there. These new disciples now have a life to lead that will help them be ready to meet God, that will help them to set their house in order. And so in the very next verse we read:

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

So here is our "four-point plan" for setting our house in order once we have come to faith. There are four components listed below, four pillars if you will:

1. The Apostles Teaching
2. Fellowship
3. The Breaking of the Bread
4. Prayer

Please note that the text says that they "devoted" themselves to these four pillars of the Christian life. The Greek word is προσκαρτερέω (próskartereo) which means to continue to do something with intense effort, despite difficulty. It means to devote oneself to, to keep on, to persist in. It is from prós = "towards, and krátos, = "prevailing strength"). Thus what is described here is that they are consistently showing strength which prevails. They are staying in a fixed direction. They did not merely practice the four pillars occasionally, or when they felt like it, or when the time seemed right. They were consistent, they were devoted to this four-fold rule of life. Lets look at each pillar in turn as we consider how to set our house in order:

1. The Apostles Teaching

This first pillar of the Christian life is fascinating not only for what it says but also what it does not say. When we think of the "Apostles' Teaching" we first think of the four Gospels and the the New Testament Epistles. And these would surely be true components of the Apostles' teaching for a modern Christian. But notice that the text does not say that they devoted themselves to Scripture, but rather to the Apostles' Teaching. For a Catholic, the Apostolic Teaching consists not only in the New Testament Scriptures but also the Sacred Tradition which comes to us from the Apostles and which has been understood and articulated by the living Magisterium of the Church. The Protestants would largely interpret this first pillar as an exhortation to read our Bible every day and base our lives on it. This is a true understanding but only partial . The early Christians as you recall did not have the New Testament in final form from day one and could not have lived this text in such as way. The Bible as we now have it was not yet completed edited or canonized. Yet they had received the Apostolic teaching through having it preached to them by the Apostles and their deputed representatives, the bishops, priests and deacons. St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess 2:15). Therefore the Catholic application of this first pillar is truer and fuller wherein we are devoted to the Apostles teaching not in Scripture alone but also in Sacred Tradition as passed down and interpreted by the living magisterium of the Church. To live this first pillar with devotion means to set our house in order by carefully and diligently studying what the apostles handed on to us. We do this by the daily and devoted reading of Scripture and/or the diligent study of the faith through the Catechism or other approved manuals. We should make it a daily habit that we are reading scripture and studying the faith, attempting to grow in our knowledge of what God has revealed through his prophets and apostles and then basing our life on what we learn and repenting of what is not in line with the revealed truth. Pillar number 1 is being devoted to the Apostles teaching.

2. The Fellowship

The word fellowship may be a little weak here as a translation of the Greek: τῇ κοινωνίᾳ (te koinonia). The more theological or sacred way of translating this word is probably " a communion." It would seem that members of a bowling league could have fellowship but the sacred gathering of the faithful in the reality called the "ekklesia" or "Church" is better termed a "communion." or in Latin "communio." It is a gathering into one of the members of Christ's Body the Church, a communion also of Christ with his Bride the Church. The early Christians, according to this text devoted themselves to this communal gathering. Hence the second pillar of the Christian life whereby we are helped to get our house in order is "fellowship," or better, "communio." The Commandment is clear: Keep holy the Sabbath. It doesn't make sense to think that we can disregard one of the Ten Commandments and then claim our house is in order. Some argue that this commandment does not say explicitly that we should be in Church on Sunday. But Leviticus 23:3 says regarding this Commandment, "You shall do no work and you shall keep sacred assembly, it is the Sabbath of the Lord." Sacred assembly means "Church" it is the fellowship, the koinonia, the communio. No way around it. God expects us to be in his house on our Sabbath which is Sunday. The Book of Hebrews also says, "And let us not neglect to meet together regularly and to encourage one another, all the more since the Day draws near." See here how the Last "Day" and being prepared for it is linked to "meeting together regularly." So the second pillar of the Christian life is to get our house in order by getting to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day. In the Mass we both encourage others and are encouraged by them. We also receive instruction in the Word of God by the anointed and deputed ministers of that Word, the bishops, priests and deacons. We also fulfill the third pillar to which we now turn our attention

3. The Breaking of the Bread

The phrase "the breaking of the bread" in the New Testament usually meant the reception of Holy Communion, or the Eucharist. The worthy reception of Holy communion is directly connected to having our House in Order for there are wonderful promises made to those who are faithful in this regard. Jesus makes a promise in John 6:40 that Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I will raise him up on the last day. That's quite a promise in terms of being ready! Jesus is saying that frequent reception of the Eucharist is essential preparation for the Last Day. Jesus also warns us not to stay away from "the breaking of the bread" or Holy communion: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in you (Jn 6:53). Without Holy Communion we're not going to make it. Gotta receive regularly to be ready! We cannot claim that our house is in order i we willfully stay away from Holy Communion. By extension we must allow this reference to one sacrament (Holy Communion) to be a reference to all the Sacraments. Clearly a Catholic approach to this third pillar of preparation would include being baptized and confirmed. It would include weekly reception of Holy Communion, regular confession, anointing of the sick when necessary, and, where possible, the reception of Holy Matrimony or Holy Orders. The Sacraments are our spiritual medicine. We have a bad condition called concupiscence (a string inclination to sin). It is like spiritual high blood pressure or diabetes. Hence we have to take our medicine and be properly nourished. The sacraments, as our medicine help us to avoid dying from our sinful condition. So the Third pillar of the Christian life is to get our house in order by receiving Holy Communion worthily every Sunday and the other Sacraments at proper times.

4. Prayer

This final pillar requires more of us than just saying our prayers in some sort of ritual sense. The Greek word here is προσευχαῖς (Proseuchais) and is best translated just as we have it here: "Prayers" However the Greek root proseuche is from pros = toward or immediately before + euchomai= to pray or vow. But the prefix pros would convey the sense of being immediately before Him and hence the ideas of adoration, devotion, and worship are included. So prayer is understood more than just verbally uttering or saying one's prayers. What is called for is worshipful, attentive and adoring prayer. Prayer is experiencing God's presence. Jesus says of prayer that it is necessary for us lest we fall: Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation (Matt 26:41). Hence the fourth pillar is prayer whereby we putt our house in order through regular, worshipful, attentive and adoring prayer of God which serves as a kind of medicine lest we fall deeply into temptation.

So here are four basic pillars of preparation for the day of Judgment. It is a kind of back to basics plan for the Christian and for the Church. This serves as a basic vision for twelve parishes that can benefit from getting focused and learning to share a common vision so as to work together regionally and better serve our area. Parochialism is less possible today given the steady erosion of parishes. We have to have a common plan and work together. Pray for us.

Source: Archdiocese of Washington Blog

Ten Truths About The Church of The Lord Jesus Christ

by Dr. Joe McKeever

"I will build my church…" (Matthew 16:18)

It's His church and not mine.

It's His church and not yours either.

Settle that or nothing else will matter. Get it wrong and everything else you do will be off kilter.

The moment you think it's your church (you're in charge) or my church (someone else makes the decisions; you have nothing to do with what happens), we're all in trouble.

It is indeed the Lord's Church and He is its sole owner. He takes no one in as a stockholder, franchises no part of His operation out to denominations, and asks advice from no expert of theology. Furthermore, He promised that the gates of hades will not prevail against His church.

And, He has populated His church with frail humans like you and me, and wonder of wonders, assigned some of us to responsibilities within that church. What a risk He was taking!

Because the church is made up of people who are flawed and sometimes malformed and always still in process, the Lord's church is often in trouble, forever struggling, and frequently an embarrassment.

The church is always vulnerable to the whims of its members, the pressures of its surrounding culture, and the variables of its pastors who come and go.

So, it's a two-sided coin. The church is divine, yet human. The church belongs to Jesus who has promised to build it and guarantee its success. Yet, it's fragile and vulnerable.

  • If, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, you pray for anything in this world, pray for the church.
  • If you "belong" to anything in this world, belong to the church.
  • If you give to a single entity on this planet, give to the church.
  • If you stand up for anything, stand up for the church.

Here are ten basic realities concerning the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. To the faithful, they are wonderful; but we ignore them to our own detriment.

1. The church is the Body of Christ.

I didn't make that up. I'm not smart enough to have figured that out. Scripture makes this assertion and makes it so clear that we dare not take issue with it. (See Ephesians 4:15-16 for starters. Then I Corinthians 12:27 and Colossians 2:19.)

If I'm going to do anything on earth, I'll do it through my body. And to a great extent - we want to be careful here not to overextend the metaphor - when the Lord wants to work on earth, He uses His body, the church.

I'm only a minor member of the Lord's Body and not a major player. But the little finger on my hand or the smallest toe on my right food is still important to me.

How honored I am to be a part of His Body on earth. "Lord, help me to be faithful in the spot where You have assigned me."

