Tag Archives: church

What does the Bible say about speaking in tongues?

The Scriptures only mention the miraculous gift of tongues-speaking in a handful of places — six, to be exact. But from these six passages, three in the book of Acts and three in the book of 1 Corinthians, it seems clear that tongues-speaking was a regular and important practice in the life of the early church.

In the first century, speaking in tongues often accompanied the initial giving of the Holy Spirit to a particular people group. We see this in Acts 2, where people from all over the world had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast. This diverse and multilingual group was amazed when the apostles, all uneducated men from Galilee, began preaching the good news of Jesus. Instead of hearing the message in Aramaic (the common trade language of the day), each listener heard the gospel in their native language. The gift of tongues is also seen as confirmation that the Gentile (non-Jewish) believers in Caesarea[1] and the disciples of John the baptizer in Ephesus[2] had received the Holy Spirit.

In addition to these descriptive passages in Acts, we also know that the church in Corinth practiced speaking in tongues well into the last half of the first century.[3]

The passages in Acts are descriptive. They tell us what happened. The passages in 1 Corinthians are prescriptive — telling us how the gift should be practiced.

Here are just a few of the instructions the apostle Paul gives to the church at Corinth about the gift of tongues and its use:

  • The gift of tongues is one gift among many and not everyone will receive it.[4]
  • If the gift of tongues, or any other spiritual gift, is practiced apart from love it is worthless.[5]
  • It, along with the gifts of prophecy and knowledge, will eventually pass away.[6]
  • Possessing the gift of tongues should be a cause for humility, not pride.[7]
  • It should not be forbidden, but practiced in a way that draws the hearers toward Christ.[8]
  • There must be an interpreter present if the gift is used publicly; if not, then the speaker should remain quiet and speak to themselves and God.[9]
  • It must be practiced in an orderly and decent manner.[10]

Many things are unclear regarding the spiritual gift of tongues, and there is a great deal of disagreement among Christians regarding it as a legitimate practice for our day. But what seems abundantly clear from the Scriptures is that when God gave this good gift on the day of Pentecost, he gave it for a good purpose—to expand the gospel. It demonstrated his power to restore what was confused at Babel[11] and foreshadow the final restoration of all things.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”[12] (emphasis added)

[1] Acts 10:46

[2] Acts 19:1–6

[3] 1 Corinthians 12:1–14:40

[4] 1 Corinthians 12:10, 28 & 30

[5] 1 Corinthians 13:1 & 8; 14:1

[6] 1 Corinthians 13:8

[7] 1 Corinthians 14:1–5

[8] 1 Corinthians 14:6–25 & 39

[9] 1 Corinthians 14:26–28

[10] 1 Corinthians 14:40

[11] Genesis 11:1–9

[12] Revelation 7:9–10

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Church bores me. Why should I go?

Friend, you are not the only one who feels bored at church. One Sunday, a young guy named Eutychus gathered with other Jesus-followers in a home, which was their custom at the time. Paul was there that day to teach. He was smart, but not a great speaker,[1] and he talked … and talked … and talked until midnight. Eutychus listened while sitting on the windowsill of a third-story room. At one point he couldn’t keep his eyes open. He fell asleep and fell out the window. He died when he hit the ground.

Before you draw assumptions, the moral of this story isn’t “pay attention in church or else!” The story isn’t over.

Everyone rushed downstairs. Paul took the young man’s dead body into his arms and said, “Don’t worry, he’s alive!” And Eutychus was fine. Someone took him home to rest; everyone else went back upstairs and listened to Paul teach until dawn.

Let’s review: Paul preached a really long time, Eutychus fell asleep and tumbled from a third-story window and died, and Eutychus was miraculously raised from the dead.

So why go to church even though it can be boring at times? In church, we get to see people come alive again. We get to see a man, deadened by addiction, reborn. We get to see a woman’s life-taking emotional wounds heal into scars. We get to see relationships and people come alive in the power of Jesus.

Church is a community of the resurrected. Paul said, “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.”[2]

It’s okay to be bored in church sometimes. God won’t strike you with a lightning bolt or throw you out a window. At times you’ll be tired or will find the sermon uninteresting. In those moments, remind yourself why you’re there. Church isn’t an event — it’s a group of people who reveal where God is bringing life to the world and how we can be part of it.

Now, you might be thinking, “I don’t see signs of life at my church. I don’t feel resurrected. The church people I know act like zombies.” Well, even zombies are the reanimated dead, right? Some people still have a long way to go to become more like Jesus — we all do. Show some grace. Help people along. Be the person that you needed during your spiritually dark times. Realize that you’re in church not just for yourself, but for others. As Anne Lamott says, you attend church to take in new life and offer it to others.

