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The Biblical Ideal versus the Contemporary Reality

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Question #1:  I have a question about communal worship in Acts 2:

Acts 2:46: And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,

Does breaking bread refer to the Lords supper here? Doesn't sound like communion to me, sounds more like fellowship. I have also heard that this is referring to breaking the bread of the Word? They are breaking bread from house to house in that verse. Would that be communion, or would it be more fellowship, around the Word of God?

Response #1:   I agree that this verse is not describing a communion service per se since in this early transitional period (the apostolic period) the believers apparently observed a communal life-style for a short period of time directly after Pentecost. It doesn't mean they didn't remember the Lord or give thanks, but then since we ought to remember the Lord whenever we break bread (even if we do so alone) the distinction between what a believer ought to do "whenever you eat or drink" is not that different from formalized communion in any case. We need sustenance to survive in this world and since "all of man's efforts are for his stomach" as Solomon says, it is certainly no accident that our Lord ordained meal-time as the time we ought to remember Him. For in reality "man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God".

In Him,

Bob L.

Question #2:   Hi Doc!  When Jesus was teaching His followers, so many times the people just didn't get His meanings, and many times He had to explain things to His disciples even because it was over their heads too. And I don't blame them because some of what He taught was very confusing. Do you ever wonder if maybe we are still misunderstanding some of His teachings? Maybe it's so much not that we misunderstand what He wanted us to do, but rather the reason for it and therefore the methods in which we do it.

Take the Lord's supper, for example. Did He really mean for us to do it so corporately? To sit around in our pew rows and have the special trays for the grape juice and itty bitty cracker pieces, and each person take one little bite of cracker and all together eat at the exact same moment, and then drink in synchronization our one little gulp of juice. It seems like it's turned into a ritual that many people just do without giving too much thought about how silly it seems.

Is that really how organized Jesus intended for it to be? Has anyone here ever been somewhere where it was done a little more like that first time in the upper room? or even slightly different? Sometimes I wonder by our extreme organizing of the church, some meanings have been lost or at least muddied because of our methods. I don't know. I find it odd though that say, when a new church is started, and there is just a very small group of people, that they'd still rather do the Lord's supper in the traditional Baptist way with the little trays, plastic cups, small cracker bites, etc., when they don't have to because they're not big in number, and therefore could do it more like the "upper room" style. But I'm pretty sure a lot of new young pastors would still not want to do Lord's supper with a very small group unless he could do it in the traditional Baptist way. Doesn't that seem like we're putting tradition ahead Biblical meaning?

Are there any traditions that anyone else here thinks are taken too far?

Response #2:   Whether the disciples/apostles misunderstood while Jesus had yet to die and be resurrected and whether we misunderstand now are two different things. They didn't yet have the Spirit indwelling them, and they didn't have the completed canon of scriptures. We have both, and we are without excuse for the "misunderstandings" we commit. Even the disciples / apostles, of course, had some learning to do after Pentecost, and there a good deal of transition in their understanding of things like water baptism, for example, recorded in Acts (failure to see Acts as a historical book where what actually occurred is being recorded, and not a lesson plan for how to do things now, lies behind many misunderstanding about church polity and practice).

As you very correctly ascertain, it is precisely because of misplaced faith in tradition that we engage in wrong-headed or at the very least superfluous rituals (such as water baptism et al.). Communion is the one ritual we are indeed commanded to perform, for it is the memorial to the work and Person of the Lord Jesus who died for us. I think your points are very well taken that to assume communion has to be done exactly in the way one finds in many Protestant traditions is erroneous. I also feel that when Jesus said "do this whenever you drink in remembrance of Me" (1Cor.11:25), He was at the very least not excluding the remembrance of Him whenever we eat and drink (even if we do also engage in more formal remembrance ceremonies in our collective meetings).

The purpose of communion, formal or informal, large or small, is to be remembering Jesus, who He is and what He has done for us (1Cor.11:26). So I think you have a point that to the extent that we get over-fixated on the specifics of the ritual as we have articulated them in our various traditions we risk missing the whole object of the exercise. But this is easy enough for every Christian to correct. Few of us eat without saying a prayer of thanks, and it is easy enough to make a point of combining this with a prayer of remembrance, recalling that Jesus is our true food and drink, for He gave us His body to eat and His blood to drink, His perfect Person bearing our sin in His human body, and His death to sin, being judged for all our sins on the cross (i.e., His spiritual "blood"). If we make a practice of this, the reality that we do not live by bread alone but through and for the Bread of life Himself, our Lord Jesus, will never be far from us, and we will be better able to discipline our thinking into the proper mind-set that everything material, while some of it is temporarily necessary, is transient and unimportant compared to everything spiritual. For in this way we will be remembering our Lord and the spiritual salvation and eternal life we have through Him at exactly the point where we are about to take in the less important material food that sustains our less important and very short material life.

Please see the following links:

Communion and the Blood of Christ

The Communion Ceremony outside of the local church.

The Lord's Supper and Confession of Sin

In the One we will never forget, for He died for us, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #3: 

Are we required to dress up at church? I have been told that if we should not make excuses for not dressing up for God at public worship service. I know that some younger people, younger than me were never taught that one's dress and respect were an issue. I don't necessarily believe that we have to dress perfectly, but I do believe it's best for one to dress in the best they can whether that be a nice skirt and blouse, a shirt and jeans for a poor person, or the standard suit and tie. Do you agree? Thanks!