2. The church is made up of people like you and me.

Whatever was the Lord thinking? These flawed, imperfect people who make up the membership of His Church often stumble and get matters wrong.They sin, they rebel, they think their opinion should count, and they sometimes believe the Lord reveals His will through them voting.

And yet, the Lord still claims them, stays with them, and works with them. Truly amazing.

"He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:14). Jesus knew He was getting no bargain when He saved us. He knows what humble stuff we are made of. When we sin, we are the only one surprised. And yet, He still claims us as His own.

It stands to reason, therefore, there will be no perfect churches in this life.

That there are no perfect churches has disgusted many a would-be follower of Jesus and given material for skeptics and critics looking for reasons to reject Christ's message.

The Lord was willing to take that chance.

How honored I am to be a member of His church. "Lord, keep me from criticizing your church because it is made up of people like me."

3. Christ is the head of the church.

He is both its owner and operator (Matthew 16:18 again). He holds the deed and He calls the shots. That must be news to some pastors who think the church is theirs and deacons who enjoy throwing their weight around.

The single question church people ought to ask as we gather to do business as a congregation is "Lord, what would you have us to do?"

When parts of my body are in disharmony, working in opposition to one another, the solution is not for them to get together for a summit conference and work things out. It's much easier than that. All they have to do is each one obey the head. After all, Christ is not the author of division (see I Corinthians 1:13). The head does not send contradictory messages to different parts of the body.

It's a great metaphor and we cannot escape its message.

How important it is that I seek His will in everything. "Lord, help me to want to please you in all I do."

4. What we do to the church - good or evil - Jesus takes personally.

He said to Saul of Tarsus, "Why do you persecute me?" When the henchman of Jerusalem stretched out his hand against the followers of Jesus, the Lord in Heaven felt it.

Feed the Lord's hungry children, clothe them, take care of them, and Jesus interprets that as though you had done it to Him. Fail to do it and He registers that as a neglect of Him. (Matthew 25)

"Whoever receives you, receives me," the Lord told His disciples (Matthew 10:40). Minister to the saints and you are showing love to His name (Hebrews 6:10).

And, mess with the Lord's people and you are messing with Jesus. Run the preacher off just because you cannot control him and the Lord pens your name down in red on HIs appointment calendar. Split a church in order to get you way and you are in more trouble than you have ever been in your life, friend.

Honor the church as you would the Lord Jesus Himself.

How honored we are to be able to serve Christ this very day. "Lord, help me to take this literally and do unto others as I would do unto Thee."

5. Church unity is a big deal to the Lord, far more than to any of us.

"I pray that they all may be one," Jesus prayed, "in order that the world may believe" (John 17:21).

The unity of the Lord's church is directly tied to its effectiveness in spreading the gospel.

"Being diligent to present the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3).

One of the greatest tasks of church leaders is to keep the congregation unified. Likewise, God's people of every denomination - those who know Jesus, love Him, believe His word, etc. - ought to have a spiritual unity, even if not organizational.

Leaders should always be on the alert for divisive tactics of the enemy and move quickly to deal with them. A divided church grinds to a halt in everything it attempts. Until unity is restored, nothing gets accomplished.

How blessed I have been by the ministries of strong, unified churches in my past. "Lord, help me to do all I can to keep our church - and Thy people everywhere - as one in Thee."

6. The key to unity in the church is submission.

"Submit yourselves to one another in the fear of the Lord" (Ephesians 5:21).

We submit ourselves to the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus, yes. But, just as tough and perhaps even more irrational, we are required to submit to one another.

Humility is a far bigger deal in the Lord's plan than it is within the Christian movement today. In fact, many of the best-known preachers and denominational leaders literally parade their pride and flaunt their oversized egos. In doing so, they deny the Lord who had no place to lay His head, and was among us as One who served.

To submit simply means to yield to the other person. Suppose you and I disagree. After a full discussion, I say, "Let's do it your way." Instantly, the decision is made and the division is nipped in the bud.

Two motorists meet in the middle of a one-way bridge. The first leans out of his window and yells, "I never back up for fools!" The second throws his car into reverse and calls, "I always do."

Only the strong can submit; the weak will bull forward, insisting on their own way. And, when they do, the church grows steadily weaker and weaker for such shenanigans.

Let the leadership of the Lord's church preach unity and demonstrate submission to the congregation. Pastors submit to their people when they respond to calls for help, for counsel, for ministry, when they put the needs of others before themselves. The congregation submits to its leaders (see Hebrews 13:17) when members do not carp, do not withhold their witness or praise or attendance or offerings, but enthusiastically join in and follow their lead.

How hard it is to submit myself to someone who seems undeserving. "Lord, help me to have the spirit of Christ in all I do."

7. Pastors are called by God - appointed as overseers of the church - while deacons are chosen by the church as servants of the congregation.

The first point - overseers - comes from Acts 20:28 and the second, this business of serving, comes from Acts 6:1-7. The deacons are accountable both to the congregation and the pastors. The pastors are accountable to the congregation. (All are accountable to God, of course.)

Pastors are God's point men, sent not to make the congregation happy but to make them holy and healthy and to make Himself happy.

Deacons are more responsible than anyone else for maintaining and protecting the unity of the church. If there is a troublemaker or a rift in the congregation, they should deal with it promptly, in love, in fairness, and in all wisdom, being careful not to widen the breach or deepen the anguish.

If pastors are the point men, deacons ride drag, bring up the rear, keep the congregation together, and deal with dissent/trouble whenever it erupts.

How blessed I have been by strong, faithful pastors and godly, humble deacons throughout my life. "Lord, help me exhibit the same Christlikeness to those who come behind."

8. There will always be conflicts and challenges to the church, and that's not always bad.

"There must be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you" (I Corinthians 11;19).

Every church needs a little conflict from time to time. Every church will have its share of challenges. And if it handles these wisely, a number of good things will happen….

  • - The church will draw the attention of the watching world. Some will want to see you fail, while others will watch to see if you live by the teachings of the Savior whom you confess.
  • - The challenge will test your mettle. Do you truly believe the Word or is that just so much talk?
  • - Handle it well and you will give the trouble-making devil a black eye.
  • - Handle it well and the difficult ones within the congregation will receive valuable lessons never to be forgotten.
  • - Handle it well, and outsiders will be attracted to Jesus Christ and your ministry. Acts 6:7 is a great testimony to how this works.

How enlightening it is to look back down the years and see how the Lord has used the conflicts and stresses He allowed into my life. "Lord, help me never to run from the next problem that arises, but to look for Thy hand."

9. The Bible intentionally blurs the line between the church universal, local, and worldwide.

All the saints across time and eternity make up the Kingdom of God and therefore, His true church. The local church, that congregation with which I am affiliated, is also the church, as are the saints across the world who are serving Jesus Christ at this moment.

Last weekend, as I was leading a deacons retreat for an Alabama church, we were dealing with some of these concepts. A man asked, "So, is the church this building or the people?" I answered, "Strictly speaking, it's the people. However, this building is where the Lord's people meet to serve and teach and minister. So, it is no stretch to say that whoever vacuums the floors is serving Jesus, whoever mows the lawn is cutting the Lord's grass, and whoever cleans the toilets does this as unto the Lord Himself."

If that blurred the line, so be it. A neglected house of worship - it needs paint, the grounds need tending, the acoustics are terrible - reflects poorly on the people, the Lord, and our message.

There is a redundancy in our salvation. The Lord saves us, the Holy Spirit indwells us, and He gives us an entire family to help us live this life. He gives us the Bible to guide us, opportunities to serve Him, challenges to grow us, and faith to sustain us.

How wise we are to treasure every church that honors Christ and preaches the Word. "Lord, help me to bless every believer in Jesus I meet, no matter what denomination they belong to."

10. As a living organism, the church is always growing and changing. Always in a state of flux.

"I will build my church," Jesus said. He is constantly at work in His church.

A church is always changing. Someone joins and the church grows; someone leaves and the church diminishes. Someone begins reading his Bible regularly or giving generously or sharing Christ with his neighbors and the church gets stronger. Someone drops out of church or neglects the Word or finds other things to do with his money, and the church grows weaker.

I'm always amused by people who move to a new city and set out to find a church like the beloved congregation they just left. If given the opportunity, I tell them, "There is no other church like that one. The Lord's churches are like your children, each one unique. And furthermore, the church back home is not like it was, either."

"When you moved away, that church changed. When other people joined it, it changed again. It's always changing. And to ask the Lord to reproduce here in your new neighborhood what He once did in the old one is to require what He has never done and has no intention of doing again."

I tell them, "The Lord is trying to do a new thing in your life. Don't ask Him to repeat the old, former lessons. Be open to the next stage He has for you."

How hard it is to accept change and the new things our leaders introduce. "Lord, help me to keep my eyes on Thee, that I may serve and grow and be found faithful."

Those are my 10 "basics" of the church.

"Father, help us to honor Thy Church as we someday expect to honor Thee around the throne. For Jesus' sake. Amen."

