What is more important to a believer than worshiping the god who bestows all kinds of blessings (and curses) upon a believer’s life? Almost all religions have some type of worship ritual and it seems that all kinds of gods require, or rather demand, such behavior among their devotees. It is no different in Christianity. Worship plays a core part in any Christian’s life. Surely, there should be little controversy over such an important aspect of belief, especially when the Christian god demands it:

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. (1 Chronicles 16:29 )

Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy. (Psalm 99:5)

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’ ” (Luke 4:8)

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. (John 4:23 )

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24 )

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29 )

However, if you are looking for Christian unity in worship, you would be gravely mistaken. This is another area where there are strong divisions and radically different theologies of worship. Broadly, as I have pointed out elsewhere Why I am an Atheist Part 8: Worship, there are two major ways of looking at worship:

  1. Worship is for god. As such, god and only god dictates the terms of worship (what pleases and displeases him) and going against those terms is, essentially, treason and results in god’s displeasure.
  2. Worship is for man. As such, man decides how to worship god by deciding what gives him (man) the most pleasure in his worship of god. Under these terms, god has little say in his worship and really doesn’t care how worship is conducted or cares only in the broadest sense, such as you must have a pure heart. God doesn’t get involved with the details of worship.

The difference between these two views is not just a matter of cosmetics, but of radically different views on what is “acceptable” worship. For example many contemporary worship services feature dance, skits, drama, slide shows and other effects designed to draw the worshiper into the service. Are they acceptable? For one camp, the answer is yes, for the other the answer is no. In fact, the Regulatory Principle group sees these forms of worship as anathema – something so displeasing to god that doing them actually incurs his displeasure. Consider:

The Scripture says of them (Israel), “For they served idols, whereof the LORD had said unto them, Ye shall not do this thing.” and “And the LORD rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight” (vs. 12: 20). Oh how fearful a thing it is for the children of God to participate in the idolatrous worship of the world! Dare we think that God is any less displeased with us today than he was with Israel if we engage in false worship? I believe the answer is obvious—He is as displeased over our idolatry as that of ancient Israel. How dare any professing Christian remain in religious Babylon with all its pagan ceremonies, observances, forms and rituals! … Just because we are Baptists do we think we can bring innovations into the meeting house and not suffer the consequences? Do we know better than God what to teach and how to conduct worship? Five Kinds of Worship Displeasing To God

The same principles which are manifested in these Old Testament examples are still applicable today. God has revealed to man the kind of worship which pleases Him and still expects men to worship in that fashion. Actually, the only way that man can know that His worship pleases God is for God to reveal to man what He wants. We cannot know God’s will except as it is revealed to us; however, through revelation, we can have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). Apart from God revealing to man the kind of worship which He will accept, man could never know what pleases God. … Watch the papers and look at what is being done in the name of religion. Singing groups with their guitars, cymbals, drums, piano and organ are being used in worship; the audience to which they play is generally entertained by music which appeals to the easy listening or country western style of secular music. Consequently, the music which is presented in these programs has this kind of flavor as well. Or, consider the buildings of many Catholic churches. They display ornate buildings; some churches even have very valuable jewels embedded on the crosses in the buildings. Such things appeal to man’s desire for show. When man is left to worship according to his own desires, he offers as worship to God what pleases the man. For this reason, God found it absolutely necessary to reveal to man the kind of worship which pleases Him. Worship (II): Divinely Revealed Worship

Yet, even with these warnings how do you know what is acceptable? The Bible knows nothing of modern technology, instruments or methods. Are they simply wrong because the Bible is necessarily silent? How could it be used as a guide in this area? An ancient guide is no guide at all when it comes to modern technology. Then again, with a book as flexible in it’s meaning as the Bible, maybe current contemporary worship can find a biblical defense. Consider this:

Early worship utilized the experience of communion much more than many evangelical churches today. On a regular basis they actually passed a piece of bread around the room and each person pinched off a piece and ate it. That is so different from the once a quarter pre-packaged communion wafers that some churches use today. Even baptism was an experience in the early church. … The Psalms was the early hymn book of the church. When we read it we see that a number of instruments were used, not just one person playing the organ. And a number of people were leading the worship, not just one “worship leader.” All those people who were involved were part of the experience, not just observers of someone else doing it. Even the songs themselves were experiential. The early church sang songs TO God not just songs ABOUT God. … The reality was, first century worship was VERY experiential. And if we want our worship services to be biblical then they need to be experiential too. Can Post Modern Worship Be Biblical?

