Tuesday, February 22, 2022

"I Believe in the Communion of Saints" Henry Knapp

 And the Pendulum Swings…

 “You’re overreacting!” Most people know about the tendency to overreact to something. If there is concern or abuse in one area, the inclination is to swing so hard in the other direction that concern or abuse can develop there as well. I can’t begin to tell you how often I have swerved hard to avoid one ditch, simply to end up in another—yes, this is both figurative and literal.

Of course, this is totally understandable. When confronted with a problem, specifically one that is trying or particularly difficult, we want the solution to avoid ever experiencing a repeat. So, the best way to never see the original problem again is to effectively stress its opposite. However, in doing so, we often simply switch one problem for another.

You have undoubtedly heard some variation of the teaching that Christianity is a personal decision, an individual relationship between the believer and the Redeemer; that our standing with God is not something we inherit, or gain through others, but that it arises from our individual connection to, and our personal faith in, Jesus Christ. The stress upon this teaching is crucial—it reflects the clear biblical understanding of our relationship with Christ. For each and every one of us, we stand before our God and either claim the blood of Jesus as our own or reject His mercy and goodness. I truly hope and pray that you have heard this explanation, and that you have taken it to heart.

But, where does such an emphasis come from? Why has this been stressed so stridently for the past decades? Well, at this point, you can probably guess—it is part of the pendulum swing from an earlier, deficient approach.

For hundreds of years, the Church exercised an enormous influence in Western civilization, to such a degree that it was not unreasonable to expect that every person in Western Europe was exposed to and understood the Gospel message. Simply living in a society that was so saturated with the presence and teaching of the Church seemed to qualify you as a “Christian.” This mentality—that you are a Christian simply by being part of the culture—is the very definition of the ditch we MUST avoid!

And so, the pendulum swings. Now, it is not unusual to hear Christianity described as a “me and Jesus” kind-of-thing; that the personal relationship is all that matters, and any communal identity is a distortion of the Gospel. Institutions like the Church or a small group or accountability to another believer are all seen superfluous at best, and more likely, a distraction from one’s pure connection with the divine. And thus, we find ourselves in the other ditch.

The Bible absolutely describes the importance of an individual, vibrant faith in the Lord and there is no substitute for it. Like David, we must individually examine our hearts as we stand before our God. But, equally so, the Bible portrays our salvation as a corporate, collective one. We are not, nor will we ever be, alone. Built into the redemptive plan of God is His goal of gathering a body of worshippers, the Church. Existence outside the Church is way outside God’s plan.

Somehow we have to steer the course, emphasizing that the cross brings us into a personal relationship with Jesus, and, equally so, into a vibrant community of believers—and losing track of either one lands us in a ditch.

 As you prepare for worship this Sunday, read Acts 2:42-47.

1. Note the immediate context of this passage. Why is it helpful to know of the events earlier in chapter 2?

2. In verse 42, the author describes the early Church as “devoted” to things. What does “devotion” look like in your life?

3. What is meant by the apostles’ teaching? Where did they get the information to teach others?

 4. How would you describe in modern terms the four things the believers “devoted themselves to”? What current activities might they correspond to?

 5. In verse 43, what is the connection between “awe,” “miracles,” and verse 42?

 6. How did the early disciples express or display their common unity?

 7. In verses 46-47, what activities marked the early Church? What modern parallels might they have for us today? In what ways can you as an individual express these things?


Tuesday, February 15, 2022

"I Believe in the holy catholic Church" - Henry Knapp

Here is the church; here is the steeple… 

In the summer of 1985, I hitchhiked through England and France (some Switzerland). At that time, if you were willing to eat cheaply, stay at youth hostels, travel around on the Eurorail, you could live fairly inexpensively. Needless to say, it was a fabulous summer—challenging, maturing, and enlightening. I was introduced to different cultures, different lands and vistas, different ways of living. I had just recently become a believer before traveling overseas, so my faith was very immature; and, consequently, I didn’t take advantage of many things that I should have. Funny example: I was shown John Calvin’s chair; and thought… “Huh, that’s nice… Next?” Totally didn’t appreciate what I was seeing! (Note: Calvin was a theologian whose writings and thinking I now love.) 

If you have been in Europe, you know that there are some spectacular, ancient buildings. I marveled at old castles, back-alley neighborhoods, the massive estates. And, of course, the churches—from small, country chapels to awe-inspiring cathedrals. And, the cathedrals truly do inspire awe! Simply overwhelming! I was completely taken in by the architecture, the stain-glass, the pillars, the masonry artwork, the sheer massive-ness of it all. Overwhelming! 

But, I was so young spiritually that I didn’t really think through what the churches and cathedrals meant for the people in their relationship with the Lord. That whole reason for the building’s existence in the first place went completely past me. 

I don’t know when I learned the simple children’s rhyme (with fingers interlocked…): “Here is the church, here is the steeple; open up the doors, and see all the people!” At its best, this little ditty is fun for toddlers and can get them to think about the church and its people. At its worst, this can communicate the idea that the church and people are somehow different. The “church” becomes a building, a place to go, an institution with meetings, facilities, and money. I know I’m getting a lot from some wiggling fingers, but the temptation to identify “the church” with “a building” runs deep. But, it’s a temptation we must resist! 

