Wednesday, 28 December 2016

What about Closed Communion?

     Closed communion is the practice of permitting only recognized church members the opportunity to partake of the Lord’s Supper in the assembly. While there is no definitive evidence this was a first-century practice, by the second century and beyond it had become an issue (cf. Justin Martyr, First Apology 66).
     In addition to the Lord’s Supper, our singing, praying, Bible study, and collection are also important aspects of our worship assemblies. The biblical concept of “fellowship” [koinōnia] is more than what we do. It is a spiritual relationship we either have or do not have with one another based on our relationship with God (see What Does 'Fellowship' Really Mean?).
     Should we ban non-Christians from our worship assemblies? The first-century church apparently did not (1 Cor. 14:23-25). When we have non-Christian visitors, can/should we keep them from engaging in any aspect of worship? If a non-Christian participates in the singing, listens to the sermon and prayers, puts money in the collection basket, and eats unleavened bread and drinks grape juice, he is no more saved and no more lost than before engaging in these activities. There is still no koinōnia with God and God’s people.
     Other than an erring member who has been disciplined by the church (1 Cor. 5:1-13), there is no hint in the NT of an alleged danger of allowing those who ought not participate in the Lord’s Supper to partake of it. However, the NT does specifically address the issue of excluding those who ought not be excluded (1 Cor. 11:17 ff.). In larger assemblies, I am unaware of any fool-proof or practical way to determine and monitor all who are and are not qualified to observe communion. This is not only a collective activity; it is also an individual responsibility (1 Cor. 11:28).
--Kevin L. Moore


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Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Don’t Even Eat with Such a Person

     Paul writes in 1 Cor. 5:11, “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person” (NKJV). Contextually, is the injunction “not even to eat with such a person” limited to the eating of the Lord’s Supper or the congregational meals or does it also include common meals shared in more private settings?
     While vv. 7-8 may be an allusion to the Lord’s Supper, Paul says that the erring brother is to “be taken away from among you” (v. 2), therefore the words “not even” in v. 11 would be unnecessary if the Lord’s Supper is all that is in view. Nevertheless, in the immediate context Paul’s primary concern seems to be focused on the church gatherings, i.e., “when you are gathered together” (v. 4). This letter was no doubt meant to be read to the assembly (cf. Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27), and Jesus had taught that a brother requiring discipline is to be announced “to the church” (Matt. 18:17). Furthermore, abuses notwithstanding, it appears to have been a common practice for the Corinthian brethren to “come together to eat” (1 Cor. 11:33). Christians are warned about ungodly men who “have crept in unnoticed” and “are spots [blemishes] in your love feasts” (Jude 4, 12; cf. 2 Pet. 2:13). If this is what Paul has in mind, the words “not even to eat with such a person” would be a prohibition against allowing the erring brother to share in the congregational meals.
     An even broader application seems to be suggested by the fact that the phrase “not even to eat with” is appended to the injunction, “not to keep company with” (NKJV) or “not to associate with” (NASB). This is in contrast to associations one might have with non-Christians (vv. 9-10), which would include the sharing of common meals (10:27; cf. Luke 15:2). Therefore, it appears that Paul is saying that social interaction with people outside the church is not prohibited, while the same interaction must be withheld from the errant Christian who is being disciplined by the church. This is further highlighted by John’s statement concerning the evil doer: “do not receive him into your house nor greet him” (2 John 10).
     Bear in mind, however, that the Greek sunanamígnumi (“keep company with”) suggests more than just casual interaction. This word actually means “to mix up together” and involves being intimate with, commingling, and having friendly engagements with someone (cf. Thayer 601; H. K. Moulton 386). The prohibition in 1 Cor. 5:11 is not necessarily against the mere act of eating together, but the enjoyment of warm camaraderie often associated with sharing meals (cf. Acts 2:46; 10:41). Hospitality, mutual acceptance and encouragement are included in the concepts of receiving someone into your house and greeting him (2 John 10; cf. Matt. 5:47; 10:12-14). These positive expressions of approval are to be withheld from the unfaithful Christian who has been disciplined by the church.
     To further complicate the matter, note that the only times the phrase mē sunanamígnumi (“do not keep company with”) is used in the NT is in 1 Cor. 5:9, 11 and 2 Thess. 3:14, yet in the latter passage the idea of total segregation is not enjoined -- the faithful are still to “admonish him as a brother” (v. 15). The word “admonish” is translated from the Greek nouthetéō, and whenever this word is used elsewhere in the NT, except once when it was done in writing (1 Cor. 4:14), it applies to something done in person (Acts 20:31; Rom. 15:14; Col. 1:28; 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:12, 14). What, then, does “withdraw from” entail, and what is meant by “do not keep company with” in light of the injunction to “keep on admonishing” [present active imperative] (2 Thess. 3:6, 14, 15)?
     This raises some questions that probably can’t be answered with certainty. Does 2 Thess. 3:15 amend the general principle of 1 Cor. 5:11, i.e., is it permissible to eat with an erring Christian as long as some type of admonishing is done? Does 1 Cor. 5:11 amend the injunction of 2 Thess. 3:15, i.e., may one have some degree of contact with an erring Christian as long as a meal is not shared? Do these two passages suggest that the level of association is determined by the nature of the sin involved, i.e., total disassociation for sins such as sexual immorality, covetousness, idolatry, reviling, drunkenness, and extortion (1 Cor. 5:11), while some form of association is permissible when the error involves matters such as laziness, meddling, and freeloading (2 Thess. 3:10-12)?
     Another factor to consider is the difference between incidental and intentional interaction. For example, an unintentional encounter at the supermarket is much different than purposefully going to someone’s home or arranging a meeting with that person. If contact with a disciplined member is intentional, there ought to be some form of brotherly admonition. If, however, the contact is not intentional, the situation may or may not be conducive to a word of admonition, but whatever might be said or done, there is no place for being rude or unkind (cf. Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:23-26). If the NT provides a blueprint or pattern for church discipline, these passages must be harmonized and judgment calls will have to be made on a case-by-case basis.
--Kevin L. Moore

