Through the apostle Paul the Holy Spirit thus admonished, “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, so that you DO NOT GRIEVE AS OTHERS WHO HAVE NO HOPE” (1 Th 4:13). There . . . the Holy Spirit said it. The grave site scene of a dearly beloved Christian must be far different than the same scene at the burial of an unbeliever. Living Christians “do not grieve as unbelievers” in the death of their loved ones.
Consoling Christians must not be accused of being hard-hearted when they exhort the grieving with these words from the Holy Spirit. If our grief at the death of a Christian brother or sister is no different than that of the unbelievers, then we have a problem with our faith in the fact that the one who went down into the grave will come out again dressed in a glorious body. Our challenge at the death of a disciple, therefore, is how to salt our grief with hope. And in so doing, there is a sense of victory as we lay our loved ones in a tomb that will eventually be broken open.
There will be grief for the moment. The admonition of the Spirit allows for this. A simile is used with a negative concerning the occasion. The phrase reads, “not grieve as.” There is grief, but it is not as those unbelievers who have no hope beyond the grave.
The burial of a saint is only a temporary transition of the body. The body must transition through the dissipation of the body into dust in expectation of the heavenly body that will eventually dress our souls with a body from God. Therefore, in our hope “we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our house that is from heaven, if indeed clothed, we [in the state of our disembodied souls] will not be found naked” (2 Co 5:2,3).
When Jesus comes in the clouds, He will bring with Him all those souls of departed saints who have had the privilege of escaping this world that is infested and infected with sin and sickness (1 Th 4:14). So the Holy Spirit concluded the matter, “Therefore, comfort one another with these words” (1 Th 4:18).
The forerunner of Jesus, John, was tagged with the nickname, “the Baptist.” He so carried the name, “John the Baptist” because he was preaching “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” and baptizing people “for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:1,4). Because he was preaching and baptizing, “THERE WENT OUT TO HIM all the land of Judea and those from Jerusalem” (Mark 1:5). Subsequently, “they were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5). This is exciting!
It is interesting to note in the narrative of John’s ministry, that everyone who went out to be baptized by him, did so because they believed that John, as a prophet, was preaching a message that was given to him by God. They were subsequently baptized because God said that they must be baptized. They KNEW NOTHING about the gospel of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, for at the time of John’s preaching, Jesus had been neither crucified nor resurrected. They KNEW NOTHING about the gospel reign of King Jesus, for Jesus had not yet ascended to the right hand of God. And yet, on basis of their simple faith that a preacher was preaching what God said one must do, THEY WERE WILLING TO BE BAPTIZED. This is what a true believer does.
If you read this book, THE GOSPEL COVENANT, and have not been baptized in the name of Jesus, then be careful about plagiarized the name “Christian.” You might be as those religious rulers during Jesus’ ministry who “believed on Jesus,” but were not willing to confess Him (John 12:42). We assume, therefore, that there are many today who “believe on Jesus,” but because they are not willing to be baptized into His name, they are not yet true believers. Therefore, if one has not been baptized, and yet believes on Jesus as the Son of God, then he or she should say as the Ethiopian eunuch after hearing the gospel message of Jesus, “Here is water, what hinders me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). We must remember that true believers do not have to be asked to be baptized for the remission of their sins. On the contrary, they are willing to go out from Judea and Jerusalem, or from any place in order to find “much water” in order to be baptized, as John the Baptist baptized “believers” in the wilderness near Salim (John 3:23).
So it seems that Zeus, the chief god of the Greeks, was guilty of a little hanky panky (“infidelity”). Among the many servants of the heavenly palace, his eye had been lured to one particular young damsel named, Galinthias. All was fine until Hera, the wife of Zeus, discovered the hidden unfaithfulness. Since Hera could not take her anger out on the chief god of Greek mythology, she turned her attention to the compliant Galinthias and cursed her in order to impede the birth of her illegitimate child. Hera turned the servant girl into a black cat. This may have been the beginning of all “black cat theology.”
Nevertheless, the child was born, and thus came into existence in the minds of the Greeks, the god Hercules. But don’t fret concerning the fate of Galinthias. The Greek goddess of witchcraft took in the adulterous servant girl, now a black cat, and employed her as her own servant. Unfortunately, black cats thereafter have had to live with the curse of this superstitious mischief among the gods. “Black cat theology” is still with us today.
In some cultures today, the unfortunate black cat is often considered an omen of evil that is associated with witchcraft. Some have believed that black cats were the very embodiment of witches themselves. And so you might think that you are innocent of all this babble about black cats. If so, then we will pay close attention to your walk along a pathway or sidewalk when a black cat crosses your path. If you waver in your stride, or even have the slightest disturbance in your thoughts, then we will know that you too are still a victim of “black cat theology.”
Superstition is belief that has no evidence. Greek mythology is based on all sorts of superstitions. In fact, mythology itself is founded on vivid imaginations that have run wild in the absence of a knowledge of the one true and living God. It is for this reason that mythology affected the behavior of the Greeks because they had little or no knowledge of the one true and living God. Greek lives were controlled by the gods they had created after their own imagination. They did this or that in view of pleasing the gods, or escaping some punishment of a mischievous god. It was a society that was ruled by “black cat theology.”
A little over two thousand years ago a representative of the true and living God stepped into the capital where “black cat theologians” were gathered to babble about their beliefs and behavior in reference to imaginations. The common subject of debates among these “preachers” from throughout the ancient world was to babble about their “black cat theologies” or some new thing (See At 17:18-21).
Nevertheless, this particular day, the traveling preacher stood up in the lecture hall of Mars Hill and shouted out with a strong voice, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious [superstitious]. For as I passed by and observed your objects of worship, I found an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown God’ (At 17:22,23).
For the first time in the history of the Greeks this messenger from the true God established a contrast between the beliefs of the “black cat theologians” and the truth of a God whose gospel to mankind was based on the resurrection of His Son from the dead (See Hb 11:1). It was now time for all “black cat theologians” to step aside and hear a message about a living God who was not the product of vivid imaginations.
You might claim that you are unmoved by some relics of your own beliefs in “black cat theology.” This may be your personal conclusion, but the recent pandemic has rattle the faith of millions of people around the world. It seems that many folks have dipped into their former superstitions in order to blame some “demon” who supposedly causes this or that as people struggle for their last breath in emergency rooms around the world. In fact, in a recent conversation with an elder of the church on the other side of our country, he remarked, “It seems that religious leaders across the country have ascended to their pulpits in order to proclaim some superstitious reason for all this social turmoil.” “Black cat theology.”
