The Most Important Part Of What Christians Believe

Christianity is a religion of doing good to others. We believe in loving our enemy, helping the poor and the widows, treating others the way that we would like to be treated. However, these “good works” by themselves do not define our religion. Yes, they are vital, but there is a core doctrine that gives all these things meaning and perspective. Here is the heart of what true Christians believe:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (I Corinthians 15:3)

The Apostle Paul states in this text that the doctrine of first importance to Christians is the belief that Christ died for our sins just as the Old Testament Scriptures indicated that it was necessary. All the good things we do is not to earn our salvation, it is done out of appreciation for what He done for us. It is done so we can receive crowns of glory that we can cast back humbly at God’s feet some day (Revelation 4:10-11).

Anyone can see that doing good works is a vital part of true religion. But without the death and sacrifice of Christ–the ultimate good work which Christ has done for us–these good works are meaningless. If we do good works just to impress others, or to earn our way into heaven, than they become little better than bribes we use to buy popularity with. Yes, arrogant, self-righteous, people do a lot of good works when people are watching, and a lot of bad works too when they think they are not being watched!

Christ’s death on the cross is the example of what a true good looks like. It was painful and humiliating. By taking his place on the cross he had to accept not only physical cruelty but public shaming and character assassination. And he had to forego revenge, suffering for his enemies even while they still hated him and hurt him. By God’s grace, some of us who once hated him and crucified him have become his friends. We have admitted that we are horribly evil people, have repented of our sins and now trust in him only to save us. We now learn from his ultimate example on the cross as we struggle to show pure, Christ-like, sacrificial love to others.

 

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Good Preachers Repeat The Gospel Message Frequently

The Gospel message is everything to a true Christian. If we wish to mature in our faith, we must take care to stand firm in our belief in Christ’s death and bodily resurrection. In our Bible passage for today the Apostle Paul proves himself to be a wise teacher by repeating the gospel message to the church at Corinth, even though he knows they have already heard it numerous times before. He writes to them:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain (I Corinthians 15:1-2 NASB).

Paul here explicitly states that his goal in the next few verses is to make known to you the gospel. This is not because they have never heard the gospel before, but because it bears repeating. The gospel had been preached to them before by Paul, they had eagerly received it, and in it they were able to stand spiritually, knowing that they could live successful Christian lives, pleasing to God. It was by this gospel that they were saved, but only if they held fast the word which had been preached to them. Indeed, the gospel message only saves those who stay committed to it; those who later reject it are not saved because their belief in it was only temporary and secondary; they had never truly accepted Christ as the most important thing in their lives. This is why Paul finds it so vital to repeat the message of Christ’s death and ressurrection, because he knows that it would be disastrous for them if they ever forgot or doubted it’s importance.

Some Christians today will actually be offended if a preacher preaches the gospel message to them. They do not think that they need to hear it again because they already know it. However, we always need to hear the gospel message again, because it is the most important thing in the believer’s life, and hearing it again will remind us to keep our hope for the future anchored in Christ. We need to remember that we are all awful people, capable of being redeemed only by the blood of Christ, unable to save ourselves by our own effort. We know that Jesus not only died, but literally rose again, so that we too may rise from the dead one day if we believe in him. If we stop hearing this message we might allow ourselves to stop remembering what was sacrificed, and allow our theology to mutate into something that is not truly Christian. Indeed, there are many so-called Christians that once started off professing belief in the gospel, but then slowly forsook it. They were swept away by the flattery of silver-tongued preachers who implied that the gospel message could be improved upon, and that a child-like loyalty to it was hindering their spiritual growth. These teachers told them they could become something greater than what was already available to them in Christ. However, in seeking to find something greater than the simple gospel message, they came up empty with nothing at all, for it was the gospel message that had given them confidence before God in the first place. They had allowed their confidence in Christ to be replaced by arrogance by believing that they could do better for themselves than what Jesus had done for them.

