What is the universal church?

A church is a gathering of believers, the assembly of Christians in one place under Biblical authority for Biblical purposes. Millions of churches gather together all across the world. Most communities in America are home to many different churches. Though there are millions of local churches in the world, all true churches are part of one single church. Every Christian is a member of the body of Christ and a part of the universal church. Often this idea is expressed in a statement like, “We are all part of the church.”

Hebrews 12:22-23 is the clearest text about the universal church, “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.” The universal church is the assembly of all those whose names are written in heaven in the Lamb’s book of life.

Other Bible passages point to a universal church. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus promised to build His church. His promise is can not be the promise of building a single church in Jerusalem or Palestine. The promise of Jesus is of a universal that cannot be overthrown. His church consists of many local churches scattered across the world and stretching through history. In Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 1:22 Paul says that Jesus is the head of the body, the church. Colossians and Ephesians are clearly referring to the authority of Jesus over the entire church everywhere at all times. The church universal is under the governance of Jesus.

No church or denomination can claim to be the universal church. The universal church is not the conglomeration of all churches and denominations, or is it made up of all people who belong to a church. Many who are members of churches on earth are not part of the universal church. Instead, the universal church is the entire population of all genuine believers who have lived, are living and will live. All the redeemed make up the universal church and only the redeemed are members of the universal church.

The universal church will not be gathered in one place until eternity when all the saved will be assembled together in the presence of God. The universal church is a reality which can not yet be experienced. In the meantime, Christians recognize that they have a connection in Christ with all believers past, present and future. All genuine Christians alive today share a great fellowship together as brothers and sisters in Christ and as members together of the body of Christ.

The universal church includes all believers now living. The universal church is the future assembly of all Christians who ever lived. The universal church is the entire body of Christ, seen now only in part but one day will be seen in full.

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Do church shootings prove that prayer does not work?

The calls for increased gun control were repeated in the days following the mass murder at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Various individuals on Twitter drew the ire of Christians by asserting that more was needed than prayer. Things were said like, “If prayers were the answer 2 gun violence wouldn’t people at a church service be safe? Please make gun laws.” “They were praying when it happened. They don’t need our prayers. They need us to address gun violence”

Aside from the failure to realize that one can pray and address the causes and solutions to mass shootings these kinds of statements reveal a deeper misunderstanding of prayer. Wil Wheaton, known to Star Trek fans as Wesley Crusher, drew much hostility when he tweeted, “The murdered victims were in a church. If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive.” Does the failure of prayer to protect a church from a murderous maniac prove that prayer does not work?

The failure of prayer to stop tragedy from occurring shows that what is commonly understood as prayer does not work. In America prayer is viewed as a means of getting protection, healing, provision, security or guidance. God is seen as the celestial Santa Clause who gives the devout what they want when they ask Him. The God of most Americans answers prayers like the Jesus in the country song, “Jesus take the wheel.” When the car starts to slide off the road just ask Jesus to take control and He’ll keep you from harm.

The God of the Bible promises to answer prayer but He never promises to keep Christians from harm, suffering, difficulty or tragedy. God promises to answer prayer if it meets certain criteria. The prayers God answers are those that are in accord with the character and purpose of Jesus and are prayed by a child of God through the mediation of Jesus. God does not promise to answer the prayers of the unsaved nor will he hear prayers offered to saints, relatives, spirits or dead people. (John 14:13; 15:16; 16:23). God only answers prayers prayed in Jesus name and prayers that are according to His will. God will answer those prayers that are seeking His will and that are in keeping with the eternal purposes of God. (1 John 5:14-15)

God never promised to protect His children from every bad thing that could happen. God promised the opposite. “No man should be moved these afflictions, for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.” (1 Thesalonians 2:3) God is not working to protect His people from all bad situations. God is working through bad circumstances to perfect Christians. Biblical prayer claims the promises of God. God promises to make His children like Jesus and He uses every trouble to fulfill that promise in those who love Him.

Prayer is not a magic formula to make life better. Prayer does not protect from all bad circumstances. Prayer is a bowing of the person’s will before the perfect will of God. Prayer asks for Divine favor and trust God’s goodness in all things. God works through prayer to perfect His people.

Happy Thanksgiving

Every year America sets aside the fourth Thursday of November as a day to give thanks to God. On that day many gather together with friends and family to express their thankfulness for the many blessings recieved during the previous year.