In one case it was assumed that if one was injected with the vaccine against Covid, he or she would turn into a horse. In another case, someone contacted me from the other side of the world and ask, “What is the mark of the beast? My friends are telling me that if I am vaccinated against Covid, I will be receiving the mark of the beast.” “And thus,” she continued, “they said that they could not associate with me.” “Black cat theology.”
Taking medication, receiving vaccinations against diseases as polio, or just eating certain foods is the personal choice of the individual. But when such is either done or shunned for religious reasons, then it becomes “black cat theology.” Nevertheless, until that time when a new convert puts away his “black cat theology” in reference to eating meat, for example, those who are strong in the faith should exercise love and patience (See 1 Co 8). But at the same time, it is assumed in the Holy Spirit’s exhortations on this matter that the “weak brother,” who eats meat in respect to some religious superstition, as he previously did in respect to some foods in his former life of superstitious behavior, he must grow out of his “black cat theology.” In fact, the Holy Spirit said on such matters as food, “For it is a good thing that the heart be established by grace, not with foods” Hb 13:9). “Therefore,” continued the Spirit in another context, “let no one judge you in food or in drink” (Cl 2:16). Attaching spiritual or religious significance to foods, to idols, or even to vaccines that might prevent us from certain diseases, is “black cat theology.”
An even more subtle belief of “black cat theology” is the tempting of God with a faith that is contrary to science. So against the science of gravity, a foolish man of “faith” preaches from his pulpit to his friends on the top of a one hundred story building, “You must have faith. God will protect you.” So against the science of gravity, he leaps off the building in order to reveal his faith in God to protect him. As he passed floor fifty, it was heard that he yelled out, “So far so good.”
Assuming that God will protect us when we walk in violation of the laws of nature is tempting God to do evil by catching us on the final floor (See Js 1:13). If we willingly walk contrary to that which science provides to protect us, assuming that God will not allow us to fall victim our own neglect, then we are participating in “black cat theology” in reference to faith. If we knowingly place ourselves and our family in a situation of danger, while knowing that there is an opportunity to avoid that danger, then we are tempting God to do for us that which we should be doing for ourselves. This is the faith of “black cat theology.”
If we do this or that in our lives on the basis of superstitious beliefs, then we have allowed ourselves to promote “black cat theology.” It is for this reason that Christians grow in their knowledge of the word of God (2 Pt 3:18). They study zealously in order to sift out of their minds those former superstitious beliefs that are associated with “black cat theology.”
So you can judge for yourself on this matter. The next time a black cat crosses your path, take a moment to consider the fact that you may still be subservient to some beliefs of “black cat theology.”
The advantage of a Bible-based world view is that one’s responses to current events can always be sifted through eternal principles that do not change. People today respond to the word of God as they did four thousand or more years ago. God-fearing people from the beginning of time have responded to any revelation from their Creator in reference to the times in which they lived. I reserve the right to do the same. My understanding of matters that must be understood through deductive interpretation may differ from yours. However, those fundamental principles that permeate time need no interpretation, and thus, with these fundamental principles of the Bible in view, I have laid the foundation upon which I seek to respond to current events and religious discussions.
The word “incarnation” means “to be made in the bodily flesh of man.” This word can only be applied to God coming in the flesh of man, for God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always existed eternally in spirit form. In reference specifically to Jesus, the Son of God, He who was in spirit in eternity was revealed in this world in the flesh of man. An angel named Him “Jesus,” meaning “savior” (Mt 1:21).
The Holy Spirit gave us a commentary on this incarnational journey of the Son of God in Philippians 2:5-11. This commentary begins with the following statement: “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus” (Ph 2:5). Before He explained the incarnational journey of the Son of God in this text, the Holy Spirit first stated that everyone who would be a Christian must think and behave after the example of the incarnational sacrifice of the Son of God. The Spirit emphasized the importance of this thinking and behavior in reference to the continued transformation of our lives in response to the grace of God (See Rm 12:2; Ti 2:12).
In Philippians 2:6, the Spirit continued to explain, “Who [that is, the Son of God], being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Ph 2:6). Jesus was previously in the nature (“form”) of God. However, He did not consider this equality with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the one God in spirit something to be continually grasped. He did not because all people of this world would continue dead in their sins if there were no incarnational offering for them (See Rm 3:10). Therefore, through His incarnational sacrifice, the Son of God was willing, on our behalf, to give up His eternal equality in spirit with the Father and Holy Spirit in order to come into this world.
The Holy Spirit, through the apostle John, further informs us what happened through the incarnation of the Son of God into the flesh of man: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). The preceding Philippian 2:6 statement revealed that the Word initially “existed in the form of God.” So as one with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Word—this was Jesus in the spirit before He was born into this world—was God. He was one with God, and thus existed in the spiritual form of God.
However, the Holy Spirit continued to explain through John, “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (Jn 1:2,3). The Holy Spirit revealed the following work of the Son while He was still in spirit with God before the creation: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Cl 1:16). In other words, the world and all mankind were created for the Son of God. We were created in order that the love of God eventually be manifested in history through the incarnation of our Creator, the Son of God (See Gl 4:4).
In the beginning when all things were created, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness” (Gn 1:26). In this statement God was not saying that the image of God before creation was physical as that which we see in man. If the Son of God were in any way physical in eternity, then there would have been no such thing as an incarnation of the Son of God into the flesh of men. We must remember that God is Spirit (Jn 4:24). He is not flesh. Therefore, the extent of the incarnation of the Son of God is in the fact that He, in the spirit, had to be revealed in this world in the same flesh into which He originally created humanity from the dust of the earth (Gn 2:7).
The preceding is exactly what the Holy Spirit continued to reveal in the context of Philippians 2: “But He [the Son of God] made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and being made in the likeness of men” (Ph 2:7). And in the incarnate form of the flesh of man, “He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Ph 2:8). If there were no incarnation, then there would have been no cross, for a spirit cannot be crucified. And if there were no incarnational offering for our sins, then all of us would be without any hope in this world.
Incarnation means that the Son of God took upon Himself that which would be able to suffer crucifixion. We would indeed have a shallow understanding of the cross, if we did not first comprehend the magnitude of the incarnational suffering of the Son of God on the cross.