About The Author:

Dr. Joe McKeever has written dozens of books, but has published none. That refers to the 1,000+ articles on various subjects (prayer, leadership, church, pastors) that can be found on his website. His articles appear in a number of textbooks and other collections. He serves as an adjunct professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, writing for Baptist MenOnline for the North American Mission Board, and preaching/drawing/etc for conventions and churches across America. ...

The Four Marks of the Church

by Fr. William Saunders

In the Nicene Creed, we profess, "We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church": these are the four marks of the Church. They are inseparable and intrinsically linked to each other.

In the Nicene Creed, we profess, "We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church": these are the four marks of the Church. They are inseparable and intrinsically linked to each other. Our Lord Himself in founding the Church marked it with these characteristics, which reflect its essential features and mission. Through the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church fulfills these marks.

First, the Church is one. The Catechism notes that the Church is one for three reasons:

1. Because of its source, which is the Holy Trinity, a perfect unity of three divine persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;

2. Because of its founder, Jesus Christ, who came to reconcile all mankind through the blood of the cross; and

3. Because of its "soul," the Holy Spirit, who dwells in the souls of the faithful, who unites all of the faithful into one communion of believers, and who guides the Church (#813).

The "oneness" of the Church is also visible. As Christians, we are united in our Creed and our other teachings, the celebration of the sacraments, and the hierarchical structure based on the apostolic succession preserved and handed on through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. For example, whether one attends Mass in Alexandria, San Francisco, Moscow, Mexico City, or wherever, the Mass is the same — the same readings, structure, prayers, and the like except for a difference in language — celebrated by the faithful who share the same beliefs, and offered by a priest who is united to his bishop who is united to the Holy Father, the Pope or the Patriarch, the successor of St. Peter.

In our oneness, we do find diversity: The faithful bear witness to many different vocations and many different gifts, but work together to continue the mission of our Lord. The various cultures and traditions enrich our Church in their expressions of one faith. In all, charity must permeate the Church, for it is through charity that the members are bound together and work together in harmonious unity.

The Church is also holy.

Our Lord Himself is the source of all holiness: "The one Christ is mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in His body which is the Church". Christ sanctifies the Church, and in turn, through Him and with Him, the Church is His agent of sanctification. Through the ministry of the Church and the power of the Holy Spirit, our Lord pours forth abundant graces, especially through the sacraments. Therefore, through its teaching, prayer and worship, and good works, the Church is a visible sign of holiness.

Nevertheless, we must not forget that each of us as a member of the Church has been called to holiness. Through baptism, we have been freed from original sin, filled with sanctifying grace, plunged into the mystery of our Lord's passion, death, and resurrection, and incorporated into the Church, "the holy people of God." By God's grace, we strive for holiness. The Second Vatican Council exhorted, "Every Catholic must therefore aim at Christian perfection and, each according to his station, play his part, that the Church, which bears in her own body the humility and dying of Jesus, may daily be more purified and renewed, against the day when Christ will present her to Himself in all her glory without spot or wrinkle" (Decree on Ecumenism, #4).

Our Church has been marked by outstanding examples of holiness in the lives of the saints of every age. No matter how dark the times may have been for our Church, there have always been those great saints through whom the light of Christ radiated. Yes, we are frail human beings, and at times we sin; yet, we repent of that sin and continue once again on the path of holiness. In a sense, our Church is a Church of sinners, not of the self-righteous or self-assured saved. One of the beautiful prayers of the Mass occurs before the Sign of Peace: "Lord, look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church." Even though poor frail individual members of the Church fail and sin, the Church continues to be the sign and instrument of holiness.

The Church is also catholic.

St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 100) used this word meaning "universal" to describe the Church (Letter to the Smyrnaens). The Church is indeed Catholic in that Christ is universally present in the Church and that He has commissioned the Church to evangelize the world - "Go therefore an make disciples of all the nations" (Matthew 28:19).

Moreover, we must not forget that the Church here on earth — what we call the Church militant — is united to the Church triumphant in Heaven and the Church suffering in Purgatory. Here is the understanding of the communion of saints — the union of the faithful in Heaven, in Purgatory, and on earth.

Finally, the Church is apostolic. Christ founded the Church and entrusted His authority to His apostles, the first bishops. He entrusted a special authority to St. Peter, the first Pope and Bishop of Rome, to act as His vicar here on earth. This authority has been handed down through the Sacrament of Holy Orders in what we call apostolic succession from bishop to bishop, and then by extension to priests and deacons. If possible, Bishop Loverde could trace his apostolic succession as a bishop back to one of the apostles. When Bishop Loverde ordained seven men as priests for our diocese on May 15, he did so with the authority of apostolic succession, and those men in turn share in the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. No bishop, priest, or deacon in our Church is self-ordained or self-proclaimed; rather, he is called by the Church and ordained into the apostolic ministry given by our Lord to His Church to be exercised in union with the Pope.

The Church is also apostolic in that the deposit of faith found in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition was preserved, taught, and handed on by the apostles. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, the Magisterium (the teaching authority entrusted to the apostles and their successors) has the duty to preserve, teach, defend, and hand on the deposit of faith. Moreover, the Holy Spirit protects the Church from error in its teaching authority. While over the course of time, the Magisterium has had to address current issues, such as nuclear war, euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, the same truth principles exercised under the guidance of the Holy Spirit prevail.

These four marks of the Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic — are fully realized in our Church. While other Christian Churches accept and profess the Creed, and possess elements of truth and sanctification, only the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches reflects the fullness of these marks. The Second Vatican Council taught regarding Catholic Church: "This Church [which Christ founded], constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him" (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #8), and "For it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help towards salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained" (Decree on Ecumenism, #3). Our duty then is to make these four marks visible in our daily lives.

Adapted from: Saunders, Rev. William. "The Four Marks of the Church." Arlington Catholic Herald. Used with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald. Copyright © 1998  

About The Author:

Father William Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Sterling, Virginia. The above article is a "Straight Answers" column he wrote for the Arlington Catholic Herald. Father Saunders is also the author of Straight Answers, a book based on 100 of his columns and published by Cathedral Press in Baltimore.

The Church Christ Prefers

by Dr. Ray Pritchard

Scripture: Revelation 3:7-13

What sort of church does Jesus prefer?

Baptist?
Methodist?
Lutheran?
Catholic?
Orthodox?
Presbyterian?
Brethren?
Episcopal?

Thankfully, we are not left to wonder about the answer. Revelation 2-3 tells us what sort of church Jesus prefers. When we survey these seven churches, we discover that none of the things I listed is mentioned. When Jesus looks at a church, he's not studying outward things. He's looking for the deeper signs of growing faith, fervent love, and abiding hope. He wants his churches to be motivated by love, founded on the truth, strong under pressure, and unashamed of his name.

Of the seven churches, only Smyrna and Philadelphia received no words of condemnation. And it is not coincidental that both churches were facing strong opposition because of their bold witness. Hard times generally make for strong churches, especially when the hard times come because the church refuses to compromise the gospel.

Revelation 3:7-13 records the letter to the church at Philadelphia, a city about 35 miles southeast of Sardis. Because it was located near a fault line, earthquakes were a constant threat. This city of "Brotherly Love" was intended to be a kind of "missionary city" to introduce Greek culture to the surrounding region. Built on a narrow pass between two mountain ranges, Philadelphia stood as a literal doorway to the rest of Asia Minor. The church in that city was the youngest and smallest of the seven churches of Revelation 2-3. Though small in size, our Lord had opened a huge door for this faithful congregation.

Here is a church Christ heartily approves. As we study this letter, let's think about our own churches and consider how they measure up.

Consider Our Opportunity

"These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name" (vv. 7-8).

A. Christ himself opens the doors.

When God opens a door, no one can shut it. And when he closes a door, no one can open it. Sometimes people ask me, "How can I know when God has opened a door?" There are various ways to answer that question, but the simplest answer is, "You won't know until you go through the door." It's been my experience that sometimes the door is obvious and we just walk right through. Sometimes we run. And sometimes we need a little shove.

Last Sunday night we gave a presentation about the KBM China project in the Dining Room at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, IL. We had a wonderful time, of course, and enjoyed seeing many old friends, but it was a bit of déjŕ vu all over again because over the years I spent hundreds of hours in the Dining Room teaching my Wednesday night Pastor's Class. I remarked to the folks that the last time I had been in the Dining Room for a service was during our farewell party in September 2005. Not very much was clear to us that night. We were moving forward in obedience to God's call, not knowing what was to come next. Over the next few months a number of "doors" opened for us, but none seemed quite right. Little by little it became clear to us that we should start Keep Believing Ministries. At the farewell party we had no idea–none at all–about starting a ministry to China, much less a strategic partnership with Trans World Radio.

It's a good thing that we don't know the future because we couldn't handle it. The future with all its ups and downs, twists and turns, with all the unexpected things that we don't see coming, it is all so overwhelming that if we knew what was coming, we would probably run the other way. Life is better lived one day at a time.