The pattern of Thanksgiving in the United States was set by the pilgrim fathers. They endured great hardship, suffered much loss of life and faced many difficulties. Yet they did not fail to pour out thanks to God for His provision. They model obedience to the command, “Giving thanks always for all things.” (Ephesians 5:20)

Christians today are still required by God to give thanks in the midst of difficult and sorrowful times. Many may consider their lives right now and say, “What do I have to give thanks for?” Some may look at the challenges facing the nation and wonder what cause America has for thanksgiving. With a little thought it soon becomes apparent that we have many things for which to be thankful. We have more than the daily provision of all needs and an of abundance physical blessings. (Philippians 4:19; James 1:17) We live in relative peace. Grocery stores overflow with an extravagant assortment of food. We have homes and warmth. We have our choice of clothing. We have a vehicle to quickly transport us long distances, often more than one. Many have a wide variety of toys and entertainment. We have the ability to read, count and think. We have the freedom to speak, assemble, pray, worship, protest and give thanks however we desire. We have much for which to be thankful.

Christians have the ultimate cause for thanksgiving. Every sin has been forgiven. Guilt and condemnation under the wrath of God has been removed. Our iniquities have been taken away by Christ and we are made righteous in Him. No matter how bad your life is, if you are a Christian, your rotten life is temporary, is still far better than the eternal suffering of hell you deserve and it will be replaced with eternal joy. Give thanks for your salvation!

The wonderful salvation of the Christian is abundant cause for rejoicing, but it is not the only reason to give thanks. Christians can give thanks because of the great promise that the abundant grace of God will be continually at work them. His grace abounds far more than sin (Romans 5:20) but also far more than need. (Ephesians 3:20) The grace of God is sufficient for all times and seasons. The grace of God is always working to do far beyond what we ask or even imagine. We can give thanks because God’s abundant grace is still overflowing.

The Bible also reveals a vast array of blessings and promises from God which are the Christian’s daily benefits. (Psalm 103:2) Your bank account may be empty and your future health may be doubtful, but God’s abundance is not diminished. For that we should always give thanks. Give thanks to God because He gives you many physical benefits and He gives you an infinite treatsure of spiritual blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving!

What does it mean to be “filled with the Spirit?”

In certain Christian circles being filled with the Holy Spirit is a very important step in a person’s spiritual development. Though not all churches define “Spirit filled” in the same way, all Christians are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. “And be not drunk with wine wherein is excess, but be ye filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18)

Being filled with the Spirit cannot mean certain things. Filling with the Spirit is not the same as having the Holy Spirit. Every Christian receives the Holy Spirit at salvation. (Romans 5:5; 2 Corinthians 5:5) The Holy Spirit is the seal of the believer’s salvation, securing the Christian unto heaven. (Ephesians 1:13-14) Those who do not have the Spirit are not saved. (Romans 8:9)

The filling of the Spirit is not the baptism of the Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:13. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” The baptism of the Spirit takes place at salvation when the Holy Spirit places the believer into the body of Christ, the universal church.

The filling of the Spirit is a not a second work of God that happens to the Christian after salvation through which the Christian receives extra power, more grace or special gifting. The New Testament does not teach that the Christian is to expect a later, special moving of the Spirit.

The filling of the Spirit is explained by Colossians 3, the parallel passage to Ephesians 5. Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you with all wisdom.” The filling of the Spirit is the same as the Word of Christ dwelling in you richly. When the Word of God fills the heart and rules the life then it is dwelling richly within the person. Likewise, being Spirit filled is being ruled by the Word. The filling of the Spirit is a yielding control of the life to the Spirit of God. It is being under the direction of the Spirit of God. The direction of the Spirit is found in the Word of God. Being filled with the Spirit ought to be the normal pattern of the Christian life.

Ephesians 5:18 contrasts being drunk with wine and being filled with the Spirit. He that is full of wine is under the influence of alcohol. His behavior and attitudes are changed because of the alcohol. Likewise, the Spirit filled Christian’s actions and attitudes will be radically changed because of the control of the Spirit. The Spirit filled Christian will sing for the edification of others and the praise of God. He will give thanks to the Lord. He will submit to others. (Ephesians 5:18-20)

The filling of the Spirit is the supernatural power of God to obey the Word of God. The filling of the Spirit is not a measure of having more of the Spirit, but the measure of the Christian’s increasing obedience to the Spirit’s working by the Word of God.