The incarnational crucifixion of Jesus’ body on the cross was prophesied to be His destiny the moment it was said, “Let us make man” (Gn 1:26). The Son of God knew that it was His from the time the very first word was spoken in reference to creating humanity in the beginning. Even before the Son of God created Adam and Eve, He knew that all humanity would sin (See Rm 3:10). Therefore, we correctly conclude that before the Son of God spoke the first word to create, He had already planned to be incarnate in the flesh of man in order to be crucified for our sins.
We cannot fully understand the extent of the cross until we understand to the best of our ability the extremity of the incarnational sacrifice of the Son of God giving up existence in the “form” of God in order to come into this world in the flesh of man. The extremity of the incarnation reveals the extreme love that Jesus has for us.
[Portion of a chapter from a forthcoming book entitled, EXPERIENCE THE GOSPEL WITH JESUS.]
Before we can understand the following terrestrial challenge, we must first step for a moment into a science class. When a material object is struck, strummed, plucked, or somehow disturbed, it vibrates. The vibration in turn disturbs the immediate surrounding air molecules, which molecules disturb neighboring molecules. This chain reaction of vibration carries on from molecule to molecule until the final molecules of the chain reaction collide with a receiving eardrum, specifically the eardrum of our inner ear. The vibration of molecules against our eardrum is then translated into electrical energy, which energy is sent on to our brain. The brain receives and perceives that a sound has been created by the vibration of some material object. Now that you have graduated from “sound school” we can now move on to a better understanding of God.
We believe in a God who hears no sound as we hear sounds simply because He exists beyond the molecules of our atmosphere. No humanly produce sound of this world can make its way outside the confines of our atmosphere. Since God is not confined to our physical means of hearing, then He does not need to hear sounds. He thus needs no physical ears. He is spirit without ears, and thus does not “hear” as we hear one another (Jn 4:24). So how does God “hear” our prayers? Now we have moved into the realm of metaphor—keep reading.
He is likewise a God without vocal cords to excite air molecules in order to be carried alone through the atmosphere by air molecules bumping against one another, and eventually ending up as vibration on our eardrums. He is indeed the God beyond our senses, and certainly, beyond the molecules of our atmosphere.
When God “said” to Moses, “I AM THAT I AM,” He was not speaking through the vibrating vocal cords of a literal mouth (Ex 3:14). The same would be true in reference to what the bystanders heard from heaven at the time of Jesus’ baptism: “Behold, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son’” (Mt 3:17). By applying our scientific understanding of sound to this “voice,” we must conclude that the God who has no physical vocal cords was able to vibrate the molecules of our atmosphere until neighboring molecules eventually made their way to the eardrums of the bystanders, whose brains eventually translated the sound of the words into a message. However, the origin of the “voice” came from space where there is no atmosphere, where there is no sound. It was thus the miraculous power of God that generated words for our eardrums, and thus a message from the dwelling of God (See Jn 12:30).
It is God’s power that vibrates the molecules of the physical atmosphere of our world in order that words be generated. It was the vibrating molecules of this atmosphere that came as a “voice” to Moses on Mount Sinai (At 7:31). We must not be so naive as to think that the “voice” with which God spoke to Moses assumes that God has physical vocal cords and lips that can produce words. The “voice” only assumes that God, who is spirit, can powerfully touch the molecules of our atmosphere in a way that words can be formulated in order to bring us a message from beyond the confinement of our world.
Therefore, we believe in a God who is beyond the limitations of the blue atmosphere that surrounds this world, and in which our continued existence is made possible. Since man can reside only within an atmosphere of air, then unless we can find an atmosphere with air on another heavenly body of the universe, we must assume that man resides on this earth alone.
And since the “voice” of God can be produced and heard only where there are air molecules to bump against one another in order to produce “words” for eardrums, then we extend our reasoning beyond this world in view of the fact that there need be no atmospheres on other heavenly bodies that can be used by God to communicate through “words.” The conclusion, therefore, is that there is no life on other heavenly bodies, specifically human life, for whom the Son of God would have to be incarnate also for their salvation.
Richard Branson, with other fellow earthly passengers, recently climbed into the Virgin Galatic vessel named SpaceShipTwo, and then blasted themselves into the realm where our God dwells—space. In order to survive in this realm where only God can exist, the occupants of the SpaceShipTwo enclosed a portion of this earth’s atmosphere in order that the occupants might be able to communicate with one another with their voices when they arrived outside the confines of our atmosphere. However, they had to remain in the confines of their transported portion of earth’s atmosphere. Likewise, and a week later, Jeff Bezos and other passengers, made a similar trip into space, transporting with them also a portion of earth’s atmosphere.
If any of these space travelers could have stepped outside their portion of transported atmosphere that they took along with them from earth, then they could never have communicated with one another except through electronic radios. They could not have communicated because there are no air molecules in space, and thus, no voice transmission from one person to another. The triune God in whom we believe dwells in this realm, but does not communicate among themselves with words of this world.
This nature of space in which God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell was pictorially illustrated in the 2013 movie entitled GRAVITY. Stars, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, could communicate with one another in space only through the electronic transmitting devices within their space suits. In order to prepare the viewing audience for an “out-of-this-world” experience, the movie prepared the audience for the experience with the leading statements, “372 miles above the earth.” “There is nothing to carry sound.” “No air pressure.” “No oxygen.” They thus explained the environment in which our God dwells.
The theme of the movie realistically communicated the tragic drama that was experienced by Bullock and Clooney. However, the producers could only graphically illustrate the eventful and tragic decimation of their space station and space shuttle. When encircling debris from an exploded Russian space station on the other side of the world eventually encircled the earth, the debris began to impact and destroy the space station and shuttle of Bullock and Clooney. As viewers, we could only see, not hear, the destruction.
The visuals of the impact were graphic. However, the audience could hear no sound of ripping metal, or the impact of the Russian space station debris impacting the US space station. There was no sound at that time in the movie. We cannot even use the words “explosion” to explain the tragedy because such a word assumes sound. So on screen there was the space station being silently torn apart without any sounds whatsoever. If one did not understand the introductory explanation at the beginning of the movie, then he might have thought that the sound system of the theater had failed at the time of the impact.
This is the realm in which our God dwells. It is truly the “third heaven” in which there is no sound. If a giant meteor the size of our moon somehow hurdled through space and struck the moon, there would be total silence of the destruction on earth because there are no air molecules between the earth and moon that could bump against one another. Therefore, if God seeks to communicate personally out of this realm of silent space to those who are confined to the atmosphere of this world, then He must either vibrate the molecules of our atmosphere, or communicate with us through incarnate vocal cords. And that He did.
