Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Frequency of the Lord's Supper

     They should have known better. Only a few years after the Lord's church had been established in Corinth, their assemblies had regressed into something the Lord never intended. Thus Paul issues a stern reprimand: “But in these instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse …. Therefore coming together in one place [epi to auto], it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper” (1 Cor. 11:17, 20).1 The ESV renders v. 20, “When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat.” While communion was meant to be a recurrent reminder of Christ’s atoning death (vv. 23-29), their abuses and misbehavior had rendered it unrecognizable.
     The implication of this rebuke and the accompanying directives for restoring the Lord’s Supper is that the sacred memorial was to be kept on a regular basis (hosakis [“as often”] vv. 25, 26). But how often? These Christians were to keep it as often as they gathered for worship. So how often did the Corinth church assemble?

A Uniform Practice of First-Century Churches

     Later in the same epistle Paul writes: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I ordered the churches of Galatia, so you do also. On the first day of every week [katá mían sabbátou], let each of you by himself store up whatever he is prospered, that there be no collections when I come” (16:1-2).2 Since the perí dé (“now concerning”) formula in 1 Corinthians draws attention to the apostle’s answers to their questions (7:1),3 the current response presupposes their previous knowledge of this collection. 
     These same directives had been communicated to the churches of Galatia (16:1c),4 and the Macedonian churches were also involved (v. 5).5 Paul goes on to reference the churches of Asia (v. 19), who apparently participated as well (Acts 20:4), plus all the churches in the province of Achaia (Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 1:1; 9:2).6 Throughout 1 Corinthians the readers have been consistently reminded of what is taught and practiced everywhere in all the churches (1:2; 4:17; 7:17; 11:16; 14:33).7
     “On the first day of every week” (katá mían sabbátou) indicates a regular occurrence on a specific day each week (16:2a). The implication is that the Corinth church and her sister congregations in various places were assembling weekly on this particular day.8 If the Corinthians were to observe the Lord’s Supper as often as they gathered for worship (11:20-29), and they were assembling each first day of the week (Sunday), the Lord’s Supper was to be observed every Sunday.9
     About a year after these instructions were penned, the apostle was passing through the Roman province of Asia (Acts 20:5 ff.). Although he was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem (v. 16), for some reason he stopped for a whole week in Troas (v. 6). Why? “But on the first day of the week [tē mia tōn sabbatōn], having come together to break bread [klasai arton], Paul spoke to them, ready to depart on the next day; and he continued the speech until midnight” (v. 7).10
     The expression “to break bread” is a customary idiom, used in two different senses in the NT. Sometimes it refers to a common meal (Matt. 14:19; 15:36; Mark 8:6, 19; Acts 2:46; 20:11; 27:35), whereas at other times it applies to the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:24). Either way, seeing that both involve more than just literal bread breaking, the phrase is obviously idiomatic. The question is, how is it used in Acts 20:7? As a general rule of thumb, whenever a modifier such as “food” or “eating” is included, a normal meal is in view (cf. Acts 2:46; 20:11). When the expression occurs in conjunction with spiritual activities, the Lord’s Supper is in view (cf. Acts 2:42; 20:7). There is a clear distinction between these two actions (one common and the other sacred), and they are not to be commingled and confused (1 Cor. 11:17-34).
     It is highly unlikely that Paul would have postponed his journey to Jerusalem for seven days just to eat an ordinary meal with the Troas brethren. But if the church assembled each Sunday, like other first-century Christians (noted above), and if Paul and his traveling companions arrived on Monday, it would have been necessary to stay there a week in order to assemble with these saints to observe communion with them. The expressed purpose of this assembly was “to break bread,” and the specified day was “the first day of the week.” Immediately after this worship service, Paul ate food and resumed his hastened voyage (v. 11).

