Why did Jesus pray?

Jesus prayed often. The four gospels record dozens of times when Jesus prayed. Prayer was an important part of His life. Yet, Jesus was- and is- God. As God, Jesus had perfect fellowship with God the Father and God the Spirit. Why did He need to pray?

When God the Son became human He willingly set aside His power and glory as God. Jesus remained God but He emptied Himself of the glory of God., so that Jesus was fully human while remaining fully God. As a man, Jesus relied upon God the Father. The mighty miracles that Jesus did, He did by the power of God (Acts 2:22). Jesus prayed because He had willingly made Himself depended on the Father. He acknowledged and confessed that reliance through prayer.

Jesus prayed for the same reason that every Christian ought to pray. He prayed to converse with His Heavenly Father. In the eternity that existed before God created the universe, God the Father, Son and Spirit were in perfect fellowship and unity together. The Trinity shares a level of intimacy unlike anything humanity has experienced. The Bible tells us little about the fellowship between the three persons of the Trinity or how that relationship was affected by God the Son becoming man. But the incarnation changed that relationship. Jesus prayed because in prayer He had fellowship with God. Jesus prayed because He delighted in conversing with His Father. Jesus’ prayer was no mere duty or religious ritual. It was the expression of a loving relationship between Son and Father.

Jesus prayed for the benefit of His disciples, for others who heard Him pray and for ourselves. He prayed that we might believe He is the Savior. This is especially evident in John 12 when Jesus said, “I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.” Jesus’ prayers show a concern for the bystanders response to His prayer. He prayed that others may profit from hearing Him pray.

Jesus’ active prayer life is an example to us to pray. Christians are to become more like Christ , to be growing in imitation of Him. Christ’s life of prayer shows us how to pray. He specifically taught how to pray. He commanded perseverance in prayer. But He did not just teach, He modeled prayer for us. He showed Christians how to pray in deep distress, in success and in disappointment. He prayed early in the morning, late at night, at meals and before major decisions. Jesus prayed often and in doing so showed us how to pray.

Prayer was a vital part of Jesus’ life and ministry. He prayed in times of anguish. He prayed for rest and refreshment. He prayed before major events and miracles. He prayed for His disciples, for future believers and for unbelievers. He prayed for God’s glory and for God’s will. He prayed without ceasing. If God the Son prayed always, why don’t we?

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Isn’t meditation emptying your mind?

Meditation for many Americans is a relaxation technique. The common understanding of meditation is that it is emptying mind and thinking about nothing. The Bible speaks often of meditation, encouraging and commanding believers to meditate. Does the Bible teach that Christian’s should empty their minds?

Scripture uses the word meditation in contexts that provide additional and essential information about how the Biblical writers understood meditation. The Word of God describes meditation as the opposite of emptying the mind. Biblical meditation is not repeating a word, phrase or sound over and over again. Biblical meditation is filling the mind with deep consideration of truth.

The Hebrew word translated into the English word “meditate” can also be translated “mutter” or “speak under the breath.” Sometimes when concentrating on a difficult problem people will talk to themselves. They will murmur, whisper, or even talk the problem through with a friend. Meditation is not necessarily a silent activity. In the Psalms David said, “And my tongue shall speak (the word speak is translated elsewhere in the Bible as meditate) of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.” (Psalm 35:28)

The Bible always describes meditation as being attentive to specific information. The Psalms repeatedly speak of meditating on the Word of God. Biblical meditation is not mindless, but is focused upon Divine truth. “My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:48)

Scripture also describes meditation as considering the work of God and the character of God. David meditated on God’s working in days gone by. He may have thought on God’s creation of the world, His deliverance of the Israelites or the blessing of God in his own life. David meditated on what God had done. “I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.” (Psalm 77:12) David meditated upon the character of God. In Psalm 66 he spake of God’s power, glory and lovingkindness. David then said, “I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.”

Meditation is not only an internal process, nor is it only a private process. Meditation involves speaking the truths of God. Praise to God is a form of meditation. “My tongue also shall talk (meditate) of thy righteousness all the day long.” (Psalm 71:24) Speaking the truths of God to others is also form of meditation. “The mouth of the righteous speaketh (meditates) wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment.” (Psalm 37:30)

Though the popular understanding of meditation is of a passive activity in which the person seeks to quiet his mind, the Bible describes it as an active process. Biblical meditation does not attempt to still the mind, but to fill it. Biblical meditation actively works to understand God’s Word. Biblical meditation involves teaching God’s truths to others, praising God for who He is and what He has done. Biblical meditation can be done quietly in the mind, it can be done vigorously with a pen and paper, it can be done conversationally with others and it can be done prayerfully in praise to God. But Biblical meditation cannot be done without active thought.