What is “evil”?

President George W. Bush gained a lot of media attention when he called certain countries an “axis of evil”. Though the word doesn’t seem to get a lot of press coverage today, evil still exists. Anyone with a bit of familiarity with current events knows the existence of evil. We all know evil when we see it, but what does the Bible say about evil?

In normal use today the term “evil” is usually reserved for things that are really bad. Cheating on taxes is bad, but most people would not call it evil. Genocide is not just bad or wrong, it is evil. Though most rational people acknowledge the existence of evil, not everyone is agreed on the nature of evil. Some describe evil as an outside force working in this world. Satan is believed to be nothing more than the personification of evil. The Bible describes Satan as evil but never mentions evil apart from an act or an individual. Evil in the Bible is not an impersonal force. Evil is not an outside agency working upon people and events of the world.

Evil describes beings and actions. Angels are evil. People are evil. Deeds are evil. That which is evil is diseased and corrupted. It is infected, rotten and malignant. Evil is a corruption of what should be. Evil is not passive. Evil implies a willful, intentional action. Evil is not like a man being tripped. Evil is active in turning from the right path to follow a forbidden one. Evil is a moral description of a being’s or a deed’s corruption or sinfulness.

The Bible most often uses the word evil to describe something that is morally corrupt, but there are times when evil is used to describe something that is afflicted or destroyed. When God punished Jerusalem for her idolatry it is said He brought evil upon the city. God did not sin against Jerusalem. He brought destruction, sorrow and misery to the city as judgment for its sin. Evil describes events have bring ruin and calamity. They are evil in consequence though not evil in morality.

The presence of evil is a constant reminder that humans are moral creatures. People have a conscience and know the difference between right and wrong. The existence of evil is a testimony to the fact that things are not as they should be. The problem of evil points men and to women to God who will eradicate evil.

Though most people do not think of themselves as evil (the latest gunman probably did not think of himself as evil), all are evil. Everyone is corrupted by sin. No one is as God designed humans. All have turned from the proper path to follow their own corrupted desires. Evil is a reality, but not just in the world out there. Evil is a reality in the hearts of every person. Every heart has been corrupted by the rottenness of sin. This is why man needs a Savior. The wonderful news of the gospel is that through Jesus evil men are forgiven of their sin and made righteous. Evil exists, but God’s grace is much greater than the worst of evils.

Does the Bible say anything about Vampires?

Vampires have become a favorite monster for modern Americans. Bram Stoker’s creation gripped minds and reshaped our culture. The vampire made its film debut in 1921 and has appeared on the screen dozens of times since then. Bela Lugosi, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Wesley Snipes and many other movie stars have played vampires on the big screen. Abraham Lincoln even sidelined as a vampire hunter. Hundreds of books and short stories have been written about vampires. Twilight has been just one of the many books, television shows and movies to make a killing off vampires. Vampires are everywhere. Does the Bible say anything about them?

The vampire as we know it is a creation of the 19th century imagination. The Bible does not mention Dracula or vampirism. Maybe the closest direct reference might be found in the Old Testament command to the Israelites forbidding drinking, or eating, the blood of any creature. While the Old Testament command does not necessarily apply to Christians today (New Testament Christianity allows for the eating of blood sausage, if you want), the Bible views blood as something special. The command against eating bloody meat was “The life of the flesh is in the blood.” (Leviticus 17:11)

The Bible recognizes the importance of blood to life and it stresses the importance of blood for forgiveness. The sacrificial system given by God to Israel showed every day the necessity of blood for forgiveness. The book of Hebrews says, “Without shedding of blood is no forgiveness.” Jesus’ death on the cross brings forgiveness through His blood that was shed. At the last supper Jesus reminded the disciples of His blood that would be shed for their forgiveness. The Lord’s Supper is a continual reminder of the blood of Jesus. Blood is a big deal in the Bible. Perhaps this is one reason the stories of undead men and women who live on the blood of their victims so stir the minds of mankind.

Though the Bible does not directly address vampires, it does address major themes that are found regularly in vampire stories. Murder, immorality and the demonic are appear often in vampire tales. Many vampire mythologies attribute the vampire’s power to the devil. These things are all negatively addressed in Scripture. Many vampire stories portray these and other wicked practices in a positive light. While most people realize vampire stories are nothing more than fantasy, filling the mind with fantasy that exalts evil is dangerous for the Christian. Ephesians 5 forbids Christians entertaining themselves with the glorification of wicked behavior, “But fornication, and all uncleanness . . . let it not once be named among you.”