Response #3: 

Well, there's nothing in the Bible about it at all, except that in James we are told not discriminate against those who are poor – i.e., those whose relative poverty is obvious from their less ostentatious dress (Jas.2:1-9). It's a hot day in Louisville today, and I was the only man I noticed in a tie (except for a couple of greeters). I knew a pastor once who had a person dress up in barrel to see how his congregation would react, and another who dressed up as a homeless person himself, complete with beard so he wouldn't be recognized, in order to make a similar point. I don't go in for such "stunts" myself, but I think they at least illustrate that people have reactions to other people based upon how they appear, and that is a fact, like it or not. I don't see any problem with wanting to be respectful in how one looks personally, but I would not want to judge somebody else on the basis of my standards, and certainly not set up a standard that is not biblical that everyone else must follow. There are more important things to worry about – like teaching, hearing, learning, believing, and applying the Word of God. In my view, that ought to be what we focus upon. If people were only 10% as concerned with actually teaching and learning the truth of the Bible on Sunday morning as they are with peripheral issues like this, the Church would be inordinately better off than it is today in era of lackadaisical lukewarmness to scripture.

In our Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #4: 

Dear Dr. Luginbill,

Thank you for ichthys.com - I was thrilled when I discovered it. It's a great resource for study. There are so many competing interpretations of scripture and I think you cut a very straight line through all the confusion. Keep up the good work and thanks for your investment of time maintaining the site. Here is my question: Are we currently in the Great Apostasy?

There are a number of things that lead me to believe that we are. First is the sorry state of the Christian Church today. I don't think I need to expand on this point. You may be aware of some radio bible teachers who are teaching that believers should stop going to church. Although this is based on the (questionable) idea that the Church Age has come to an end, many will agree that fewer and fewer churches are teaching and preaching the Word of God.

Secondly, there are credible reports of rampant Satanism in our institutions, both political and religious, both nationally and internationally. The fruits of this are visible in the elimination of religion, especially Christianity, from the public square and in the corruption of denominational Christianity.

I do not think we should stop going to church, but I am thinking about Jesus' exhortation to interpret the signs of the times (Matthew 16). Do you think we are in the "falling away" (KJV) described in 2 Thessalonians 2? Why or why not?

Response #4: 

Good to make your acquaintance. Thank you for your kind words about this ministry. As to your questions, you can find very detailed answers in the Coming Tribulation series, specifically, on the Great Apostasy in Part 3A, and on the current state of affairs in the church visible also in Part 2A: The Seven Churches: "Laodicea: the Age of Apathy". See also Part 4 of the Satanic Rebellion series, section I: "Strangers in the Devil's Realm".

As to the specifics of your question, I would agree with most of what you say. Technically, I believe and teach that the Great Apostasy per se only begins once the Tribulation begins (and that event is some time in the future by my calculations; see the link: "The date of the Tribulation"). However, we are indeed in the final phase of the Church Age, the period of Laodicea, where the church visible is predicted to be "lukewarm" as its dominant characteristic, and it stands to reason that it would start out relatively warmer (as it did) and grow relatively colder and more vulnerable as the Tribulation approaches (as you so pithily observe). So I would absolutely agree with the substance of your argument, and I think that any Bible loving Christian would be right to be appalled at the trends not only of the world in general but even more particularly of the church visible.

As you say, it doesn't mean that a person has to stop going to church, but it is becoming increasingly true and increasingly clear that it is almost impossible to find the spiritual food necessary for spiritual growth in contemporary churches, certainly at least to the point of being able to depend upon any local church exclusively for spiritual growth (although that is certainly what the Bible contemplates). Indeed, in most churches, more often than not one has to take care not to be caught up in various entertainments or works focused programs that can do more to swamp than to build faith if one is not careful. The apathy of Laodicea and the outright falling away of the Great Apostasy are thus part of a continuum that accelerates over time and will do so in an exponential way once the Tribulation begins. So you are certainly right on the money when you refer to the need to watch the signs of the times – we can already see the fig tree putting forth its leaves, and we can expect things to get much worse.

As I say, there is much, much more on all this in the studies linked above, but do feel free to write me back about any of this (or that) whenever you please.

Incidentally, I maintain a notification list for newly posted Bible studies (a once or twice a year occurrence for the major ones, generally speaking) and would be happy to place your address on it if you so desire.

Keep on fighting the good fight of faith.

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill

Question #5: 

Hi Bob!

I apologize is this question seems trivial to biblical studies.

In 1 Timothy, the Bible states this:

1 Timothy 2:8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

I was wondering what you think about this verse. Typically, you hear the charismatics and pentecostals stating it means that we are supposed to pray and worship God with hands uplifted. Now, while I do not have a problem with someone that voluntarily does that, I feel weird and uncomfortable with the idea of it being a command (though the context would indicate it is as much as a command as the women wearing modest clothing). Plus, I have seen many charismatics lift up their hands and draw attention to themselves and cause others do be distracted from the Word of God - that doesn't seem right either.

A little while ago, I came across this passage in Hebrews:

Hebrews 12:12-13: Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.

There it obviously is not referring to literally lifting up the hands, but spiritually or symbolically lifting up the hands and persevering in the Christian life - ie. putting your hands to work (not lifting them up in the air), and walking in a manner that is right (straight paths for your feet).

Looking up more passages bring these verses forth:

Genesis 14:22-24 And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich: Save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.

Whether literal or figurative, it refers to making a vow to do something - and if it was a literal hand lifting, it was a temporary action, not ongoing (ie. like all during a church service).

Genesis 41:43-44 And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.

I.e., no one has the authority to do anything without Joseph's permission.

Leviticus 9:22 And Aaron lifted up his hand toward the people, and blessed them, and came down from offering of the sin offering, and the burnt offering, and peace offerings.

Literal - lifted up temporarily in blessing.

2 Samuel 18:28 And Ahimaaz called, and said unto the king, All is well. And he fell down to the earth upon his face before the king, and said, Blessed be the LORD thy God, which hath delivered up the men that lifted up their hand against my lord the king.

This and various other passages obviously use this phrase in a figurative sense, indicating that the hands were put to evil use against someone - whereas the hands in 1 Timothy were to be holy.

Nehemiah 8:6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

Looks pretty literal to me - but no one today worships like that (at least not publicly).

