Life in Koinonia: Education in Koinonia

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And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. – Luke 2:52 ESV

 

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

 

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 1:3-11 ESV

 

Education can be an intimidating word for many of us. Some of us feel limited academically and choose to stay close to what we are most familiar when discussing opinions (ex. Politics, Football, Survivor and American Idol…). Others (and I would include myself in this group) have spent quite a few years in school and still have nightmares about showing up to finals in college physics – completely unprepared and unable to even understand the questions on the test, let alone answer them. There may even be some of you who very much value education and simply wish you had the time or money to pursue more of it. Regardless of where you fit into the spectrum, mentioning the word “education” often has the effect of isolating us from one another as we mentally divide one another into those that have it, those that don’t – those that need it, and those we think could not handle it.

 

In Church, in Koinonia however, we have a command to be educated in the worship and way of God. Many, many institutions of Christian education point out the Scripture Luke 2:52 as an example of Jesus becoming educated himself as He grew from childhood to adulthood. They point out that, because Jesus did it, therefore we should as well. However, it can be dangerous to simply turn Jesus’ example into a direct command in our lives. For instance, Jesus spent his last few years homeless… should we all therefore give up our homes and wander from town to town? Jesus never married… should we all be single? No, Luke 2:52 does not translate well into a command in our lives, but it can stand for a commendation for education. In other words, Education generally is a good thing.

 

Part of the reason institutions of religious education feel the need to defend education of the Church, is that, for many years there has been a suspicion that the more a person was educated, the less faith they had. This fear has been reinforced over the years by young people who have been raised in Christian families with traditional Christian values who go away to college and several years later renounce their faith in Christianity because of what they learned, because of questions that were raised for them in college. Thus arose the need for “Christian” colleges – places of education that emphasized Scriptural truths and taught their students to combat the questions raised by “secular” educational institutions. The result is a war for truth between colleges, which is ironic because most of the large “secular” universities started out as Christian universities – often for training pastors.

 

There are distinctions in churches as well, regarding the value of education. Most churches would prefer to have pastors, teachers, and other leaders whom they consider intelligent and knowledgeable – particularly regarding God and the Scriptures, but many have preferences as to what kind of education they want them to have: Catholic, Protestant, Liberal, Conservative, etc. In other words, they have an idea of what the answers to their questions are and they want to be sure their leaders stay in line with those answers. Certainly there is room for opinion and flexibility in most cases, but there are usually set boundaries as well. If this seems a bit too complicated and a bit overwhelming, don’t worry, you are in good company. The Early Church for instance had nearly as many different types of leaders as we do today. They had Peter and John, who were described as illiterate, and yet who brought thousands to Christ, wrote parts of the New Testament, and they are traditionally viewed as the top of the church leadership ladder, just under Jesus Himself. However there was also Paul, who had something like a law and theology degree by today’s standards. Paul himself started or brought important teaching and leadership to many of the churches in the first century and he wrote more of the New Testament than any other individual and more than Peter and John combined. So which is better leadership: the educated or those who have to rely more on their faith and the power of the Spirit? The Early Church and particularly the churches in Corinth argued about this quite a bit so that Paul had to remind them that they were losing sight of the big picture: namely that Jesus Christ was the head of the Church – not Peter, Paul, Mary, John, or anyone else.

 

Looking across the scriptural canon, I believe we are first commanded to be good stewards of the gifts we have been given by God and the opportunities we have. While I do not believe more education automatically means you are a better Christian, squandering an opportunity for education will certainly not make you a better follower of Jesus. I really like what 2 Peter says about taking the faith you have and adding virtue, then adding knowledge to that, and then self-control… followed by steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and finally culminating in love. In other words, our spiritual growth begins in faith and ends in love – neither of which absolutely require a special degree in education, but knowledge is a part of that process – in whatever form our knowledge of God is given to us. Peter and John for example got much of their education from apprenticing themselves to Jesus when He walked the earth. That is likely where they learned to preach, teach, pray, heal, and minister. Jesus was their model, He critiqued their work, and He encouraged them in their pursuit of God in their lives. Paul did not have the luxury of three years working beside Jesus, but He had 20 some years studying the history of God’s will and work in Creation with his own teachers. He also learned the culture and laws of Rome so that he was more prepared to bring the Gospel to those who did not grow up Jewish and to help interpret what aspects of Jewish culture were necessary to hold on to in Christianity, as well as which ones were better left behind.

