Did Jesus actually promise to build His church upon lowly Peter?

In its efforts to bolster its claims regarding the alleged supremacy of the bishop of Rome, the pope, Roman Catholicism had to scour Scripture looking for validating proof texts. They found their primary “evidence” in Matthew 16:

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’” – Matthew 16:13-18

Catholic apologists argue that the passage teaches that Jesus promised to build his church upon the apostle, Peter, who they claim was the first bishop of Rome, but Protestants disagree. In the original Greek text, the word used for Peter is “petros,” which means a small stone or pebble, while the word used for rock is “petra,” which means a massive rock formation. Jesus was using a play on words to indicate that while Simon was an insecure, rolling pebble, the truth that he had proclaimed, that Jesus was the long-promised Messiah and Savior, would be the massive, unmoveable truth that would be the bedrock foundation of the church.

But Protestants are not the only ones who correctly exegete this passage. Church “fathers,” Augustine, Chrysostom, Hilary, Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory of Nyssa, and Cyril also interpreted Matthew 16:18 to mean that Jesus was going to build His church upon the truth proclaimed by Peter, that He was the long-awaited Messiah and Savior.

“Christ, you see, built his Church not on a man but on Peter’s confession. What is Peter’s confession? ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ There’s the rock for you, there’s the foundation, there’s where the Church has been built, which the gates of the underworld cannot conquer.” – Augustine from “The Works of Saint Augustine” (New Rochelle: New City Press, 1993), Sermons, Vol. 6, Sermon 229P.1, p. 327.

But an even more convincing case against Catholicism’s self-serving misinterpretation is Scripture itself. As in most cases with God’s Word, one passage of Scripture clarifies another and that is the case for Matthew 16. Just four chapters after chapter 16 we find:

“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:20-28

If Jesus had already granted apostolic primacy to Peter in Matthew 16 as Catholics claim, then why would James and John have requested apostolic primacy in Matthew 20? Does not compute. If Catholics are right, James and John would not have bothered to request apostolic primacy as they had. We see in the passage that Jesus gently rebukes James and John for their ambition and also forbids the Catholic notions of apostolic primacy and an ecclesiastical hierarchy.

Further, in the apostle Paul’s epistles, not only is there NO mention of Peter’s alleged primacy – zero, zip, zilch, nada – but he deliberately contradicts the notion:

“And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.” – Galatians 2:6

Peter was certainly a leader of the apostles and was used by God to spread the Gospel, but he was not the pope or the foundation of Jesus’ church.

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Searching for my spiritual gift?

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” – 1 Corinthians 12:7-11

In regards to spiritual gifts, I offer the following with a great degree of humility, recognizing everything we possess is from the Lord:

My wife and I were reading through 1 Corinthians the past several weeks. As part of that, I did some preparatory study for chapter 12, in which the apostle Paul wrote about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Boy, did that bring back memories, but it also spoke to my walk with the Lord currently.

After my wife and I accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior by faith alone back in 1983, we began attending an independent, fundamental Baptist church not too far from our home. The church had several problems, which eventually caused us to leave in 1991, but there were also several positives associated with our time there.

The pastor used an expository style of preaching. He would select a particular book of the Bible and, over time, preach on the entire text, from the opening verse clear through to the last verse. With three different books being studied each week (Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night), we got A LOT of Bible and some very thorough teaching.

I can vividly remember the pastor studying through 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.* His message was that everyone had a spiritual gift and it was up to each person to determine their particular gift so that they could use it to minister to the rest of the body of Christ. For several weeks afterwards, we had members asking each other what their spiritual gift was. Argh! It reminded me of kindergarten class. I felt a bit lost because I didn’t know what my gift was. I taught Sunday School class for primary children (grades 1-3) for about four years and was also a deacon for one year, and, although I was very blessed by both ministries, I felt like a fish out of water.