Therefore we must firmly defend the truth of the gospel message, knowing that if part or all of it is not true, than we have believed in vain;  for there is no hope for the future. If Christ did not suffer and die for our sins, then there is no hope for the future. If we have to work to earn our own salvation in addition to what Christ did on the cross, then there is no hope for the future. If Christ did not bodily rise from the dead after being killed, there is no hope for the future. Our only hope lies in the gospel being completely true. Therefore, let us not be fooled by intellectuals who try to undermine the gospel by supposedly speaking a better one. There is no better gospel than the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we surrender it, we have nothing. So let us jealously guard it so that we can always have joyful confidence in our salvation, knowing that God will forgive our sins and raise us from the dead some day, just as he raised Christ.

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All Things Must Be Done Decently And In Order

As we finish chapter 14 of I Corinthians we see the Apostle Paul reassert the importance of prophecy in the church, and the legitimacy of tongues. He has just given us some important qualifiers on how to use these two gifts, but he wants to be clear that he is not trying to down play the importance of prophecy, or bar the use of tongues altogether:

Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order. (I Corinthians 14:39-40)

Christian leaders should desire earnestly to prophesy. Prophesy here does not necessarily mean to have visions about the future, but it can simply mean to speak God’s commands clearly so that they can be understood. God’s commands have already been given to us through the Word of God. Any person who sees themselves as a prophet or teacher most certainly needs to devote much time to prayer and reading the Bible so that they can clearly teach truth to God’s people. We must subject our spirit to the teaching of the word so that we are not tempted to become false prophets who speak something out of our emotions and personal experience what is contrary to scripture. We are all sinners with wickedness inside us, so prophets need to make sure that they are only speaking truth, and not simply serving themselves by what they preach in public.

The Apostle Paul does not forbid the speaking with tongues in church, although he has just spent the better part of a chapter explaining some of the ways that speaking in tongues can be abused. The speaking of tongues must never be used as an arbitrary way to get attention. They should be spoken in public only when there is an interpreter present who can translate the meaning clearly into spoken language. One should not be tempted to invent an interpretation to a tongue that he does not understand, for that would be working against the Holy Spirit.

The guiding principle here is that all things must be done decently and in proper order. We must take care that our church services truly glorify and Worship the one True God and His Son Who died to purchase our souls. Church must never be used as an occasion to glorify our selves.

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Being Spiritual Does Not Give You The Right To Make Your Own Rules

True Christians must be obedient to God, not arrogant leaders who seek to advance our own name brand through our ministry. One mark of a false teacher is their tendency to consider themselves to be the only one who has discovered truth who shower other Christians with wrong-spirited, belittling criticism. The First century church in Corinth had this problem. They made up new rules for church worship that contradicted what all the other churches were doing. Specifically, they were abusing the use of tongues in the church and allowing women to conduct the public preaching of doctrine (I Corinthians 14:28, 34). Paul warns them that this great “progress” they are making is not really progress, they are straying from the commandments of God. He warns them to show more humility and unity with the rest of the church. He warns their great leaders to be less arrogant when they preach:

If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. (I Corinthians 14:37-36).

Paul says here that those who consider themselves to be a prophet or spiritual to acknowledge the things that Paul has written as the commandments of the Lord. These leaders had been far to quick to contradict the teachings of Paul and the other Apostles without evidence from the word of God. Paul says that if these teachers are truly eager to preach the truth, that they will show unity with the rest of the church who are following God’s revealed commandments. But if they insist on inventing new doctrine, they are stubbornly ignorant, and as such they will never be able to grow spiritually, but will instead remain ignorant.

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No, You Can’t Do Church Anyway You Want

There are many different kinds of Christian churches in the world that “do church” many different ways. This is inevitable, and it is not necessarily a bad thing. The Bible indeed gives us a great deal of flexibility in many aspects of running a church service. The Bible, for instance, is not very restrictive about worship styles. It does not prescribe a particular kind of music, liturgy, or dress code. Nevertheless, the Bible does give a few rules, and these rules must be followed, because we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and therefore the rules themselves are God’s commandments to us.

One such rule, which we discussed in our last post, was that women cannot preach publicly during a church service (I Corinthians 14:34-35). This command, of course, clashes with our modern culture, and there are many churches–including some fairly good ones that I have visited–that compromise on this issue. However, Christians need to be submissive to God, and therefore, we need to follow His clear rules, even when we don’t feel like it.