 

So, education is important… how much or of what type you have is a bit more flexible. We need to first focus on what we have rather than concern ourselves overmuch about opportunities that we do not have at present. Secondly though, we need to teach what we do know. Jesus commands all of us, not just pastors, priests, or paid staff of churches to go and make disciples in the world. Making disciples involves teaching. It means more than that as well… it means praying for them, loving them, supporting them when they are in need… but it also means teaching them what you know about following Jesus. Perhaps you can’t quite figure out how to explain the significance of Song of Solomon in the Bible, or perhaps you are not well-versed in the history of God’s work in the church through the last two millennia… could you teach someone how to pray though? Could you teach someone what to do when the stress of the world seems overwhelming? Could you teach someone just a piece of how you know God loves you, and how you know God loves them as well? Those are essential pieces of Christian education that ought to be found, not only in every church in the world, but wherever you can find a Christian to pull aside and ask for direction. God does not ask us all to be bible scholars or graduate-level theologians. He asks us to be good stewards of the gifts and opportunities He has given us, and to share them – to share what we know, with the rest of the world that is dying to learn it.

 

 

Life in Koinonia: Week 5 – Worship in Koinonia

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“…whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” – 1 Corinthians 3:22-23

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. – John 4:24

Pilate said, “So you are a king?”   Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime.” – John 18:37-38

 

Some scholars have compared our post-modern societal trends with the pluralistic culture of the first few centuries A.D., particularly in the Roman Empire. They have shown that in both cultures their exists an relative acceptance of conflicting religious views and a general doubt about what is true and whether we can actually be sure of anything. Now, before I turn you off with something that sounds like dry, academic philosophy, let me make another comparison here. Rome created one of the first world markets and, had they been able to cross the Himalayas or spent more time crossing the Atlantic, they have become a truly global empire. They went out not just as conquerors, but with the intention of sharing their technology with the rest of the “backwater” nations of the world, and left the legacy of paved roads all through Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Northern Africa. In Rome, you were free to worship any way you wanted – provided you were patriotic and worshipped the Emperor first. Caesar was not a jealous god, he just wanted his dues. The Christians who were persecuted in Rome (as opposed to those persecuted by Jews in Jerusalem) were not charged with telling others about non-Roman gods. They were charged with telling others that Caesar and the Roman deities were not gods. From the height of this glory, Rome fell to rubble, much as Jerusalem had many years before it. The Goths from northern Europe burnt it to the ground, yet the fires started within the Roman people, the Roman leaders themselves. Their influence remains today, not for the city itself (which was reborn under Christian leadership), but largely due to their widespread cultural influence.

In this context, both then and now in our world today it seems, the word “worship” becomes emphasized, its importance emphasized over words like “faith”, “doctrine”, “creeds”, and so forth. This means we tend to pick our churches based on whether their worship elements live up to our expectations more than if we buy into their specific theology or religious beliefs. Whether or not, you think that is a good or bad thing, that is the hand we have been dealt and the reality in which we live. Therefore, the question of worship – and specifically how to worship “in spirit and truth” becomes all the more important to us today.

What is worship? Well, we can break it down into a list of activities that are generally accepted as being a part of worship:

  • Singing or playing music, especially music that is related to God or spiritual themes
  • Praying to God: for ourselves and/or for others
  • Reading scripture
  • Preaching or listening to preaching
  • Spending time in silence and reflection
  • Giving a material offering
  • Celebrating the sacraments (particularly baptism and the Lord’s Supper)

Besides these generally accept elements, we may also participate in:

  • Prophesying
  • Speaking in tongues
  • Dancing
  • Shaking
  • Shouting
  • Laughing
  • Crying
  • Kneeling
  • Rolling on the floor
  • Anointing with oil
  • Picking up snakes
  • Burning incense
  • Asking for spiritual commitments

You may laugh at some of these, but all of them have at least a slight basis in Scripture, even if they are only accepted in a very few churches. They also represent a wide variety of worship styles, so that I doubt there is any one particular church that uses all of these elements. Last week in church, I shared that true worship comes in Koinonia, in the spirit of unity as Jesus draws us up to God, and that this is God’s gift to us, not something we do to earn points with our Heavenly Father. That unity, and the true worship that follows does not come by all of us agreeing with one another about everything either, but by a willingness to set our own prejudices, opinions, and agendas (wonderful though they may be) aside and let Jesus lead us (not just me). As He draws us up to God, worship becomes as natural as breathing.