Psalms 28:2 Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.

Unsure - could be either.

The following passages seem figurative, indicating obedience to God, service to Him, seeking Him:

Psalms 63:4 Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name.

Psalms 119:48 My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.

Psalms 134:2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD.

Psalms 141:2 Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Lamentations 3:41 Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.

Here the hands are lifted up in desperation - could be literal or figurative though.

Lamentations 2:19 Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street.

Here it is obviously referring to lifting up the hands in action:

Ezekiel 20:5-6 And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day when I chose Israel, and lifted up mine hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and made myself known unto them in the land of Egypt, when I lifted up mine hand unto them, saying, I am the LORD your God; In the day that I lifted up mine hand unto them, to bring them forth of the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands:

Ezekiel 47:14 And ye shall inherit it, one as well as another: concerning the which I lifted up mine hand to give it unto your fathers: and this land shall fall unto you for inheritance.

Micah 5:9 Thine hand shall be lifted up upon thine adversaries, and all thine enemies shall be cut off.

Overall, it seems to be indicative of putting the hands to use - not necessarily physically lifting up the hands, but using them for a purpose. Lifting up holy hands in prayer then could mean - not lifting them up in a church service - but putting them to use, doing good - holy endeavors as you seek the Lord in prayer. Also, this makes more sense - as we are to pray continually, all throughout the day. Would seem difficult to physically lift your hands up all throughout the day! But it would be possible to pursue holy endeavors and seek the Lord throughout the day while you are doing so.

I would be interested in hearing your input on this. Just trying to piece it together, and forming some conclusions along the way. Thanks in advance!

Response #5: 

Good work on your Bible study here! It is always beneficial to track things down by looking up as many passages as possible. Concordances are great for this, as are Bibles with good verse cross-reference systems (the best I know of for that is The NIV Study Bible).

The Hebrew word for giving thanks is yadhah, and that verb seems to be a derived meaning from the literal meaning occasionally associated with the verb, "to throw"; therefore in Hebrew, and I think you can see from your own cross-reference study, the idea of throwing up the hands in thanksgiving is a very Hebrew thing to do. Even today in some of the more old world schools of Jewish worship, they are every bit as emphatic in that worship as the charismatics are. Of course, as sympathetic to Jews and Judaism as I am, it should be pointed out that even such hyper-emotional worship does not bring them a step closer to God absent faith in Jesus Christ. That is true of non-Jewish groups as well. And on the point of emotion and emotional expression, I certainly agree with you that if the purpose is really to call attention to one's self (rather than to genuinely enjoy appreciating the Lord), then the entire outburst is for naught. I would also say that if the emotion is disconnected from deep and genuine understanding of exactly who our Savior is, and precisely what He has done for us in being judged in darkness on the cross for our sins, then whatever positive effect it might potentially have is blunted to that degree: proper emotional expression is not only always under control, but it also and importantly responds to the truth we have in our hearts. For I do find that the truth, once we understand it, digest it, believe it, meditate on it to the point where it begins to become more real than the reality we see before our physical eyes, can produce very emotional experiences. However, as Paul points out very clearly in regard to just such things, "the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets" (1Cor.14:22), meaning, among other things, that there is no place for losing control, especially not in a public worship service (cf. 1Cor.14:33; 14:40).

It is an often overworked and often misapplied "principle", but certainly true in this case I would say, that there are differences between cultures and historical times, and that these need to be fully understood, correctly interpreted, and properly applied. There is always a danger in this, of course. Some who have no respect for the scripture would say, for example, that the clear biblical prohibition on same-sex sex is "a cultural thing which does not apply in our day and age" – that is, of course, hogwash (and very dangerous, self-serving hogwash at that). However, it is certainly true that, in the absence of specific scriptural commands, mere descriptions of behavior from the Bible are not necessarily meant to be repeated by us (or at least may not be mandatory). For example, as far as I recall, everyone in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is described as wearing sandals (at least when the issue of footwear comes up). Clearly, that cannot be made to mean that we are somehow violating God's law if we wear shoes. In the case of throwing the hands up into the air in worship, I agree with pretty much everything you have said and with your conclusions as well. Such activity does provide an emotional release, but in a culture where such activity is not "normal", it necessarily has a different meaning that it did in the mixed Jewish and gentile congregations of the 1st cent. A.D. (where few would find it unusual). It would be hard for me personally not to feel a bit self-conscious doing this in, say, a Presbyterian worship service (because everyone would be staring at me after that). And that is true even if I had decided that this behavior was mandatory. I do not think it is mandatory. Paul is describing very naturally a form of worship which was common in his own day, but not a mandatory form of worship. What he is mandating in this passage is fervent and heartfelt prayer, and the description "throwing up holy hands" is a good way to bring this point home to his audience who most likely did indeed practice this form of expression in worship, or were at least familiar with it. Moreover, in the Greek, what Paul literally "wants" if for men to "pray without anger or disputation"; the "holding up holy hands" is a participial phrase adding an additional circumstance where the word "holy" in my view is the important or operative part of that phrase and the only operative part that applies today (i.e., continuing sanctification and present spirituality following confession are prerequisites for appropriate and effective prayer).

To cite a parallel case, consider the fact that numerous times in the NT people are told to "greet one another with a holy kiss" (Rom.16:16; 1Cor.16:20; 2Cor.13:12; 1Thes.5:26; 1Pet.5:14). Most people understand instinctively or from other cultural parallels today that this is a custom of greeting which was as common in the ancient world as shaking hands is today in our country. In my opinion it would be a very bad idea indeed to try and bring back the "holy kiss", because kisses and romance are impossible to distinguish in our country (less of a problem in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries – although even here often there is restraint when there is a mixing of sexes, something not true in the ancient Christian tradition). I believe that the throwing up of the hands in worship is precisely parallel to this. It is was a custom of worship rather than a mandated mode of worship, and since it is an ingrained cultural thing, it is nigh on impossible for any "throwing up of the hands" that we might do to approximate in true meaning what Paul had in mind (though we can fulfill the command perfectly heartfelt, holy prayer). At the very least, since we are not going to be completely comfortable with this mode of worship (and even if some are, many more are not). Thus it cannot help but carry "baggage" and produce reactions that Paul does not anticipate and of which he no doubt would not have approved. He is merely expressing something according to the culture of the day ("be holy, fervent and genuine when you pray"), and would no doubt prohibit the practice if he had any idea that it would provide a stumbling block for others.