One important principle to remember when considering the latest vampire novel or blockbuster vampire flick is found in 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.”

What is the New Covenant?

Jeremiah 31 says, “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” When Jesus first gave the Lord’s Supper to His disciples He told them, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” What exactly is the New Covenant?

The short answer is that the New Covenant is another covenant with Israel made by God after the Israelites repeatedly showed themselves to be unable and unwilling to keep their end of the Mosaic Covenant. Unlike the covenant made at Mt. Sinai, the New Covenant is not conditional. The Mosaic Covenant required the Israelites to obey the Mosaic law to receive the blessings promised. The New Covenant requires nothing of the covenant people. God does everything required under the New Covenant.

Even while making the Mosaic covenant God spoke of the New Covenant. After prophesying the failure of Israel to keep the Mosaic covenant, Moses tells of the time to come when God will establish His people in righteousness. In Deuteronomy 30:6 it is promised that God will “circumcise thy heart” so the Israelites will love God with all their heart and soul. He says in Leviticus 26:44-45, “neither will I . . . break my covenant with them: for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant of their ancestors . . . that I might be their God.”

According to Ezekiel 36:26-27 the new covenant will be fulfilled when God puts a new heart and a new spirit in the Israelites. God will give them His Holy Spirit so that they will keep the law of God. Their obedience will not be because of the external compulsion of the law but from the internal desire of the transformed heart. According to Ezekiel 36:28-30 the new covenant will be fulfilled when God restores the Israelites to the land and gives them the full extent of the promised land.

Through the death of Jesus Gentile Christians have been made beneficiaries of the new covenant. The New Covenant promises in Jeremiah and Hebrews are promises of forgiveness. God will not remember the sins of His people. When Jesus restores the Israelites to the promised land, the saved Gentiles will have a heritage in that land. They will be part of the people of God who enjoy the blessings of the New Covenant. The New Covenant is God’s restoration of Israel to their land and the transformation of all the redeemed so that they will desire and perfectly obey His commands.

Why was Jesus born when He was?

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a city of the province of Judea, under the rule of Herod the Great. Herod was the king of Judea appointed by the Roman government to oversee the region. Jesus was born into a captive nation under the dominion of the mightiest empire the world had known. Why then? Why was Jesus born in the Roman Empire instead of into a Jewish kingdom? Why not earlier in history? Or later?

The Bible says in Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law that we might receive the adoption of sons.” God’s Word does not give the reasons why Jesus was born when He was. Scripture makes clear, though, that Jesus was born at a very precise time, a time determined and prepared by God for the redemption of men. Jesus was born at exactly the right time.

Some Biblical factors shaped when Jesus was born. Following the covenant between God and Israel the Jews constantly rebelled against God. Their rebellion eventually resulted in the nation being conquered and many Jews being taken captive by the Babylonians. The prophet Daniel was one of those taken captives. He knew the writings of the prophet Jeremiah and knew when the time of captivity was coming to an end. As Daniel prayed God showed to him things that were going to happen in the future. God showed Daniel that the Jews were going to be returned to Jerusalem and that the temple would be rebuilt. God said the Messiah would be in Israel 483 years after the command to restore Jerusalem. Jesus was the Messiah and was in Jerusalem 483 years later, just as God had promised. This does not answer the why but it does show that Jesus was born precisely when God intended.

Historically there were advantages to Jesus being born at that time in history. The Middle East and Europe were under the control of the Roman Empire. A large portion of the world’s population was united together by Roman government, Roman peace and Roman roads. This aided the spread of the gospel. This was a rare time for Jerusalem in which Jews were under outside domination but were at relative peace. By 70 AD the city of Jerusalem was besieged, the temple destroyed and the Jews scattered. Nearly two thousand years would pass before the Jews would once again have a kingdom in Palestine. Greek was the common trade language of the Roman Empire, aiding the spread of the gospel across broad regions through the use of a common tongue. God does not tell us that Jesus was born at that time because of these historical advantages, but they help us see some of the wisdom of God’s determination.