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Wednesday, 14 December 2016

To Teach or Not to Teach?

     In 1 Corinthians 12:29, Paul rhetorically asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?” The implied answer is “no.” Not everyone in the first-century church was expected to be a teacher, any more than everyone was an apostle, a prophet, or a miracle worker. But in Hebrews 5:12 we read, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers …” Why do these two passages seem to be saying conflicting things?
     The texts in question are addressed to two different audiences in separate places and times, dealing with two very different issues. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul is confronting the problem of jealousy and discord due to the misuse of miraculous gifts; each member should be contributing his/her part for the benefit of the whole body. In this context, “teachers” fulfil a special role in the church (cf. James 3:1).
     In Hebrews 5 the problem is lack of spiritual growth and maturity. There comes a time when all Christians ought to be “teachers” in some sense, whether by: (a) example (Matt. 5:13-16; Rom. 16:19; 1 Tim. 3:7; 4:12, 15; 5:25; 1 Pet. 2:11-12); (b) open confession of one’s faith (Matt. 10:32; Heb. 4:14; 10:23); (c) defense of the faith (1 Pet. 3:15; Jude 3); (d) fulfilling one’s “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:17-21; cf. Matt. 28:18-20); and/or (e) developing and utilizing God-given teaching talents (Rom. 12:7; Eph. 4:11). It is this latter (more specific) sense that is considered in 1 Corinthians 12, whereas in Hebrews 5 the broader sense is in view.
--Kevin L. Moore

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Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Does the Holy Spirit speak through all who say Jesus is Lord?

     Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3 NKJV). In the previous verse, Paul reminds his readers of their former lives as éthnē [pagans, gentiles] = non-Christians (cf. Eph. 2:11; Tit. 3:3; 1 Pet. 2:10). They were “carried away/led by dumb idols” (cf. 6:9-11; 8:7), i.e., controlled by irrational impulses they couldn’t understand or control. But this does not characterize one who is genuinely led by the Spirit of God.
     No one speaking by God’s Spirit says that Jesus is anathema (“cursed”) (1 Cor. 12:3a). It’s not clear to whom Paul refers here; perhaps self-professed Jewish or pagan prophets, who had disdain for Christ while claiming divine guidance (cf. Acts 18:6; 26:11). No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit (v. 3b). Actually anyone can say this mockingly or insincerely (cf. Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:46), but the lordship of Christ cannot be realized apart from revelation. It can only be fully comprehended and spoken with true meaning based on what the Holy Spirit has revealed about Christ.
     Later Paul provides a good commentary on this as he writes: “how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:3-5).
--Kevin L. Moore

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