A Special Day

     Sunday marks the historical juncture when our Lord Jesus conquered death (Mark 16:9), providing the cornerstone of the Christian faith (Rom. 1:4; 6:4-11; 1 Cor. 15:1-4, 12-22; 1 Pet. 3:21). Thereafter it was this day of the week on which the Lord’s church was established (Acts 2:1; cf. Lev. 23:15-16; John 19:31) and early Christians assembled together to commemorate Christ’s atoning sacrifice (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17-26; 16:1-2).11
     While Jesus instituted this sacred memorial on a Thursday evening (Matt. 26:26-29), the NT gives no special meaning to the fifth day of the week. It was another couple of days before the enormous significance of Sunday became a reality (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:9). Even though baptism was an integral part of the ministries of John the baptizer and Jesus and his disciples (John 3:22-23), it wasn’t until Christ’s resurrection that its full connotation was established (Rom. 6:3-11). The day of the Lord’s resurrection was to be the day his church was built and his spiritual kingdom realized (Matt. 16:18-19; Acts 1:3-8; 2:1-47),12 and ultimately the memorial day of his death (cf. Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:16, 18; Acts 2:42; 20:7).


     For all who are committed to restoring the NT church, we have clear directives concerning the Lord’s Supper with respect to what, how, and when. If the early Christians assembled every Sunday to observe communion in remembrance of the Lord’s sacrificial death, what should we be doing?

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 See The Sunday Collection <Link>.
     3 See also 1 Cor. 7:25; 8:1, 4; 12:1; 16:1, 12.
     4 Cf. Acts 16:6; 18:23; Gal. 1:2. These are probably the churches in the southern region of the Roman province of Galatia, including Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Derbe, and Iconium (Acts 13, 14, 16). Note that Gaius of Derbe and Timothy of Lystra were part of the delegation that carried the funds to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). 
     5 Cf. Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8:1–9:7. Macedonian cities where churches had been planted were Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea (Acts 16:9–17:14). Representatives of the Thessalonica and Berea congregations helped deliver the funds (Acts 20:4), and Luke may have represented the church at Philippi (Acts 16:12; 20:6).
     6 The province of Achaia included Corinth, Cenchrea, and Athens (Acts 17:24; 18:18, 27; 19:21; Rom. 16:1).
     7 While the churches of Jerusalem and Judea were on the receiving end of this benevolent aid, they too participated in funding the Lord’s work through free-will offerings collected in a common treasury (cf. Acts 2:42, 44, 45; 4:32, 34-37; 5:1-2; 6:1-4). Consider also the generosity of the Syrian Antioch congregation (Acts 11:29-30). Providing for the physical needs of destitute brethren is not the only work first-century churches supported (cf. 1 Cor. 9:11-14; 16:6; 2 Cor. 11:7-9; 12:13; Gal. 6:6; Phil. 4:15-20).
     8 These verses constitute an apostolic command issued to multiple congregations in various locations to be regularly observed on a specified day each week. While “each of you by himself” (v. 2b) describes a personal responsibility, the expression “let him store up” (thēsaurízōn) (v. 2c) means to treasure up or store up in a common treasury (= the single “gift” of v. 3). Just as the contribution involves both individual and collective components, so too does the observance of the Lord’s Supper (11:20, 26, 28).
     9 What if the church also met on Wednesdays or other days of the week? The bottom line is, Paul is addressing what the church in mid-first-century Corinth was actually doing (assembling every Sunday), not other possible scenarios that would have required qualifying directives.
     10 The term mesonúktion (“midnight”) applies to the second of four watches of the night (Mark 13:35; cf. 6:48), equivalent to 9 pm–12 am.
     11 John’s allusion to “the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10) employs the adjective kuriakos, and the only other occurrence of this word in the NT is in reference to “the Lord’s Supper” (1 Cor. 11:20), commemorated as regularly as these Christians assembled together (vv. 20-34), viz. every Sunday (16:2).
     12 Cf. Mark 9:1; John 3:5; Acts 1:3; 2:30-38, 47; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31; Col. 1:13. See The Kingdom of God Part 3 <Link>.