When you get right down to it, our standard "worship service" today, whether one wishes to talk about old line denominations, charismatics, or new-fangled super-churches, have very little at all in common with what we find in the 1st century. Scripture very purposefully does not address by way of command what a gathering of believers should look like in its specific details and order except to repeatedly point out that the reading and teaching of the Word of God and the encouragement it brings is the purpose for assembly (Col.4:16; 1Thes.5:27; 1Tim.4:13; Heb.10:25). Paul, who deliberately did not use "eloquence" (1Cor.2:1; cf. 1Cor.1:17), would have been surprised (and I think shocked) to see that the "sermon", that awful device whereby a pastor seeks to entertain and amaze, has become the centerpiece of the service. He would definitely be shocked to find choirs and orchestras, announcements and offerings, and only an occasional communion service (which often completely misses the point of communion). And he would be appalled to find almost no reading or teaching of the Word of God. I think what we are or are not doing with our hands would be the least of his concerns.

Keep on digging into the Word of God!

In our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #6: 

Hello fellow friend in Christ! I stumbled onto your site after a bit of random searching one night and what a blessing! Your ministry is truly one that should be heard by all. My question to you is about secular churches vs home churches. I grew up attending a secular church with a pastor and a congregation etc. and found it to be enlightening and worthwhile. I can say that I grew spiritually there because I was highly involved with the children's ministry there. However, my father came to meet some folks who are very much against secular organizations almost calling them satanic. Because of their view of the New Testament Church and Acts they firmly don't agree with today's secular religions activities. Mostly they call them a business with no other end then to take people's money. Now that I am grown with my own family I am very torn. My wife attended a secular church as a child also and I want to raise my son (2 years old) in a Christ centered environment. However, each time we try a new church instead of their home church I can't help but think, is this the right choice? What are your views on this?

In Christ,

Response #6: 

Good to make your acquaintance. First of all, I think that calling traditional churches "secular" is a bit rhetorical. By definition, "secular" means "of the world", and if a church is "worldly" then it has to be in the wrong right off the bat. It is certainly true that traditional churches, whether or not they are denominational, have in general terms been in a downward spiral for some time. As to the specifics of church organization, what we find in the book of Acts is flexibility, and to me it is significant that there really are very few strictures in scripture about how to organize a church (what we have is almost exclusively related to the qualifications of the men who lead them: please see "Assembly of the Local Church", "Church Polity", and "Patriarchy [question #3]").

In my understanding of scripture, these troubles are a function of the times in which we live, namely, the final church area of Laodicea (please see in CT #2A, "Laodicea"). However, there are two things to note about this general criticism of our own time: 1) it is a general criticism (i.e., the problem is that Christians in this era are, generally speaking, apathetic about the Word of God), and 2) since the criticism is not specific but merely characterizes our times, it does not absolutely apply to every person or every group or every church (however organized). From this I glean that the issue is really the specific traditional church or the specific home church, and also the specific teaching pastors in each organization. Contrary to the Marshall McLuhan quip to the effect that "the medium is the message", I would say that from the true Christian point of view the message always trumps the medium. That is to say, it doesn't matter if the truth comes out of a billion dollar cathedral or a trailer-home, or from a well-manicured gentleman in Geneva tabs or a disheveled fellow in blue jeans, the truth is the truth and it is the truth that Christians should seek.

What that means to me is that consistent, accurate, substantive Bible teaching should be the basis of any essential teaching ministry (or "church"). That is the primary reason why we assemble since it is from the encouragement of scripture and the spiritual growth that the truth provides that we are able to negotiate this life for Christ and bear fruit for Him in the process. I think that without question a home-church could potentially fulfill this function; and certainly in times past this has been accomplished by some traditional churches. Key to this process is a congregation that wants to be fed (rather than entertained in one manner or the other) and a pastor or teaching staff who are both equipped to teach and determined to do so despite opposition (and solid teaching of the truth always brings about serious opposition).

I certainly understand your point of view. To the extent that one can provide a good environment and positive influence for children in particular, that is all to the good. However I will say that in my experience, observation, and reading of the Word of God, what the parents do in this respect, and particularly the father of the family, has far greater potential for good than any external so-called "Christian environment" can produce absent the depth of Bible teaching that really is the province of well-prepared and dedicated men. Since, as I say, in my opinion the number of places where this is truly available is incredibly small, that fact has to be weighed in the balance. But I hasten to add that just because a church is meeting in a home with a small number of people does not automatically remove it from these same criticisms. Far from it. Indeed, at least a traditional church has some system of accountability and readily identifiable commonly shared tenets, whether or not they abide by them. For home churches, one has to take a lot on faith. I have unlimited faith in the Lord (at least that is my desire), but very limited faith in human beings, no matter how well-intentioned.