Can only an ordained minister baptize?

Every Christian church celebrates baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Some also observe other sacraments, but baptism and communion are familiar to any who have been a part of a Christian church. Most churches also have ordained clergy administrate the two ordinances. Some churches teach that only ordained members of the clergy allowed to officiate baptism and communion.

The New Testament is silent about who is permitted to baptize or administer the Lord’s Supper. The apostle Paul even said he was glad he only baptized a handful of people in Corinth. The rest of those baptized in Corinth were baptized by unnamed individuals. The Bible teaches how the ordinances are to observed and the motives necessary for those participating, but it does not address who should give the ordinances. The one receiving the ordinance must receive it rightly, recognizing it as a testimony of God’s grace. While the New Testament says much about the importance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper it does not give any requirements for who can officiate those ordinances. The one administering an ordinance ought to be a believer and should have the right attitude and motives. Those officiating the ordinances should recognize and reflect their proper importance.

This does not mean anyone can baptize anyone they want in the family pool. A dad may desire to baptize his newly saved child, but baptism is a public event. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of the local church. They are not private events to be observed in isolation. They are public testimonies of the grace of God proclaimed to the church and the unsaved world. None can simply administer the ordinance in their home or to themselves. The dad may be permitted to baptize his child at the church, or the church may come to the family’s house to for a baptismal service, but the performance of the ordinances should be under the leadership of the church and with the gathered assembly of believers.

Some may wonder about the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. Only Philip and the eunuch are mentioned, so does that mean it was a private ceremony involving only those two? The account of Acts 8 makes clear the eunuch was not traveling alone. He was sitting in his chariot reading while they traveled and he ordered the chariot to be stopped. Obviously someone else was driving the chariot. We don’t know how many people were there, but others were present. The baptism of the eunuch was a public confession of his faith.

The use of the ordinances should be solemn and serious. None should allow personal convenience or personal preference to determine their use. These things are commands of God and the Word of God must guide the Christian’s obedience in them. As public testimonies given to the church, the ordinances should be performed in public under the authority of a local church.

Is everyone a Christian who says they are?

A recent survey in Great Britain determined over half of Christian’s surveyed do not believe or are not sure that Jesus died on the cross to forgive sin. Seventeen percent said they disagreed with the statement, “Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected at Easter so that you can be forgiven for your sins.”

Many evangelical Christians consider belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus to forgive sin is essential to Christianity. Outside of Catholicism, no Christian group recognizes any human authority to determine who is or is not Christian. There is no membership fee or initiation process. Someone can claim to be a McDonald’s employee, but unless he is actively working for and receiving pay from McDonald’s corporation, the claim is obviously false. The same cannot be said of Christianity. One can go to church and have all the appearance of being a Christian without actually being one. Likewise, a genuine Christian can observe none of the outward trappings of Christianity and still be one.

The Bible defines who is a Christian. This is not determined by a committee decision, a council’s resolution, a church edict or a papal decree. The Bible defines what makes a person a Christian and describes the visible evidences of genuine Christianity. While no one has the authority to declare who is and is not a Christian, all believers have the ability- based upon the authority of Scripture- to declare that some who profess Christianity are not actually Christian.

Christianity is not determined by a strong feeling of being a Christian, nor even by doing Christian things. Jesus warned there would be some who preached and did miracles in His name that would be cast into hell. In the day of judgment Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you.” Personal feelings, religiousness or devotion are not what makes a person a Christian. What makes a person a Christian is proper belief personally applied.

Proper belief is belief in the gospel. The substance of the gospel is defined in Corinthians 15. The truths of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection for our sin must be believed to be saved. Likewise, the Bible declares if a person denies certain key doctrines, then that person is not a Christian, no matter what they may call themselves. These undeniable doctrines include salvation by grace through faith alone (Galatians 1:7-8) and the deity of Jesus (1 John 4:2-3).

The New Testament gives a clear definition of who is and is not truly a Christian. A Christian is a person which believes Jesus is God who died on the cross for sin and rose again. A Christian is one who then abandons all attempts at securing salvation for himself and places his full trust in Jesus to forgive his sin. This definition has not changed in the two thousand years since Jesus’ life. No one is a Christian merely because they identify as a Christian. Self-identification as a Christian does not make a person a child of God any more than self-identification as a walrus makes a person a grumpy pinniped. Only faith in Christ makes one a Christian.

Do we have access to the original Biblical languages?

Americans today can chose from a wide range of Bible translations. The Bible has been translated into every major language in the world. Few countries have no access to a copy of the Bible in their predominant language. Despite the widespread availability of Scriptures in modern languages, there is a small group of skeptics who insist no one knows what is really in God’s Word because we no longer have access to the original Biblical languages.