When the Bible was written, there were no church buildings, and yet the church is frequently spoken of. When Jesus speaks of the church, or Peter or Paul write to the church, they are not addressing a building, but a gathering of people dedicated to the worship of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer. The church does not contain the people of God, the church IS the people of God. 

The cathedrals I saw throughout Europe are amazing in nearly every way—often, they are spectacular witnesses to man’s desire to worship and honor God. But, our buildings can distract us from what God Himself is building. He is building the True Church; He is building a people to worship Him, a people to serve Him, a people to love Him. We do not go to church. We ARE the church. 

In preparation to worship this Sunday as the church, read 1 Peter 2:9-10. 

1. Read through the first 8 verses of this chapter. The “Living Stone” here is obviously Jesus. We are pictured as “living stones” joining together to form the building of God. How do these verses connect to our verses today? 

2. Note: The “you” is a plural “you” not singular. That is, in Pittsburghese, read: “Yinz.” What difference does this make? How differently would you understand this if it were addressed to individuals, rather than a whole people? 

3. What follows in these verses are four nouns with four adjectives. What do each mean?

      Chosen race

      Royal priesthood

      Holy nation

      God’s own possession 

4. What is implied in the idea that we are a priesthood? What does a priest do, and how can we all do that in this world? 

5. To be “holy” means “to be set apart.” But many take that to mean, “to be perfect, or pure.” How do the two definitions connect? 

6. How might you “proclaim the excellencies of God” more this week? How would thinking of yourself as part of the Church—a chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, God’s possession—effect the way your “proclaim His excellencies”? 

7. What might Peter mean by saying we were “not a people” before?

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

"God The Spirit" - Henry Knapp


God the Spirit

“Forgotten God,” is a book about the Holy Spirit by author Francis Chan. The book is not without its flaws, but it certainly has its benefits. There are many good aspects of the book, and if you were to read it, I’m positive you would appreciate it. But, for me, the title itself is worth the cost of the book: “Forgotten God.” For, if in no other way, there is a challenge right there. 

Is it true? Has the Spirit been “forgotten” by many believers today? It is not hard to make the case. Most of us have some sense of the Father, the divine One ruling over all things. And we frequently speak of Jesus, noting His teachings, His example of godly living, His sacrifice for us. Praying to the Father, rejoicing in His holiness; speaking of the Son, celebrating His redemption; these perhaps come more naturally to us. But, thinking of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit… that is too… mystical… for many.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth of the Scripture. Far from being neglected in the Scripture, the Spirit is portrayed there as God, fully equal to the Father and Son. He, the Spirit, is the One who applies the work of the cross into our lives, taking what Jesus did 2000 years ago and making us new. We are born of the Spirit (John 3). We are indwelt by the Spirit (John 14). We are empowered by the Spirit (Ephesians 3). We are transformed by the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3). To search the Scripture for the works of the Holy Spirit, is to soon be overwhelmed by all that He does. By the Spirit:

      The inspiration of the Scriptures (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16)

      The instrument of Creation (Psalm 104)

      The law is written in our hearts (Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 36)

      The conviction of sin (John 16)

      The regeneration and new birth (John 3)

      The filling and empowering (Deuteronomy 34; Ephesians 2)

      The purification of sinners (Rom 8; 1 Corinthians 6)

      The illumination of Scripture (1 Tim 4)

      The assurance of salvation (Romans 8, 2 Corinthians 3)

      The unified body of believers (Ephesians 4, Philippians 2)

Hardly forgotten, the biblical witness to the Spirit is overwhelming.

The Apostles’ Creed makes the claim: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” And, there is good reason: We believe because the Bible consistently witnesses to the Spirit. Our faith in the Spirit of God is grounded in what has been revealed in the Bible, and, by God’s blessings, what we experience of His work in our lives. Because of this, our faith in the Spirit is truly a trusting in Him, relying on His work to shape and transform every moment of our lives.

For this Sunday, read John 14:15-17, 26-27.

 1. Notice where we are in the story of Jesus. He is speaking immediately preceding His arrest and trial. Why might He have chosen this time (and place) to share about the Spirit?

 2. Verse 15 is linked to the statements about the Spirit in verses 16 and following. How do Jesus’s comments about keeping His commandments shape the “mood” for hearing about the Spirit?

 3. Jesus refers to the Spirit here as the Helper. What is implied in that term? What insight into the work of the Spirit might you draw from that?

 4. In Jesus description of the Spirit here, how is the Spirit similar to Jesus? How is the Spirit different?

 5. How might the disciples have felt upon hearing of the Spirit in this setting?

 6. What is the difference between the world and the disciples in verse 17? Why can the one group receive the Spirit and the other can’t?

 7. Verse 27 speaks of peace, yet it is included in this discussion of receiving the Spirit. Why do you think that is? What is the connection?