We are all responsible to the Lord for the decisions we make, and one of the most important decisions we will ever make is what person/group to submit ourselves to as an authority for teaching the Word of God. This is not, of course, a decision which cannot or should not be frequently reviewed and tested. We are responsible as individual Christians to read our Bibles regularly and meditate on the truth (please see "Read your Bible: Protection against Cults"). We should always be giving our teaching ministers the benefit of the doubt on the one hand even as we continually consider the specifics in our own reading of scripture and application in life. That way, should what we are being taught begin to deviate from the truth in any substantial way, we will be able to extricate ourselves before any serious spiritual damage is done. Ideally, of course, we know a good deal about what the Bible really says and means going in, so that we will be able to identify something good, solid, and holy at the outset. The problem really in our day and age is finding a true Christian church (i.e., not a cult) where they really do teach anything at all! I am certain that this problem is likely to be repeated in many a house church where music, socializing, and group participation (to name but a few distractions) are likely to dominate instead of the teaching of the Word of God (especially in a professional way by a prepared person where such teaching is genuinely biblical). That is something not easy to find nowadays, but I do pray that you and your family will find it. Add to this the example of a good Christian life (which includes diligent personal Bible study and involvement of the family therein) and you will be laying a wonderful foundation for spiritual growth not only for yourself but for your family as well.

Thanks so much for your kind words about this ministry.

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill

Question #7: 

What part should music play in revival, either personally or corporately? I ask this because I find with myself that what I listen to affects me in that area. I find that when I listen to my CD's of good Christian Music it positively affects my walk. I also listen to CD's from fellowship meetings and the like.

Philippians 4:8 "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

Having good music on in the background continually takes your mind to "these things" and would be beneficial and would lead (as the passage indicates) to having the God of peace, and the peace of God (previous verse). I know music is not mentioned in the passage, but I find that it affects me in this way, and surely that will be beneficial to revival, in a personal sense.

What about corporately? Does it only add to the "emotional" aspect in a corporate sense or does it have true spiritual advantage in this setting? I only mention it because I don't think music has been mentioned in relation to this in the Bible. And of course we are talking GOOD Christian music not weak feel good so called Christian music.

Response #7: 

There is no question that music was a part of the Old Testament temple rite, and also that in the New Testament hymns were sung when believers met together. But in the Bible music plays a supporting role, and as was the case in the ancient secular world as well (i.e., drama and lyric performance), the "music" part of music was always secondary to the words which were being sung. In both of these crucial aspects, I see critical differences with what obtains today. On the first issue, that of over all emphasis, in some respects music has taken over Christian meetings. Indeed, many services in many groups consist almost entirely of music and the sermon, leaving no time or emphasis whatsoever for Bible teaching. And listening to Christian music has, for many of our brothers and sisters, come to consume so much of their time and interest that it has to an unfortunately large extent become a sort of substitute for Bible reading and certainly for genuine Bible study. Thus this false emphasis has resulted in a "dumbing down" of the collective spiritual I.Q. of the very element of U.S. Christianity where one would hope to find some depth. This trend is certainly understandable. Music is fun. Music is enjoyable. Music is easy, very easy. On the other hand, it is less fun, less easy, and, without donning the proper mind-set, less enjoyable to sit down for an hour or so and really concentrate on your Bible. And if this is true of Bible reading, it is all the more true of sitting down and giving one's concentration to any serious Bible teaching. For that reason alone there are far more who read and study the weekly e-mail posting at Ichthys than who actually get into the complete studies – but that is where the true "meat" (and growth) is to be found. Over-emphasis on Christian music leads to the impression of spiritual growth, but it cannot really provide spiritual growth, because it cannot teach anything. The best that music can do is to remind a person of the importance of certain truths that they have heard before, learned and believed already, and help them to reorient and reapply those truths. To the extent that music, like alcohol, is used in moderation to help believers respond to something over which they have reason to be joyful and enhance that joy, it can be a positive thing (or at least not a particularly negative thing). But to the extent that music is being listened to in excess by someone with very little truth in the heart for the music to stimulate, what usually is produced is a short term emotional stimulation, and an emotional "hangover" which can have very negative spiritual repercussions. Taken past a certain point, this sort of thing can actually become a huge liability, because if this "spiritual life support system" is ever shut off for any reason, and/or when the person builds up an immunity (tolerance) to the emotional surge it produces, that person is then apt to be plunged into spiritual crisis (through emotional "withdrawal" effects). Music is merely an emotional stimulant. It is the truth that the Christian has in the heart that really sustains in crisis and in hard times. To the extent that music can help in moderation to mobilize that truth, its use is good and biblical. To the extent that it is used as a substitute for the process of putting truth into the heart in the first place – the process of spiritual growth – it is a liability.

That brings us to the second issue. We know very little about the extra-biblical hymns sung in New Testament times, but from the few quotations in Paul's epistles (Eph.5:14; 1Tim.1:15-16; 3:1; 3:16; 4:9-10; 2Tim.2:11-13; Tit.3:8), it is clear that they were, doctrinally speaking, very detailed, focused on specific points of truth, and were – the most serious place where contemporary lyrics usually fall short – doctrinally correct. For beyond all argument in both the Old Testament and the New it was first and foremost the Psalms which believers sing. Of course we too could read, memorize, recall, and glory in the words of the Psalms even without a melody. But what we have now instead, especially in current composition, out of a desire to be "modern" to be "original" and, perhaps the worst motivation of all, to be "relevant", are an unbelievable variety of Christian artists, records, songs, music or all shapes and sizes whose lyrics are almost always "off" from what the Bible teaches at least somewhere in each song (and whose "tone" generally misses the underlying tenor of scripture entirely). I think there is no question but what this has everything to do with the spiritual immaturity of the artists (and of course of their audiences who are willing to accept pottage that tastes "good" instead of nutritional offerings which lack the same entertainment value).

In my (perhaps not so) humble opinion, the hymns of the 18th, 19th, and early to mid 20th century tend to be much better in this regard – not because they are better music (in many cases even in "jazzed up" versions they can't compete in our modern tastes with what is now being produced), but because they are "less bad" in their theology and spiritual orientation. I am often appalled at the words I hear in contemporary Christian music – not because they are obscene or blasphemous or anything of the sort, but because they are so often devoid of any true doctrinal substance. And when they do decide to make a point of truth, while they are oft times not absolutely and entirely dead wrong, they are more often than not at least a bit "off center". The net effect of this for those who are relying on music to guide them, is that they are being led off track – not totally off track, but far enough off center that they may actually be harmed by the ideas that are being reinforced in their hearts through over concentration on this stuff in a near vacuum.