The first century church at Corinth was having trouble following God’s rules. Apparently, among other things, they would allow women to preach in their church services. Paul warned them that they should not be doing this:

Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? (I Corinthians 15:36 NIV).

What Paul is saying here is that they have already been told what the rules are, and they have no authority to change them. The church at Corinth was not the source of the word of God, that is to say, it had come to them through the preaching of the Apostles, it was not from them. They had to to obey the words God revealed to the apostles in unity with the other churches. Likewise, our churches today need to do the same thing. We have no license to make new rules for church that violates the rules given in scripture. When we make new rules we are behaving as if we are the only church that is reached by God’s word, and that all previous churches do not have the word of God. Thus we need to be unified with other churches in accepting the authority of scripture. If every church were to arbitrarily depart from scripture, then there would be no unity in the church, nor could there be any reasonable confidence that any of us are doing God’s will.

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Women are not to preach publicly in church

 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. (I Corinthians 14:34-35)

The passage above prohibits women from speaking as pastors or preachers during a church service. This is no doubt one of the most politically incorrect passages of Scripture. I’m most certainly going to offend a few people with this blog post, but I really have no choice but to do so. I take this passage at face value, and I refuse to skip a passage of Scripture just because people don’t agree with it.

The Apostle Paul here says that women are to keep silent in the churches, they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves to the teaching of men. Paul here is saying that women need to refrain from preaching and submit to male authority. This is not because men are better Christians or more spiritually mature then women. Paul says elsewhere that man and women are spiritually equal in Christ (Galatians 3:27-28). So then why does he limit their ministry in church? The answer is because God has equipped them differently than men for a different job. God has blessed women with stronger nurturing emotions than men, which allows them to minister to young children with greater skill. This is useful in the household, but this makes it harder for them to preach, because, these emotions can sometimes lead them astray. They are both a strength and a weakness. Because of these emotions women are more easily hurt then men. Preachers need to have thick skin, so they do not become bitter when they face opposition from their audience. Women deserve to be treated delicately because of their gentle nature, whereas preachers sometimes need to be bluntly and even publicly rebuked when they err. God simply did not intend for women to be preachers when he created them.

Now I know what I just said will hurt a lot of feelings. I’m sorry about that. Women are in no way inferior to men, and then do indeed have many roles in church. I believe that women can even teach men doctrine in private, although it must be done delicately with a spirit of submissiveness (see Acts 18:26). I, for one, have learned many things from discussions with my wife. I also think that women can teach each other in women’s Bible studies, and I am not opposed to women’s conferences either. Indeed there are many women in the Bible that had important ministries. If we interpret the passage above too harshly, we run the risk of shackling women’s opportunity for ministry more than the Spirit intends.

Ultimately, many people in our society, both male and female, hate this passage of Scripture because it teaches submission. People hate submission. They hate to submit to GOd and to each other. But submission is good for us. It reminds us that we are not individually the center of the universe, and that we need to treat other people and God as more important than ourselves (Phillippians 2:3-4).

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It Is Important That Our Churches Are Guided By the Principle Of Peace

Christians have many different opinions as to how to “do church.” We disagree on everything from the structure of service, to church government, to what kind of music to sing and even the way to dress for church. When we have these discussions we should be careful to treat each other in love and humility. Being right does not in and of itself excuse us for being harsh. We must not forget the overarching principle of peace:

for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints (I Corinthians 14:33).

God is not a God of confusion. God is not the author of disorder or misunderstanding or hatred in our churches. The author of those things is Satan. We are not walking in the Spirit if we use harsh, heavy-handed tactics to force our opinions on others, even if our opinions are “right.” For instance, disagreements over baptism are no excuse for ostracizing our brothers and sisters in Christ. Neither are arguments over music a reason to refuse to help a starving brother financially. Gossip, slander, and verbal abuse are not legitimate ways to leverage others into agreeing with you. God is a God of peace. When a church is really at peace then we know that God is there. This peace can be found in all true churches of the saints. Yes, good churches may have a few troublemakers, but they also have some brethren who forgiving, gentle, and humble, who work behind the scenes to mend the feelings of people who are hurting. Churches who do not have any people like this are not churches of God.

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