Do I Really Need to Go to Church?

A Different Church Building

A Different Church Building (Photo credit: justshootingmemories)

Question: I am a “new” Christian and I have a question that concerns me.  I do not have a church home and to be perfectly honest, I have not found one that makes me comfortable.  There seems to be too much politics involved, so to speak.  I pray, I believe that Jesus died for me, I study my Bible and I listen to various services on TV and have received much knowledge by doing so.  My life is dedicated to serving my Lord but I do not want to displease Him.  Is it necessary to have a church home?

Answer:  Yes, I believe it is necessary to have a church home.  I know that there are unpleasant interactions in any body of people gathered for a common purpose.  Politics, the practice or study of the art and science of forming, directing, and administrating states and other political units, is an inevitable part of any collective body.  But the politics of the church should be about implementing the will of our Leader, Jesus Christ.  His apostles, who were his authoritative spokesmen for the faith, planted churces wherever they went.  That is, they called together the believers for the purpose of meeting in unity around the authoritative gospel message and to worship together their Savior.  They appointed leaders to help govern the church.  But of course, from the very beginning there were leaders who did not lead well and plenty of opportunities for church members to get upset with each other.

It is in this kind of situation, however, that we learn that we are just as capable of the very errors we hate and in which we must learn to love and be loved.  Like marriage, which is also a very imperfect reperesentation of the ideal love we want to experience, the institution becomes a laboratory for learning love.  If we submit to the Lord and ask him to help us be shaped by love and be shapers of others by our love, he will certainly work that in us.  We need the accountability of others in our lives and to be those who offer accountability.

This is why it says:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).

For further reading:

Was John the Baptist the Promised “Elijah” Who Was to Come?

Question: In Matthew 17:11-13 Jesus tells his disciples that Elijah has already come and he was not recognized. It goes on to say that the disciples understood that Jesus was speaking of John the Baptist, however in John 1:21 when John is asked if he is Elijah, his reply is “I am not”. I am having a bit of trouble understanding this part of the scriptures and would be thankful for any clarity you could offer about this.

Answer: Jesus does not quite say that John the Baptist is the Elijah to come (a prophecy from Malachi 4:5,6 that says Elijah will come before the great and dreadful day of the Lord to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and of the children to their fathers). He says, “Elijah comes and will restore all things” (i.e., he is coming in the future to do this), but “Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him.” And in Matthew 11:14 he said, “If you will accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.”

This suggests that like many prophecies there is a near fulfillment and an ultimate fulfillment. John the Baptist is not Elijah. But he was acting like the predicted Elijah of Malachi 4 calling the people to repentance in anticipation of the coming of the day of the Lord, a day when God visits His people for judgment and then blessing.

What would have happened if the leadership had accepted John’s testimony and received Jesus as the Messiah? Would God have brought the end of the ages to completion? Wouldn’t Jesus have still had to die for our sins? He would have had to die for our sins but we may suppose he would have been killed at the hands perhaps of the Romans instead of at the instigation of the Jews. Peter says in Acts 3:19-21 that if the people of Israel would repent that “the times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” He further said that Jesus “must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” If the nation as a whole had responded to the gospel at that point perhaps He would have sent Jesus back and in essence John the Baptist would have fulfilled the role of Elijah in its ultimate fulfillment.

This also suggests that it may not be literal Elijah (revived from the dead or resurrected) who comes in fulfillment of Malachi 4, but someone who comes “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17) as was predicted by the angel when he announced John the Baptist’s birth to his father. The “Elijah” yet to come will be like Elijah in the way he ministers and calls Israel to repentance.

Should John the Baptist have understood that he was the one to fulfill an Elijah-like role in Israel?  Should he have answered yes to the question of the religious leaders when they asked him if he was Elijah?  Perhaps it was dependent on the leaders recognizing him as such before he could boldly claim that role.  Perhaps he was unwilling to take that title upon himself, leaving that to Jesus, the king.

For further reading:

http://carm.org/bible-difficulties/matthew-mark/was-john-baptist-really-elijah

http://www.gotquestions.org/John-Baptist-Elijah.html

http://www.gbcsa.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=65:question-why-does-jes..

http://www.equip.org/articles/was-john-the-baptist-elijah/

Can a Homosexual Be a Christian?

Question: Can a man claim to be a Christian and still be a homosexual? I just happened to hear some guys talking about that and I thought it was very interesting, even though I believe I know the answer to the question (NO WAY!). p.s I judge them not, our Heavenly Father wants me and others to pray for them, that they find the same GOD who forgave us for our sins, can also forgive them for there’s.

Answer: The question is a complex one. By homosexual do you mean someone who is actively engaged in sexual relationships? Or do you mean someone who is not engaged in sexual relationships but has same-sex attraction?

If the person is engaged in sexual relationships do they believe that the Scriptures forbid such relationships or have they been convinced that Scripture approves one-partner committed relationships?

Have you ever been involved in a sinful behavior that you did not realize was sinful? Did you claim to be a Christian at the time? Were you a Christian?  A person might be in homosexual relationships but not know that they are wrong.  This doesn’t mean they are not experiencing the consequences of wrong behavior (all of God’s laws are designed to help us function most like we were created to function).  But their conscience may not be moving them to deal with it as sin.