Related articles: Wayne Jackson's Weekly Observance; Dave Miller's Sunday and the Lord's Supper and Lord's Supper on Sunday?; Ben Giselbach's Protecting the Lord's Supper; Neal Pollard's Keeping Our Thoughts on the Lord's Supper

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Thursday, 18 June 2015

Biblical Principles Relating to Choral Singing

1. Worship is intentional. In Acts 24:11 Paul said that he had gone up to Jerusalem “to worship” [proskuneō]. We see that (a) not everything one does in life is worship;1 (b) worship is done intentionally/on purpose; and (c) one cannot worship unintentionally or by accident.2

2. Something that is often done as “worship” in a worship setting might be done in another setting where it does not necessarily constitute worship. For example, prayer is a worshipful act (Acts 2:42; 3:1), but when Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray and shared with them a “model” for praying (Luke 11:1-4), he does not appear to have been worshiping in this particular context. When Paul was on a ship with a large number of unbelievers and he “gave thanks to God in the presence of them all” (Acts 27:35-36), he may have been engaging in worship on this occasion, but those who heard him and were encouraged by what he did were not necessarily participating in worship themselves.

3. While the singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs is generally directed to God as vertical worship, a secondary purpose is for horizontally teaching, edifying, and admonishing (Ephesians 5:19-20; Colossians 3:16-17; Hebrews 2:12). In fact, worship to God is not the only biblically-sanctioned reason to sing spiritual songs. “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms” (James 5:13b).

4. One or more persons singing spiritual songs while others listen without singing is not inherently wrong. “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25).

5. In a “worship setting,” i.e. an assembly of Christians who have gathered for the express purpose of worshiping, everyone should be participating in worship as a collective activity in accordance with biblical guidelines (1 Corinthians 11:17-29; 14:12-19; 16:1-2; etc.).

6. In an environment that is not intended as congregational worship, would it be appropriate and not inconsistent with Bible teaching for a Christian to receive edification from something another Christian offers to God, whether a heart-felt expression of thanksgiving and praise in a beautifully worded prayer or scripture reading, or a heart-felt expression of thanksgiving and praise in a beautifully worded song?

7. From a practical standpoint, if one deems it acceptable to listen to a recording of Christians singing gospel songs, in what way would it be unacceptable to listen to the same Christians singing the same gospel songs in person (perhaps while the recording is being made)?

8. Based on the above principles, I do not view a cappella choral singing as mere “entertainment” or something that replaces congregational (reciprocal) praise in a worship setting but, in my judgment, as an opportunity for spiritual edification outside the appointed boundaries of a corporate assembly without violating biblical teaching.

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 What about Romans 12:1? “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your …” (a) “reasonable service” (NKJV); (b) “spiritual worship” (ESV); (c) “spiritual service of worship” (NASB); (d) “spiritual act of worship” (NIV)? The Greek adj. logikos means reasonable, rational, or spiritual. The noun latreia is “service or worship” (BAGD 467), with emphasis on divine service (cf. Rom. 9:4; John 16:2; Heb. 12:28); the verb form latreuō means to “serve” [esp. the carrying out of religious duties] (BAGD 467). This is not the same concept as what is conveyed by the verb proskuneō, which means to “worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to …” (BAGD 716).
     2 Scriptural worship [proskuneō] is something that is done purposefully, involving concentration, consideration, and reverence (John 4:20-24; 12:20; Acts 8:27; 24:11). Not everything one does in life, therefore, constitutes worship (e.g. reading the newspaper, sleeping, watching a movie, et al.).

Related articles: Stan Mitchell's Contemporary Christian Music

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Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Musical Praise and Biblical Silence

     Is it a “sin” to worship with mechanical instruments? This is a loaded question comparable to, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” It can’t be answered with impunity with a simple “yes” or “no.” If one were to say, “Yes, it’s a sin to worship with mechanical instruments,” the inquirer could quickly respond: “Where does the Bible explicitly label it a ‘sin’? If you can’t produce a direct biblical statement, you’re binding what God hasn’t bound!” But to answer with a simple “no” would evoke the response: “If it’s not sinful, it must be okay and you shouldn’t make a big deal out of it.” Either way, the discussion comes to an abrupt halt. This article is an attempt to avert common misunderstandings that result from oversimplification and to address the issue thoughtfully, practically, and biblically.
     The Bible is our complete guide in all spiritual matters, repeatedly admonishing its readers to handle the word of truth accurately and to evade, reject, and denounce its misuse (1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Tim. 2:2, 15, 24-26; 3:14-17; 2 Pet. 1:3; 3:14-18; etc.). Here is every text in the New Testament that relates to musical praise in Christian worship: Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; 13:15; James 5:13.1 Each verse specifies vocal and verbal praise, depicting that which instructs, admonishes, and facilitates understanding.