We know the original writings of the apostles and prophets were lost long ago. No one has the parchments that Paul wrote on. No one has the stones the Ten Commandments were recorded on. What we do have are thousands of ancient copies of the original writings. Certain skeptics say the ancient copies do not reflect the original languages of the prophets and apostles. Are those languages lost to history, thus making it impossible for Christians to every really understand the Bible?

The Bible was written in three languages. Most of the Old Testament was written in Ancient Hebrew. Most of the New Testament was written in Koine Greek. Small portions of the Old and New Testaments were written in Aramaic. All three of these languages are dead languages no longer spoken today. However, like Latin, though no one speaks the Biblical languages they are far from inaccessible.

Some of the many ancient copies of the Old and New Testaments were written within a couple hundred years of the conclusion of each Testament and in the same language as the originals. Language changes over time, but a language does not change beyond comprehension in a few hundred years. Take English as an example. English of the early 1800’s would be very understandable to any English speaker today. English of the early 1600’s would sound strange but would remain mostly understandable. The English of the early 1400’s would require more work and thought, but would still be broadly understandable to an educated English speaker. Likewise, the early copyists and translators of the Bible would have had no problems understanding the original language.

Greek and Hebrew have been studied for millennia. Scholars have a good understanding of how the languages developed and changed over the years. Bible students today have access to ancient copies of the Bible and the works of ancient scholars who studied the Bible in the decades immediately following the writing of the Biblical books. The Bible itself gives us every reason to expect the older portions to be understandable, since the authors of the New Testament frequently quoted, explained and applied the Old Testament to first century believers. In addition, the argument that we cannot understand the Bible because we do not have access to the original languages would also eliminate our ability to understand many ancient historians and philosophers, like Plato and Socrates.

We can have absolute confidence in the accessibility, accuracy and understandability of the Bible today. God’s Word has been carefully preserved throughout the centuries. The Words of God given by Him through His apostles and prophets is still available to people today.

What is the Difference Between Catholicism and Protestantism?

Like a single tree trunk separates into various large branches, Christianity can be divided into several large family groups. The largest are Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism. Most Americans have at least a passing familiarity with Catholic and Protestant churches. Very few churches identify themselves outwardly as Protestant, but many stem from the Protestant branch of Christianity. The Protestant faiths include Presbyterianism, Episcopalianism, Lutheranism, Methodism and a number of other denominations. All churches which trace their beginnings to the Protestant Reformation are Protestant churches.

Some of these churches, like many Baptist churches, look and act nothing like the Catholic church. Some, like many Lutheran churches, bear an outward resemblance to the Catholic church. Is there any real difference between the Catholic church and Protestant churches?

This question is complicated by the many variations of beliefs in individual churches, even within the same denomination. These differences are almost beyond counting and vary from congregation to congregation. Some of the differences are very significant and some are unimportant. To keep things short, this answer will focus on the official doctrines that have traditionally separated Catholics from Protestants.

One further complication is the many Protestant groups who downplay, deny or ignore the official church doctrines. This branch of Protestantism, called theological liberalism, gives little concern to the doctrinal creeds of the churches. Liberalism emphasizes social issues and holds very different opinions from the Catholic church on matters of sexuality, abortion and the role of women in the church.

Traditional Protestants and Catholics have many important beliefs in common. They all believe there is only one God who is a Trinity. They believe Jesus is God the Son who became man to die for the sins of humanity. They believe the Bible is the Word of God given by the Holy Spirit through the apostles and prophets. They believe people are sinners in need of a Savior. Despite these very important beliefs in common, the differences that separate the two groups are equally as important.

The Protestant reformation began with the statement, “Now the just shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:11) The doctrine of salvation by faith alone is the biggest and most important difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. The Catholic church teaches that through faith the person is enabled by Christ to accomplish salvation. Protestant churches teach that salvation is fully accomplished by Christ and given to the one who receives Him by faith. These two beliefs are not compatible with one another. The one says works are essential to salvation, the other says any one attempt to work for salvation are not saved.

There are many, many other differences between Protestantism and Catholicism. However, what truly sets these two groups apart is their different teachings on salvation. How a person receives forgiveness of sin and salvation is a matter of the greatest importance. As long as the churches teach a different way of salvation there will always be a divide between Catholicism and Protestantism.

If God is Sovereign Why Pray?