This is a much greater problem today than it ever was in the past. For in the past singing a hymn which was theologically skewed would not necessarily be a great stumbling block since it was just one hymn and, anyway, people were being taught (one hopes) the truth as the major function of Christian gathering (at least ideally so). But what we have today with the melding of Christian music to the secular music establishment and with its use of the same sorts of high-powered marketing devices and modern technological devices and forms is a sort of false authority of unfortunately great influence: those who care to can listen to this music all the time at great volume and intensity. And just as celebrities in the secular realm command attention and authority when they speak out (even though they rarely have any idea what they are talking about) so we ought to realize that writers and performers of Christian music are not on account of their musical gifts necessarily qualified even to teach a Sunday school class, let alone "teach" large groups through the lyrics they pen and play. But because of the powerful emotional effect of modern musical forms and performances, the ubiquitous availability of it at nearly all times and places, and the quasi-authority held by "famous" people in this society, the incorrect and off-balance nature of musically carried messages are having a very detrimental effect, especially to the extent that they are falling on the ears of those who are not otherwise getting substantive teaching (and perhaps substituting such music for teaching altogether – certainly easy enough to do with the dearth of Bible teaching generally today, even in the churches).

(19) [Be] speaking [encouragement] to yourselves through psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and vocalizing psalms in your heart to the Lord, (20) giving thanks at all times for everything in the Name of our Lord to God our Father.
Ephesians 5:19-20

(16) Let the Word of the Lord dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing yourselves in all wisdom, [and] with psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs, singing in your hearts to God. (17) And whatever you do in word or in deed, doing everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Colossians 3:16-17

As both of these verses which deal with the subject show, content is king in what we sing (or should be), and song is closely related in both passages to the giving of thanks. In Eph.5:19-20, the previous context stressed knowing the will of God and being filled with the Spirit (vv.17-18), so that song is intimately connected in that passage taken as a whole with detailed understanding of the plan of God (and thus the entire doctrinal content of the Bible). In the second passage, Col.3:16-17, "the Word of God" is to dwell "richly" or "deeply" or "thoroughly" in the heart, and this truth becomes the means by which song may mobilize that truth, supporting the "teaching and admonishing" we are to do for ourselves and of ourselves by means of the words which are true because they truly come from the Word of truth and thus remind us of the truths we have learned and believed. To the extent that this truth is lacking in the song (because it is not truly a psalm and is not close enough to the truth to qualify as what the Bible would call a hymn or spiritual song), or to the extent that the truth is lacking in the heart of the one who sings it so that there is nothing there to mobilize, very little good can come. Sadly, in many case, the truth is lacking in both places.

I think that your experience pretty much backs up what I am saying. The fact that you listen only occasionally suggest to me that you have come to understand that this in not where spiritual growth comes from, but that music is merely a support in the process of thinking about the truth you have painstakingly heard, learned, believed, and come to apply, rather than an end in itself. That is using music as aid and doing so with properly prudent discretion (your point about "good" versus not so good Christian music), rather than depending upon it to do what it was never meant to do and never could do: provide a substitute for the learning of the Word of God.

In our Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #8: 

A friend of mind wrote on a revival because their church had a revival that week. And this is what he wrote about the revival:

"God uses preaching a lot, however revival isn't about preaching. If it were so simple, I believe, to have revival by listening to preaching, then we would have revival weekly in a lot of our good churches. Many preachers are preaching good, strong messages that are biblically accurate and doctrinally correct. But where revival is... is in the heart."

What is your impression of revival? Have you ever seen it in a church you had visited? I understand that Bible doesn't say that we are currently in a "Laodicean age" or that no revival is possible even if we indeed are. And historically there have been periods of widespread apostasy and revivals since the time of Christ. Where are the revivals today? and why aren't there revivals as there should be today?

Response #8: 

Well, people's perceptions of reality differ. From the point of view of serious and substantive Bible teaching, globally considered in our present day, your friend's statement to wit "many preachers are preaching good, strong messages that are biblically accurate and doctrinally correct" couldn't be further from the truth. In my view (and I am not alone in my assessment), the church visible has never had such a famine of the serious teaching of the Word of God as presently is the case. 15-30 minute messages 90% of which are about finding the right spouse or having a good family life or giving more to the church do not in my opinion fall into the category of "good, strong messages that are biblically accurate and doctrinally correct". For the very fact that the truth in toto isn't being taught means that teaching tiny little sections of it because this fills the pews or helps the cause will inevitably lead to gross imperfections in even that part which is being addressed.

By now you are well aware of my attitude toward "preaching" as well. From what I have observed in the function of organizational Christianity in the U.S., "revival" isn't any different – just more emotional (please see the link: "Apostles and Evangelism"). "Heart" if by heart we mean emotionalism without any true content, is nothing but a momentary distraction, and unless it is a genuine response to the truth of scripture, only produces a big "hangover" on Monday morning. Emotion does not sustain you in a pinch. Only the truth in your heart, believed and ready to be applied can do that. That is what the Spirit uses. Our emotions have to respond to substance to be of any use; they have to follow the truth we have received by our free will faith – not lead us into response to something we may not even fully understand. Whether it is a typical Sunday morning sermon or a special dog-and-pony show cooked up to bring in a few extra bodies, as long as substance, seriousness, and genuineness of teaching is lacking, nothing good will come of it.

