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Thursday, May 28 2020

Many have not yet heard about it, but a movement has been spreading among independent churches to “congregational singing,” which means “singing together” in unison excluding concert formats. The movement emphasizes going back to the biblical form of worship in song. The apostle Paul wrote, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5–6 ESV). The earliest Christians worshipped by singing with one voice as a congregation. There were no special groups, choirs, praise teams, or any other concert setting in the early churches. Singing in worship and for edification has always been about “one another.” Paul instructed, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). Many churches have experienced that choirs, praise teams, and concert formats take away from congregational singing. Even the arrangement of seating in a church building can hinder congregational singing by taking the focus off edifying and encouraging one another to love and good works (1 Cor 14:6; Heb 10:24–25).
            Hundreds of independent churches across the United States have been shifting to congregational singing (ex. 9Marks ministry). The churches implementing congregational singing have been wrestling with the conflict of musical instruments and various contemporary styles. These churches are in addition to many primitive Baptist and Orthodox churches who do not use musical instruments. These churches have come to emphasize the “regulative principle” for worship, which is a principle upholding the Scriptures regulating the assembly. (The writer must clarify that I do not support the common “reformed” teachings about salvation and I cannot endorse them as churches of Christ. However, I am encouraged by the direction that they are going for their assemblies.)

            Is the “regulative principle” in the Bible? First Corinthians 11 and 14 are both chapters giving commands for edification, decency, and order in the assembly. Paul corrected the church at Corinth, “But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse” (1 Corinthians 11:17 ESV). Paul expanded and gave specific instructions for partaking of the Lord’s Supper together in the assembly (1 Cor 11:17–34). Furthermore, Paul taught, “On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3). Paul also wrote, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26).

            Among most believers, the belief in the regulative principle has been lost. Churches host “praise and worship” concerts to engage various people and bring them to hear a portion of God’s Word, but a portion of God’s Word is what most will ever receive. They receive no instruction from Jesus’s words about true worship (John 4:20–24). New Testament Christians must stand for true worship and allow the Scriptures to give order to the most edifying assembly. The assembling of the church should not be boring. If a gathering is boring, individuals should first examine themselves according to the Scriptures, and then they can encourage the elders’ leadership of the congregation to seek out biblical precedents to increase edification.

            The churches of Christ have kept the Scriptural order of the assembly. However, many have gone so far as to assume a stripped-down “Baptist” assembly that forgets the heart of worship. The Apostle Paul taught, “What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also” (1 Corinthians 14:15). The apostle also instructed being filled with the Spirit and “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19–20 ESV).

            Are you singing? Are you singing with one voice as a member of the congregation? Are you singing with your heart and your mind? Thank God that we can speak together with one voice the truth about God and give thanks to Him.

Posted by: Scott J Shifferd AT 07:00 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, May 25 2020

How do you know when God is speaking to you besides the Bible? This is a common and a good question to address. Many people claim to get specific new revelations from God. Some even claim to be prophets and write prophetic texts. Some churches claim direct inspiration from the Spirit of God to alter traditions and much more. Are they all right? Are they mostly right?

            Claiming direct revelation from God to deliver to others is different from claiming private personal revelation from God for one’s life. How can the individual Christian know the difference from having an idea and God giving them revelation?

Here are some biblical observations relevant to this subject:

1. God speaks to His people today by His Son — Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:2; cf. 2:3–4).

2. God did not speak and give direct revelation to everyone throughout the Bible, but He spoke to the prophets who spoke to the people (Hebrews 1:1; 2:2). 

3. God gave revelation by His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit as written in Scripture (Ephesians 3:3–5; cf. 2 Timothy 3:16–17).

4. Jesus promised to reveal all truth through His Spirit to His apostles (John 14:26; 16:12–13).

5. James promised that those who pray would receive wisdom from God (James 1:5–6). 

How do Christians get that wisdom from God? Christians get wisdom from God’s Word and from experiences in life understood in the light of God’s Word. Believers certainly get such wisdom from the illumination of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:16–18). However, what is the illumination of the Spirit? The Apostle Paul spoke about the illumination of the Spirit, and he taught that the Spirit gave revelation through the apostles and prophets for Christians to read and know this mystery of revelation (Ephesians 3:3–5; cf. 2:19–22). Revelation from apostolic Scripture is certainly illumination from the Spirit. This writer may be wrong, but I am not aware of any independent personal revelation from the Spirit apart from God’s written Word. I think that I would be arrogant to assert that I got an additional revelation to “all truth” revealed by the Spirit to the apostles. If everyone had this revelation of all truth, then no one would need the Bible. Furthermore, Jesus heavily relied upon the Scriptures as the revelation of God when He taught others. Christians must do the same. The Apostle Paul taught that the Scriptures are all-sufficient for every teaching and good work (2 Tim 3:16–17).
            Whatever ideas and thoughts we have from God must agree with God’s revealed Word. Otherwise, people may invent what they want thinking that their ideas come from God. They would be adding to “all truth” that Jesus promised to reveal to His apostles. Those ideas will limit their understanding of the Bible. Many read Scripture and add background scenarios that can change how they view the Bible. This happens a lot when someone does not like Jesus’s command to divorce only for extramarital sex, so they assert a background scenario that Jesus was just talking to the Pharisees or to those under the OT and not to everyone (Matthew 19:9). Many do not like speakers being males in the church so they add a background scenario that some wives were speaking out and not respecting their husbands (1 Corinthians 14:33–37). They even reason that God has no gender to dismiss masculine leadership, so they disregard that Jesus came as a male and trained male disciples to be preachers.
            What is behind people wanting to hear directly from God? Many want to do as God wants and they want specific instructions for their life. However, most people in the Bible did not get direct instructions for every life event and situation. Think about everyone in the Faith Chapter of Hebrews 11. They acted by faith not knowing how and when God would act. God wants us to trust and obey Him through all times even when we do not know what is happening and what we should do (Romans 8:28). Sadly, some people appear to want a sense of significance beyond what God has already given them. This is pride over humility. The faithful avoid this and so they believe and trust in their Creator.
            God made you in His likeness able to think intelligently and communicate. God wants you to trust Him and listen to His words revealed in Scripture for the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