Matt. 26:30

Mark 14:26

Acts 16:25

Romans 15:9

1 Cor. 14:15

Eph. 5:19

Col. 3:16

Hebrews 2:12

Hebrews 13:15

James 5:13

   Now some might object, claiming that at least some of these verses are taken out of context, to which the following threefold response is offered. First, would it be reasonable to suppose that if any of these passages had mentioned a harp or a trumpet, it would be included in the discussion? Second, even if the dismissal of some of these verses could be rationalized, they cannot all be rejected and the conclusion is still the same. Finally, if all the pertinent information is to be considered, then all the pertinent information ought to be considered.

The Principle of Silence

      To illustrate the biblical principle of silence, consider Acts 15. Certain Jewish Christians were advocating mandatory circumcision (vv. 1, 5). After all, they had plenty of scriptural support for their position in the Old Testament, and neither Jesus nor any of his apostolic representatives had directly discounted this doctrine. How were these teachers and those they taught supposed to know this wasn't right? The Spirit-guided response was simply, “we gave no such commandment” (v. 24  NKJV). In other words, divine silence = no divine sanction. 
     This is further illustrated in Hebrews 7:11-16. How did the Israelites know the divine will concerning the appointment of priests? Quite simply, God explicitly revealed this information: “This is what the LORD commanded to be done …” (Lev. 8:5 ff.), specifying the tribe of Levi as the priestly tribe (cf. Num. 18:1-2; Deut. 33:8-11; Heb. 7:5). God did not (and did not need to) provide a list of other Israelite tribes in order to directly forbid the appointment of priests from any of them. By specifying Levi, all other tribes were implicitly excluded.
     In view of God’s silence concerning the other tribes, would it have been according to his revealed will to appoint priests from the tribe of Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Zebulun, or Issachar? What about Dan, Gad, Naphtali, or Benjamin? The Lord never said not to. What if some from the other tribes were capable of performing priestly duties just as well as or even better than the Levites? And who better than the Lord Jesus to function as priest? Would it have been according to God’s revealed will for Jesus to have served as a Jewish priest while he was living on earth, even though he was not a descendent of Levi?
     “For He [Jesus] of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood” (Heb. 7:13-14, emp. added). Why would Jesus not have been permitted to serve as an Israelite priest on earth? It had nothing to do with whether or not he was capable of doing the job, or whether he or others may have desired it. It had nothing to do with God having directly forbidden it (because he didn’t). It had everything to do with the silence of scripture. Moses “spoke nothing” concerning it; i.e., there was no divine sanction for a person from the tribe of Judah (even Jesus!) to serve as priest.

Generic and Specific Instructions2

     What if the injunction was, “Appoint priests from among the Israelites”? Accordingly, anyone from any of the tribes would be allowed; but the requirement was not this generic. The law directed the appointment of priests from among the Israelite tribe of Levi. Therefore, anyone from Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Zebulun, etc., would necessarily be excluded.
     What if the Bible said, “Commemorate the Lord’s death with food and drink”? Accordingly, any type of food and drink (brownies, carrots, water, coffee) would be permissible; but the stipulated elements of the Lord’s Supper are not this generic. The Lord’s death is to be commemorated with unleavened bread and fruit of the vine (cf. Matt. 26:17, 26-29). Therefore, any other elements are automatically eliminated.
     What if the New Testament said, “Offer music to God as Christian worship”? Accordingly, any type of music (singing, electric guitar, saxophone, etc.) would be permissible; but the musical praise specified in the New Testament is not this generic. The New Testament affirms, “… singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19 + nine other verses). Therefore, any other type of music would necessarily be excluded.