I would also strongly disagree with your statement that the "Bible doesn't say that we are currently in a "Laodicean age" ". Indeed, that is exactly the point at which the Church finds itself today, and not "a" Laodicean age, but "THE" Laodicean era of the Church Age (please see the link: in CT 2A: "Laodicea: the era of degeneration"). We are only a few years away, in fact, from the commencement of the Tribulation and the greatest instance of apostasy within the Church's history, namely, the Great Apostasy. Sadly, little that is presently going on in the church visible is preparing people for that crisis.

It is certainly true that there have been periods of history characterized by general apathy to the Bible and to the Lord, and periods where people seem to have become more interested, the first and second "Great Awakenings" in this country for example, or the temporary interest in the Almighty that seemed to bubble up momentarily after 9/11. But ultimately what matters is what is going on in the hearts of individual Christians, especially if it is going on consistently and is not a just a momentary blip on the radar screen. It is a mistake for us to become over-focused upon the broad trends in society or the entire church visible generally since 1) we can't affect them; 2) we may misread them; 3) they don't have anything really to do with the personal spiritual objectives given to us by the Lord, namely, to grow up ourselves spiritually, then help others to do the same through the gifts and ministries we are assigned.

You are fairly unique in your determination to find answers, and I certainly appreciate that. I do hope and pray that you will do so and am confident that to the extent you keep knocking and searching for the truth, it will never be withheld from you.

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #9: 

Is it appropriate for women to say "amen" during the Pastors sermon?

Response #9: 

Personally, I think I might possibly have a problem with anyone making unsolicited noises in the congregation when I was trying to teach – but then my approach on most things is a bit "different", so to speak. It's really up to the pastor/teacher what he will/won't allow in this respect. I have seen some who are very strict about any disturbance, and others who get upset if the congregation is not vocalizing their assent. As to "women keep silent in church", I personally would take this to be mainly an admonition forbidding women to be teaching the Bible from the pulpit to the congregation at large. I don't think Paul envisioned a situation where men could shout out "amen!" but women could not.

In our Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #10: 

Thanks. This is what a Pastor told me regarding saying Amen. 

"From a preacher's standpoint, though, hearing responses from the congregation helps reinforce his message. Now I know certain phrases and statements are pretty much automatic "amens," but a pastor who puts his heart and soul into studying the message God has given him appreciates that the message is touching someone's heart. And when that "amen" comes out, it can be encouraging to the preacher. Now, if the pastor doesn't want responses, then that's up to him. For some, it can be distracting. My small church is not much in amening, so I got used to it. I preached at a preacher's meeting one time, and the amening was distracting at first. But as a young-in-experience preacher, it became encouraging that these older preachers were appreciating the message. One of my former pastors said, "Saying amen to a preacher is like throwing a bone to a dog." I'm not quite sure of the analogy, but I can appreciate the sentiment. We visited a Southern Baptist church once, and the preacher made a statement that caused me to say, "amen." Several people in the congregation looked at me, a couple with scowls on their faces. The pastor actually hesitated for a second and looked my direction. I got the impression that "amen" wasn't approved of. As we left, I shook the pastor's hand and apologized for being "disruptive." The pastor told me that he appreciated it, and he hadn't heard one in so long that it startled him. He said he wished more of his congregation would do that, because that's the style of church he was raised in. But, he said, amening was just not that church's style."

What do you think?

Response #10: 

As I said and as this person seems to agree, it's really up to the pastor/teacher. I teach for a living. I encourage student response, but I really would think it odd if my students all of sudden shouted loudly "right on, Doc!" or something to that effect. This illustrates my point, I hope. If you are trying to teach something to a group of people, you want them to pay attention and learn it. It doesn't matter if they are getting an emotional "buzz" from one thing you said because they understand it or agree with it or whatever. When it comes to teaching the scriptures, all truth should have the effect of encouraging, reproving, motivating, delighting – at least to some degree, so why isn't there constant "amening" where that is the rule? Indeed, if I say "amen" to one point, does that mean I don't agree with or don't care about another point? And why am I calling attention to myself in any case, and distracting other believers from learning what they have come to learn? Better to keep this in your heart than call attention to the fact that YOU are enjoying a particular point. Amening is to me a symptom of the wrong thing coming from the pulpit and the wrong attitude/response from the congregation. Pastors who want an enthusiastic, overt, and obvious response from their congregations are going to end up doing and saying things designed to elicit such responses instead of teaching the scripture. They are going to be tempted to "preach sermons" rather that "teach the Bible". Indeed, the desire of men in the pulpit to be stroked this way is a big part of the reason why there isn't much Bible teaching going on, and the desire of the congregation to be entertained in this way instead of being taught only contributes to this trip down the slippery slope of bread and circuses instead of truth and spiritual growth. Since in event there is very little solid information coming from 99% of pulpits and since 99% of congregants are not interested in learning anything about the Bible anyway, I suppose this is much ado about nothing in practice.

In our Lord Jesus who is the truth and the great Amen (Rev.3:14).

Bob L.

Question #11: 

I forwarded your email to one of my friends who had a different view than yours and disagrees. Here's what he said:

"I think your last post paints a picture skewed from reality (not to mention a few logical fallacies in there). First, I am a big fan of teaching while you preach. I would rather err on the side of lecture, then emotional preaching, but, (and a year ago, I may not have said this) preaching is not just teaching. Jay Adams goes a little far in my estimation, but you should pick up "Preaching with Purpose" (its cheep and relatively short) to see what I am referring to. The purpose of preaching is not just to teach, but to teach in such a way that people are moved by the Holy Spirit to respond. Real "text book teaching" would never give practical application. I would also say that the attitudes you describe of pastor's and people are an unfair characterization of reality. Most people say amen when they especially agree with a point. That does not mean they do not agree with the rest of the point, just that that one stand out. There are people who can't go 5 seconds during a sermon without saying A-men. I find that distracting, but I do not know that person's heart. All in all, I think you are taking it too far."

What do you think?