Open doors are like that. God rarely shows us the big picture in advance. The "open door" is usually a door pushed slightly open. We still have to summon up the courage to go through the door and see what's on the other side.

Jesus himself, the one who is holy and true, the one who has all authority, opens doors for his people. It's his job to open the doors. He's very good at it, and he doesn't need our help. Our job is to go through the doors he opens, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, going wherever he may lead us. One door may open, and then it may close. That's okay. Another door may open. That's okay too. We may have to sit still for a while waiting for a door to open. That's also okay.

Jesus is sovereign over the doors of life.
We can trust him.

I received an email from a friend with the title, "Where do I fit in?" And this one sentence, "I just can't comprehend what God is doing." It seems that my dear friend has been dealt a crushing blow by some other good friends. Nothing evil or nefarious. Nothing underhanded. Just a decision that left my friend very disheartened and confused.

That, too, is part of the life of faith.
Sometimes doors close.

So we bow before the Lord who opens and no man shuts, and who shuts and no man opens.

B. Christ honors faith, not strength.

Jesus said to the church at Philadelphia, "I know that you have little strength" (v. 8).

Little strength and great opportunity often go hand in hand. Sometimes small churches think there is little they can do for the Lord. But it is all a matter of perspective. The church at Philadelphia had little strength. We can assume that they didn't have much money or many influential people.

But they had great faith.

Here is a lesson for all of us. I may not be as wise or as eloquent as someone else, and I may not have the money or the influence of my neighbors. I may not be as educated or as well-connected. But I can trust the Lord just as well as anyone else.

What is it that God honors? Faith!
What is he looking for? Faith!
What does he reward? Faith!

And how much faith does he require? Not much. Faith like a mustard seed. Just a tiny smidgen of faith. Not the faith of many years and deep knowledge. He honors the faith of a child.

Simple faith.

Notice the two wonderful things Jesus says about this church:

"You kept my word."
"You have not denied my name."

The first involves holding fast to the words of Jesus. The second means you aren't embarrassed by the first. Some people feel slightly ashamed of their faith. They follow Jesus but keep it to themselves. Don't rock the boat, don't cause problems, don't stir up trouble. How sad.

When Paul and Silas came to Thessalonica in Acts 17, their opponents tried to have them arrested. I love how the New King James Version records the charge their enemies made against them: "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too" (Acts 17:6).

How's that for an insult? These men have "turned the world upside down."

Would anyone ever say that about us?

They meant it as an accusation, but it is really a compliment. What a great thing to have said about you, that you managed to turn the world upside down. I can't think of a greater compliment for a Christian.

Consider our Opposition

Satan hates gospel preaching, and he hates gospel preachers.

Dr. Bob Jones Sr. used to say, "The door of opportunity swings on the hinges of opposition." Sometimes we hear people talk about "easy places" to preach, but it is all pious nonsense.

There are no "easy places."

Let a man decide he is going to stand for Jesus, let him tell the community the whole counsel of God, let him firmly but kindly declare the saving gospel of Jesus, and he will have enemies soon enough. And not all of them will be outside the church. Some of his fiercest critics will be found among those who listen to him preach every Sunday. We live in a day when people, even good church people, would prefer to trim their sails so as not to offend the community. They want to be known as good people, good neighbors, fine and friendly folks, and a safe haven for the hurting. Who could object to that? Certainly not me. But there is a fine line between wanting to reach the community and not telling them the full truth of God. The gospel is good news, but before it is good news it is bad news, and unless we tell the bad news, the good news won't seem very good.

In one of his books Francis Schaeffer remarked that if he were riding on a train and had only one hour to share the gospel with a fellow passenger, he would spend 45 minutes testifying about sin, righteousness, and judgment, and then he would spend the last 15 minutes on the gospel message.

I think the believers at Philadelphia would appreciate that approach. They cared enough about the truth that they had made some powerful enemies in the community. That was a mark of their faithfulness to Christ.

A. We will be vindicated.

"I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars-I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you" (v. 9).

The "synagogue of Satan" refers to those Jews in Philadelphia who persecuted the early believers. Seeing Jesus as a threat to their way of life, they hated him and those who followed him. But, Jesus says, they are liars. And that's not all.

The day will come when these hostile enemies will bow down and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Some commentators see this as a promise of vast gospel advance as the church preaches to the unreached people groups of the world. We must not be intimidated by those who today have no use for Christianity. Not only are they wrong in their current estimation of Jesus, but that will not be their final answer. Philippians 2:9-11 pictures a day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Some do it willingly today. In the Judgment Day those who have no use for Christ or for Christians will see how wrong they were.

Football coaches tell their players, "Play as hard as you can, and when the game is over, look up at the scoreboard and see who's ahead." John is saying something like that to these Christians. Only he adds one key point, "Play hard even when you think you're behind because when the game is over, you're going to be on the winning team."

B. We will be protected.

"Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth" (v. 10).

Sometimes the best you can do is just to "endure patiently." Spiritual warfare isn't all roses and rainbows. Sometimes it means not giving up when you feel like throwing in the towel. Our Lord makes a precious promise to these suffering saints. He looks ahead to the "time of trial" that will engulf the whole world before Christ comes to establish his kingdom on the earth. In the Last Days things will be difficult indeed. Scripture often speaks of the time of trouble that will shake the earth and prepare the world for the coming of the Lord. Because they have been faithful, Jesus will keep his people from that time of trial.

Consider Our Obligation

"I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown" (v. 11).

You can't read this passage without getting a sense that the early believers expected Christ to come at any moment. He even said, "I am coming soon." I wonder how many of us believe that? This text calls us to do two things while we look for the coming of Christ.

A. To wait for his return.

A few months ago I sat in a living room in Dalian, China and listened to a pastor and his wife tell of their sacrifices to bring the gospel to the Mongolian people. They had even lived apart for several years while the wife, along with several young women from their church, started a noodle kitchen where they engaged the Mongolians in conversation. The wife was not in good health, but she insisted that she must do this. When I asked why, she gave me a straightforward answer:

"Jesus is coming soon, and we must tell the Mongolians about him. They need to know Jesus. I know my health is not good, and I only have another year or two left so we must do this now."

We are to live as if Jesus may come at any moment and work as though our time is short.

B. To overcome by faith.

"Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (vv. 12-13).

The challenge to overcome is one we face every single day. Not long ago I did a radio interview in which the host asked the listeners to name a time when they had faced a challenge and responded in faith. Most of the callers named big events like facing surgery or losing a job or dealing with a broken marriage. I do not doubt that those events call us to live by faith. But I wonder if we are not missing the truly great challenges:

"I will get out of bed today."
"I will go to work even though I hate my job."
"I will be kind instead of rude today."
"I will forgive when it would be easier to get even."
"I will not lose my temper with my children or my wife today."

This is where overcomers are made. It's easy to read Revelation 2-3 and imagine the "overcomers" as some special breed of Super Christians who live on a plane far above the rest of us mere mortals. But it is not so. We are all called to be "overcomers" every single day because we all have a lot to overcome:

Temptations galore.
Frustrations on every hand.
Disagreeable people.
Difficult situations.
Unexpected setbacks.
Angry critics.
Internal discouragement.
Chronic pain.
Friends who aren't very friendly.
Personal failures known only to us.

There are always reasons to give up, always reasons to quit, always plenty of excuses if we want them. But to those who persevere, who will not give up even when they feel like it and when everything in them says, "Walk away from this mess," to those brave souls who keep on keeping on, Christ makes two incredible promises.

1. We will be Safe and Secure.

Jesus promises his people that they will be pillars in God's temple, and they will never leave God's presence. These words meant a great deal because Philadelphia had been destroyed by a terrible earthquake and the citizens were used to evacuating the city. But those who trust in Jesus will be safe and secure forever.

It's a great thing to have a place you can call home. It ought to be the one place where we are known and loved and always welcomed. Jesus is saying, "They may not like you so much in Philadelphia, but you've got a home with me in heaven. I'll make you a pillar in my temple so that you will be close to me forever."

2. We will be Named and Claimed.

The power to name is the power of ownership. Those whom God has redeemed will be named and claimed by him. All the old names won't matter anymore:

Doctor.
Lawyer.
Professor.
Politician.

Coach.
Banker.
Teacher.
Famous athlete.
Richest man.
Most influential woman.

But there are other names that won't matter either:

Felon.
Failure.
Hated.
Abandoned.
Humiliated.
Unappreciated.
Liar.
Adulterer.

In that great day, the blood of Jesus will wash away all the "tags" by which we know each other. Our "good" names won't matter, and our "bad" names won't be remembered. We will all stand on the same ground, saved, redeemed, renewed, and renamed by our Lord.

We will be given the name of the new Jerusalem because that's where we will spend eternity. In just a few days Josh (our oldest son) and I will travel to India to spend two weeks ministering there. We both have passports that identify us as citizens of the United States of America. We also have visas granting us entrance into India. The passport tells where we come from and the visa tells where we can go. All believers in Jesus have a passport stamped "Citizen of heaven" and a visa guaranteeing them permanent entrance. No one can stop us, no one can hinder us, no one can say, "You have no right to be here." We enter by the blood of Jesus, and in his name we find our place in the heavenly city.

