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52 Churches

A Near Miss If Not for Their Church Sign

Discussing Church 19

With no website and a phone line that doesn’t work, we assume this church, listed only in a computer-compiled online directory, either no longer exists or never did. The church sign in front of their building is the only reason we know the service time.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #19

1. When we arrive, a greeter welcomes us, but she’s surprised to see two new people. 

Are visitors the norm at your church or an exception? What needs to change?

2. At times their service seems evangelical and other times mainline, with hints of Charismatic. It’s an ideal blend. 

How can your church service better focus on Jesus instead of promoting a subset of Christianity or a denomination?

3. In the most insightful communion invitation I’ve ever heard, the pastor affirms that all who are in relationship with God are free to participate, regardless of church status or affiliation. 

How inclusive and accepting are your church’s practices?

4. Their mission is to help people on their faith journey, connecting them with other churches that match their needs and preferences. It’s okay if they happen to pick up members along the way, but it’s not their intent. 

What are your church’s growth goals?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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52 Churches

A Church Doubleheader

Discussing Church 17

This church has a contemporary service followed by a traditional one. It’s a church doubleheader. We’ll go to both.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #17:

1. Their idea of contemporary is vastly different from mine, with this service being one of the more reserved ones we’ve attended. 

If you state a certain type of service, what do you need to do to better deliver on your promise?

2. They provide a sign language interpreter for the hearing impaired, who sit in the first three rows. It’s a treat to watch them sing with their hands and sign interactive portions of the service. 

What can your church do to help those with various limitations better engage in worship?

3. For communion, there’s no invitation for nonmembers to partake. We decide that we shouldn’t, but the usher motions us to go up. 

Do people know what to expect when you serve communion? What can you do to include visitors and welcome them to participate?

4. No one mentions it, but we find coffee and donuts in the fellowship area. Next to each is a donation basket. I feel guilty for grabbing a treat without feeding the fund. 

What practices in your church would seem odd or off-putting to outsiders?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

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52 Churches

A Visitor Friendly Church

Discussing Church 12

Next up is another United Methodist Church. It’s a rural church and not on the way to anywhere we go, so we didn’t know it existed. They provide a lesson in what it means to be visitor friendly.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #12:

1. Their website is the most visitor friendly site we’ve seen. Notably is a “what to expect” section, addressing the concerns a new person might have. 

Does your website tell people what they can expect? What do you need to add to make your outreach more effective?

2. We arrive to a full parking lot, as their website said might happen, but there are still a few spaces near the door, and we use one of them. 

Where do guests end up parking at your church? How can you make it easier for them?

3. Unlike our other church experiences, the minister clearly communicates their Communion procedure. I know what to expect. 

Do you explain your practice of Communion in a way that embraces newcomers? How can you make this better?

4. Several people invite us to stay for refreshments in the fellowship hall. We leave well-fed, both spiritually and physically. 

How well does your church do at feeding people physically and spiritually?

This church did a great job at being visitor friendly. They provide a great example to follow.

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Discover What the Bible Says about Drinking Blood

Don’t Drink Blood versus Drink My Blood

Among the many “laws” (that is, rules and regulations for right behavior), that God—through Moses—gave the nation of Israel was an unconditional prohibition against drinking blood.

Every Hebrew would have been taught this from early childhood. Breaking this law would have been unthinkable to them, a repulsive act to even consider. Drinking blood was strictly verboten.

Then Jesus came along with his radical teaching that shocked many. He told his followers that they needed to drink his blood. His followers—all Hebrews—were appalled. Viewing his statement as heresy, many turned their backs on him and left (John 6:54-55).

The idea was so repulsive to them that they were unable to get past the shock of a literal interpretation to consider that it might just have a figurative meaning. Instead many of his followers saw this statement as an act of heresy, and they left him in a huff.

In making this bold statement, Jesus foreshadowed his sacrificial death. Succinctly, his blood would be spilt as a redeeming, life-restoring sacrifice.

Jesus wasn’t contradicting the laws of Moses. Instead, he voiced his intention to fulfill it.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Leviticus 16-18, and today’s post is on Leviticus 17:10-12.]

Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Is There Cannibalism in the Bible?