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Saturday, May 23 2020

How would you rate your level of understanding God’s Word from 1 to 10 with 10 being fully mature Christian capable of teaching others on more than the elementary teachings of the Scriptures? All Christians are growing, and the faithful will never stop growing in knowledge. Peter closed his last letter commanding, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 ESV). Many Christians should be concerned because have stopped growing and are falling behind.

            The apostle Paul by the Holy Spirit answers many questions about Christian maturity and understanding the Bible in Hebrews 5:11–14. The apostle explained the implications of Jesus as the high priest in the previous verses and he noted that these are hard to explain to many Christians because they have become hard of hearing (cf. Heb 4:14–5:10). Paul expressed, “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing” (Hebrews 5:11).

            How did they become hard of hearing? By the writer assuming the Pauline author of Hebrews is Paul, he observed previously that these Hebrew Christians were apostatizing. Paul warned, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). Their problem was that they were hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (3:13). Paul urged these Christians to encourage one another every day and hold to the original confidence as they share in Christ (3:13–14). For this reason, the apostle warned them not to harden their hearts as the Israelites did in the rebellion against Moses (3:15–19).

            If you struggle to understand, do not be discourage Peter noted that much of Paul’s writing was hard to understand (2 Pet 3:15–16). However, if you know that you should have matured to teaching God’s Word to others, then you should be concerned. You can progress quickly by constantly studying God’s Word and talking with others.

            The apostle Paul expanded and observed, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child” (Hebrews 5:12–13). The lack of discipline and study has hurt the church as the faithful watch others give up and no words seem to persuade any change of their thinking. Jesus had good reasons for training His disciples constantly every day by example and teaching.

            These Christians were not mature. Paul explained, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). The apostle is not talking about the mere judgment of right and wrong behavior but distinguishing “good from evil” teaching. Paul urged them, “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (6:1). The apostle saw that they should not need to establish the foundation of elementary teachings any more (6:2–3). Paul saw that they needed again to be taught the foundation of repentance, faith, baptisms, laying on hands, resurrection, and the judgment day. These Christians should be studying and teaching these subjects in-depth and not needing someone to teach them again.

            Can you teach foundational teaching from the Scriptures on these six subjects? Then you know that you are mature in teaching. Do not give up on the contemplation of God and His Word. The best help that I get is to listen to other brethren in conversations, books, articles, and recorded sermons and studies. We need each other. Wherever you are, stay close to God and return if you need to the contemplation of His Word so that you can confidently teach the truth.

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Thursday, May 21 2020

There is no regret in turning your life to God. The apostle Paul taught that Godly grief leads to repentance unto salvation without regret (2 Corinthians 7:10). Repentance has no regret. Repentance means to change one's mind to change one's life away from sins (Acts 26:20; Romans 12:1–2; Hebrews 6:1). Do you feel shame and guilt for sin? You will not regret repentance. Some experts confront guilt as "degradation" and work to eliminate guilt but not the sin. Again, repentance leads to salvation without regret.
            Christians should remain reflective of biblical teachings about repentance. Believers should be in a constant state of the renewing of the mind so that they do not conform to the world (Romans 12:1–2). If Christians are pleading to the world to repent, then the faithful must set the example of repenting. Paul taught, "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30 ESV). God wants all to come to repentance so they will be saved (2 Peter 3:9).

            When Paul confronted the church of Christ at Corinth for their sins, his teaching caused great sorrow. However, that sorrow was from God by which they repented of their sins. In recognition of this repentance, the apostle taught that his causing grief in others was so that they repent (2 Corinthians 7:8). Paul rejoiced for them not because they were grieved but because they repented (7:9). Repenting is not sorrow but the change that comes from the humility of Godly sorrow. Upon this, Paul noted, "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death" (7:10). Godly grief produces earnestness to clear oneself of sin through a number of emotions of anger, fear, longing, and zeal (7:11). These reactions all revealed this church's earnestness to repent in the sight of God (7:12).
            How can Christians become more receptive of grief to repent? Believers can quit blaming others for their guilt and personal conflicts. How could someone make you feel guilty? "Don't make me feel guilty" is a strange response. Should you feel guilty for what you are doing? Maybe you should. If someone slandered you and framed you for murder, would you feel guilty for murdering someone? No. Someone cannot make you feel guilty if you did nothing wrong. Maybe I am wrong. Someone could make you doubt your choice of words as inconsiderate or even disrespectful. However, they are not making you feel guilty when you are innocent. Feeling guilty even for an unintentional action is your guilt, shame, and embarrassment that when this is Godly sorrow will help you change.

            Jesus revealed, "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32). If you are not a sinner, why would you need Jesus? Christians must accept the saying, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost" (1 Timothy 1:15). That is why Jesus taught, "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3, 5). When Jesus resurrected from the dead, He taught, "that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47; cf. Acts 20:21). Repentance leads to life (Acts 11:18). Repentance is essential to have one's sins forgiven through baptism in Jesus's name (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 10:43, 47–48).

            The faithful will repent unto salvation without regret. Jesus revealed, "Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:7). Thank God for those who repent and bring about rejoicing in heaven.

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