It’s amazing how a book considered by many to be god’s word to mankind, can be used to support radically different opinions. There is no clarity here, which, of course, results in deep divisions within the body that calls itself Christian. Even within the two broad worship camps, there is controversy as to what exactly is appropriate for worship. This is primarily because, as important as worship appears to be to the Christian god, in the New Testament he did not dictate how he wanted to be worshipped as he did in the Old Testament. If god cares about how he is to be worshipped, as the first camp believes, this is a grave oversight for an omniscient god.

To drive home this point, let’s look at 3 specific areas: the day of worship, music and images.

Day of Worship

Should worship be conducted on Sunday or Saturday — choices, choices. It may seem like a simple thing but the debate can get heated, after all if god does have a specific day he wants his people to worship, you would think they could get it right. Of course, like all things in the Bible, it would have been a simple thing for an omniscient god to simply inspire one of the writers to clearly tell his followers what the appropriate day was, but it’s much more fun to watch them fight about it.

Sunday

This is the traditional day of worship for Christians and is the day the majority of Christians worship. Consider what these authors have to say:

The Truth: The universal record of history, from the Resurrection of Christ, Christians have always worshipped on the first day of the week (Sunday) and never on the Sabbath (7th day). Sunday is not a Christian Sabbath or a day of rest, or a holy day to be kept. All churches teach one of four positions on the day that Christians worship.

Why, then, does the Lord’s church worship on the first day of the week? The answer is simple: because the Scriptures authorize it. The first day of the week, therefore, is the day of worship of the New Testament church. On that day, worship according to the divine pattern must be offered. Do you observe the Lord’s day? Worship (III): The Day of Worship: The Lord’s Day

VII. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath. Westminster Confession of Faith. Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day

Saturday

However, for some groups, the majority is just plain wrong. Worship needs to be on the true Sabbath – Saturday.

In reviewing the few passages that supposedly support Sunday worship, a web site by the United Church of God states:

Scripture contains no other passages that mention anything remotely resembling weekly religious services on the first day of the week. The New Testament was written over a span of more than 60 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and nowhere does it even hint at the day of rest being changed to Sunday. Was Sunday the New Testament Day of Worship?

And again:

This blessing from God, enshrined in one of the Ten Commandments, did not change. The seventh day of the week—observed from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset—has continued as God’s commanded holy day for rest and worship. Even though misguided people later initiated a change to worshipping on Sunday, God’s command was never rescinded, nor was there biblical authorization for a change to the first day of the week. God’s Days of Worship

In addition, things get get a bit nasty when you are fighting over the “clear” word of god:

There is nothing wrong with worshipping God every day of the week, but substituting Sunday for the Sabbath day as the main day to do it, is totally contrary to the word of God, and is evil. Note 2: You may ask, “What should I do if I have been involved in regular church attendance on Sunday, instead of the Sabbath day?” Forsake it, and start to keep the Sabbath! We Can Worship God Any Day Of The Week

Everyone needs to realize that God COMMANDS us HOW to WORSHIP Him!! He tells us that we MUST worship Him “in Spirit and in truth!” (John 4:24) Jesus, as The Word God, also tells us that He HATES it when we worship Him the WRONG way!!… It is the same with “keeping one day ‘holy’ ” when GOD TELLS YOU upon which Days to worship Him!! When a person tries to worship the True God on Sunday when He has COMMANDED them to worship Him on the Sabbath Day, He HATES THAT ABOMINATION because SUNDAY was set aside by the pagans to WORSHIP THE SUN, a creation by Jesus Christ (when He was The Word God)!! We Can Worship God On Just ANY Day? Give Me a Break!

Maybe it doesn’t matter

Then again, maybe it just doesn’t matter as these Christians think:

Its not the WHEN we worship, but the WHO we worship! If one wants to congregate to worship on Saturday or Sunday, or even Monday they have the freedom under the new covenant to do so. Please don’t insult our intelligence or distort the Bible’s instructions to perpetuate the myth that Sunday is the Mark of the Beast, a replacement of Saturday. It is not. Worship is a way of life not a particular day of assembly over another day. What Day Are We Allowed To Worship On

Drawing from these verses, I view this question of the Sabbath similar to the tithe. As followers of Christ, we are no longer under legalistic obligation, for the requirements of the law were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Everything we have, and every day we live, belongs to the Lord. … not out of any forced obligation, but joyfully, willingly, we set aside one day each week to honor God, because every day truly belongs to him! Finally, as Romans 14 instructs, we should be “fully convinced” that whichever day we choose is the right day for us to set aside as a day of worship. And as Colossians 2 warns, we should not judge or allow anyone to judge us regarding our choice. Why Do Christians Worship on Sunday?