God rules over everything, He is the ultimate authority in the universe and sovereign over all. The nature of God’s sovereignty has been frequently discussed and debated by Christians for hundreds of years. Some have said God does not always accomplish His will in this world and the fulfillment of His purposes is dependent on the actions of men. For those who believe God limits His interference in the affairs of mankind, there is no tension between prayer and sovereignty. However, others believe God’s will is always being accomplished and He has predetermined all events that will happen. For those who hold this view of God’s sovereignty there exists a real tension between the function of prayer and the will of God. 

The Bible strongly affirms the sovereignty of God. In Ephesians 1:11 we are told that God “accomplisheth all things after the counsel of His own will.”  Isaiah 46:10-11 God says, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure. I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.” A literal reading of these verses leads to the conclusion that what God has determined to do He will definitely acomplish.  

If God will always do what He plans, what is the role of prayer in history, human lives and the plan of God? Does prayer change the mind of God? Does prayer serve any purpose in accomplishing God’s will or in changing the events of this world? Does God really answer prayer or does He just do what He had always planned on doing in the first place? These are not trivial questions. They cut to the heart of prayer and the believer’s relationship with God. 

The Bible also strongly affirms the effectiveness of prayer. James 5:16 says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” In Matthew 7 Jesus promises that if we ask, God will give what we ask. James 4 says, “You have not because you ask not.” The Bible describes a real connection between praying and receiving. The Old Testament gives examples of men like Moses and Abraham who prayed and changed the mind of God. Without a doubt God answers the prayers of His children. He changes His plans and gives good things in response to the prayers of His people. The Bible teaches that God genuinely answers the prayers of His children and He always accomplish His purposes.

If the only purpose of prayer was to get stuff from God, then any attempt to answer this question would be frustrating and ultimately futile. Prayer is about more than making requests of God. Prayer is a vital part of the believers relationship with his Heavenly Father. Genuine prayer includes praise, confession and thankfulness, as well as asking. God delights in answering the prayer of His children, but God delights even more in having a relationship with them. John 15 makes answered prayer dependent upon a healthy relationship with God. Prayer is all about relationship with God. The incredible privilege of the beleiver is to personally speak to the Sovereign God who rules all things. God graciously promises to answer the prayers of His people. 

In the end there is still some unresolved tension because we are not able to fully understand the Bible’s truths about God. He is in control of all things. He does work all things according to His will and He does answer the prayer of His people. The Bible affirms all these truths, and so Christians joyfully affirm them as well. We pray with faith, patience and hope because it is our privilege to do so, knowing we have a gracious Father who will hear and answer. 

Did the early church meet in people’s homes?

Recent years have shown a renewed interest in the habits of the apostolic church. Many are asking what the church did in the first decades after Jesus’ resurrection. Much of this interest comes from a desire to answer the always important question of what it means to be a church. One specific question that is being asked is where the early church gathered. Did the early church meet in individual’s homes?

The Bible is not silent about where the church met. Scripture makes specific statements that some churches met in homes. Colossians 4:15 says, “Salute . . . Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.” In Romans 16 Paul greets the church meeting in Aquilla and Priscilla’s house. Paul wrote the epistle of Philemon to Philemon and the church in his house. Without a doubt early churches met in homes. 

However, the early church did not meet exclusively in people’s homes. The Bible also makes specific statements that some churches met in public areas and large facilities. Acts 5 tells of the church in Jerusalem gathering in the temple courtyard. In Acts 19 the Ephesian believers are said to have met in the “school of Tyrannus” and continued meeting in this facility for two years. These two examples are sufficient to show that the church meeting place was not restricted to homes or that home meetings were seen as superior to meeting in other locations. The New Testament gives many commands about how the church should gather. The New Testament describes when the church should gather. The New Testament does not give any instructions about where the church should gather.

Proponents of house churches sometimes imply and sometimes state that the house church is better because it has less formal structure than a more traditional church. The New Testament shows a development and increase in the organization of the church, but there is nothing to indicate that the basic formal structures of the modern church were not in existence during the apostolic era. The New Testament discusses a number of formal structures in the church. These include a known membership, a select group of deacons, lists of widows, the giving and distribution of gifts, a known and understood body of doctrine, the appointment of special ministers to act on behalf of the church, the ability of the congregation to welcome and remove people from the church, a clearly defined pastorate, men specially appointed as pastors, an accepted body of doctrine and vigorous defense against false doctrines.

The early churches met in homes. These early house churches were not a gathering of the family on Sunday morning. Nor were they an informal gathering of neighbors to discuss the Bible. From the very beginning every church was an official gathering of believers who held to orthodox doctrine, who had a defined membership, who appointed officers to oversee their affairs, who were submitted to pastoral authority and who made binding decisions for themselves. The location of meeting does not define a church. The gathering of believers with the active intention of fulfilling all the responsibilities given by Jesus to His church is what makes a group of people a church.