Using Christ-centeredness, or God-centeredness with God as Trinity, which of the activities then are involved in “worship in spirit and truth”? My gut tells me music, especially singing (don’t all worship services involve music?)… and prayer because worshipping God surely means communicating with Him, and probably Scripture reading and preaching if at all possible – because you can’t go wrong bringing in the Bible, right? Let’s pause just a moment though and try leading with our head instead of our gut… or better yet, let’s let God lead, looking at the Scriptures where He spoke about worship.

I realize that there are a lot of ideas about how worship in the Early Church was done, or even during the time that Jesus came in the flesh. However, the history of worship does not begin there, it begins in the Old Testament. When you go back to Genesis, you find worship of God done by creating altars out of uncut stone and offering up animal sacrifices. Prayers of promise and commitment were prayed as well. This worship act however, was not typically one done once per week, but, following the Scripture, seems to be done on an as-needed basis. Much of these acts were probably similar to the way pagan gods were worshipped during the time as well. However, before you throw animal sacrifice out the window entirely, remember that, on Mt. Sinai, it was God who specifically laid out the worship calendar for the Jews and who included animal sacrifices as an integral part of that service. Remember also, that God would not accept just any animal you happen to find on the road on the way to the temple or Tabernacle, but He specifically demanded offerings from the worshipper’s own livestock. Again, prayers were prayed, in some cases music may have even been involved, but not always. The sacrificial offering was the central, and perhaps most important part of Old Testament worship.

As the Early Church began to grow and hold their own worship services, they also incorporated customs from the various areas they were in, including Jerusalem, Samaria, as well as parts of modern day Turkey, India, Ethiopia, Greece, and Italy. However, Acts tells us that the common link between all these varied congregations with varied worship styles was prayer and celebrating the Lord’s supper. Before, the debates arise as to whether you use real wine or juice, or what kind of bread… let us remember that the Lord’s Supper, as first celebrated by Jesus, was a Passover meal – remembering the lamb that was slain so that death would “pass over” the Israelite slaves in Egypt as the nation was judged for their sin. Jesus, in saying “this is my body…” shows them that He is the Passover lamb that is slain so that our sins will be “passed over” or forgiven. So, here again, we have a sacrifice as the central part of worship.

The sacrifice Jesus made for the forgiveness of our sin is hard to conceptually move from 2000 years ago to today, since it was on the cross that the sacrifice was made, not in our church every Sunday mornings, and the Letter to the Hebrews tells us so reminding us that Jesus’ death covers all sin, not just the sin of people of His day, for as death came through one man (Adam) so shall sin be redeemed by one (Jesus). Leviticus helps us out a bit further. If you look closely at the sacrifices offered to God in Leviticus, each has its own particular purpose. One is for healing, one is for thanks, one is for forgiveness… but they all have a similar pattern. The worshipper almost always has to bring 2 separate sacrifices, regardless of the reason. The first sacrifice purifies the worshipper, allowing them access to the Holiness of God’s presence. The second offering is what they bring as their act of worship to the presence of God. Often, the first sacrifice is made at the Temple/Tabernacle door, and the second one is brought inside to the altar. Again Hebrews, and the Letter to the Romans as well, show us that Jesus is that first sacrifice for us, giving us entry into God’s presence by cleansing us from sin and giving us His own righteousness. But once we get there, what do we bring to the altar?

Look at what Paul writes in Romans 12:

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” – Romans 12:1 NLT

We are to bring our bodies, and I would suggest our lives themselves as an offering of worship to God. We truly worship God, not through music, prayer, even sacramental rituals (though these all have their place as well). We truly worship God by bringing ourselves and giving ourselves to Him. Now some may try to turn this around and say, yes, I completely agree… and that is why we should play Amazing Grace for every worship service, because I can only completely give myself to God when I’m singing that song – particularly when it’s being played on bagpipes. Let me remind the picky parishioner about where we are when we worship though. Because Christ gave his life as the first sacrifice for us, we are in God’s presence and when the Lord, upon His throne, looks upon us from heaven and asks you what you bring to Him as your act of worship… will you really make excuses and tell God the setting wasn’t quite right for you to “get into” worshipping Him. Even if the person on your right stands up and starts speaking in a strange language and the person on your left starts rolling on the floor… it is not our place to make excuses to God about why we refuse to bring anything, or particularly to bring ourselves (for that is what He truly desires) to the altar as a living sacrifice and as true worship. Worship is not a response to the music, preaching, prayers, or any other piece of the worship service. Worship is, at its core, a response to God’s love for us.

God loves you. What are you going to do about it?