Obviously, the specific day of worship is not that important. What is important is the clear biblical mandate that worship is for the whole person every day of the week WordTruth Press

So, once again, the “clear” word of god is anything but clear. While it appears, to many Christians, there is unity on the day of worship, this is not the case: Saturday, Sunday or it doesn’t matter. They can’t all be right but they can all be wrong!

Music

Many Christians wouldn’t think that there was a controversy over music in a church service. The general worship style of most evangelical churches is filled with music, instruments and song, mostly what is now thought of as praise music. Yet, there is a long history of conflict in this area. For example, let’s look at the organ, a stable of traditional worship services. When it was first introduced it was seen by many as nothing less than heresy.

Robert L. Dabney, an influential Presbyterian minister said:

There is one fact connected with the introduction of organs into those of our churches which have adopted them, which is exceedingly distressful. It is the reason which we always hear assigned, among other reasons, for their introduction, and which we believe has been in every case the most operative one. It is always urged: “we must have an organ to keep pace with other churches in attracting a congregation, and in retaining the young and thoughtless.” … If we are authorized to add to God’s worship, forms purely of human device, in order to make it more palatable to sinners, to what corruptions shall we not give entrance? … We believe that all such artifices, of human device, to catch popularity, are inconsistent with the genius of the Presbyterian Church, derogatory of her honor, and blasting to her interests Against Musical Instruments in Public Worship

John L. Girardeau a Southern Presbyterian minister in the 1800s also wrote on The Heresy of Instrumental Music in Public Worship

Nevertheless organ music became a mainstay in many churches and now the controversy has moved on to more modern instruments and no instruments at all. Many of those who believe instruments should not be allowed in worship are particularly scathing:

If we could remember that music in Christian worship is not for the purpose of entertaining, but for teaching and for exalting, we would have no trouble seeing why God demanded vocal music and left out instrumental music. Instrumental Music in the New Testament Worship Service

From the above Scriptures, we can now “clearly” answer this question, “Can Christians use musical instruments in worship and still be pleasing to God?” Ten Reasons Why Instrumental Music Is Wrong In Worship.

The answer for this author was a resounding no! After listing the pros and cons of instruments in worship another author concludes:

Instruments are not just an aid to singing, but an additional, different form of praise to God. They violate the New Testament teachings about truth, spirit, and understanding in worship. Those who use them are not following God’s plan but have changed His plan to satisfy their own entertainment and enjoyment. Instrumental Music in Worship: Does God Want Singing or Playing Instruments?

Yet another author, looking at the same biblical passages concludes that:

Many of the Psalms mention “stringed instruments” and in one case, “flutes” at their start, implying (or so it seems to me) that the Psalm was accompanied by instruments (e.g., Psalm 5: “To the choirmaster: for the flutes. A Psalm of David”; Psalm 6: “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments . . .”). Therefore, John Calvin’s contention that a Psalm can only be properly sung is not even consistent with what the Psalms themselves teach (see also Psalms 4, 54-55, 61, 67, 76; cf. Hab 3:19)…. We also have the evidence of the extensive musical instrumentation accompanying the ark of the covenant (where God was specially present, in a way somewhat like eucharistic presence at the Mass), as described in 1 Chronicles 15. There is no hint of disapproval in the text, as if this was something frowned upon by God as idolatry… Since God doesn’t contradict Himself, the entire “no instruments at church because they are idols” argument must, therefore, be abandoned. Biblical Evidence for Musical Instruments in Worship

However, it’s not just a matter of instruments but also of the music itself. Some believe that the Psalms only should be used in worship:

The purpose of this booklet is to present the evidence in support of the following proposition; namely, that in the worship of God the inspired book of Psalms should be used to the exclusion of the uninspired compositions of men. The Singing of Psalms in the Worship of God

Some believe that the music used in many contemporary churches is sinful:

Such music touches the emotions, often in a profound way: it is meant to. If Praise and Worship did not create fuzzy feelings, it would not be so popular. Perhaps you think, “It’s not that bad. After all, it only sounds like the ‘soft’ stuff.” Is our God the kind of god that is sung to as a woman being seduced by a man? Is God adored in Scripture with soft caresses and tender kisses? Is eroticism acceptable worship? Praise and Worship stirs the emotions– but which emotions; and are those emotions properly worshipful of God? Oh if only our emotions could be touched by James 4:4, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” God is not glorified by his enemies. And He is neither praised nor worshiped by the vast majority of Praise and Worship music. Why Praise and Worship Music Isn’t

And others believe that the music used should be more traditional and “meaningful”:

I am frankly astonished that the worship wars rattle on. The army of praise choruses, light shows and worship bands have left the Psalms, the organ, and our father’s hymnal decimated. The war for all practical purposes ended quite some time ago, and I am on the losing side. It is now harder to find a church that hasn’t bought into contemporary worship than it is to find a church has never been through a split. The landscape is littered with the meeting places of the victors…My objection to drums and guitars is not that they are drums and guitars… The issue isn’t the instruments, but the music…Our worship problems do not flow from drums and guitars. They flow from the sad truth that we are shallow, insipid, easily played, safe, boring and sentimental. Is there anything wrong with drums and guitars in church?

I ask again, if this is such an important aspect of the worship of god, why is Bible so unclear on the subject. Some may object that it is clear and those that don’t see it their way are sinning against god. Yet the fact that there are so many different interpretations of the same passages, show that the Bible is anything but clear on the subject. There is no unity here.

Images

Another area of controversy in worship is the use of images. These can range from simple crosses found in many Protestant churches to elaborate crucifixes and statutes found in Catholic churches. They can even extend to the use of slide shows and stained glass windows depicting biblical scenes. I remember, as a child, reading one of my mothers anthropology textbooks on the Pygmy people and their amazement that the Catholic missionaries worshiped statutes! (I wish I could remember the name of that text.) That same amazement was one of the issues that many Protestants had with the Roman Church during the Reformation and that controversy still exists today.

Of course Catholics and Anglicans don’t see it that way:

The Church absolutely recognizes and condemns the sin of idolatry. What anti-Catholics fail to recognize is the distinction between thinking a piece of stone or plaster is a god and desiring to visually remember Christ and the saints in heaven by making statues in their honor. The making and use of religious statues is a thoroughly biblical practice. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know his Bible. Do Catholics Worship Statues?

The concept of using images in worship finds its origins in the Old Testament. The Temple contained numerous visual images, including the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. The Temple Solomon built for the Lord contained many carvings of trees, gourds, flowers, and angels (1 Kings 6). It is clear that God did not forbid images used in the Sanctuary to glorify God.The use of Images, Signs, and Symbols in Anglican Worship

Not so much with many Protestant denominations:

I have argued above that the second commandment prohibits any visual representation of God by the hand of man. This is essential to the definition of idolatry. The visual aids in the OT (notably the Tabernacle and its furnishings) originated from God and they were strictly temporary shadows which were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. … The second commandment that prohibited the use of images in worshipping God in the OT remains in force in the NT. God would not have other gods beside Himself. Neither would he give his glory to lifeless images. The Use Of Images In Worship… Is It Biblical?

Not only does the second commandment forbid the use of images in worship; not only does the second commandment forbid the making and representing of any of the three persons of the Godhead by means of images; but the second commandment also forbids the religious making, or using of all man-made actions, gestures, symbols,or ceremonies in God’s worship. God teaches us in the second commandment that when man brings what he has made (whether actions, gestures, symbols, or ceremonies) into worship, he forms an image according to his own authority by which to worship God. God calls that idolatry… Before leaving this text, don’t overlook the sobering warning issued by our jealous God (jealous for worship that is authorized by Himself alone, and not invented by man): “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.” Who are those who hate God according to this text? It is not only the atheists and humanists. It is all those who (regardless of their profession) bring to worship anything that is instituted by man rather than by God. Foundation for Reformation: The Regulative Principle of Worship

Some even think that those who associate with believers who have icons (idols) in their churches are unsaved:

The Old Testament condemns idols, even if they are supposedly directly to the true God. The Old Testament condemns even the possession of icons. The truth is that New Testament also condemns idols. And the truth is that God does not want to be represented by things made by man. Furthermore, the truth is that since no one knows what Jesus (or God the Father, either) looks like–all ICONIC REPRESENTATIONS OF GOD ARE NOT SPIRIT and are not true. The early church is warned not to associate with any “Christian” who is involved with idolatry. The New Testament warns that idolaters are considered to be heathen and will be judged as such. What Did the Early Church Teach About Idols and Icons?