Response #11: 

I stand by what I said. You can't teach anybody anything in a sermon. In 50+ years of listening to sermons I doubt I "learned" much at all about scripture (and often when it was glancingly referenced, it was either misunderstood, misapplied, or mistranslated – and often all three). I don't know of a single Christian who has attained spiritual maturity by listening to sermons, and that is understandable: they are simply not designed to teach – they are designed to entertain and in the process to elicit a response. They resemble political speeches in this respect. In my own view, it was a sad day when this form took over as the dominant means of the pastor/teacher's communication with his flock. Read any one of the New Testament epistles, or read any of Jesus' discourses. They don't sound anything like a "sermon". That is because they are designed to communicate the truth rather than to engage an audience.

I also would vehemently disagree with the notion that unless one uses rhetorical devices, stories, illustrations, jokes, and histrionic delivery, etc., things that have nothing to do with scripture, that somehow the Spirit will not be involved!? The Spirit does not need our help. And the Spirit uses the truth. If I tell you something that is true and biblical, the Spirit makes the truth of this thing I told you real to you. If I tell you a story that has nothing to do with the Bible, there is nothing for the Spirit to work with. If I use a rhetorical device or flourish, I am operating in the energy of the flesh and you are responding in kind with the result that the Spirit's ministry will be limited to that extent, even if what I said happens to be by way of aside "true". If I rant and rave (i.e., "preach"), all I am doing is stirring you up emotionally – and it is inevitable that these emotions will get in the way of any hearing/learning of anything that might be true. Some people mistake this sort of emotional disturbance for the ministry of the Spirit. They couldn't be more wrong. The Spirit moves us with His "still, small voice" in the quiet of our hearts (1Ki.19:11-13), not by means of big noisy rallies where we get all worked up by the speaker. That is how politicians work. If we are teaching the truth, the truth will produce an impact far beyond anything imaginable, and not just a momentary emotional "rush", but a powerful, sustained and sustaining closeness to the Lord through the only true means of getting closer to the Lord: hearing, understanding, believing and living the Word of God.

In the hopes that we would all come to know the truth of the Word of God and the freedom it gives us from all forms of human manipulation.

Bob L.

Question #12: 

I go to Sunday School and a brother in Christ was stating that he doesn't agree with "Sunday school" because it isn't scriptural...meaning "not found in scripture." He said the reason is he believes that is because it segregates the family into individual parts rather than letting the family worship together. I got this response below from a bible teacher who disagrees. He had stated:

"Unscriptural means against Scripture, not "not found in Scripture." So, just because a program is not found in Scripture doesn't mean Scripture prohibits it - kinda like "parachurch" organizations It's interesting that this person sees no contradiction between being opposed to Sunday School yet in support of parachurch organizations, many of which segregate the body of Christ (Promise Keepers, for example). I would agree with the statement above if Sunday School was all there is to worshiping. But in actuality, Sunday School augments worship. We are commanded to disciple, and Sunday School is a tool that can accomplish that. Most 5-year-olds aren't going to be interested in nor mature enough to handle dispensational theology. And we all know what happens when small children get bored. But if they understand the basics of God creating the heavens and the earth, that will go a long way to preparing them for the higher principles of God's Word. And adults would be bored with the stories of creation, Noah, and Jonah. Most adults would be more interested in the higher doctrines. I assume he would also apply this anti-segregation principle to AWANAs, youth groups, men's breakfasts, women's fellowships, marriage retreats, etc. In other posts, you have said that churches should be for believers only, and I agree wholeheartedly with that. But different segments of a church's congregation have different needs - the "one-size-fits-all" mentality many churches employ is why they're dying. They aren't meeting the needs of the different groups in congregations. There are topics that can be discussed in a young-married class (sex, for example) that can't be addressed in a sermon or don't need to be addressed in a Senior Saints class. Sunday School can take Scripture to deeper applications than can be accomplished in sermons, or maybe specific questions can be asked, like "What did the preacher mean by ....?" Obviously you could ask the pastor to explain, but an 18-year-old new Christian may feel somewhat uncomfortable approaching the seasoned man of God with a question, while not be embarrassed to ask in a classroom setting of peers. The minute these ministries overtake worship as the primary ministry of the church, then they become unscriptural (i.e., against Scripture). And that's happening a lot in today's churches as well."

Do you agree with this Bible teacher's view on Sunday School?

Response #12: 

As you know, I am not a supporter of the traditional church service, so to me this discussion is a little like people arguing about how to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic while some of us are looking for life-boats. Most churches don't teach anything substantive either in the worship service or in Sunday school so that it is much ado about nothing. Ideally, the central service(s) should be primarily concerned with the teaching of the Word of God. That is not what happens in 99% of traditional services and churches. Sunday school for adults was invented when things got the point that no Bible teaching was taking place at all in Sunday morning worship. Of course, very often little Bible teaching takes place in Sunday school either. For one thing, it's not being conducted by the pastor-teacher of the church. Ideally, one has a prepared individual who is, as scripture enjoins, "ready to teach". Putting this person in a pulpit to read announcements and give a sermon full of illustrations and no content while someone who may not have a clue about the Bible is doing the real teaching before hand is a very silly way of approaching the key function of the local church: preparing a people ready for God. Spiritual growth takes substance. It is ironic that Christians who want to grow have to look for their spiritual food elsewhere besides the local church. But it is a testament to the power of dead tradition that many who are doing so outside of their traditional church cannot yet escape the gravity of such black holes. When the Tribulation arrives, this will be a big problem, as scripture gives every indication that antichirst will make good use of all such spiritually dead "Christian" organizations in the building of his anti-church. Churches that today are just pointless, will soon become part of the enemy's organization once this trend commences (see the links: in CT 3A "The Persuasiveness of the Tribulational False Religion", and in CT 4, "The Anti-Christian Religion and its Worldwide Expansion").

In Jesus,

Bob L.

 

 

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