If one does not understand the metaphors of communication that are used by the Holy Spirit in Scripture in reference to our communication with the God who resides in the silence of space wherein there is no sound or the transmission of sound, then he or she might move into the realm of idolatry. It is in the realm of idolatry that we perceive gods with whom we can communicate with words as we do with one another on this earth.
We must guard ourselves against using the earthly definition of communication that we use with one another in the confinement of our atmosphere in reference to God communicating to us from His realm of total silence. If we do not understand that God’s communication with us through the metaphorical use of the words of our world, then we will be moved into creating a god after our own physical image. We will argue that this god must speak as we speak, and thus have vocal cords and lips as a human being.
If our world with its atmosphere did not exist, would we conclude that our god also would not exist? If we assumed that He speaks as we speak to one another with vocal cords and lips, then we have conceived an idol god in our minds. Therefore, in order to understand the God who is beyond this world, we must understand Him as though this world did not exist. And indeed, He existed without time long before the creation of this world, its atmosphere, and earthly bound inhabitants.
Our God is beyond the definitions of the words of our dictionary, specifically the definition of those words that refer to our communication with one another concerning His existence. In fact, there are no words in our dictionary that can adequately explain the God of space. By believing in this God of space, some might think that we are somewhat distant from being idolaters. And they would be correct.
We have witnessed in Africa of old that drums are used in “pagan,” or animistic ceremonies in order to excite an emotional self-hypnotic frenzy on the part of those who worshiped the spirits. The worshipers of gods (spirits) came alive in the minds of the worshipers only when the drums rhythmically stirred alive the imagination of the subjects. This same means of generating gods in fertile imaginations has been brought into the realm of many religious groups in these times. Instrumentalists in worship centers around the world turn up the volume and beat harder on the drums in order to call on gods who respond to their noise and the beat of their drums.
Nothing has changed since the days of Elijah. An opportunity to illustrate imagined gods was organized by Elijah who invited all the religionists of the Baals and the Asherah to Mount Carmel (1 Kg 18:17-46). It was at Mount Carmel that a challenge was made between the imagined gods of the religionist idolaters with the God of space who is above and beyond this world.
During the contest of “gods,” and after the religionists had cried out aloud for hours and cut themselves in order to gain some response from their god, “Elijah mocked them” (1 Kg 18:27). He continued his mocking with the words, “Cry aloud, for he is a god” (1 Kg 18:27).
Unfortunately, Baal was a god only in their minds. He was a god who could not be awaken no matter how much noise the worshipers produced. Nevertheless, he was a god they believed could hear their loud cries (or, drum beats), and see the blood flow from the ascetic self-inflicted wounds of their wrists. He was an idol god they believed could “see” and “hear.” This god dwelt in the confines of this world’s atmosphere, and only in the minds of the deceived.
We believe in a God who cannot see as we see and who cannot hear as we hear. He is a God who dwells in a realm that is not confined to our atmosphere where sound exists and can be scientifically defined. He is a God, therefore, who cannot be awaken out of sleep, as Elijah mocked the Baal prophets (1 Kg 18:27). He need not be awaken by the drummers playing louder and the instrumentalists strumming more vigorously to produce an ear-splitting noise through magnified speakers. Those sounding instruments may stir the worshipers into a self-hypnotic frenzy emotional ecstasy. However, the one true God who is spirit is in His holy temple beyond this world. Therefore, let all the earth keep silence before him.
The apostle Paul was caught up in vision to Paradise, whatever or wherever this may be. We do not fully understand. He “heard” what he later defined as “inexpressible words” (2 Co 12:4). They were certainly inexpressible as words that we use in this world, if indeed he was caught up in vision to a place that was beyond the atmosphere of this world.
The destination of his terrestrial journey “landed” him in the “third heaven” (2 Co 12:2). To the Jews, the birds flew in the first heaven, the clouds were in the second, and the third was the dwelling place of terrestrial bodies as the sun, moon and stars. If indeed Paul were caught up to a realm in which only God dwells, then the only Greek word phrase he could have used to speak of what he encountered would be “inexpressible words.” There are no words of our world that could be used to explain that which he saw in a realm in which “words” do not exist.
The God in whom we believe is spirit, and thus must be communicated with through our inner spirit. Vocal words can pour out as vibrated sounds through our mouths, but the intent, meaning and definition of these words that proceed from our mouths must first have originated in devoted hearts. It is for this reason that God “listens” to hearts, not the strumming sounds of harps. It is something like the first Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gargarin, later said after being the first man to orbit the earth in 1961: “An astronaut cannot be suspended in space and not have God in his mind and heart.”
One may want to cry out his prayers at the top of his voice. However, we must always remember that the God who dwells in the realm of total silence is listing to the silent pleas of our hearts before our thoughts make their way to our vocal cords, and eventually to the God who dwells in a realm of silence. He truly hears the sound of our silence long before we ask. This is the God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (At 17:28).
SINGING DEFINES THE DEMEANOR OF GOSPEL LIVING Some Bible students often read the behavior of their modern assemblies into the “one another” relationship passages of the New Testament. This practice could be defined by the Greek word, eisegesis, that is, reading our modern-day definition of works and words into the works and words of the Bible. This is probably one of the most violated principles of Bible study that we encounter today, particularly in reference to the subject under discussion.
Two passages that are often misunderstood in the preceding manner are Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16:
“… speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ep 5:19).
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Cl 3:16).
It is often assumed that these two passages refer exclusively to an assembly context of the church. Subsequently, it is then assumed that singing is an “act of worship” that validates an assembly as true worship. The result of this unfortunate hermeneutic is to use these two passages a mandate to add another “act” to a codified ritual that must be performed during the Sunday morning assembly in order to determine if a church exists at a particular location. There are three reasons why neither passage is teaching this assumption in their original context.
No assembly context: Nowhere in the context of either passage is the Sunday assembly mentioned. It is just not there. Such a time for singing is only assumed by those who read their present religious assembly pattern into the biblical context of each passage. Such is done in order to use the exhortation to sing in these passages to validate the assumption that singing in an assembly of the saints during the “worship hour” on Sunday morning is an “act of worship.”
But when we consider the preceding assumption in the context of both Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, we must conclude that Paul was discussing the life-style relationship that must be characteristic of every Christian anytime and anywhere. In the context, exhorting one another through song was one of the manifestations of our relationship with one another.
True, singing can take place during the general assembly of the saints on any occasion, but not exclusively during an assembly. Anytime and anywhere Christians are together with one another they can break out in song in order to exhort and teach one another. If there were only two Christians who have come together, then they can still fulfill the mandates that Paul wrote to the Ephesians and Colossians.
