Many people will readily admit to the concept that there is a God. The idea that there must be “something out there” is expressed in all kinds of ways. We have tried to demonstrate in these lessons that “May the Force be with you” as stated in various science fiction dramas, misses most of what the evidence strongly suggests. A good number of people will even be willing to admit that Jesus was certainly no mere mortal, and perhaps even to the fact that He was God in the flesh. With the myriad of beliefs that people entertain in these areas it is no wonder that there are an incredible number of superstitions and misconceptions about the Church. Before we go any further in this discussion, let us1 clearly identify what we mean by the Church. We are NOT talking about any denomination. We are also NOT talking about any man-made organization. We are not talking about any physical structure or group of structures. Someone has said that sitting in a hen house does not make you a hen. In the same way, sitting in any kind of a building does not make you a Christian. In these lessons, we are not supporting any church (small c is deliberate), we are supporting the Church that the Bible describes. Whether that Church exists on the earth today is a point we will get to later in our discussion.
The important thing to understand about this is that what we have stated in the last paragraph is exactly what the Bible describes. If you read the description given of the Church of the first century, you will not find a clergy-laity system. You will not find religious titles or honors given to one person who is set above others. You also will not find the Church owning property, or buildings, or other facilities. What you will see is a group of people meeting together on a daily basis to meet one another’s needs. 1 Corinthians 3:16 (“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”) tells us that the individual is what makes up the Church, and Matthew 18:20 (“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”) finds Jesus telling us that His presence is only dependent upon our desire for Him to be there, not on the holy nature of a geographic location or setting.
In spite of all this freedom from structures and power struggles, there are some things that those who follow the Christian system are encouraged to do. Each of these items has the capacity to meet a particular need that men and women have, and yet each of them is an act that has been branded as religious nonsense by atheists and skeptics. Let us look at each item briefly and see what possible relevance it may have to life now and in the twenty-first century.
Biblical References: Philippians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:1; Colossians 4:2; Ephesians 6:18.
Why are Christians told to pray? Is it because God needs information? Those who present such an idea are ignorant of what God is. If in God “we move and live and have our being” (Acts 17:28), we obviously are not talking about a God void of information. The Bible tells us God knows what we have need of before we ask! Are we told to pray to build up God’s ego? Clearly the God the Bible describes is not a God who is deficient in any characteristic. God is not subject to depression, feelings of inadequacy, or vanity. Prayer is not for God’s benefit, but for man’s. Man has a great need to look to something greater than himself. This need is expressed in many different ways, but being able to concentrate on a God of love and compassion and understanding in times of trouble has sustained many an individual. Science has shown that there are therapeutic values in prayer as well, so all kinds of benefits are found for man in an active prayer life.
Biblical References: Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16.
Worship is not a spectator sport! We are commanded to sing with involvement and enthusiasm (making melody in your heart). Why are Christians told to do this? Is it because God is bored and needs good music? The way most of us sing, it is obvious that music appreciation and needs are not the focus of singing.
Several years ago I saw a TV show that really drove home tome what singing can do. The program was a USO show and the featured singer was Lee Greenwood. One of Mr. Greenwood’s best musical creations was a song titled I’m Proud to be an American. It is a very patriotic song about the advantages of living in America, and he sang it late in the show. After singing the first stanza, Mr. Greenwood asked the audience to sing the rest of the song with him. As men and women began to sing they spontaneously rose to their feet, and began to raise joined hands over their heads. Grizzled grease jockies joined hands with petite nurses and the voices got louder. As the cameras moved from face to face, it was clear that the emotions of people, far from the land they loved but were committed to defend, were being touched and tears began to flow unashamedly. I doubt very much that any participant in that event went back to their room exactly as they had left it.
Lifting our voices together with those of a common belief or experience is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can go through. Our involvement and participation can provide unity, love, and understanding in a very special way.
Biblical References: Acts 20:35; 2 Corinthians 9:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2.
I have never had the resources to visit the Middle East, but I have been told about some of the unique places that are there. One of the most beautiful places in that area is a body of water which is called the Sea of Galilee. I am told it is a place of great beauty and abundant life. Fish and birds of all descriptions abound, and animal life is abundant on its shores. I am told that people come from all over the region to visit its shores and enjoy its resources.
Not far away there is another body of water that is just the opposite. It is desolate and wasted with no birds or fish. There are no animals around its edges, and people will make long detours around it to avoid getting close to its water. It has been appropriately named the Dead Sea.
What is the primary difference in these two bodies of water? The Sea of Galilee actually has more water flow out of the lake than flows into it. Due to underground springs and abundant rainfall the lake actually gives more that it receives. The Dead Sea, on the other hand, has no outlet. It just takes and takes and takes—but it never gives. Since its water loss is only by evaporation its salt content gets higher and higher, and the conditions are simply too harsh for life.
People are just like these two bodies of water. God has not told us to give freely and cheerfully because He needs the money. God does not worry about having to file bankruptcy, and in spite of some Church leader’s preoccupation with the dollar, the Creator of the universe is not dependent upon our giving to get His Will accomplished. Maturing into adults who can freely and cheerfully give is part of becoming a balanced positive person. There is little happiness in a selfish egocentric life.
Preaching and Teaching
Biblical References: Titus 1:3; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Acts 8:4.
Many people have been turned off on going to worship services because of what the worship services have become and what religion is viewed as. For many people religion is conformance to a set of written or unwritten traditions, and those attending involve themselves in a power struggle based on income, family heritage, or some other human contrivance. This happened in Corinth and Paul addressed it repeatedly in his letter to the Corinthians.
There is a real need for religious education. The reason we have written this course is to try to help meet some of the needs we see in today’s religious work. It is not our desire to try to tell people what to think, but we do hope to help people learn how to think. You, as a student, may have found a lot of our questions difficult or disturbing because they were designed to stimulate your thinking, not what you could remember.
Preaching and teaching should constantly stir us, challenge our thinking, charge our emotions, open new views and new understandings, and motivate us to action. This need is a regular need, not something we should do now and then. A lot of the preaching and teaching we hear is aimed at repetition of old ideas because so many of us do not strive for new understanding and insight.
The wisdom of constant recharging of our spiritual and intellectual batteries cannot be questioned. Our apathy is a child of our failure to accomplish this.
There are many other areas of the biblical system that we could discuss in the same way. The need to fellowship with people of like mind is essential to stability and usefulness in the world in which we live. The beauty of the communion service, the wisdom of the qualifications given in the Bible for Church leaders, the importance of repentance, and the beauty of baptism are all things that make sense when we stop and think about why they have been commanded of us. The chart below gives some insight into these acts, and in the questions we hope to challenge you to think through why such a system is given to us.
© John N. Clayton
Lesson 12 Questions
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