Now this ought to encourage all of us. The world often takes Christians for granted and sees no value in us, but God honors his faithful servants. We may have no security down here. Indeed, any earthly "security" is slim at best. We lock our doors because thieves may enter, and we know that the stock market may collapse today or tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.

If you want eternal security, you can find it only in Jesus Christ. One day we will have a new name, and we will live in a city that cannot be shaken.

When Horatius Bonar wrote on the church at Philadelphia, he came to this stirring conclusion:

Small may be our strength in these last days. The tide of error, and sin, and worldliness may be running very strong. It may not be easy to confess Christ, or to hold fast His truth. But His grace is sufficient for us; and woe be to us if we give way to the errors of the age, or conform to its vanities, or seek to please its multitudes, either under the dread of public opinion, or the fear of not being reputed 'men of progress,' or the shrinking from more direct persecution and hatred! Faithfulness to Christ, and to His truth, is everything, especially in days when iniquity shall abound, and the love of many shall wax cold.

Fear not! The reward is glorious! The honor is beyond all earthly honors! The contempt and enmity are but for a day-the dignity and the blessedness are forever and ever!

Indeed it is so. God help us to be faithful to him who has done so much for us. Amen.

Copyright © 2016 Keep Believing Ministries, All rights reserved.

The Church is a Bride, not a Widow

by Msgr. Charles Pope

A Word of Encouragement to the Faint-hearted and Negative

[Editor's Note: A catholic priest looks at his church. We may see several things in common here.]

There's a common thread among many traditional Catholics  (and some left-wingers too) that "the Church has gone down the tubes." This seems to be a basic set point in too many conversations, and if one runs too far afield from this view they are "one of them" or are "off message."

But I want to say to all the negative ones: the Church is a Bride, not a widow.

I have, in twenty-five years as a priest, found a great deal of affinity with traditional Catholics. I love the Traditional Latin Mass (and have celebrated it since 1989), chant, polyphony, traditional churches, stained glass, and I toe a line in rather strict conformity to the Church's teachings and Scripture's admonitions. I preached Hell and Purgatory even when it wasn't cool.

But in recent years I have found my relationship to many (not all or even most) traditional Catholics tested and strained. I say "tested" because I have found that if I do not adhere to a rather strict, and I would say "narrow" line, I am relegated to be thrown out of the feast, and there in the "outer darkness" to wail and grind my teeth.

It would seem that for some, I am required to bash bishops, lament that the Church has "never been in worse shape," and that every single solitary problem in the Church today is "due to Vatican II" and the "Novus Ordo" Mass. Stray too far from this, either by omission or commission, and I am in the hurt locker, the penalty box, and relegated to being no better than one of "them."

Last week on the blog was especially hurtful. All I did was quote what I thought was an interesting statistic, that the average number of priests per parish in 1950 was "1″ and that in 2013, the average number of priests per parish is also "1″. There are many interesting questions that can be raised about this number. Perhaps there were more ethnic parishes then, perhaps church closings now are a factor, perhaps many of us remember the Northeastern Urban experience, but knew little of the rural experience back then which balanced our reality. Yes, there have been closings and declines of late, but overall there are 17K parishes nationwide today, slightly more than in 1950, and double the number of putative Catholics. And at the end of the day, the number averages out to "1″ priest per parish. More here: [01] and here: [02]

Anyway, while one may dispute how helpful or illuminating the statistic is, the real grief came to me with just how hostile and even nasty some comments (many of which I had to delete) were. There were personal accusations against me, there was a bevy of bishop-bashing, and Pope-bashing statements, and any number and variety of venomous attacks against perfectly legitimate Church realities, liturgical forms, and the Second Vatican Council itself.

Wowza! What a hornet's nest. And all over a simple statistic that I found interesting. But it would seem that many found the statistic troubling, and generally seemed to find it, (and me) "off message." It didn't fit into, or help the narrative that some wish to cling to that the "the Church has gone down the tubes." It got so bad and wearying in the combox that I finally had to shut it down. I was having to delete more comments than I approved.

It was even more discouraging since I have never shied away from talking about the need for reform and what does trouble the Church today. We have covered quite a lot of the "what ails the Church" territory here at the ADW Blog. I am no cheerleader for the Church of Wonderful. There are problems, and we discuss them.

But that said, the Church has not gone down the tubes, and things were not all wonderful (or all bad) before 1965. And frankly, we have NO WAY of knowing if the Second Vatican Council "ruined things" or saved things from being even worse. Those who say they do know, are just speculating, and some are also engaging in a post hoc-propter hoc fallacy. The fact is, we are where we are today, and we need to live now, and move forward. All the blame, bickering and murmuring generates more heat than light.

I was pleased to read an article by Jeff Mirus over at Catholic Culture.org because he says well what I have tried to say here, namely, that we are not without problems, but things are getting better, and there is a lot to be excited about today. Here are excerpts from what Mr Mirus writes:

A few of our readers seem intent on rebuking me for not taking every possible opportunity to condemn bishops for their weak leadership, as if my job is to be a whistle blower. Of course, I've offered my fair share of criticism, and that is unlikely to end any time soon. But it is probably true that I was quicker to criticize when I was younger…..

I suppose most readers are familiar with the tale of woe which haunted the Church, especially in the rapidly declining West, after the call for renewal in the 1960s was distorted to justify a neo-Modernist accommodation with rampant secularism. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, we rapidly lost our Catholic institutions—religious communities, dioceses, parishes, schools, social services—to a false and highly accommodated vision of the Faith….But that is simply untrue today…..The institutional Church, in the West generally and in the United States without question, is substantially healthier now than thirty years ago….

Today the institutional effort at genuine renewal is palpable. There are notorious holdouts—especially among women religious, the Jesuits and the universities they influence (along with others like them), wide swaths of academic theologians, and some sectors of Catholic health and social services. But most dioceses have better leadership now than then, the seminaries have been largely reformed, the priesthood substantially revitalized, and the push for both the recovery of lost territory and a new evangelization is both very real and very strong. Happily, this is no longer your father's Church. [03]

Well said! I remember how awful it was back in the 70s and 80s. Things are so much better today. I am sorry if this insight is "off message" but I am quite convinced it is true.

Mr. Mirus goes on in his article to cite a particular case of the Dominicans, and how reform has blessed them. And to his focal instance I can add that there are great new seminarians here, and younger priests overall who love the Church and are solidly formed. The seminaries are in better shape, and many new and reformed religious orders of men and women are coming alive and and making their mark.

Add to this many great new lay movements, publications, EWTN, and its nationwide radio affiliates, Catholic Answers, and some great new and reformed Catholic Colleges. I am humbled too, and gratefully pleased at the wonderful caliber of converts from the Evangelical denominations who bring with them love for Jesus and the Scriptures, and are so enriching us with a zeal for the faith, and who make up a great percentage of our most effective apologists.

Every day I also meet many younger adults who are alive, focused and enthusiastic about the faith, and who do not want to make the same mistakes that their parent's generation made. Some are turning to traditional forms, other to more contemporary worship, but either way, they are alive and eager for the truth and to spread it.

I have little doubt that our overall numbers may continue to drop in the Church for a while more. But the reform is in place, underway, and deepening. And the Holy Spirit is accomplishing this in many varied ways. We're getting our "mojo" back and I am happy to see it.

Again, sorry if this is "off message" for some. But I speak to what I see and experience and I don't think I am wrong. I walk in the wide Church and see a lot of variety, and what I see looks better every day.

All of us ought to be careful about ingesting too much of a steady diet of negativity. It tends to make us negative, even hostile to the good and surprising work of the Holy Spirit.

Rejoice with me! We've been through a lot, and there are sure to be more troubles (for there always are), especially as our culture has not recovered in many ways. But God is faithful and his Church is ever young. Great reforms are underway and seem destined to continue, perhaps in spite of us!

Again I say, rejoice! The Church is a Bride, not a widow!

Source: Archdiocese of Washington Blog

How Jesus Builds His Church
Scripture: Acts 2:38-47

[Editor's Note: A look inside an ecumenical church and the pressure they face from new generation for changes.]

Theme: Jesus is faithful to build His church as His church is faithful to maintain certain characteristics.

There's a statement found in the Book of Acts that has always fascinated me. It's a very small one - one that you might not even notice if you were reading fast. But I believe it's a very significant statement that could literally transform our church, if we could seize ahold of what it tells us.

It's a statement in Acts 2:47; and I'd like to quote it to you as it's found in the New International Version. It says, "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

This is a "statement" about what the Lord was doing to the early church, shortly after the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. He was making it grow. The "number" to which He was said to be adding daily was the called-out assembly of those who had believed on Him. And the ones that He was adding to this number were those who were, even then, in the process of being saved by Him.