[1] 2 Corinthians 11:6

[2] Colossians 2:13-14

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Who Are the Descendants of Abraham?

Who are the descendants of Abraham through whom “all of the peoples of the earth will be blessed”?

Abraham’s physical descendants include both Jewish and Arab peoples. Through his son Ishmael, Abraham gave the world a rich heritage of Arab culture and achievement. Through his son Isaac, Abraham gave the world a Jewish family line that was chosen by God to be a special servant nation. Through Israel God also gave the world a spiritual revelation of Himself that includes the Old and New Testament Scriptures. However the greatest fulfillment of God’s promise to bless the whole world through Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) was seen in Israel’s long awaited Messiah and Savior who died for the sins of all people and rose again to offer new life to all who would believe in Him.

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as He said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us — to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham (Luke 1:68-73 NIV).

And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, “Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed” When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways (Acts 3:25-26 NIV).

Through this Messiah Abraham also has descendants who aren’t part of his physical line. The apostle Paul declares that Abraham’s seed can also be spiritual:

Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7 NIV).

If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:29 NIV).

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles — Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:1-6 NIV).

As these Scriptures show, today’s church represents the spiritual “seed” of Abraham more truly than one who is simply Abraham’s physical descendant without sharing his faith.

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What Did Jesus Mean When He Gave Peter the “Keys of the Kingdom”?

After Jesus had declared that He would build His church on the truth of Peter’s noble confession, He went on to say, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” ( Matthew 16:19 ). Later, addressing all the disciples, our Lord repeated the words, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” ( Matthew 18:18 ).

Jesus gave Peter “the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” not the keys to heaven.1 A key was a badge of authority ( Luke 11:52 ), and then as now was used to open doors. Peter used the keys Christ gave him to open the door to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost ( Acts 2 ), to the Samaritans after the preaching of Philip ( Acts 8:14-17 ), and to the Gentiles after the Lord had sent him a vision and an appeal from Cornelius ( Acts 10 ).

The concept of “binding and loosing” found in Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18 was commonly used among the Jewish people in relation to the authority of the rabbis to forbid and permit certain practices. Jesus gave Peter and the apostles authority over both the doctrine and practices of the first-century church. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, they would be given wisdom to know what to forbid and what to permit.

This authority, not on exactly the same level as during the apostolic era, still resides in the leaders of the local church. They may not receive the same kind of supernatural guidance as the apostles did,but they possess the entire New Testament along with the direction of the Holy Spirit. 2 Therefore, when church leaders discipline a church member who promotes incorrect doctrine or is involved in evil behavior, they act with divine approval. They are carrying out God’s will, and what they do is ratified in heaven. Since their authority is not ultimately derived from their personal qualities or their office but from Scripture and the instruction of the Holy Spirit, they should exercise it humbly and prayerfully.

  1. The two expressions “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” actually have the same basic meaning. They should be understood within the context of the passages in which they are found. They can be used in a number of ways. They can refer to the universal sense of the entire creation, which is ultimately under the control of God. They can refer the mediatorial kingdom of Jesus Christ, which will come into being when Jesus returns triumphantly to reign directly over the earth. And, finally, they can refer to the kingdom of God, which is already present in the hearts of believers who have yielded themselves to Jesus Christ as Lord. Hebrews 12:22-24 expresses the reality of God’s present kingdom:
    “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Back To Article
  2. The authority of the apostles and their chosen successors was basic to the survival of the early church. However, after centuries passed and the canon of Scripture along with the doctrinal foundation of the church had become firmly established, it was necessary to return to the Scriptures themselves as the primary source of authority. Back To Article
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Why Are There So Many Christian Denominations?

Divisions in the church go back to the first century. In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul lamented that strife and divisions had resulted in some saying, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos” ( 1 Corinthians 3:3 ).

Denominations, which could be called “formalized division,” began a little later in the Apostolic Church, when orthodox1 believers defended the teaching of the apostles against the distortion of the gospel with false teachings based on pagan2 or Jewish3 traditions.

Eventually the true church was firmly established on a foundation of essential doctrinal truth: belief in the deity of Christ and the Trinity, and acceptance of the established Canon of Scripture. This universal agreement of the early church was characterized by the Greek word katholikos, which meant “according to the whole.” The English term was “catholic,” and it meant the true church as accepted by genuine followers of Christ. Outside the catholic church were sects that denied important elements of truth: Gnostics, Ebionites, Montanists, Arians, Pelagians, and others. These were considered “unorthodox” (not accepting the right doctrines).