After I returned to the Lord after my long prodigal “season,” the Lord put it into my heart to reach out to Roman Catholics with the Gospel of grace and to confront the error of ecumenism within the church. For those reasons, I started this blog almost three years ago and I usually post something every day except for Sundays. However, as I wrote my posts, I often became frustrated as to why my brothers and sisters in the Lord didn’t see the obvious dangers of ecumenism as I did, until it struck me; the Lord blessed me with a degree of discernment regarding Catholicism and ecumenism, a gift which many do not have, even pastors and theologians who have a lot more training and familiarity with God’s Word and church history than I do. I don’t state that with any degree of pride. The Lord bestows His gifts upon us differently. But don’t all people who accept Christ and come out of Catholicism also have this gift? No, I’ve noticed that many ex-Catholics have a tolerant “it didn’t work for me, but whatever works for you” attitude. Am I and others who have the gift of discernment always right? Ugh. Hardly. I am not infallible and NONE of us minister in our gifts perfectly. Only Jesus is perfect. But, when I read 1 Corinthians 12 now, I am not frustrated about what my gift is as I was thirty years ago. I know exactly what it is.

Scripture exhorts ALL believers to study God’s Word to show themselves approved unto the Lord, so that they are able to discern false teaching, but many believers are forfeiting their individual responsibility and buying into the ear-tickling, topical, doctrine-lite, and even false teaching that’s increasingly prevalent in hip mega-churches.

Below is a helpful, three-part article from Tim Challies about the gift of discernment.

The Gift of Spiritual Discernment, Part 1
The Gift of Spiritual Discernment, Part 2
The Gift of Spiritual Discernment, Part 3

“Where God has given a gift, we can expect that He will also give passion…Those who look for their gifting should look to what interests them and what makes them feel passionate. As they look to their passions they may just find their gifts.” – Tim Challies

I don’t believe Christians need to wring their hands and anguish over what their spiritual gift (or gifts) is as our old pastor had directed us to. As we follow the Lord and seek His Kingdom, He will put a desire in our hearts to serve the body in the way He desires.

*Full disclosure: When it comes to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I’m a “cessationist,” meaning I believe the showy gifts (healings, languages, raising the dead, handling poisonous snakes, etc.) were meant to demonstrate the authority of the apostles and to establish the church, and ended after the apostolic age following the establishment of the New Testament.

A pope venerated during an evangelical worship service and nobody says a word?

I’ve mentioned before that my wife and I are both big ol’ square pegs when it comes to evangelical church membership. We’re too “liberal” for flag-waving fundamentalist churches where we started out as new believers decades ago, and too “conservative” for progressive mega-churches, which are generally well-on-the-way to ecumenical compromise and betrayal.

Two-and-a-half-years ago, we began attending a large non-denominational church, which leans much more towards a contemporary than a traditional worship-style, but, and this is huge for us, politics are never mentioned from the pulpit and there have been no overtures toward Rome. Phew! Until now. What?!?!

A couple of Sundays ago, we were sitting in the “sanctuary” and listening to the pastor finish a fine sermon on resting in the Lord. Immediately after the sermon, the worship band came out and performed a song called “Rest In You.” As the band played, a video was displayed in the background, which included both exterior and interior shots of what would clearly be manifested to be a Roman Catholic church. The video scenes included among other things:

  • A statue of a smiling pope wearing the three-tiered papal tiara (photos above and below)
  • Votive candles being lit (votive candles are often used in connection with prayers to Mary and the “saints”)
  • Statues of unidentified Catholic saints
  • A statue of Jesus exposing his “sacred heart”
  • The church interior showing the Catholic altar

The above images looped through the video twice while my wife and I sat there with our mouths wide open in disbelief. Watch the very same 5-minute video for yourself far below.

We went home and composed a letter to the pastor expressing our deep dismay and emailed it Monday. The pastor responded the next day. I don’t wish to publish the details of our private correspondence other than to say we were pleased with the pastor’s gracious reply.

But one has to ask oneself, how does a big evangelical church with a large staff and many eyes permit something like that video to slip through? C’mon! A statue of a pope?!?!?! Forty years ago, if such a video had been shown at an evangelical church service, the entire congregation would have rightly demanded an explanation from the elder board. But in this era of ecumenism and growing doctrinal ignorance, at a church with an average Sunday attendance of over 2000, we were told we were the only ones who raised a concern.