God was not showing favoritism to the Roman Empire by sending Jesus at that time. Nor was God arbitrary in determining that Jesus would be born during that era of world history. The birth of Jesus was precisely when God determined it would be. He rules over all things and worked specifically in the world to prepare things for the incarnation of God the Son.

How much more deserving is the worst person in heaven than the best person in hell?

In an article entitled “Ten Questions about Hell from an Atheist” author Herb Silverman writes, “Our earthly binary divisions are usually quite arbitrary. People may vote when they are 18 and buy alcohol when they are 21, but they are not permitted to do so the day before. We recognize such rules for what they are — distinctions without a real difference. Not so when it comes to the cutoff between an eternity of bliss and an eternity of torture.” He wonders, “How much more deserving is the worst person in heaven than the best person in hell?”

Only one person in heaven deserves to be there. That one is Jesus who is fully God and fully human. Aside from Jesus the best person in heaven is not in the least degree more worthy to be in heaven than the worst person in hell. The difference between heaven and hell is not worth, merit, deserving or goodness. No one goes to heaven because they deserve it. Those who enter heaven do so because they have been saved from what they deserve.

Salvation is never an issue of what the person deserves. “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” (Titus 3:5) Heaven is not about getting what you deserve. Heaven is about the mercy of God which does not give you what you deserve and the grace of God which gives you what you do not deserve.

Every person deserves eternal judgment in hell. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” (Romans 5:12) “But he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18) “But the fearful, and unbelieving . . . shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8) Because all have sinned, all deserve eternal punishment.

What everyone deserves has been placed on Jesus. What no one deserves is given to those who trust Him for forgiveness. “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18) The punishment of sin that everyone deserves has been suffered by Jesus. Those who turn to Him for salvation are forgiven and given eternal life.

The distinction between those in heaven and hell is not an arbitrary division. The difference between those who make it and those who don’t is not based upon a barely understandable determination that one is slightly better than another. All are guilty. Everyone has been condemned. The difference between heaven and hell is the response of the sinful person to Jesus. Those who believe Jesus is God and Savior, who trust Him and only Him for forgiveness of sin, will have eternal life. Those who do not will not. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life.” (John 3:36)

When did Christian’s start meeting on Sunday?

Why does the church meet on Sunday? In the Old Testament Saturday was the day set apart for the Lord. The Christian church was initially made up of Jews but within a few decades the majority of the church was Gentile. The Jewish way of thinking and living faded away, including the observance a Saturday Sabbath. The church met together on the first day of the week and treated Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Why did the church start to worship on Sunday instead of Saturday?

The New Testament indicates that the early church began meeting on Sunday from day one. The church began on a Sunday. The day of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and thousands of Jews believed the gospel, was a Sunday. Pentecost Sunday was the beginning of the New Testament church.

Other New Testament passages indicate they church was in the habit of meeting on Sunday. In Acts 20:7 Paul met with the church in Ephesus. The meeting took place on the first day of the week, “when the disciples came together to break bread.” The custom of the church seems to have been to meet together on Sunday. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 Paul instructed the church in Corinth to be taking up a collection “upon the first day of the week.” This instruction makes the most sense if the church was in the habit of meeting on Sunday.

Church and Roman history reveal that the church was in the habit of meeting on Sunday very soon after the death of the apostles. Pliny was a governor in the Roman Empire in the early 100’s. He wrote a letter to the Emperor Trajan asking what to do about the Christians. In that letter he describes their meetings. “They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.” The early Christians met early in the morning on a certain day each week. Pliny does not say what day that was, but other historical references make clear that day was Sunday. In 150 AD Justin Martyr wrote in “Dialogue with Trypho a Jew”, “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read.” “Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly.

The Didache, a series of teachings written to the churches late in the first century, says, “And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks.” Though this day is not specified in the letter, the church obviously knew what day was “the Lord’s day.” The epistle of Barnabas, a letter to Christians written around 100 AD, says, “Wherefore also we keep the eighth day for rejoicing, in the which also Jesus rose from the dead.” In the gospel of Peter, written sometime in the early second century (100-150AD), Sunday is called the Lord’s Day. “And at dawn upon the Lord’s day Mary Magdalen . . . took with her friends and came to the sepulchre where he was laid.”

The change of worship from Saturday to Sunday was something that began very early in the church. The New Testament does not give a definite command to worship on Sunday, but the pattern that unfolds in Scripture and the earliest church history is of the church observing Sunday to gather together in worship and instruction.