Jesus Shocks His Audience

Jesus said many things that surprised and even shocked his followers. One of his more appalling statements was that we needed to eat his body and drink his blood. That’s a hard thing to swallow—literally and figuratively. Gross.

He asserted that those who ate his body and drank his blood would have eternal life. Jesus’ followers had trouble dealing with this and many stopped following him because of that. I would have had second thoughts, too.

Of course, Jesus wasn’t issuing a call for cannibalism, he was speaking metaphorically. However, ascertaining precisely what he meant is a bit challenging.

Just as we need food and drink for physical life, we need Jesus’ body and blood (his death) for spiritual life.

Eating Jesus’s body and drinking his blood is a euphemism for accepting him and his death as the solution for the wrong things we have done. Click To Tweet

Eating his body and drinking his blood is a euphemism for accepting him and his death as the solution for the wrong things we have done.

Also, eating his body and drinking his blood foreshadows communion (aka the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist), which serves as a regular reminder of his sacrificial death for us.

Eating his body and drinking his blood was not a physical call to cannibalism, but a spiritual invitation to salvation.

[John 6:54-55, John 6:60 & 66]

Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Bible Verses about Communion

Discover What Scripture Says About the Lord’s Supper

Last week we looked at the context of the Lord’s Supper, noting that Jesus based it on Passover, which is an annual event celebrated with family around a shared meal. Although Communion is a New Testament practice, only four books in the Bible have verses about it. These passages are in three of the four biographies of Jesus, as well as Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth.

Matthew and Mark Give an Account of the Lord’s Supper

The verses about Communion in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark are similar (Matthew 26:17-30 and Mark 14:12-26). Though some of the details that preceded Jesus’s instituting Communion differ, the instructions are the same. These provide the guide that most churches follow (more or less) when they celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

Luke Gives an Expanded Practice

Luke’s account of Communion includes the same information provided by Matthew and Mark, along with one interesting additional detail. In his verses about Communion, Luke notes that Jesus’s reference to the cup occurs both before and after the meal. The first time is to give God thanks for it and to distribute it to the disciples. The second time is to remind them—and us—of the new covenant that Jesus began with his sacrificial death and resurrection (Luke 22:7-23).

Paul Gives Additional Teaching

Although Paul wrote many letters to various churches, only to the church in Corinth did he address the Lord’s Supper. This is because that church struggled with its practice of Communion. Paul wrote to them, seeking to reorient their procedure to focus on Jesus and not themselves.

The first of two relevant passages in Corinthians provides general instructions relating to food and drink, as well as idol worship and freedom through Jesus. We can connect these passages to the practice of Communion (1 Corinthians 10:14-33).

An Unworthy Manner

The second passage in Corinthians with verses about Communion is in the next chapter. It is specifically about how the Corinthian church abused this sacrament (1 Corinthians 11:17-34).

In this passage Paul reminds the Corinthian believers what Jesus taught his disciples about this practice. It’s a good reminder to get them—and us—back on track.

Tucked in the middle of this passage is a convicting verse warning about taking Communion in an “unworthy manner.” This gives any believer pause, for no one wants to be guilty of this sin.

Consider these verses about Communion. Let us apply what Scripture says to guide our remembrance of what Jesus did for us. Click To Tweet

To understand what Paul means by an unworthy manner, we must consider the context by looking at the abuses that Paul details. Specifically, the Corinthian church’s practice of Communion so diverged from Jesus’s intent, that Paul deemed it unworthy.

To correct this, they should examine themselves to make sure they are not part of the problem that Paul details.

Though our churches today often encourage us to examine ourselves before we partake in the Lord’s Supper, this is an overreach of what Paul taught to the Corinthian church.

He wanted them to examine themselves to make sure they were not getting drunk during their celebration of the Lord’s Supper. He also wanted them to make sure that everyone could equally participate and have something to eat, not leaving hungry.

These are the things that Paul tells them to examine. If this applies to us, we, too, should embark on some self-examination.

(Read more about Communion and breaking bread.)

Moving Forward

May we consider these verses about Communion when we practice the Lord’s Supper. Let us apply what Scripture says, and not our own traditions, to guide our remembrance of what Jesus did for us when he died for our sins and rose from the dead to make us right with Papa, the greatest gift ever given.

