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Bible Insights

Do Our Meetings Do More Harm Than Good?

We Must Examine Our Church Meetings to Make Sure They Are Truly Beneficial

In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he talks about worshiping God and then he talks about celebrating the Lord’s Supper. In between these two topics he slips in a condemning one-liner. He says that their meetings are more likely to cause harm than to do good.

Some Bibles attach a subheading just before this verse that references the Lord’s Supper. However, someone later inserted this information, and it wasn’t part of Paul’s original letter.

Disregarding this added text, leaves us to wonder if this condemning warning is a reference to worship or to the Lord’s Supper. It might apply to both.

Therefore, we should consider both our worship services and our communion practices. Do they do harm or do good?

Do Our Worship Services Cause Harm or Do Good?

Have you ever left a church service feeling empty, spiritually drained, or emotionally beat up? This could be the result of the Holy Spirit at work in your life, but it may be more likely that the church service itself caused you harm.

I’ve been to services like this.

Sometimes they are void of spiritual significance. They may have provided an entertaining concert or a saccharine lecture full of humorous one-liners or tweetable sound bites, but was God at work? Do we leave feeling rested and refreshed or bruised and broken?

Some church services mistake loud worship music for Holy Spirit power. I’m not against loud music. I grew up on rock and roll. Some music needs to be listened to loudly to appreciate it. But when the volume level detracts from our worship experience, something is wrong.

Despite having been to church services with music that was too loud, and painfully so, it’s never produced a headache in me. However, the volume level of some pulpit-pounding preachers has given me a headache, their content notwithstanding.

Other services come across as self-congratulatory, not celebrating what God has done but boasting about the accomplishments of the church and its leaders. And still other services have agendas that have little to do with God and much to do about some human objective.

And don’t get me started on pleas for money, with an offering or two; an altar call that drags on, even though no one responds, and everyone is bored; or announcements that take up time but offer no meaning.

What about long prayers that aren’t talking with God as much as trying to impress the congregation?

Some church services have sucked the life out of me. They have done more harm than good. My soul would have been better off had I stayed home.

Does How We Take the Lord’s Supper Cause Harm or Do Good?

Often, taking communion is part of a church service. The frequency may vary anywhere from weekly, to monthly, to quarterly. These are usually solemn affairs, steeped with reverence and ritual. There’s nothing wrong with this, but shouldn’t the Lord’s Supper be a celebration?

What is the purpose of the Lord’s Supper? It’s something we do out of obedience to remember what Jesus did for us. Yes, he died. But more importantly, he overcame death by rising from the grave. His victory can be our victory, and it’s worthy of a party.

Each Sunday when I go to church, may my involvement do good and not cause harm. Click To Tweet

When I take communion at church I try to focus on the why, but I often struggle. The process distracts me, especially if I’m visiting a church.

I become so focused on how that church practices communion and not embarrassing myself should I deviate from their tradition, that I often forget that Jesus is the reason we’re doing it in the first place.

Though I have expectations that celebrating the Lord’s Supper will produce a highly spiritual experience for me, I’m often disappointed. At most churches, most of the time, communion causes me more harm than good.

It’s not until I go home, that I can shake the negativity from my soul and rightly reorient my focus on God.

Make Our Meetings Do Good

Despite these many concerns, I still go to one of today’s church services every Sunday. I still partake in communion every chance I get. Some meetings are good, and I appreciate them.

Though I’m not currently in a leadership position at church and can’t influence the overall structure of the service, I can do my part to help make them be good and not cause harm.

This is through each interaction I have with people before the service, after the service, and to a lesser extent even during the service. I can offer encouragement. I can pray for them. I can listen to them. Sometimes merely acknowledging someone’s presence, produces a smile that the service failed to do.

Each Sunday when I go to church, may my involvement do good and not cause harm.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Corinthians 11-13, and today’s post is on 1 Corinthians 11:17.]

Read more in Peter’s book, Love is Patient (book 7 in the Dear Theophilus series).

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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Visiting Churches

Saturday Evening Mass

A few months ago, we went to church on Saturday morning. Now we head off for a Saturday evening mass.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #50

1. The worship leader directs us to “page one in the white book,” but what we find doesn’t match what they say. We’re confused and can’t follow along. 

How can you make it easier for people to participate in your service?

2. For the Eucharist, the priest says nothing about nonmembers, though I know we’re excluded. Still, I can have the spiritual encounter of Holy Communion without physically taking part. 

How can you serve Communion in a way that includes everyone?

3. The tradition of sharing the chalice still disgusts us. Most participants receive the wafer and bypass the cup. I suppose some must avoid alcohol, while for others it’s a sanitary issue. 

What traditions should you change to address the concerns of today’s visitors?

4. Afterward I chat briefly with the priest. He knows we’re visiting but doesn’t ask our names. This might be because a member hovers about, anxious to talk to him. Though I don’t feel slighted, many people would. 

What behaviors do you need to change to be more visitor-focused?

[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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Visiting Churches

Significant Interactions

My pre-church prayer seems mired in the rut of routine. So it is when we pray this morning and head out for today’s church. Even so, I pray for significant interactions.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #47

1. When my wife confirmed the time for this church, they invited us to arrive early for coffee. I would have stayed afterward, but to come early is more awkward than I’m willing to endure. 

How can you make sure your efforts at connection are easy for people to accept?

2. With everyone ignoring us when we arrive, we sit. A woman comes up and tells us what to expect during the service, including communion. No one in forty-six churches has done this. 

How can you help visitors feel at ease and know what to expect?

3. Today is the first time on our journey where I’m free to focus on the moment of Communion and not worry about the method. 

What can you do to help others better engage in your service and encounter God?

4. After the service a man greets us and asks how he can pray for us. This is another first on our journey. I so appreciate his offer. 

In what ways can you be available and ready to pray for others?

This Sunday was a day of significant interactions. If only we experienced this at more of the churches we visited.

[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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Visiting 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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Visiting 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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Visiting 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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