Singing everywhere and anytime: The singing that is mentioned in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 does not demand that singing take place during every encounter that Christians have with one another. Assembly does not mandate singing. This would include the general assembly of Christians on the first day of the week, as well as times when two or three Christians might encounter one another anytime and anywhere. All that is said in the passages is that Christians exhort and teach one another through the medium of vocal singing. Neither the occasion nor the context of the singing are mentioned in reference to when the saints might carry out the exhortations to encourage one another through song.
Now this brings up a very interesting point in reference to assemblies and singing. Is the mandate of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 to be carried out on every occasion when Christians come together? And if an assembly does not include singing, is such a valid assembly?
We would have to conclude that Paul did not mean that Christians must sing to one another every time they encounter one another. If they encountered one another on the street or in the field, they would not have to break out in song in order to relate with one another. If they encountered one another in a corporate business meeting, they would not have to start singing in the presence of the unbelievers who were present.
So what if Christians encountered one another at 10:00am on a Sunday morning? Would they be under a mandate to sing to one another in order to validate their encounter as an “official assembly”? If Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 refer to the daily living of the Christian—and they do—then we must assume that two or three Christians do not have to break out in song when they meet one another on Monday morning at 10:00am, or while working on the job throughout the week.
Now if Christians encounter one another on Sunday morning, the exhortation of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 does not change in meaning or application. The point is that Christians can meet together and not sing, as they can meet together and not study the Bible or pray or take up a contribution. There is thus no mandate in the Scriptures that assumes that worship takes place when certain performances, including singing, are acted out. An assembly of the disciples is thus not validated as such when a particular system of rituals is performed. Singing, therefore, is generic in the gospel life of the Christian, not specific in reference to being legally performed in order to validate a Sunday assembly.
It is natural for Christians to sing when they are together. When they come together on any occasion, it is only natural for them to speak to one another in song as they sing praises to God. While in prison, Paul and Silas behaved in this manner in a Philippian jail (At 16:25). There was no “official assembly” application to their singing in that jail house, neither did their singing validate an “official” assembly because they sang. They were simply praising God while in chains in the darkness of a prison. After the singing, there was no “closing prayer.”
What Paul was discussing in the context of Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 was the nature of the behavior of Christians in their relationship with one another and God at all times. Paul was not giving a mandate that would become a legal code of identity to determine an “official assembly” of the saints. Christians must exhort one another through song, but they do not have to do so every time they come together.
Is it natural in their behavior to sing when Christians come together? Absolutely! But mutual exhortation through song was never given in the New Testament as an act by which some concept of an “official assembly” of the saints was to be identified or validated. Neither was singing given as a validation that worship takes place. Singing spiritual songs to one another is the result of a gospel-obedient heart, not a manifestation that an assembly must validated as true because an act of singing has been legally performed.
Mediums of teaching: Both Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 explain that singing is a method of communication by which the saints can edify and teach one another. When we teach and admonish one another through song, we are not worshiping one another. Worship, therefore, is not inherent in spiritual songs. Spiritual songs can be used to teach spiritual truths, which they should. But when one is teaching others a spiritual truth through song, he or she is simply doing as the preacher who teaches spiritual truth by communicating truth in the words he speaks from a podium. Therefore, singing is not a signal to proclaim that an “official assembly” of worship is being conducted. Singing is simply a signal of the Christian demeanor of life seven days a week by which truth is proclaimed. Christians can, and should, bring their spirit of singing together in an assembly by which every attendee gathers together to sing praises to God in worship.
On the day that I finally decided to put the following words into an article, I was informed that three more Christian families in my area here in South Africa had their homes invaded by the Covid-19 virus. I already knew of five other Christian families that had experienced the same attack. By the time of writing, two fathers of these families had died of Covid, with other family members in hospitals on oxygen struggling for their lives. This is the Covid War, something that has never been experienced in the history of mankind.
The Black Death of the fourteenth century sent millions on to eternity, some estimating that as many as one hundred million died in that pandemic. In 1917/18, the influenza flu pandemic likewise took millions worldwide from life as it ravaged in selected regions of the world. But the Covid pandemic is different. It is a worldwide attack against humanity as a whole. Because the population of the world has become so mobile in the last century, the Covid virus has boarded every means of travel to every nation of the world. The Covid virus has immigrated to six of the seven continents of the world. Only Antarctica has been spared … so far.
The reason for the spread of the virus worldwide can be attributed to several favorable factors that have expedited its attack: (1) Some, particularly in the West, seem to believe that their freedoms are being endangered by government Covid restrictions. They thus refuse to make needed lifesaving behavioral changes in order to guard themselves against the virus. There has been so much fake news propagated through the news media that people have simply rebelled against all precautions in reference to the virus. They carry on with their normal lives regardless of the Covid attack.
(2) And then there are some who seem to be aloof to the Covid War itself, refusing to weaponize themselves against the virus by being vaccinated. This is a particular problem in villages throughout the world who have little or no knowledge that the world is in a pandemic war. And then there are those in the West who pose a unique social phenomenon in reference to vaccination. One of the surprising behavioral characteristics in reference to the vaccination program in the West is that many have participated in the first vaccination, but have not showed up for the second. So much has been propagated about the “safety” of the vaccines. As a result, many have simply decided to stay away from vaccination centers. (Because the third wave of the pandemic is now reaching into the Western Cape province of South Africa, the government has, at the date of this writing, set up almost 200 vaccination centers. They plan to vaccinate several thousand people a week if people will just show up at one of the centers.)
(3) In most of the world, the virus is finding its way into societies through ignorance. Much of the Western world has been very educated concerning the nature of the Covid-19 virus, and its mutant variations. However, millions throughout the developing world are ignorant of both the virus and the precautions that must be made in order to guard oneself against infection. These individuals simply carry on in life as if there were no pandemic.
(4) Another problem is the progressively infectious nature of the variants of the original Covid-19. The highly infectious nature of the Covid variants has caught many people off guard. After the first wave of the virus passed through in 2020, people became somewhat complacent in reference to protecting themselves. To a great extent, what caused the second wave is that people, through their nonchalant attitudes, became impervious to the virus. In order to save livelihoods, almost everyone went back to “normal.” But then came the Delta variant, which is more infectious. And now out of Peru has come the Lambda variant that is now into more than thirty countries of the world, including Europe. (At the time of writing, it had not yet reached the continent of Africa.) Some virologist believe that this variant may be more infectious than the Delta variant. We will only know this when the statistics start to come in during the end of this third wave.