Capture27

I did a little research and found out the song, “Rest In You,” and the accompanying video were created by a now-defunct band named All Sons & Daughters, which was led by Leslie Anne Jordan and David Alan Leonard, the former worship co-leaders at Journey Church in Franklin, Tennessee. Their final album, “Poets & Saints” (2016), includes the song in question as well as “You Are Love & Love Alone,” which the band claimed was inspired by Catholic nun and saint, Thérèse of Lisieux. An article (see here) from a Catholic news source triumphantly cites “Poets & Saints” as a “Protestant album” that “finds some very Catholic inspiration.”

The Gospel is getting very muddied out there, brothers and sisters! Why don’t these accommodating and compromising Judas ecumenical evangelical ministers just padlock their church’s doors and send everyone a mile down the road to the local Catholic church?

“Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” – Luke 18:8

 

“You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” – Galatians 5:7-12

Who would desire Catholicism’s “smells and bells” over the Good News! of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone?

Via its many media outlets, Roman Catholicism likes to boast about alleged “evangelicals” who converted to the Catholic religion.* On the EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) cable channel, one particular show, “The Journey Home,” is devoted exclusively to showcasing converts and returning reverts (aka “lapsed” Catholics). The stated purpose of the EWTN radio show, “Called to Communion,” is to convince Protestants to convert to Catholicism. This all might seem a little unsettling until you check the numbers. A 2015 Pew Research study (see here) found that 10 percent of people raised as Catholics become evangelicals while just 2 percent of people raised in evangelical church culture wound up as Catholics.

I was a member of the Roman Catholic church for 27 years (1956-1983) and was educated at a Catholic grammar school and high school. In 1983, after having read the Bible for several years, I renounced Catholicism and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior by faith alone. I no longer believed that salvation was dependent on receiving the sacraments and “cooperating with grace” by perfectly obeying the Ten Commandments (impossible!) and church rules in an effort to merit Heaven. Instead, I believed as God’s Word taught, that I was a totally depraved sinner destined for eternal damnation and I trusted in Jesus Christ as my Savior by faith alone.

But we do hear about people from evangelical churches who “convert” to Catholicism. How does that happen? Could a person who is genuinely trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior by faith alone choose to join Catholicism, which teaches a person must receive sacramental grace and obey the Ten Commandments in order to merit their salvation? How do we explain those who leave evangelicalism for Catholicism?

I don’t believe a person who genuinely understands the Gospel of grace and trusts in Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone would voluntarily join Catholicism or any other works religion. Yes, there are people who were brought up in evangelical church culture or who attended an evangelical church for a period of time and left without ever having actually trusted in Christ. They somehow got a taste of Catholicism and began making worldly-minded comparisons like the six below:

 

“Drawbacks” to evangelicalism “Advantages” of Catholicism
1 No elaborate ritualism and ceremonialism – just some singing and a sermon 1 Plenty of ritualism and ceremony to impress the eyes and stimulate the senses
2 The genuine Gospel seems far too easy – the natural man is inclined to attempt to merit salvation via a long legalistic laundry list 2 A massive collection of 1752 Canon Laws and 2865 numbered paragraphs in its official catechism that all testify to Catholicism’s world-pleasing complexity.
3 Little history. Nondenominational mega-churches are getting farther and farther away from mentioning the Reformation and the Five Solas 3 Oodles and oodles of history, although vast portions of it are unflattering at best
4 No “impressive” visible authority, just the Bible, Pastor Smith, and the small elder board 4 An organizational hierarchy and structure that would put to shame any Fortune 500 company. Topping it all off is an allegedly infallible leader!
5 Plain, drab church architecture 5 Grandiose church architecture and ornate decorative artistry
6 “Just” the Bible to study 6 Volumes and volumes and volumes of rich church traditions to “supplement” (aka supplant) the Bible

 

Yes, there are some people who were part of evangelical church culture but never genuinely accepted Christ, who surveyed all of Catholicism’s “smells and bells”** and decided they would rather ride in the Catholic “Cadillac” than evangelicalism’s “Hyundai.”