This is a statement, then, that is describing the growth of the church. And there are two things that stand out most strikingly to me. One is that it was a growth that was the Lord's own doing. It was He Himself that was adding to the church those that He was saving. And the other is that it was something that He was doing "daily"; or "day by day." What a remarkable picture of "church growth" this tiny statement presents to us!

There have been a couple of things that have drawn my attention to this verse lately. For one thing, there has been a growing sense within our church family that something is about to happen. I have heard this sense of things expressed to me, not only by some in our leadership, but also by some in the church family in general. As a church family, we have been growing slowly and steadily over the past few years; and yet, there's this sense that the Lord is about to do something big in our midst. There is a mounting sense that we're about to enter a new and dramatic phase in our church's history. And as I keep hearing these kinds of comments, I'm paying careful attention to them. I believe the Lord is preparing us for some very exciting days ahead. That growing sense has drawn me to this verse.

But at the same time as I have been weighing these expressions of anticipation in my mind, my attention has also been drawn lately to some of the new philosophies of church growth that have been circulating and growing in popularity. Each generation, it seems, has a new "method" and a new "approach." The latest one is being advocated today because the one that was popular yesterday is now no longer "relevant."

Please understand: I don't want to be inappropriately critical of these new "philosophies of ministry," because sometimes the Lord sees fit to use them in certain churches. That, of course, is why they become so popular. But I can't help feeling that they rely on strategies that are - for the most part - "human." They involve ideas taken from the business world, or that amount to little more than marketing strategies or mere "cosmetic" changes.

Would you like to know what the latest trend is? We're being told that the generation that is coming up no longer wants a church experience that is "contemporary" or "seeker-sensitive." Instead, it wants a church experience that is "highly relational" and "traditional." And so, the new growth philosophy is to present a relational/traditional image. I read one comment last week explaining that, a few years ago - since they believed the way to reach people in our culture was to look more contemporary - churches developed a more fast-paced worship service program and replaced their stained-glass windows with high-tech video projection screens. Now, this author suggests that, for the church to grow and impact culture in a relevant way, it needs to become slower-paced; and that what needs to be projected on those screens is pictures of stained-glassed windows!

The whole time, I can't help thinking that these are all just "surface" changes; and that what the people of our culture are really needing from us is "authenticity." I keep wondering when we'll all just quit trying so hard to "be relevant," and just be ourselves in the Lord - and let Him take care of the relevancy! A group of people sold out to Jesus Christ, living in the midst of a dark world, would have the most "culturally relevant" impact of all! And as I was thinking about these things, I found myself drawn even more to this simple statement: "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

I want Bethany Bible Church to grow. In fact, I believe the Lord Jesus wants it to grow - not just in numbers, but in depth. I believe He wants it to grow by having brand-new believers come to life and grow up in it; and for those new believers to grow deep and strong together in Him. But I don't want for the leaders of our church to sit around and figure out a new and innovative "market strategy" for growth. I don't want numerical "growth" for growth's sake alone. I want the Lord Himself to grow our church - in His way, at His time, on His terms. I want it to be the kind of church in which Jesus adds daily those who are being saved.

There's another verse in the Bible that - to my mind - settles the matter. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, "I will built My church." I believe we can trust Him to do so; and that when He does, it will be the most exciting place in the world to be! Unbelieving people will be drawn to Him by it.

And so, I invite you to look with me at what the Bible tells us was happening to the early church that resulted in the Lord adding to it daily those who were being saved.

Consider the context of this verse. After Jesus had ascended to the Father, the apostles were gathered together in Jerusalem at Jesus' command - waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit to be sent and to come upon them. And then, the Spirit finally came; and the apostles were suddenly empowered to become bold witnesses of Jesus to their countrymen. In the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter arose and preached one of the greatest sermons ever preached. As a result of his sermon, thousands trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior.

In the power of the Spirit, Peter told his fellows Jews of their sin, and of how they had rejected and crucified the Savior - whom God has raised from the dead. We're told that those who heard this sermon were "cut to the heart"; and that they cried out to the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Listen carefully to what we're told happened next:

Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."

And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation." Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people (Acts 2:38-47a).

And then, after that detailed description of the things that characterized the early church, we read,

And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (v. 47b).

What we learn from this is that the Lord blessed the church with growth when the church was faithful to be characterized by certain things - or you could say that it authentically "was" certain things. It was His job to grow the church; and it was the church's job to be faithful to what it was supposed to be.

And my suggestion to you today, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is that if we seek - in the power of the Holy Spirit - to be faithfully and steadfastly characterized by the things that we find in this passage, we cultivate the kind of church environment in which the Lord is pleased to add those who are being saved.

Let's look at these key characteristics a little closer.

I see them divided into three categories. The first I have chosen to call is...

1. FOUNDATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS (vv. 38-41).

These Jewish people heard the gospel preached, were convicted of their sin, and then asked Peter what to do. And Peter, in the power of the Holy Spirit, told them. These, then, are things that constitute the vital beginning point of the church, as Jesus sees fit to grow it. If anything grows that does not have these first three characteristics, then what is growing is not the church of Jesus Christ. That's why I have chosen to call them "foundational."

1. And the first thing that you see is repentance from sin. That's the very first response that Peter calls for after the preaching of the gospel. When Peter preached repentance first of all, he was simply obeying the resurrected Lord's command; because, just before He ascended to the Father, Jesus told His disciples, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47).

To "repent" (metanoeő) means "to have a change of heart" or "a change of attitude" about our sin. It doesn't mean that we become perfectly sinless; because so long as we walk upon this earth in these bodies of flesh, we can't be perfectly sinless. But what it means is that we no longer think of our sins in the same way as we used to. We become genuinely sorry for them and grieved over them; and we no longer hold on to them and cling to them, but seek increasingly to turn from them. We see our sins as that which made it necessary for Jesus to hang on the cross and die in our place.

Look at what Peter said in His sermon. In verses 22-24, Peter told them,

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles and wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know - Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.
(Acts 2:22-24)

Peter lets them know - to their horror - that they maliciously crucified the Son of God! What a great sin! But you know, don't you, then every one of us, by our sins, have put the Son of God on the cross? He died willingly in our place; but it was our sins that made it necessary for Him to do so. Peter urged them to change their thinking about that sin, and realize the truth about it. We're told that, with many other words, he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse [or "crooked"] generation" (v. 40).

2. A second thing we see is the call to be baptized in Jesus' name. ." . . And let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [or "the forgiveness"] of sins . . ." And this, again, is in keeping with Jesus' instructions; because He said that both "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name."

Now, understand this carefully! Peter wasn't saying that, if they were baptized, they would then be forgiven of their sins. We are forgiven of our sins ONLY by God's grace through the faith that we have placed in the cross of Jesus. And baptism is meant to be understood as our own personal, visible, public testimony to the fact that we have willingly placed our faith in the cross of Christ and now have confidence that we have already been forgiven.1 It is to be done "in Jesus' name" - that is, under His authority; and in full agreement with all that He is and all that He came to do for us.

And do you notice that Peter called "every one" of them to be baptized? Baptism is a very decisive act - one in which we publicly and permanently "pledge allegiance," as it were, to Jesus; and one in which we let everyone know that we declare ourselves to be His followers from now on and to the end of our days. It is a very necessary act of commitment. Many people say that they have placed their faith in Jesus Christ; but they refuse to make it public - as the Bible commands - through baptism. In a sense, they refuse to make a public commitment to Christ. A church that Jesus blesses with growth is one in which its believing members have obeyed Him by making a public testimony to their faith by being baptized.

No genuine believer is to consider herself or himself exempt from baptism. As we read on, we see that those who received Peter's words "were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (v. 41). We are to go public with our faith!

3. And a third thing we see is the reception of the Holy Spirit. Peter said, ". . . (a)nd you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (v. 38). Peter and the apostles had already dramatically received Him; as we're told in the beginning of chapter 2 (vv. 1-13). They received Him, as Peter says, in fulfillment of the promise given through the Old Testament prophet Joel;

"'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy'" (Acts 2:17-18; see also Joel 2:28-29).

The apostles had just experienced the keeping of this promise. And now, Peter tells these who heard the gospel that they too were to receive the Holy Spirit; "for the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call" (v. 39).

I can't stress enough how crucial this is. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential to everything that follows in this passage. None of the qualities that make up the church that Jesus blesses with growth are possible to experience apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We "receive" Him when we believe on Jesus; because the Bible tells us that "if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His" (Romans 8:9). But having received Him by faith, we must continually be "filled" with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18); and allow Him to empower and guide us in life.

And so; there you have the "foundational characteristics." The church that Jesus blesses with growth is a church of people who, having heard the clear message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, have responded to it

(1) by repenting of sin,
(2) by being baptized in Jesus name, and
3) by receiving, and operating in the power of, the Holy Spirit.

Are these things true of you? If they aren't, please do not let another day go by until they are! They are essential! They are foundational!