Is Silence Permissive or Prohibitive?

     The injunction to appoint priests from among the Israelite tribe of Levi would permit anyone within the stated category, including tall Levites, short Levites, brown-haired Levites, black-haired Levites, dark-complected Levites, light-complected Levites, etc. None of these options deviates from the specified command. But the injunction to appoint priests from among the Israelite tribe of Levi would prohibit Egyptians, Assyrians, Reubenites, Simeonites, etc. (even serving alongside the Levites), because these options exceed the parameters of the specified command.
     The directive to commemorate the Lord’s death with unleavened bread and fruit of the vine would permit plates or trays or baskets or containers for the specified elements, none of which adds to or deviates from the stated instructions. But the directive to commemorate the Lord’s death with unleavened bread and fruit of the vine does prohibit brownies, carrots, water, coffee, etc. (even if consumed along with the specified elements), because they are unauthorized additions to what scripture teaches.
     The New Testament directive to sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord would permit song books or overheads (for words), a tuning fork (for pitch), a song leader (for tempo), none of which deviates from the specified instructions. But there is no New Testament authorization for playing and making melody on a piano in worship (even to accompany the singing), or beating drums, or juggling Bibles, or dancing with hula hoops, etc. All humanly-devised additions to the specified instructions are implicitly prohibited if the Lord has given no such directive.

Respecting God’s Authority

     Whatever is not communicated in the sacred writings (specifically or generically) is necessarily excluded from God’s revealed will. If the principle of biblical authority is rejected, anything that is not explicitly forbidden in scripture must therefore be permissible, including a universal pope, praying to Mary, praying to angels, praying to departed saints, prayers for the dead, baptizing infants, sprinkling as a mode of baptism, baptizing with rose petals instead of water, sale of indulgences, polygamy, smoking marijuana to heighten the worship experience, et al.
     Even though the New Testament is silent on all of the above and does not explicitly forbid any of them, each must be rejected simply because none is biblically sanctioned. Mechanical instruments of music in Christian worship are to be opposed, not because they are expressly forbidden by the scriptural directive to sing but because there is no New Testament authorization for their use.
     What is our purpose for worshiping? If our primary aim is to please the Lord,3 the only way to be certain about what pleases him is according to what he has chosen to reveal to us. We know what the will of God is by what is revealed in the Bible (Eph. 3:3-5; 5:17), not by what is left unsaid. The heavenly Father presently communicates through his Son Jesus Christ, and the new covenant of God’s Son has superseded the old covenant of Moses and the Jews (Heb. 1:1-2; 8:6-13). If the Lord has not ordered drum beating or trumpet blowing or guitar strumming to replace or accompany singing from the heart as Christian worship, who is presumptuous enough to offer it to him anyway, and by whose authority?
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 All scripture references in the New Testament to man-made musical instruments (Matt. 11:17; Luke 7:32; 15:25; 1 Cor. 13:1; 14:7-8; Rev. 5:8; 14:2; 15:2) involve figurative imagery illustrating things other than Christian worship. For a Presbyterian perspective with insightful historical observations, see G. I. Williamson’s “Instrumental Music in Worship: Commanded or Not Commanded?” in The Westminster Presbyterian (2001), <Link>. Scripture quotations are from the NKJV.
     2 Examples are numerous. The Lord’s expectation for Christians assembling together (1 Cor. 14:26; Heb. 10:25) does not stipulate a specific gathering place, therefore rental halls and church buildings are sanctioned under this generic prescription. The necessity of hearing and understanding the communication of God’s message (Mark 7:14; Jas. 1:21) justifies sound systems and microphones. The universal proclamation of the gospel (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15) authorizes a variety of transportation modes.
     3 Please read Matt. 5:16; John 8:29; 2 Cor. 5:9; Gal. 1:10; Col. 1:9-10; 1 Thess. 2:4; 4:1; 2 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 13:16; 1 John 3:22.

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