“For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” – Luke 16:15

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” – John 4:23-24

Yes, some choose the elaborate “smells and bells” over (simple but GLORIOUS) salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Don’t make that mistake. Salvation is not through grandiose, worldly ceremonialism, but through a relationship with the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Are Roman Catholics Christian?
https://carm.org/are-roman-catholics-christian

*Catholicism likes to sound the trumpets when a quasi-evangelical joins its ranks, but, most ironically, many evangelicals think it’s ungracious, divisive, and very bad form to acknowledge those folks who accepted Christ and left Roman Catholicism because it does not preach the genuine Gospel and who testify about their experience.

**Even the Catholic church readily acknowledges that today’s elaborate mass liturgy bears little resemblance to the simple worship gatherings of the early church. Some may think I am being offensive by using the term, “smells and bells,” to describe Catholic practices, but this is a term often used by Catholics themselves.

Prevailing against the Gates of Hell?

“And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 16:17-19

Matthew 16:17-19 is one of the most controversial passages in the Bible. Rome bases its claims to Petrine authority primarily upon this entry. But today I would like to focus on just a small portion of the passage:

“…the gates of hell shall not prevail against (the church).” – Matthew 16:18

I listen to a lot of Catholic talk radio strictly for research purposes and over and over again I have heard Catholic apologists present this verse as a prophetic promise of the alleged perpetuity and authority of the Catholic church, that from the time the church was founded on Pentecost to the papacy of Francis, the Catholic church would perpetually withstand the onslaughts of Satan and his demons.

But is that what the verse is actually saying? The Greek word for “gates,” Πύλη, pýlē, literally means “door-gates,” which Catholics interpret in a metaphorical sense as the “seat of power” of Satan. But “gates” can be interpreted more literally and properly here as the entryway into hell.

John MacArthur comments on this verse:

“Gates of Hades: Hades is the place of punishment for the spirits of dead unbelievers, entered at death. This Jewish phrase then refers to death. Even death, the ultimate weapon of Satan, has no power to stop the church. The blood of the martyrs, in fact, has led to the growth of the church in size and spiritual power.” – p. 1155, The MacArthur Bible Commentary

In his commentary compilation, J. Vernon McGee writes of Matthew 16:18:

“The ‘gates of hell’ refers to death. The word used for hell is the Greek word hades, the sheol of the Old Testament, which refers to the unseen world and means “death.” The gates of death shall not prevail against Christ’s church. One of these days the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout. That shout will be like the voice of an archangel and like a trumpet because the dead in Christ are to be raised. The gates of death shall not prevail against His church.” – Thru-the-Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew Through Romans, p. 92.

There are some American evangelicals who interpret this portion of Matthew 16:18 as a battle-cry for the church to storm Satan’s kingdom and “reclaim America for Jesus,” but is that the sense that Christ meant? See Kevin DeYoung’s article below:

A Closer Look at the Gates of Hell
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/a-closer-look-at-the-gates-of-hell/

“The promise in Matthew 16 is not about venturing out on some Dungeons and Dragons spiritual crusade, but about Christ’s guarantee that the church will not be vanquished by death.” – Kevin DeYoung

So Matthew 16:18 is not a prophecy of the perseverance of the Roman Catholic church or a triumphal rallying cry for the militant evangelical church in America to reclaim the country, but rather a promise to the Body of genuine believers (church/ekklasia/called out ones) that death will not prevail over them, thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ, who overcame the gates of hell (death) for all who trust in Him.

“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:54

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me, to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” – Isaiah 61:1

While I personally believe there has always been a remnant of genuine believers since Pentecost, the Catholic church as an institution devolved long ago into anti-Scriptural legalism, ritualism, and worldiness to the point of being the antithesis of the New Testament church.

Do you have a different view of “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against (the church)”? Comments are welcome.

Danger!

Warning! The New Testament says nothing about the Catholic notions of the priesthood and the sacrifice of the mass. God’s Word, in direct contrast, says sacrifice for sin is over.