What the Covid War has revealed is the character of many people around the world. It has revealed that some cultures of people simply ignore the virus as it makes its way through a society. This attitude is prevalent in cultures that have a deep seated fatalistic world view.
The vaccinations against the virus have revealed that some people are somewhat selfish in that they think only of themselves. Through social media, they have heard so many fake news stories about the vaccinations that they have convinced themselves that the vaccines that are now being administered throughout the world are dangerous. In reference to the vaccinations, some people have simply become quite hypocritical in this matter. For example, there are those mothers who march their children off to the doctor to be vaccinated against measles, smallpox, polio, etc., and yet, the same mothers will not vaccinate themselves against Covid-19.
And then their are those church leaders who seem to be more concerned about reaping a contribution from an assembly of people, than limiting assemblies to a few in order to protect the people. When the South African health department limited most public assemblies to fifty people, banned after-funeral meetings, political meetings, and asked churches to follow suit, a delegation of South African religious leaders went to the government in order to protest the banning of their large assemblies. For them, if there were only small assemblies, then there would be a drastic cut in pay checks.
Of course the religious leaders pled with the government saying that the people needed their spiritual care during these trying times. But such was only a ploy because the religious leaders seemed to be more concerned about their Sunday morning pay checks and less concerned for the safety of the people in their small unventilated church buildings.
But as the police did in shutting down one religious assembly during the 2020 lockdown, so recently they walked into a shopping mall in a Covid hot spot in Cape Town. They temporarily shut down the mall, and ushered all the people outside into the parking lot. They then allowed to return inside only 250 people at a time of those who were wearing masks. Only 250 shoppers enjoyed the rest of their shopping, while the others had to wait their turn to enter the center. The maskless and shopping mob had violated a Presidential mandate, and thus, they revealed their arrogance, or rebellion, by not following the advice of the national health department.
In reference to vaccinations, we do understand that there is no vaccination that does not have side effects. Also, no vaccine is one hundred percent affective. However, the anti-vaccinators need to remember that vaccination is for a purpose that is far beyond the individual. The Delta variant is so infectious that it attacks families through individual members of the families. As stated before, I know of several Christian families in our area wherein many members of the family were infected initially by one family member. Some members of these families have died, and others will die before humanity wins this war, or our Lord says, “Enough is enough,” and then comes to destroy this infected and imperfect world wherein we have been cursed to dwell.
As Christians, it is our purpose to be the “salt of the earth.” I wonder if we could take this thought beyond spiritual matters. I personally seek to protect myself through vaccination, wearing of a mask in public, and social distancing in order to protect my wife. If one’s apprehensions about being vaccinated is simply personal, then that person is simply selfish. The Delta variant is so infectious that if one family member is infected, it is most likely that the entire family will likewise become infected.
Most of the population of the world does not live in mansions as the West. A normal house in the rest of the world can be the size of a master bedroom in a Western house. In this “master bedroom house,” there can be living five or more people. Try social distancing in such an environment. For this reason, the Covid War is ravaging through congested cities around the world. In Africa about sixty percent of the people live in congested cities. You can only imagine what is happening on this continent, and is yet to come in the future in reference to the Covid War. This war is far from over.
In every way of life, Christians are to allow God to use them to heal society, both spiritually and physically. We seem to do well with the spiritual part through the teaching of the gospel. However, in my experience, there are many Christians that I know who are failing in reference to being vaccinated in order to protect their own families, and society in general. By refusing to be vaccinated, they are not only endangering themselves, but their entire families. They are allowing themselves to be the vehicle through which the Covid virus can make its way into whole families, and society in general. Those religious leaders who do not follow the advice of their health departments, are aiding and abetting the enemy.
Vaccinations have been with us for over a century. They will continue to protect us into the future against the Covid attack. God’s laws for cleanliness for Israel were not just good advice for Israel. The reason for sanitizing themselves had deeper purposes than the ceremonial socializing of the Israelites. Wearing a mask in public places, though the commonly used surgical mask is not one hundred percent effective, will also probably be a new normal for the future in public places. Social distancing, as unnatural as it may be, will also be with us in our social contact with one another and assemblies. But for this time in the heat of the battle, humanity will greatly be protected against the Covid virus and its variants through vaccinations and the recovery of Covid infected individuals who are somewhat immune to the virus. However, virologists say that the Covid virus is here for the long run. The Covid War will not end soon.
[The following is the conclusion of one of the chapters in a forthcoming book on worship. In the book, the reader is taken on a journey into the word of God in order to restore the true worship that is therein explained.]
From the definitions of the words that are used in the Bible in reference to worship, we would conclude that worship is inward, not outward, though worship can be expressed in certain outward actions and behavior, such as bowing down in homage or serving in thanksgiving for the grace of God. Such things as singing and praying are not within themselves worship, but only the outward expressions of an inward appreciation and adoration of God. When one partakes of the Lord’s Supper, one’s hands and mouth are used in eating and drinking. But partaking of the Supper in eating and drinking is not worship.
No action of the worshiper to express worship is worship in and of itself. If such outward actions did constitute worship, then the worshipers could involve themselves in all sorts of ceremonial acts of worship, and then call the performance of such acts to be worship. It is for this reason that the phrase “acts of worship” can be very misleading. Self-deceived people can convince themselves that they have truly worshiped God after they have legally performed what they consider to be “acts of worship.”
For example, one can certainly partake of the Lord’s Supper and sing without worshiping. One can help his neighbor by serving his needs without doing so in worship of God. Unbelievers help their neighbors, but they do not do so in worship of God. We must keep in mind, therefore, that one can worship without any outward expressions or actions. Worship is internal, and specifically, individual. Worship pours forth from the heart without necessarily being manifested by any outward behavior in an assembly. The aged crippled widow sitting idle in her rocking chair alone at home can be worshiping truly in her heart. The only evidence of her worship may be a single tear flowing down her face. True worship can take place when one is alone in a closet, or in the presence of an assembly in an auditorium.
Though worship is internal and mental, it often finds its expression in one’s behavior. This is the meaning of Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 11:29: “For he who eats and drinks not discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment to himself.” The problem is that at the same time some in Corinth were externally eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper, they had carnal feelings in their hearts. If one eats and drinks with a carnal heart, then he or she is not worshiping. Actions, therefore, can never be the signal of true worship, or even worship itself.