I believe the Scriptures are clear that same-sex intercourse is sinful. Same-sex attraction is not. I also believe that a true believer can be engaging in sinful behaviors but that if they are challenged by the truth and are seeking to break free from sinful behaviors this is an evidence that they are true believers. They should also be experiencing some success at breaking from sinful behaviors.

How long can a person continue in sinful behavior before we question whether they are truly redeemed or not? I cannot say. But as you note, this is something we must leave to the Lord. I am not required to prove that anyone is not a Christian. If they claim to be I am required to continue seeking to help them move toward holiness.

Randall Johnson

Does a Believing Spouse Automatically Save an Unbelieving Spouse?

Question: A friend of mine brought this scripture up to me last night and I couldn’t give him a good answer that satisfied his curiosity.  The scripture is 1 Corinthians 7:12 – 14,

12 But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.

My friend’s question is regarding verse 14 where it says the unbelieving spouse is sanctified through the believing spouse, making the children holy.  He is taking this scripture to mean that the unbelieving spouse is saved (sanctified) and will go to heaven because the believing spouse is, and that the children will also because “now they are holy.”

I know that salvation is an individual decision, and you cannot go to heaven just because your spouse or parent is saved, but I could not give him an answer that satisfied him.  What does the word “sanctified” here mean in the original Greek?

Answer:  Your friend is being an insincere interpreter.  He is choosing to take the word “sanctified” to mean saved when it is in no way certain that this is what it means.  And because Paul makes it clear in his letters that no one is saved except by believing in Jesus alone for salvation, it is impossible that he could mean here that simply being married to a saved person makes you saved without contradicting himself.  Besides, if that was the case the “unbelieving” spouse would already be saved.  But for all the biblical writers and Jesus salvation results in saved behavior, which includes believing.  So this spouse is not saved.

The word sanctified means “set apart, made holy or made set apart for some purpose, made clean.”  In this particular case Paul is using the word of that which is ceremonially holy or set apart as sacred, clean, pure.  In God’s directions to the Israelites He declared certain things “unclean” or unsanctified, that is, not holy or clean or pure for Israelites. This included certain foods (pork, etc.) and certain conditions (skin infections, bodily excretions, etc.).  But there was always a way to make a person “sanctified” or clean ceremonially through washings and sacrifices.  But if something unclean touched something clean the clean thing became unclean or unsanctified.  Here Paul is declaring, however, that the “unclean” or unsanctfied unbeliever does not make the believer unclean nor their offspring.  This doesn’t mean that they are automatically saved, just that it is permissible for the believer to live with them and it doesn’t make the believer unclean or unsanctified.  There were apparently people in Corinth who were seeking to justify divorce on these grounds.

If the spin your friend is putting on this passage were true we would expect to see it explained in more than one passage and we would expect the church to have endorsed “marriage evangelism” or purposely marrying unbelievers to get them saved.  In fact, however, in this very chapter of 1 Corithians (last verse) Paul makes it clear that a believer is only to marry another believer.

Can Brain Damage Make Me Lose My Salvation?

Question:  I have a question concerning senility in older believers, or amnesia in any other age. I suppose the root of this question pertains to the nature of the soul, but what is the state of a believer who begins to lose his or her mind because of his or her age, that is when memories begin to fade and recollections do not exist anymore? Along the same lines, what would be the state of a person who professed true faith but, due to some accident, has lost that memory and, in essence, has become another person?

Answer:  There are three ways to answer this question.

(1) I am assuming that by “state of a believer” and “state of a person who professed true faith” that you are ultimately asking whether this would affect the person’s salvation.  Could a person’s personality be so changed that they might deny the truth of the gospel and of their relationship with God?  It is possible, I suppose, that they could so change, but it is not possible that this would cause them to lose a salvation they already possessed.  Jesus says of his sheep, believers, in John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  The phrase “no one” seems to mean no one, including the believer.  I’ll refer you to several articles on this blog about the impossibility of losing one’s salvation (backsliding, fall from grace, suicide, breaking promise not to sin).

(2) It is very possible, given the nature of human beings as both spirit and body, that the body can affect the spirit and the spirit can affect the body.  If someone was paralyzed we would not expect them to kneel in prayer, stand in worship, or walk door to door in evangelism.  They’re not accountable for those things given their physical limitations.  Why would we expect someone to exhibit strong mental and spiritual capacity if their brain is injured or diseased?  If we can’t do  something, we are not responsible for doing it.  This is why in God’s new covenant message Jeremiah quotes the proverb, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge,’ but then reverses it.  The children cannot be responsible for their parents’ actions.

(3) There will be many situations in our lives when we will be called upon to love those who cannot seem to give anything back.  This might be especially true of those who suffer Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia.  Like the man who was paralyzed we may need to carry them to Jesus because they cannot get to him themselves.  The state of their soul is that they are still precious in the eyes of the Lord.  Unconditional love cannot be more effectively demonstrated than when someone cannot give us anything back.  As Jesus taught, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:13, 14)

Randall Johnson

Who Is the Destroying Angel in Numbers 16?