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Christian Living

Children and Communion

Reclaim Our Practice of Communion from a Biblical Context

In their practice of Communion some churches allow children to take Communion (the Eucharist) and others don’t. I’ve seen both occur at various worship services, but I don’t know which practice is more common.

A similar consideration is the issue of closed Communion versus open. For churches that practice closed Communion, only members of their church (or denomination) may partake. All others must watch.

For churches that practice open Communion, both members and nonmembers can celebrate the Lord’s Supper, although they often place restrictions on just how open they are.

I understand the rationale for restricting children and nonmembers: Some churches that exclude children do so over concerns that they’re too young to understand what’s happening, that they’ll go through Communion as a ritual void of spiritual significance. A similar explanation occurs over nonmember involvement.

In both cases, well-meaning church leaders limit participation in Communion out of respect for its significance and a desire for only those who fully understand it to take part.

Though I understand this, I don’t agree. Let’s look at Scripture for the context.

When Jesus introduced the sacrament that we now call Holy Communion or the Holy Eucharist, he did so on Passover. In doing so he expanded the meaning of Passover to be a remembrance of his death to save his people.

In the Old Testament, Passover occurred once a year. It was a meal celebrated in people’s homes with their family and neighbors. Jesus didn’t change any of these practices when he taught us about the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament.

Yet our practice of Communion today has moved far from its original context.

A Shared Meal

In Scripture we see Passover and Communion as part of a meal, not a symbolic cracker and sip of juice. Imagine someone showing up at your house in the middle of dinner. You invite them in but don’t offer them any food. They watch while you eat.

Wouldn’t that be rude? Of course.

The same applies to visitors at our church who we make watch our Communion remembrance of Jesus. We celebrate, and they sit idle. That’s just as rude as not feeding a guest in our home.

A Family Event

In Scripture we see both Passover and Communion occurring in a home setting with family and friends (not at a church service). When Moses instituted Passover, he didn’t say that only the adults could eat. The whole family participated. The kids didn’t need to be a certain age before they could eat the Passover.

Since it’s a meal, we have our entire family gathered around the table. No loving parent would ever sit their children.to eat and then not put food on their plate. But isn’t this what we do when we don’t let children take Communion?

An Annual Remembrance

Passover occurred once a year. Not once a quarter, not monthly, and not each week, but annually. I worry that many people have taken Communion so frequently that it ceases to be a time of remembrance to relish and becomes a ritual to perform.

The Practice of Communion

Unless we lead a church, we can’t change its practice of Communion. Attempting to do so won’t bring about reforms and could get us kicked out.

Instead, we should follow our church’s conventions for Communion with God-honoring respect, while reframing the practice in our minds to embrace its biblical, spiritual significance.

As individuals, however, we can reclaim the history behind Communion. We can celebrate the Lord’s Supper around the table, at our home, with family and friends, once a year.

Look for what you can do to reclaim the practice of Communion from a biblical perspective that has spiritual impact. Click To Tweet

My family does this each Easter Sunday. (Another ideal time might be Good Friday.) We do this to remember what Jesus did for us when he died as punishment for our sins to make us right with Papa.

Look for what you can do to reclaim the practice of Communion from a biblical perspective that has spiritual impact. Then go do it.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

What We Can’t Get from Online Church

Embrace the Benefits of Meeting Together

When we can’t attend church, to meet in person, and must experience a service online, does that count as going to church? The essential parts of the service are the same. There is music, a message, and a prayer or two. For these three key elements, the result is the same whether we experience them in person or remotely from a distance.

In addition, we may hear announcements, see a communion celebration, and even watch ushers take the collection. These last two elements are a bit harder for us to engage with online. Yet we can embrace them too. For communion we can experience the spiritual aspect of the rite without partaking in the physical elements. And for the offering, we can always give online or mail a check.

Yes, when we must attend church online much of the experience is the same as if we were there and able to meet in person. And we can make accommodations so that the physical separation doesn’t affect the overall outcome.

Yet some considerations remain that cannot happen in absentia.

