church

Equipped to Serve: An introduction to church history

My church, Trinity Church Bradford, runs a course called Equipped to Serve. It runs over four years, and covers Christian doctrine, a Bible overview, church history and practical skills. This is the third year, and church history is the theme for the whole year. In the coming months I’ll be posting my thoughts on some of the things we’ve learnt.

In the first term we looked at the early church fathers, who wrestled with the question of God’s impassibility (don’t worry if you don’t know what that means, neither did I!) This term we’re considering the reformation, and next term will be the age of reason (I don’t really know what period that is, but we’re covering Descartes to Kant if that means anything to you!) It’s not a comprehensive look at church history, of course, but it’s a good grounding for further study in the future. The approach we are taking is to look at some of the key writings of each period, rather than focusing on the events themselves. We have been using these writings to gain an insight into the concerns, and particular the theology, of those who were at the centre of the events.

My aim is to write a series of posts to help myself think through some of what I’ve been learning, and draw out some highlights that might be beneficial to others too. I’m planning to start these posts from the material we’ve looked at this term, but I do intend to come back to the early church fathers at some point in the future. Next week (hopefully) I’ll be looking at Erasmus and allowing him to help us see some of the context of the reformation.

Advertisements

A young servant

How can a young Christian serve their church?

I get the impression that young people in churches are sometimes keen to help, but don’t know how. They get put on teams to serve tea, or do other fairly small tasks, and this is great. I think it’s really valuable to be involved in practical service, but I want to suggest there is a real spiritual service open to even the youngest Christians.

In order to serve the church, it is necessary to serve the people within the church. There is no abstract ‘church’ which is somehow distinct from the Christians who meet together. The church is the body of Christ, a united nation. Time and time again, the New Testament speaks of the church in language which is both corporate and personal.

So how can a young person serve their church? They may not be able to preach, or help with regular meetings, but they can serve the people of the church. Serving tea is a great example, but it needn’t stop there. Befriending people is a valuable service to the church. Talking about God’s work in your life is bound to encourage other believers. Asking people for help to understand the Bible will bring the church together. Offering to pray for people will not go unappreciated. The list is almost endless.

A good church should be a loving community of Christians, mirroring the loving community of God. Let us show love to those Christians around us, seeking to build them up and helping them fix their eyes upon Jesus.

If you want to serve your church, serve the people.

Building me up

The internet has contributed much to the world in which we briefly live. Some is, of course, undesirable to say the least, but there is much good on the internet. For the Christian it is a fantastic resource giving us sermons, articles, blogs, books, and just about anything else we could want to build us up as Christians. Much of it is even free of charge. But is this the way God intends us to be built up in our spiritual lives?

We read nothing of the internet in the Bible, of course, but we read much about the church. We know it is the church which God has ordained to be His vehicle for helping His children grow more like our Saviour Jesus Christ (among other things). It is in a church context that Christians are expected to encourage each other to live holy lives for God

What, I wonder, is the proper place of the internet in Christians growing to be more like Christ? As we are being sanctified before God, how much should we rely on the many wonderful resources afforded to us by it? With so many sermons, blogs and videos available online from mature Christians, it must surely be possible to get more spiritual input in a day than previous generations have had in a month. How much impact such input could possibly have on your life would be quite another matter, of course.

So how much should we listen to online sermons? How many theology articles should be read online? How many Christian blogs should we read? I daresay we can all agree that these would be poor substitutes for hearing our pastor preach on a Sunday, reading theology books and having face to face conversation with mature Christians. But we can have them as well. We should use them as much as possible, for there is no downside to them!

But is that statement true? While it cannot be denied that the use of the internet enables ordinary Christians to access a great variety of teaching and discussion more quickly than has ever been possible before, it could be argued that as quantity has increased, quality has decreased. I am very aware that I really do live in a soundbite generation, feeding off short snippets. Has this propensity of short snappy sayings replaced the time consuming act of Christian meditation, filling the mind with the glory of God for a long period of time? Do we study God’s word in the same depth we used to? I say ‘we’ – I of course have never known a time without the internet, and wouldn’t know how saints acted in years gone by, but this is a serious question. Are Christians such as myself inadvertently reducing our growth in Christ by removing the work of it? It is obvious that we get less out of reading someone else’s analysis of a Bible passage than we do from writing our own – does the same principle hold to more general Christian growth?

The internet has also changed where Christians look for encouragement, edification and rebuke. Once very definitely the preserve of the local church, now that there is free and easy access to all of the above on the internet do we rely on them? I certainly do not think it is a bad thing to grow because of something read, watched, or listened to on the internet, but a more mature believer who knows us can surely do a better job of telling us what we need to hear. It is easy to avoid a rebuke if it is on a stranger’s blog, or a sermon delivered by a pastor you’ve never met. It is easy to reject the advice of someone you don’t know. Is this not one value of a local church member, or pastor, telling you what you need to hear?

Heavenly advertising

The more eagle-eyed among you will notice that it’s exactly a month since I last posted anything to this blog. The main reason for this has been that I’ve been very busy with work, as I’ve been at various Christian Union missions and training events. I wasn’t organised enough to write some posts in advance to tide me over, but I’m sure all my readers (yes, both of you!) coped admirably with my radio silence. If anyone is interested in knowing how things went with my work, get in touch and I can email you a copy of my latest prayer letter.

Talking of smooth transitions, I’ve noticed a lot of advertising recently on the theme of religion. It was on the way to Forum South East that I came across a novel use of the term ‘church’.

I don’t really care about the use of the word ‘church’, but I do like their definition of repentance, which involves doing something to the contrary of the sin. It’s interesting to see such an active meaning given to the word ‘repent’ but I think it’s very much the Biblical meaning.

Not long after I came across a somewhat stranger advert, which I must confess I still don’t really understand. However, I wholeheartedly agree with the main message. It does strike something of a chord with Acts 4:12.

I’ve also recently enjoyed a bar of divine chocolate, which claims to be “heavenly chocolate with a heart”.

I don’t really have a point to make about this sort of advertising, but it does strike me as interesting that advertisers clearly think religious language has selling power.

Faithfulness not safety

Now I’ve finished my university exams I’m finding the time to read through some more of the information I picked up at New Word Alive. There were a number of Christian organisations there and one such group was Release International. The magazine they gave me contains the following quote from some Egyptian Christians who have been tortured.

Please don’t pray for us. Please pray with us. If you pray for us, you will pray for the wrong things. You will pray for our safety. You will pray that persecution will cease. But if you pray with us, you will ask God to bring millions of Egyptians to faith in Christ. You will pray that when the inevitable Muslim backlash comes because of our witness, we will be faithful, even if it costs us our lives.

Quote originally from Al Janssen in The Persecuted Church Taught Me to Pray

It seems to be a common message from the so-called ‘persecuted church’*. Our brothers and sisters who suffer don’t crave comfort and safety, but faithfulness and perseverance. May we be faithful in our prayers for them.

(more…)