However, worship can be expressed in the behavior of one’s life. It is for this reason that external crutches that are used to generate worship in the heart, as physical environments, solemn ceremonies, burning incense, and special sanctuaries, often present a false sense of worship simply because those who rely on such external crutches have often not first given their hearts in worship of God. After the euphoria of the concert, for example, many who are motivated externally to worship are back to their same behavior and life-style Monday morning at the job. They performed a ceremony of acts of worship during the “worship hour” on Sunday morning that did not result from the daily outpouring of an inner worship that they lived every day of their lives. Entertained religionists often experience a momentary mesmerizing euphoria, but true worship does not seek to be entertained, neither does it subside after the “closing prayer.” True worshipful hearts exist daily regardless of any external stimuli.
Worshipful saints can bring their spirit of worship together in assemblies. However, if our thinking is that we go to the “hour” and “place” of worship in order to be stirred into worship through performances by ourselves or others, then we have missed the point. Worship must take place in an individual’s heart regardless of his or her presence with others, and in particular, before entering into any “place of worship.”
Unfortunately, we live in a pandemic time when previously “worship” was too often confined to places, times, ceremonies and entertaining assemblies. It is all now different as millions of believers around the world are confined to their homes, and thus, cannot perform what was previously considered “true” worship. These are times in which believers must dig deep into their own hearts in order to discover hidden treasures of worship that have been buried for years under the rubbish of ceremonial religiosity.
We must never forget that true worship has always characterized the spiritual nature of God’s people. True worship has always been poured out from godly hearts regardless of where the believer was when he or she had a moment of inspiration to worship. True worshipers have always worshiped anywhere and anytime. Worship warriors have always worship God individually first in their hearts. Worship with others was only a serendipity as believers would come together in a common fellowship with one another, or when two or more believers had the opportunity to be in one anothers’ presence. Worship has always existed within the heart of the faithful regardless of any opportunity to be in the presence of others. After all, worship in the lives of godly believers as Enoch, Noah, Abraham and David existed thousands of years before there was such a thing as “Christian assemblies.”
What is often defined as either “scriptural” or “biblical” is sometimes actually “unscriptural” and “unbiblical.” What has often occurred in the religious world is that some have studied their way through the Bible, searching for some hint of a belief or behavior that would validate their own self-improvised religiosity. In this scurry to discover “proof text” examples of behavior of the early Christians are highlighted, copied and cloned. These examples of the early Christians then become the authority by which we determine if one’s behavior is either “scriptural” or “biblical.” So we become quite hypocritical in our use of such terms as a standard for judging others.
Examples of behavior in the lives of the early disciples have sometimes become the authority for establishing doctrinal points on our outline to identify the New Testament church. The problem with this system of establishing the identity of the church is that we are often quite inconsistent, if not hypocritical. For example, as the church we want to refer to ourselves with a specific name, while there are several different references in the New Testament to the church. Which “name” is “biblical” or “scriptural” is a matter of opinion. Also, the early Christians sold their possessions (At 4:32-35). As we read their example of doing so, we want to covet our possessions and store them away in our garages or attics. And when we assemble, we completely ignore the fact that the early Christians assembled in their homes (Rm 16:5; 1 Co 16:19). Of course meeting in a house is a supposed lower location of assembly, while “high church” must construct some structure and call such a “church house.” Unfortunately, in the manufacture of our outline on the identity of “the church,” we simply pick and choose those examples we have traditionally determined that make us “biblical” or “scriptural.” The sad thing about this narrative is that there are so many who do not see the inconsistency of promoting such divisive theology.
Using examples of behavior in the lives of the early disciples as authority in matters of faith can be quite exhausting, if not very dubious. We must also keep in mind that how the early disciples behaved was how they responded to the gospel. Being first generation Christians without the New Testament Scriptures to guide them for the first twenty to thirty years after the coming of the Holy Spirit on the apostles in Acts 2, their beliefs and behavior during those intervening years was sometimes quite flawed. The purpose for which the early letters were written to the early churches as a whole was to correct dysfunctional behavior in the lives of the first disciples. We would do well, therefore, to be quite cautious about using any examples of behavior of the early disciples as authority in our faith. We would certainly not follow all the examples of the first generation of Christians in Corinth.
Today, we have the right to respond to the gospel, and in responding, we will often find no “scriptural” or “biblical” validation for some of the things we do as we live the gospel. In other words, building a church building is not “unscriptural” or “unbiblical” because we can find no examples of church buildings in the New Testament. Establishing some “order of assembly” when we come together in assembly has no “scriptural” or “biblical” authority, though Christians are free to bring order to their assemblies by establishing an order to assembly.
Even the meeting time of Sunday morning has become a tradition for which there is no “biblical” or “scriptural” support. As far as can be determined from the New Testament, Christians must come together on the first day of the week, or Sunday, though there is no specific command to do such (See At 20:7; 1 Co 16:2). This was the day on which the early Christians came together, and thus the specific day on which they meet. Meeting in the morning or evening is our choice, depending on what the assembled group desires to do. But there is no “biblical authority” for meeting on either Sunday morning or Sunday night. Meeting at any other time throughout the week would not be “biblical” or “scriptural” simply because we find no mandates to do such in the New Testament. Nevertheless, if those who have responded to the gospel want to meet on another day of the week, in conjunction with their meeting on Sunday, then they have the freedom to do so, though a weekday meeting would not be a matter of faith. Our faith may move us to assemble more throughout the week, but our faith is not validated by our assemblies.
As the early Christians had the freedom to respond to the gospel in their own lives—which was often determined by culture—so do we. For example, wearing of a head covering was a cultural symbol of submission. Paul even instructed the Corinthians to continue the custom (1 Co 11:4-12), as he encouraged some to whom he wrote not to marry in times of social distress (1 Co 7:26).
The examples of the early disciples cannot be established as authority for our faith today. We learn from the examples of the early disciples, but we do not establish law from the example of their behavior. If we could go back to the first century in a time machine, we could not bind all the examples of our response to the gospel today on the early disciples of the first century. Christ has set both them and us free, and thus we will not be brought into the bondage of any religious behavior of the religious world in which we now live (Gl 5:1). Our faith is determined by what we objectively read in our Bibles.
This brings us to a concept that is quite liberating in reference to our personal response to the gospel. It is critical to understand first the following statement in order to preserve our freedom that we have in Christ: We must have Bible authority in all matters of faith. We are confident that few people really understand what this statement means. It is often erroneously used in the context of binding on Christians today many things in the New Testament that God never intended to be bound, especially in reference to examples. But when understood correctly, the statement actually refers to preserving the freedom of Christians lest they lead themselves into being religionists who are far removed from God, especially in these times when ignorance of the Bible is running rampant throughout the religious world.