Interaction

Watching the service online removes all opportunity for interaction with others, aside from those sitting in the same room with us. This means we can’t wave to people, talk with friends, or offer a smile. To experience these exchanges requires being in the same physical space, not a virtual one that occurs online.

Connection

Beyond the basic interactions of talking with others or relating through nonverbal communication, we have a chance to enjoy a meaningful connection. This can occur when the socially acceptable question of “how are you?” goes beyond the rote response of “fine” to allow the space and time for the true answer to emerge. This significant sharing enables the opportunity for a deeper interaction that forms, or reinforces, a personal connection.

In some cases, this personal sharing of information might provide the opportunity to pray for someone or offer help in a tangible way. These things can’t take place when the online experience isolates viewers from each other.

Community

Interaction is a great start and connection moves relationships forward, but the goal is forming community with one another. Again, worthwhile community is hard—though not impossible—to pursue and develop over the internet. In person, face-to-face contact strengthens community. This applies to physical community and sacred community. Both are important for our mental health and spiritual well-being.

We should embrace the opportunity to spend time with one another. Click To Tweet

Meet in Person

Sometimes we cannot meet in person with other followers of Jesus. Yet whenever the occasion arises, we should embrace the opportunity to spend time with one another. This will allow for personal interaction, meaningful connection, and spiritual community to take place.

This may be why the writer of Hebrews reminds us to not give up meeting together. Instead we are to gather and encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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52 Churches

Three Noteworthy Things About Church (Visiting Church #47)

Three significant actions stand out from church today:

1. Here’s What to Expect

“Let me tell you what to expect in our service.” A lady takes time to explain their worship style and reveals they take communion every week. “It’s an open communion.” I nod, glad to know.

I ponder this question every time a church we visit serves communion—and seldom is the answer clear. “You may partake whenever you want…we don’t do it all together.” I nod again. No one in the past 46 weeks has told us what to expect. Her thoughtfulness makes so much sense.

We’ve had communion many times on our journey, but today is the first where I’m free to focus on the moment and don’t need to worry about the method. When format overshadows substance, meaning is lost. Today, I’m truly able to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

2. Conversation with God

Before the minister starts his sermon, he pauses to pray, turning his back to us to face the cross behind him. I appreciate the symbolism, reminding us that prayer is not an obligation to complete but a conversation with God.

3. Pray for Others

After the service a man introduces himself. I share our names and tell him about our sojourn. He asks, “How can I pray for you?”

I applaud his question. “You know…we’ve visited 46 churches and this is the first time someone’s asked us this—I really appreciate it.”

“And this is the first time I’ve asked.” We simultaneously acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit. “…and I’m going to start doing it more often.”

He thanks me for the encouragement, and my wife and I share a concern with him. I know he’ll pray for us, perhaps even as we head to our car.

[Read about Church #46 and Church #48, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #47.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Should We Distinguish Between Christian and Biblical Worldviews?

Exploring Christian Practices That Lack Biblical Support

For years I’ve told people that I strive to write from a Christian worldview. That’s what I believed I was doing. I even regularly prayed that God would empower me to do so, that each word I wrote would embrace, support, and advance a Christian worldview.

However, I realized I don’t always write from a Christian worldview. In fact, I often question a Christian worldview because too much of it isn’t biblical. Too often I can’t find support in Scripture for many of the practices, traditions, and beliefs that most Christians include in their worldview.

As a result, my prayer has changed, asking God that I will consistently write from a biblical worldview. This is how I honor him and encourage others.

What’s a Worldview?

First a definition. A worldview is a set of perspectives through which we view and understand our world. More specifically, it’s a group’s collection of beliefs about life and how we fit into our world.

This means that a biblical worldview sees the world and our role in it through the lens of Scripture. The Bible informs those with the biblical worldview how to think and act.

Similarly, a Christian worldview is the set of beliefs that Christians have about their faith. The basis for this assemblage of ideas should be the Bible. If this were the case, a Christian worldview and a biblical worldview would be synonymous.

Unfortunately, there’s a disconnect. Too many things that comprise Christian perspectives and practices lack a biblical mandate. These topics often come up in my writing.

A Christian Worldview

Christian means to be like Christ, that is, to be like Jesus. As Christians (a word I usually avoid because it means different things to different people) we want to be like Jesus. The Bible is the best source to help us understand how to be like him (WWJD).