This leads to another category of things that we see from this passage - things which I have chosen to call . . .

2. CONGREGATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS (vv. 42-43).

Once a group of people believe, they are joined together to one another and are commanded to meet together regularly. God raises up leaders among them; and these leaders are to be sure that certain things are consistently maintained. In fact, this morning's passage suggests that they are to "continue steadfastly" or "diligently" in these things.

I suggest that these are characteristics that are to be found in the body of Christ as it is gathered together formally in a congregation. Even if the "foundational" things are in order; if a church doesn't make sure that it maintains these following things when it is gathered together, the Lord will not bless it with growth.

There are four things that the people of God, gathered together, are to be continually devoted to.

1. The first thing we read is that, ." . . They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine" or "teaching."

When Jesus walked on this earth, He gathered twelve disciples around Himself. He taught them truths about the kingdom; and later, He promised that the Holy Spirit would come and bring all things that He taught them to their remembrance (John 14:25-26). And so, the Bible tells us that the "mystery" of the gospel of Christ "has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets" (Ephesians 3:5); and that it is "on the foundation of the apostles and prophets" that the church has been built; "Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:20).

The Holy Spirit has seen to it that their testimony was written down and recorded for us; and we have it today in the Bible. And so, one of the "congregational characteristics" that must be in place is that the church faithfully hold on to and teach the doctrines of the apostles, as recorded for us in the pages of Scripture. We must, in other words, be a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church. As the apostle John has said, "Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father" (1 John 2:24).

2. A second characteristic is that of steadfastly continuing in "fellowship." This speaks of the biblical call for all believers to meet together regularly for mutual instruction and edification. As the Bible tells us, "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:24-25).

The word that Peter uses (koinőnia) is one that basically means "to share together in a common interest." We are to be active "partners" together in the common cause of Christ in one another's lives; and this requires that we be joined together for fellowship in a formal way. I especially see this in the fact that there is a definite article before the word; making it "the fellowship." Even the apostle Paul felt the need for gathering together with the saints in formal fellowship. He told the Roman believers, "For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established - that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me" (Romans 1:11-12). If Paul felt such a great need for "the fellowship," we shouldn't ever think that we can do without it.

3. A third characteristic is that of "the breaking of bread." This is a reference to what we commonly refer to as "the Lord's supper"; and here, we see that we are to worship together, and observe the Lord's ordinance together in reverence toward Him.

There's a passage of scripture on this that you probably know quite well. I read it to you often when I lead our church family in the celebration of the Lord's supper. Paul wrote;

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same manner, He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

Those commands from the Lord are given to help us remember - in a solemn and reverent way - the sacrifice He made for us on the cross. It's our faith in that sacrifice that unites us. And those commands from the Lord are given in the second person plural - suggesting that we are to remember His sacrifice together as a group. How important it is for our spiritual health and growth that we do so! It's to be an essential characteristic of our times together.

4. And finally, a fourth characteristic is that of, literally, "the prayers." This doesn't simply speak of praying in general. Rather, the definite article suggests formal times of corporate prayer - times in which we gather together to pray as a congregation.

We're told in the Bible that "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). Any sister or brother in Christ can pray - at any time, and anywhere; and when they do so effectively, fervently, and in righteousness, they accomplish a great deal. But there is something uniquely powerful that happens when we all join together in prayer as a congregation. Acts 4:31 tells us that, when the people of God gathered together to pray in one place during a time of intense persecution, "the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness."

These, then, are the "congregational characteristics" of a church to which Jesus grants growth. It is a biblical church. It is a fellowshipping church. It is a Christ-proclaiming church. And it is a praying church. I suggest that the profound authority of these things is shown to us in verse 43; "Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles." This is meant to establish to us that these congregational "characteristics" are as essential as the foundational ones. They have the stamp of the Lord's own authorization upon them.

May God help us increasingly to have such characteristics when we gather together. May we, as this passage says, 'continue steadfastly' in them. May we never lose them!

This leads us to a final category of characteristics - which I have felt led to call . . .

3. RELATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS (vv. 44-47).

The first category of characteristics was "foundational" in nature. They're characteristics that are essential to our even being a church in the eyes of our Lord. The second set is "congregational" in nature. It deals with the things that must be true of us as a regular practice of our gathering together. They're to be things that our church and its leadership must strive to maintain in us.

And this third category of characteristics breaks the matter down to the daily life of the individual believer in the church. It describes what we are to be doing in terms of our regular, every-day relationships with one another as members together of the body of Christ.

I hope you appreciate the implication of that. Many people feel that, if they have the foundational matters down, and if they regularly show up for the church meeting each Sunday, then they're doing all that they're obligated to do. But the Lord never intended for "church" to happen for a few hours each Sunday. He intends for "church-life" to be a thing that permeates our lives every day of the week - every hour of the day. He intends for us to "be" the church all the time. And our church will not be blessed with the kind of growth that the Lord wishes to give to it unless we are exhibiting these "relational characteristics" all of the time!

1. The first thing we see is that we're to be characterized by time spent with each other. The Bible says, "Now all who believed were together . . ." (v. 44). In the original language, this is stated in such a way as to suggest that they kept on habitually being together.2 The believers enjoyed hanging out together, and were often found together outside the context of the formal gathering of the congregation. If I can put it this way, our best friends are to be the people in our own church family. We're to be found together often.

2. The second thing we see is that we're to show a practical care for each other's needs. We're told that these believers, who were regularly spending time together, "had all things n common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need" (vv. 44-45). This isn't the same thing as socialism, of course; because this was a voluntary sharing out of love. It was not meant to bring about complete economic equality, but simply to care for those in the body who had need. It's like what is told to us in Acts 4:34-35; "Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need." This illustrates for us that we're to be characterized by such a care for one another, and that we are willing to sacrifice for each other in order to meet each other's needs - each of us looking out not only for his or her own interests, but also for the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).

3. A third characteristic we see is single-mindedness; that is, they were of "one accord" or "one mind" together as they continued daily "in the temple." They had a fundamental agreement with one another in thought and heart toward one another - and it was demonstrated even when they gathered together. That doesn't mean that we always have to agree with each other on everything. There's room for friendly, loving disagreement on 'non-essential' things within the body. But on the essentials of the faith, we are to be united. Wonderful things happen when we are. As Paul said, "Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:5-6).

4. I especially love the fourth one! We are to be characterized by hospitality and meals in each other's homes. The Bible says that they also continued daily "breaking bread from house to house." This, of course, is different from "the breaking of bread" in the formal gathering of the Lord's supper. This simply meant that they had each other over for dinner a lot. They knew where each other lived; and they loved to have each other over all the time. I've said before that I think it's a sign of a very healthy church when I see empty cars in the parking lot on Sunday afternoon when the service is over. It means that people in the church got together to go off and enjoy a meal together.

5. Fifth, we see the characteristic of "joy." They enjoyed their times together with "gladness" or "rejoicing." It was the highlight of their day to be together. They were happy together, and had fun together. When they went home at the end of the day, they went home from each other spiritually satisfied and thoroughly entertained.

6. Sixth, we are to enjoy our times together with "simplicity of heart." The word used to describe the relationship these early believers enjoyed (aphelotăs) means "smooth" or "without rocks." The idea is that there was no "roughness" in their manner toward one another. They weren't harsh; there wasn't a quickness to take offense against one another. Things were smooth and simple. Their generosity with each other was easy and gracious. There were no "bumps" in the relationship-road. No one had to walk on egg-shells with each other.

7. Seventh, we are to be characterized by praise toward God when we're together with one another. Our times together are not to drag us down spiritually; but rather lift us up in thankfulness to God. We're to praise God for each other, and with each other.

8. And lastly, we are to be characterized by "favor with all the people" - that is, including those who are outside the faith. They are to see our sweet fellowship with each other and - as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message - they are to like what they see. In fact, they are to even be the recipients of our love. We're to be characterized by a manner in which we "have regard for good things in the sight of all men" (Romans 12:17), and seek, as much as is possible, to "live peaceably with all men" (v. 18).

What a church! It's a church that has all the foundational things right. And it's a church that is doing all the right things together as a congregation. And it's a church in which the members are doing all the right things individually in a relational way. Jesus added to such a church daily, because they were daily 'being' the church!

That's our part then - to be "authentic" and to exhibit these characteristics. And once again, look at the Lord's response: "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (v. 47b). A church like that, if I may say it this way, is a 'safe incubator' into which the Lord sees fit to bring new 'spiritual babies.'

May we increasingly become such a church by His power!