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” – Hebrews 10:12

“The mass is a mass of abominations, a mass of hell’s own concocting, a crying insult against the Lord of glory. It is not to be spoken of in any terms but those of horror and destestation. Whenever I think of another sacrifice for sin being offered, by whomever it may be presented, I can only regard it as an infamous insult to the perfection of the Savior’s work.” ~ Charles H. Spurgeon

Catholicism’s sacerdotal priesthood
https://www.gotquestions.org/sacerdotalism.html

“Church Hunters”: I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!

 

Remember when going to church meant dressing up, then going to a brightly sunlit church auditorium and singing some reverential hymns of praise to the Lord from the hymn book with Christian brothers and sisters before listening to the pastor preach a sermon from his Bible that pointed to sin and failings but was followed by messages of grace, forgiveness, encouragement, and empowerment in the Lord?

If you attend a church where that’s still the norm, you might not be aware of just how much things have changed elsewhere.

Following the Hybels/Warren/Drucker model, many churches are competing in the Sunday attendance numbers race by catering to the young, casual “seeker” with a “I’m on my way to dig a ditch” dress code, along with rock concert-style CCM music replete with light shows in a darkened auditorium, and a sermon that’s short on doctrine and sin and very long on cheery feelgoods from a pastor who sports the latest avant garde haircut and is dressed in sneakers, skinny jeans, and a t-shirt, who doesn’t even know your name.

Check out the these two videos from comedian John B. Crist showing what today’s young evangelicals are looking for when they’re hunting for a church. I know from experience that there’s a lot of truth mixed in with the comedy. Yes, I’m an old fuddy-duddy in many respects and I agree the cut of clothes you wear to church is not the litmus test of spirituality. But the church seems to have gone to the opposite extreme in trying to blend in with the culture to boost the attendance numbers.

 

Some rambling thoughts about “tithing”

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoevertt sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” – 2 Corinthians 9:6-7

I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior back in the early 80s and began attending a Gospel-preaching church shortly afterwards. Three or four times a year the pastor would preach on financial giving to the church. He stated that although the New Testament doesn’t command tithing – giving a tenth of your gross income as the Israelites were obligated to do in the Old Testament – that tithing should be our minimum practice since we New Testament saints have so much more to be grateful for. I wasn’t familiar with tithing since I came from the Catholic church where contribution amounts weren’t mandated.

When pastors appeal for funds they often omit mention of 2 Corinthians 9:6-7. Christians are not obligated to tithe as the Israelites were. The Old Testament tithe was, in essence, a tax used to support the theocratic Israelite government of priests and Levites. When all the offerings were included, an Israelite actually gave about 20% of their income/possessions each year. The United States is not a theocracy and the average citizen already pays about 20% of their earnings to the government.

Yes, I fully realize the church needs the financial support of its members. It’s a privilege to support God’s work. But the only New Testament passage that speaks directly to financial giving is 2 Corinthians 9:6-7. A Christian should prayerfully consider (with their spouse if married) how much income to give to the church each week. For some it will be less than 10%, for some it will be more. A tenth of an annual $25,000 income means a lot more to the earner than a tenth of a $250,000 annual income.

I’ve heard pastors put the squeeze on their sheep as if the tithe is still binding. Well, if you believe the tithe is still in effect you had better be following the other 612 Old Testament laws. Our previous pastor said from the pulpit that anyone who criticizes the tithe doesn’t tithe. That’s probably true but it’s not the point. Are New Testament Christians commanded to tithe or not? Is our guide the Old Testament tithe or 2 Corinthians 9:6-7? Many Christians bear a heavy guilt trip because they can’t tithe. Statistics show evangelical Christians give on average about 4% of their yearly income to the church. That means there’s a LOT of non-tithers out there. Are those who tithe “better,” more obedient Christians than those who don’t? Some pastors would have you think so. And let’s not forget the televangelists! The whole TBN prosperity gospel empire is built on the promise of gaining great financial rewards if you send in your “seed money” check, even if you can’t pay your bills. Many people send their money, some on credit cards they’re already struggling to pay off, fully expecting a financial windfall from God based on the promises they hear on TBN.