Our Christian worldview should emanate from Jesus, through the Bible.

Yet Christians hold many beliefs that don’t have a biblical basis. Christians pursue practices that lack a biblical mandate. Yes, this includes me. But I’m trying to shed these erroneous Christian pursuits that lack biblical support.

A Biblical Worldview

Because some ideas that we accept as Christian don’t have much of a biblical origin, I base my faith and my writing on what God says in the Bible. It’s more important than writing about what other people think is Christian—even if it offends.

When I read and study the Bible—both to inform my life and my writing—I strive to do so without interpreting it through the lens of traditions I’ve been taught and the practices I observe.

I don’t look for justification of our present Christian reality in the Bible to reinforce what we do and believe. Instead I seek to study the Bible to inform my perspectives and reform my practices.

Differences Between a Christian and Biblical Worldview

Over the years I’ve noticed many disconnects between what I read in the Bible and how society practices our Christian faith. This often includes my own practices and pursuits.

I can’t list them all in a short blog post. Even a book wouldn’t provide enough space. Knowing that it’s incomplete and without assigning any priority, here’s a quick list of some of the things most Christians accept as correct, even though there’s not much support, if any, for them in the Bible.

These often comprise their Christian worldview. Here are six considerations:

1. Go to Church on Sunday

I go to church most every Sunday. I’ve done so my whole life. But I’m still looking for a command in the Bible where Jesus, or anyone else for that matter, tells us to go to church each Sunday.

Yes, we’re to not give up meeting together, but that verse doesn’t say weekly or on Sunday (Hebrews 10:25).

2. Fold Your Hands, Close Your Eyes, and Bow Your Head When You Pray

My parents taught me to do these things as a child, and my wife and I taught them to our children.

Yet I’m still looking for a verse in Scripture to back up this practice. Though I often assume all three of these postures when I pray, I’m more likely to skip them.

3. Tithe to Your Local Church

I’ve often heard preachers implore the parishioners to tithe to the local church—that is, the organization that pays their salary. The tithe was an Old Testament command, which averaged about 23 percent a year, not ten. It went to support their national religious infrastructure, not local gatherings.

The New Testament contains no command the tithe. Instead we see a principal that all our possessions belong to God, which we must steward wisely to take care of ourselves and to bless others.

4. The Prayer of Salvation

Many people teach that to become a Christian you need to pray and ask Jesus into your heart. Jesus never said that. In fact, he gave different instructions to different people. The most common and general command was a call for people to follow him.

No prayer, no altar call, and no commitment card. Instead we simply do a U-turn (repent) and follow Jesus. (See my book How Big Is Your Tent?)

Salvation is a lifetime practice, not a one-time commitment.

5. Sunday Church Format

Most church services have two components: music and message, but sometimes they seem more like a concert followed by a lecture. Other services focus on worship and Communion, the Eucharist.

The Bible records all these things, and the early church did them, but I’m having trouble finding any verses that commands these activities or shows them as a regular practice that happened each Sunday. Instead the early church focused on meaningful community, something that most churches today struggle to fulfill with any significant degree.

6. The Lord’s Supper

Our practice of communion is another custom that diverges from the biblical narrative. I understand communion (an extension of Passover) as a practice that should happen at home, with our family, as part of a meal, and as an annual celebration in remembrance of Jesus.

Instead it’s become a Sunday ritual that happens at church, apart from a meal, and with little familial connection.

I use the Bible to better inform, and then reform, how I practice my Christian faith. Click To Tweet

Parting Thoughts

The above list may offend you. I get that. Writing about these things makes people mad. It challenges what we hold dear. We want to maintain the status quo.

Suggesting that these practices aren’t biblical can rattle the traditions that we cherish. Pursuing faith from a biblical worldview is an ongoing struggle for me. But this is one way that I work out my salvation (Philippians 2:12).

In doing so, I use the Bible to better inform, and then reform, how I practice my Christian faith. It’s not a comfortable path, but this journey takes me in the right direction. It’s a course to better embrace what the Bible teaches us about God and our relationship to him, society, and creation.

I hope you will travel with me as we move closer to Jesus.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.