Question:  Who exactly is the “destroyer” referenced in 1 Cor 10:10, when interpreted in light of the wording of Exo 11:4, 12:23, and 12:29 in the NKJV translation?

Answer:  The incident referred to in 1 Corinthians 10:10 actually refers to an event that occurred in Numbers 16 when several Levites were challenging Moses’ authority as leader.  The leaders of the rebellion, Korah, Dathan and Abiram, were standing at their tents and God told Moses He was going to destroy all the assembly who was supporting them.  Moses asked Him to only deal with the leaders.  God opened the earth and swallowed them and their families alive.  Several of their followers who were offering incense on the altar were killed by fire.  When the next day the assembly came again to Moses and accused him of killing these leaders, God began to kill them with a plague.  Moses and Aaron offered a sacrifice on their behalf so that more did not die.

In Exodus 12 Moses told the Israelites that Yahweh would go “through the land to strike down the Egyptians” but that if they applied the blood of the lamb to their doorposts God would “not permit the destroyer to enter” their houses (verse 23).  Though it does not say a “destroying angel” did this in Numbers, Paul is undoubtedly assuming the Jewish tradition that the same angelic activity that occurred in Exodus with the slaying of the firstborn of Egypt (see Psalm 78:49) was repeated in Korah’s rebellion.  Whether the angel from God opened the earth, sent the fire that killed those offering illicit fire on the altar and sent the plague, or whether the angel was commissioned for just some of that action, we do not know.

It is possible that the destroying angel was the angel of Yahweh.  The angel of Yahweh (this means, the messenger of Yahweh) is a separate person from God but at times is identified as Yahweh (compare Genesis 16:7-11 with Exodus 3:1-6).  It seems best to understand this by positing that Jesus, the Son, is the angel of Yahweh.  We can understand this because we know that Jesus, the Son, is both equal with God and yet a separate personality from God the Father.  This helps make sense in this passage of Yahweh taking responsibility for opening the earth, sending the fire and the plague.  Yahweh did, but it was Yahweh the Son, not Yahweh the Father.

We see this stand out in stark relief in Genesis 19:24 when the text says that in judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, “Yahweh rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah from Yahweh out of the heavens” (when you see LORD in all caps this is the English representation of the divine name, Yahweh).  The Son was bringing down judgment from the Father in heaven.

Interestingly, in 1 Corinthians 11 we read that some of the Corinthians were sick and some had died because they were violating another sacred symbol of God, the Lord’s supper, by their inappropriate behaviors.  God still does not tolerate wanton abuse of His holy symbols and leaders.  And that is the intent of Paul in this passage, also, to warn the Corinthians against offending God’s holy ordinances.

Randall Johnson

Spiritual Priorities: God first, spouse second…

Question:  How do you put work #3 and still get ahead? 

Answer:  Sometimes you don’t.  Generally speaking, when we find a way to make sure we are following the Lord first, and loving our families and giving them priority over work, we are both happier, better supported when we need to put in extra hours, and more successful at doing our jobs.  However, there will be times when putting God first and family second will cost us in our job.  If that seems unacceptable to us then we are not fully understanding what God has called us to do.  Our ultimate calling is to fulfill His great commission to the church (Matthew 28:19,20).  If our ultimate goal is to succeed in our jobs, we will find ourselves miserable failures after all.  God knows what we need.  He knows we don’t need to make our work number one.

Question:  It’s hard having my spouse put family second to God now that my spouse is a Christian. 

Answer:  It is sometimes hard to lose what seems to be the old way of doing things where you were number one to your spouse and didn’t have to compete for his or her attention.  Now that he or she is trying to follow the Lord you have to vie for his or her attention and he or she doesn’t always come at your beck and call.  This is not unlike having that first child and suddenly the baby is the focus of all a mother’s attention and energy.  It might be possible that adjustments need to be made so that your spouse is not devoting all his or her time to the Lord in a way that gives short-shrift to the family.  The best thing to do is to sit down and talk about each of your needs and openly discuss how you view the Scriptures addressing the issue of priorities, then working together to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs and fits Scripture.

Question:  If the kingdom of God is all important, why shouldn’t I give up my job and family and live completely for the kingdom? 

Answer:  Because you would be disobeying God’s direct commands (1 Thessalonians 4:11,12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Ephesians 5:22-31).

Here are some exercises for Spiritual Growth…

1. Write down the things you want to accomplish in life.  This list should answer the question, “What do I value the most and the doing of it would leave the most significant impact on the world around me?”

2. Ask someone you trust to look through your list and help you evaluate it in light of Scripture.

3. Using your list, determine what aspects of your life you need to change in order to make the accomplishing of this list your priority.

4. Discuss with the meaningful people in your life how they would enjoy, struggle with or otherwise be impacted by the changes you are considering making.

5. Allow God to shape your thinking and give you conviction as to how to implement this list.

For further reading:

Ordering Your Private World, Gordon MacDonald