When we were looking for a church three years ago we considered a popular non-denominational church just five miles from our home. I checked out their website which required potential members to “Commit to giving the tithe (10% of your income) or taking faith steps to move toward the tithe.” Hmm. What happens if a new member makes the commitment but stops giving 10% because of financial difficulties? Do the tithe police pick them up for interrogation? Is their membership rescinded? How unbiblical! Giving should be between the giver and the Lord. Period.

Everything we have belongs to the Lord and we are commanded to be good stewards of God’s resources. Some of us are better stewards than others. Some people get hit with a heavy financial burden. But God doesn’t want us getting puffed up about our ability to give nor does he want us giving grudgingly or by coercion. What a privilege it is to be part of the Lord’s work! Give cheerfully and ignore the arm-twisting.

Does God require me to give a tithe of all I earn?
John MacArthur, Grace to You
http://www.gty.org/resources/questions/QA144/does-god-require-me-to-give-a-tithe-of-all-i-earn

Small groups: “You can run but you can’t hide!”

When my wife and I and our two sons attended an indy fundy church back in the 1980s, thesg worship service schedule, typical of many other evangelical/fundamentalist churches at the time, went like this:

Sunday
Sunday School: 9-10 a.m.
Worship Service: 10-11 a.m.
Evening Service: 7-8 p.m.

Wednesday
Evening Service: 7-8 p.m. Many churches often referred to this mid-week service as a “Bible study” although at our church it was the exact same format as the Sunday morning and evening worship services.

It was somewhat expected that a committed church member would attend all four services.

Back then, I hadn’t heard of such a thing as a “small group.” Frankly, there was no time for a small group meeting during the week given the above church schedule. Just about everyone in that 150-member congregation was on a first-name basis anyway with all that contact. Well, we left that church and I subsequently walked away from the Lord for many years but when I returned to Him a couple of years ago I found the church landscape had changed quite a bit. For many churches, especially the increasingly popular mega-churches, the worship service schedule consists of a single Sunday morning service. Period. There’s no Sunday School or Sunday evening or Wednesday evening services. Large churches offset the impersonal environment of their single Sunday service with mid-week small group meetings where members can disciple and support each other in a much more personal setting.

About fifteen months ago, we began attending a non-denominational mega-church (with Baptist roots) and we initially appreciated the anonymity afforded by such a setting. We could nod hello, shake a few hands, worship the Lord in song, hear the sermon, and leave. No muss, no fuss. We didn’t “bother” anyone and no one “bothered” us. After a couple of “sour” experiences at our previous churches, my wife and I had pledged several times to each other that we would never again be in anyone’s back pocket when it came to church, even though we knew our preferred anonymous, arms-length relationship with others in the congregation wasn’t Biblical.

Our new church regularly encourages people to join a small group. The idea began to appeal to me but I wasn’t going to bring it up to my wife. If the Lord wanted us to join a small group, He would work it out. A couple of months ago, a person at church caught us before we could make our getaway and asked if we were members of a group. She turned out to be a group leader and invited us to join. My wife confessed she had been agreeable to joining a group but, like me, wasn’t going to be the one to bring it up. All I can say is the Lord MUST have a sense of humor

Since joining our 18-member group (quite a bit larger than the “optimum” 12) we’ve shared a meal at a restaurant, did some Christmas caroling at a nursing home, and attended the first meeting of the new semester last week. At the meeting, we discussed the previous Sunday’s sermon and what it meant in our lives followed by the men and women splitting up into separate groups for prayer. My wife and I are slowly getting to know everyone and we’re already receiving blessings. Christianity isn’t living life in an isolation booth, it’s reaching out to the lost with the Gospel and it’s also reaching out to brothers and sisters in Christ and allowing them to reach out to you.

“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:42-45.

The bottom line for groups and everything else in the life of a believer: The focus should be on Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord! He will never disappoint.


Postscript: I looked up the history of the concept of small groups at church and found smatterings of information here and there. Small church groups have been popular for decades so, once again, I’m late to the party. It would make sense that large churches would incorporate small groups to complement the large, impersonal Sunday service.