The two terms, catholic and orthodox, eventually came into common language as indicators of true Christian belief. Sadly, however, they also became the names of the first denominations: A separation occurred within the church in 1054 when the Greek-speaking church of the east separated from the Latin-based church in the west over a number of political and cultural differences, along with some relatively minor doctrinal disputes. The church in the east became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the church in the west was called the Roman Catholic Church. These main divisions continue to the present.

Later, reformers among the Roman Catholics felt a need for spiritual renewal and correction within church. They especially protested the addition of non-biblical tradition to the Bible as essential to the faith and practice of Christianity. These protesting reformers eventually brought about a second major separation. From this “Protestant Reformation” came Lutheran, Calvinist, Baptist, and other denominations.

Finally, in the first part of the 20th Century, the Pentecostal Movement came into bloom. This group of Christians were convinced that all the gifts given by the Holy Spirit to the followers of Christ at Pentecost (the dramatic moment when God’s Holy Spirit descended upon the Christians fifty days after Jesus’ ascension) must be evident in the life of believers today. The Greek word for divine gift is kharisma; hence the term “charismatic” is often used to describe this group of denominations. The additional bestowal of some of these gifts after one accepts Christ as one’s personal Savior is often referred to as the “second blessing.” 4

While there are differences between the denominations, most of the basic doctrines agreed upon by the early catholic church are still accepted by all. For example, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, most Protestants, and most charismatic groups believe in the Trinity and in the Deity of Christ—established by the church councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon. All orthodox Christian denominations agree that Jesus Christ, the God-man, died to atone for the sins of the world, and was raised from the grave to break the power of Satan and death.

With the exception of the reference to Christ descending to hell, the principles contained within the Apostles’ Creed, taken primarily from the old Roman Creed, are also universally accepted. This creed is recited in hundreds of thousands of Christian churches around the world every Sunday, regardless of denomination:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

It is important not to become so preoccupied with the minor differences between the denominations that we overlook their broad areas of agreement. While some of the doctrinal differences that exist have produced serious perversions of the Gospel, there are other aspects to the presence of a wide range of viewpoints that are positive. Because of denominational differences, there are a variety of practical approaches to Christian living. While this fragmentation makes it more difficult for the world to see the unity of the Body of Christ, it’s also true that these groupings make it harder for the church as a whole to become mired in ritual and formalism than would be the case if one denomination dominated Christian life. As a source of more information regarding Christian denominations, we recommend A History of the Christian Church by Williston Walker (Scribners). We also recommend the books of outstanding historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette.

  1. Orthodox is a term taken directly from the Greek language. It simply means “correct belief.” Any church is considered to be orthodox in the broadest sense if it accepts the formulations of doctrine that were made by the major councils of the early Church such as those held in Nicaea in 325 and in Chalcedon in 451. These decisions settled such important doctrinal issues as Christ’s Deity and the unity of His personhood while possessing two natures (human and divine). Back To Article
  2. Eerdman’s Handbook to the Bible makes this observation regarding early pagan influences in the church:
    About the time the New Testament letters were being written there began to develop a number of sects which later (in the 2nd century) came under the general heading of “Gnosticism.” They varied considerably in detail, but shared the basic belief that “matter” was evil and spirit was good. It followed that God could not have created the world out of matter, nor could his Son have become incarnate in it. So they envisaged a whole range of subordinate beings between God and the world. Humanity shares in the evil of the material world, but they also (or some of them) contain a divine spark which can be set free and thus redeemed. In order to be redeemed they need to have knowledge (Greek gnosis) of their heavenly origin. These views were expressed in fantastic myths and made known to initiates in sects like those of the mystery religions. Back To Article
  3. The pernicious influence of Judaizers is vehemently denounced by Paul in Galatians 5:1-8 and Philippians 3:1-7. Back To Article
  4. The doctrine of the “second work of grace” or “second blessing” is rooted in the Wesleyan/Armenian tradition. It maintains that we can, if faithful, experience a special time of spiritual growth and renewal. Because the Bible teaches that sanctification is a progressive experience, it is certainly possible that some people will have a wonderful season of renewal that could be called a “second blessing.” However, Scripture nowhere indicates that all Christians will experience this. Many Christians experience the steady growth in their lives that can only be attributed to the power of God’s Spirit.
    The Bible teaches a three-fold aspect of sanctification. First, there is a positional aspect in which every believer is sanctified or set apart for God at the moment of salvation ( 1 Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 1:1; Hebrews 3:1 ). Second, there is a progressive aspect of sanctification in which believers are being sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures ( John 17:17; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 5:25,26; 1 Thessalonians 5:23,24 ). And third, there is the consummation at the return of Christ when our sanctification will be complete. We shall be in the likeness of Jesus Christ ( Ephesians 5:27; 1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 ). Back To Article
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