In the following concept, Paul laid the foundation for understanding the preceding statement: “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rm 10:17). Our faith is based on what we read in our Bibles. However, if we have little knowledge of our Bibles, then it follows that we have little faith, or a faith that is not pleasing to God. Our faith, therefore, must not be based primarily on the religious heritage of our fathers of the past, or our present religious rituals and ceremonies that we have invented for ourselves in order to validate our faith. Unfortunately, in these times Sunday morning has often become a ceremony for the validation of our faith because we have performed certain religious rituals or ceremonies. Once the Sunday morning religious rituals and ceremonies are performed, we then assume the our faith is validated and we go on our way feeling renewed.
Faith to the religionists, therefore, is strengthened by adhering to Sunday morning rituals and ceremonies. We must remember that one is stuck in religion if he or she feels “unfaithful” if the performance of certain rituals and ceremonies are not adhered to regularly on Sunday morning. But at the same time, those who are walking by a faith that is based on the grace of the gospel, feel “unfaithful” if they have missed an opportunity to assemble with fellow gospel-obedient brothers and sisters in Christ. The religionist misses the performances. Those who are walking by a faith that is based on the gospel miss fellow gospel-obedient saints around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. One can determine if he or she is involved in religion according to what he or she misses when for some unforeseen reason assembly with the saints is hindered.
This brings us closer to understanding that we must have “authority in matters of faith.” The faith that is pleasing to God must result from what we read in the word of God. The Hebrew statement could thus read, “But without faith [that is based on the word of God] it is impossible to please Him” (Hb 11:6). The religionist struggles with this matter. In the behavior of the religionist there are numerous rituals and ceremonies that are not explicitly define in the word of God. These rituals and ceremonies can be performed, but they can never become a matter of being a test of our fellowship with one another. They can never be used to validate our faith. They can never be used to grow our faith. If this were the case, then we would find ourselves caught up in the fanaticism of some cult.
An example is here in order to illustrate a very significant manner by which we behave in our response to the gospel. It is imperative to understand that “authority in matters of faith” can never endanger our freedom that we have in our continued response to the gospel. Our individual responses to the gospel will differ. We may even find some similar example of our responses in the behavior of the New Testament Christians, for they too responded to the same gospel. Our responses to the gospel may be similar to theirs, but the example of their response can never be used to validate our faith. For example, in their response to the gospel, the early Christians in Jerusalem sold their possessions and parted the proceeds to those in need (At 2:45). We have the freedom to do the same, but their example of so doing does not establish a mandate (law) that we too must sell what we have and give to those in need.
Having authority in matters of faith is not a license to twist the Scriptures to the point that we become legal religionists by which we would bind where God never intended to bind. God never intended that we should give ourselves into poverty. In the historical context of the example of the first Christians, those early Christians sold their possessions in order to aid those who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover/Pentecost feast, intending to stay only fifty days in Jerusalem before they returned home. But extenuating circumstances prevailed—the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles—and the travelers needed help to stay on at the apostles’ feet in order to learn more truth (At 2:42; see Jn 14:26; 16:13). Therefore, those local respondents to the gospel shared with those visitors from other countries who had originally intended to stay in Jerusalem for a short period of time. The selling of possessions by the local respondents to the gospel revealed the power of the gospel working in their lives.
A more simple example may be in order to make a specific application to our own situation today. Before and after assemblies, some today have customarily chosen to have an “opening” and “closing” prayer in reference to their assemblies. Christians certainly have the freedom to carry on with these prayers before and after their assemblies. However, since neither an “opening” or “closing” prayer is found in the word of God, then such can never became a matter of faith. “Opening” and “closing” prayers are only the invention of ourselves. Such prayers, therefore, have no “biblical authority.” Strictly speaking, therefore, they are “unbiblical,” or “unscriptural.” They are so because “opening” and “closing” prayers are found nowhere in the Bible.
Add to this example a host of examples that have become so entrenched in our assembly behavior that people do not feel right when there is no “closing” prayer. But not feeling right about something is subjective religiosity. “Not feeling right” about something leads us into being religionists. In other words, “feelings” become the validation for what is either right or wrong in reference to our obedience to the gospel, specifically in reference to our assemblies. This is called “subjective religion.” In other words, our behavior as a Christian is subjected to our feelings. We establish authority in our faith by what either feels good or bad.
On the other hand, having Bible authority in matters of faith is objective. It is objective because our beliefs and behavior are authorized by what is actually stated in the word of God. For example, baptism is an objective action of behavior simply because it is stated in the New Testament. One can be baptized, therefore, not as a subjective action in order to perform some religious tradition, but because of an objective reading of such in the New Testament. Baptism, therefore, is a matter of faith. We can thus establish baptism as a foundation upon which to determine fellowship, for in baptism, one is baptized into Christ (Rm 6:3-6). Those who have not responded to the gospel by being baptized into Christ, are good religious friends, but they are not brothers or sisters in Christ.
“Opening” and “closing” prayers, meeting in “church buildings,” vacation Bible schools, song books, Bible tracts and Sunday school material are not matters of faith. They are not because they are not mentioned in the New Testament. This does not mean that they are wrong to do or use, only that they are not matters of faith. Therefore, no test of fellowship can ever be made between brothers who have the freedom to use those things that are not matters of faith, that is, things that are in the realm of their freedom to use in their response to the gospel. We must understand, therefore, that when we use the phrase “Bible authority in all matters of faith,” we are respecting the freedom of others to use or do that which they have freedom to do, even though we cannot find such in the Bible. They have the right to so act even if we do not feel good about their actions. If such actions are not contrary to what the Bible clearly states, then there is freedom to act.
It is imperative, therefore, that people of faith must know their Bibles. If they do not know their Bibles, then they will become religionists, and religion is inherently divisive because the identity of each particular religion is based on the performance of certain rituals and ceremonies. For this reason, religions are essentially very emotionally based on the performance of the accepted, or traditional rituals and ceremonies. Adherents to specific religious groups, therefore, are very defensive about the identity of their particular religious group, for their faith is validated by a strict performance of the traditional rituals and ceremonies that identify one’s particular religious group. And now we understand what God meant when Hosea recorded Hosea 4:6. The Israelites became religionists after Baal because they forsook the word of God, and subsequently established their own faith that was based on their own religious inventions.