References/Footnotes:

1 The preposition eis, in this instance, means "with a view to"; hence, to be consistent with the New Testament's doctrine of salvation, Peter's listeners should be understood to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ "with a view to the forgiveness of sins." A.T. Robertson writes, "This phrase is the subject of endless controversy as men look at it from the standpoint of sacramental or of evangelical theology. In themselves the words can express aim or purpose. . . . One will decide the use here according as he believes that baptism is essential to the remission of sins or not. My view is decidedly against the idea that Peter, Paul, or any one in the New Testament taught baptism as essential to the remission of sins or the means of securing such remission. So I understand Peter to be urging baptism on each of them who had already turned (repented) and for it to be done in the name of Jesus Christ on the basis of forgiveness of sins which they had already received" (Word Pictures in The New Testament, vol.3, p. 36).

2 The verb ăsan, in the imperfect tense, suggests a regularly repeating habit of being together.

Copyright © 2005 Bethany Bible Church, All Rights Reserved

Obligation of Church Members

By Father Alexander Curry

From time to time the question of church membership arises in our congregation, and I believe it is a problem that must be solved in all churches.

The question of who should pay dues, the services they are entitled to, should non-members receive the services and use of the church facilities, are an example of the questions asked.

In view of the confusion and conflict these things cause in our minds, I am going to try to clarify several things which I think will make clear to you your duty and obligation to God, and to His church.

First I would like to explain the meaning of the word church. The word is derived from the Greek word ekklesia, which means "gathering." A group of people gathered together to worship and glorify God makes up the church.

Our Saviour tells us "where two or three are gathered together in my name there I will be also," so it is quite clear what the Bible means by church: it is the people worshiping God that constitutes it. The church referred to in the Bible did at no time pertain to the building. It is evident that we of this day and age confuse the meaning of church with that of a church building.

To be a member of the true Christian church, you must be a professed follower of our Saviour Jesus Christ. You may have your dues paid but it does not make you a true follower of Christ: the making of a true Christian starts first in your heart. Salvation cannot be forced on anyone: you must desire and seek redemption, and a true member knows what God requires of him.

One tenth of all we have belongs to God. You know God requires this of members of His church; our Holy Bible tells us so. This is not a law of man.

In Genesis the 28 C, we read of Jacob's vow; he vowed "If God will be with me, and keep me in this way I go, and will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, this stone which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house, and all that thou shall give me, I shall surely give one tenth unto Thee.

Again in the third chapter of Malachi, we find this prophet teaching the people of Israel saying "will a man rob God, yet ye have robbed me, but ye say wherein have we robbed thee, in tithes and offerings, Ye are cursed with a curse."

And still again in the 16 C, 1st Corinthians after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, St. Paul writes upon the first day of the week, let everyone of you lay by him in store, as God has prospered him," you will notice you are to give according to what you get as God has prospered you. God does not wish to put hardships on anyone, but He does require of all his church members a certain amount for the church. Our Holy Bible is more than a piece of good literature; it is a way of life. God's way of life for us. Giving to the church is not a rule of the Archbishop, or the priest, nor the church officers, it is God's request.

You are not being generous when you give to God what He requires of you. You only are generous when you give above that amount, and they who do not give are cheating God of His rightful share. Giving to the church is the method of girding the church; the government is supported by taxing its citizens; industry is maintained by the return from the sale of its products, but the church has no way to equip itself for its work except by the gifts of its members.

In the 4th chapter of Acts we are told that the early church was financed by the humble people, for as many as were possessed of land and houses sold them and brought the prices of the things that were sold and laid them at the apostles' feet.

Their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. Here was the spirit of the cross practically applied. Giving is the mother of many graces, which proves the statement, ‘‘It is more blessed to give than to receive."

Giving is an antidote for selfishness, it creates an atmosphere of joy and delight in the church. There is a wholesome sense of satisfaction when one realizes that he has given something to God.

We believe we have a Saviour who redeems the whole of Life, who dominates the now as well as the hereafter, who is the giver of life, to whom belongs all we have. We repeat it in our confession of faith, but oftimes it is forgotten in our business practice. It is found in our prayer books, but not in our checkbooks.

There is no effective way by which the church can present the claim of our Lord, if the people who make up the church neglect to fulfill their obligations.

You will notice in the life of Christ on this earth, he fulfilled all the laws of the Hebrew Faith, thus setting before us an example of obeying laws. Following this example set before us, I think we should have laws in the church so constituted as to help us fulfill our duties as true Orthodox Christians.

Christ loved the church that he gave himself for it. The central fact of our church is the Cross, the giving of life that other life may be. It is therefore our duty to take part of what we receive, and give to God, so that we may humbly express our love to the living church. Give unto the Lord as he has prospered you.

Source: Word Magazine May 1959 Page 9
Copyright 2011 Almoutran

What We Need to Learn from the Early Church

by Tim Keller

Many say that Christians who maintain the historic, traditional doctrines are behind the times, are too exclusive, and are "on the wrong side of history."

Two recent books that cast doubt on this view are from historian and biblical scholar Larry Hurtado: Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World and Why on Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries?.

The earliest Christians were widely ridiculed, especially by cultural elites, were excluded from circles of influence and business, and were often persecuted and put to death. Hurtado says Roman authorities were uniquely hostile to them, compared to other religious groups.

Why? It was expected that people would have their own gods, but that they'd be willing to show honor to all other gods as well. Nearly every home, every city, every professional guild - including the empire itself - each had its own gods. You couldn't even go to a meal in a large home or to a public event without being expected to do some ritual to honor the gods of that particular group or place. To not do so was highly insulting, at the least to the house or community. It was also dangerous, since it was thought that such behavior could elicit the anger of the gods. Indeed, it was seen as treason to not honor the gods of the empire, on whose divine authority its legitimacy was based.

Christians, however, saw these rituals and tributes as idolatry. They were committed to worship their God exclusively. While the Jews had the same view, they were generally tolerated since they were a distinct racial group, and their peculiarity was seen as a function of their ethnicity. Yet Christianity spread through all ethnic groups, and most believers were former pagans who suddenly, after conversion, refused to honor the other gods. This refusal created huge social problems, making it disruptive and impossible for Christians to be accepted into most public gatherings. If a family member or a servant became a Christian, they suddenly refused to honor the household's gods.

Christianity's spread was seen as subversive to the social order - a threat to the culture's way of life. Followers of Jesus were thought to be too exclusive to be good citizens.

Three Reasons Christianity Exploded

But in light of the enormous social costs of being a Christian in the first three centuries, why did anyone become a Christian? Why did Christianity grow so exponentially? What did Christianity offer that was so much greater than the costs?

Hurtado and others have pointed out three things:

1. Christians were called into a unique 'social project' that both offended and attracted people.

Christians forbade both abortion and the practice of "infant exposure," in which unwanted babies were simply thrown out. Christians were also a sexual counterculture in that they abstained from any sex outside of heterosexual marriage. This was in the midst of a society that thought that, especially for married men, sex with prostitutes, slaves, and children was perfectly fine.

Yet Christians were also unusually generous with their money, particularly to the poor and needy, and not just to their own family and racial group. Another striking difference was that Christian communities were multi-ethnic, since their common identity in Christ was more fundamental than their racial identities and therefore created a multi-ethnic diversity, which was unprecedented for a religion. Finally, Christians believed in non-retaliation, in forgiving their enemies, even those who were killing them.

2. Christianity offered a direct, personal, love relationship with the Creator God.

People around the Christians wanted favor from the gods, and eastern religions spoke about experiences of enlightenment, but an actual love relationship with God was something no one else was offering.

3. Christianity offered assurance of eternal life.

Every other religion offered some version of salvation-through-human effort, and therefore no one could be sure of eternal life until death. But the gospel gives us the basis for full assurance of salvation now since it is by grace, not works, and by Christ's work, not ours.

Early Church and Today

I hope by now you can see the relevance of these studies. The earliest church was seen as too exclusive and a threat to the social order because it would not honor all deities; today Christians are again being seen exclusive and a threat to the social order because we will not honor all identities.

Yet the early church thrived in that situation. Why?

One reason was that Christians were ridiculed as too exclusive and different. And yet many were drawn to Christianity because it was different. If a religion isn't different from the surrounding culture - if it doesn't critique and offer an alternative to it - it dies because it's seen as unnecessary. If Christians today were also famous for and marked by chastity, generosity and justice, multi-ethnicity, and peacemaking - would it not be compelling to many? Ironically, Christians were "out of step" with the culture on sex to begin with, and it wasn't the church but the culture that eventually changed.

If a religion isn't different from the surrounding culture - if it doesn't critique and offer an alternative to it - it dies because it's seen as unnecessary. . . . The early church surely looked like it was on the 'wrong side of history,' but instead it changed history with a dogged adherence to the biblical gospel.

Another reason Christianity thrived was because it offered things no other culture or religion even claimed to have - a love relationship with God and salvation by free grace. It is the same today. No other religion offers these things, nor does secularism. Nor can the "spiritual but not religious" option really capture them either. These are still unique "value offers" and can be lifted up to a spiritually hungry and thirsty population.

The early church surely looked like it was on the "wrong side of history," but instead it changed history with a dogged adherence to the biblical gospel. That should be our aspiration as well.

Editors' note: This article originally appeared in the November 2016 Redeemer Report.  

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