Idolatry is a serious charge in any church and once again we see that the Bible still is not a reliable guide as to what constitutes this charge. Can you have images in church? Apparently the Bible can be bent to mean yes and no.

Summary

We have seen that as important as worship is to the Christian faith, there is considerable disagreement over the elements of worship and how to properly worship god. There is disagreement, sometimes hostile, as to the day of worship, the musical elements in worship and the place of images in a worship service. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are strong disagreements over the use of specific prayers such as the Common Book of Prayer and the place of sacraments (or even if sacraments are scriptural). Not to say anything about the downright nasty fights over the scriptural basis for Charismatic or Pentecostal worship.

As important as worship is to Christians and for as much time as they invest in the endeavor, it is still another area in which there is no unity between many denominations. Isn’t that a gross oversight for a god who demands worship and has made it clear, at least to some, that unacceptable worship will be punished? Then again, maybe he doesn’t care at all because it’s all made up in the first place!

 

We now approach another controversy within the Christian community – that of the Lord’s Supper. Or is it The Eucharist or Divine Liturgy or Blessed Sacrament or Communion or Holy Communion or… well you get the idea. Denominations can’t even agree on what to call the practice, so it is no surprise that they can’t agree on  whether it is a sacrament or even a valid observance for today. As with Baptism, we have a relatively simple command:

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table… he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:14-20)

1 Corinthians summarizes it as:

Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor 11: 23-26)

However, as we have seen before, nothing is straightforward in Christianity and if a division can be found, it will be made. Everything all hinges on what you think a remembrance is and how you view the words this is my body.

Depending on how you count and what differences you want to emphasize, there are 4 or 5 major views on the Lord’s Supper (the name I will be using) and a number of other differing opinions. For the purpose of this post, I’ll briefly look at 5 major views. As a reminder, this overview is simply to show the diversity of Christian opinion and practice on this core doctrine. It is obvious (I hope) that I am not trying to determine which view is correct, since they are all made up! Such diversity is, in my opinion, one reason which shows that the Christian god is of human origin. A real god couldn’t be so incompetent in his ability to communicate with his creatures, especially on core issues of faith and practice.

The 5 major views can be summaried as:

  1. Non-Sacramental/Memorial
  2. Calvinist/Reformed/Real-Presence
  3. Lutheran/Consubstantiation
  4. Roman Catholic/Transubstantiation
  5. Obsolete

Non-Sacramental/Memorial

It is a symbolic commemorative of the Last Supper. The elements (bread and wine) only represent his body and blood. They do not become his body and blood. The service is a time of reflection on what Christ supposedly accomplished. (Memorialism)

Calvinist/Reformed/Real-Presence

The traditional Calvinistic view holds that the Lords Supper is a sacrament and while the elements merely represent the body and blood of Christ and, in a spiritual sense through faith, they become an aid to faith and practice. (Real presence of Christ in the Eucharist)

Lutheran/Consubstantiation

The bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ but not in the Roman Catholic sense. In other words the bread and wine doesn’t actually, physically become flesh and blood. Christ’s body and blood exists alongside (under, surrounding) the actual elements and serves as a means of grace and sanctification. If it sounds confusing, it is. Just remember, you can’t be rational when describing a deep mystery experienced only by faith! (Consubstantiation)

Roman Catholic/Transubstantiation

In the Roman Catholic trandition the bread and wine literally are the body and blood of Christ. This happens in some mysterious way so that the ritual actually becomes a “new” sacrifice. Yet somehow this happens without the any changes to the appearance, taste or chemical makeup of the elements. Now that is faith! Such a doctrine had Richard Dawkins ask the question to practicing Catholics, “…do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?” (Read his Reason Rally speech here) I am afraid many do, because it is accepted as a deep mystery of faith. I remember, long ago, during my First Communion (yes, I was raised Catholic as all good Italians are) that a considerable emphasis was placed on not chewing or letting your teeth touch the communion wafer for fear of biting into god. Somehow swallowing him without teeth marks was ok! (Transubstantiation)

Obsolete

There are also denominations, such as the Quaker’s and the Salvation Army, that do not observe the Lord’s Supper:

One of the distinguishing features of the Society of Friends from most other Christian bodies is the absence of the observance of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper from its religious practices…The Quaker movement was founded on the conviction that the whole of life is sacramental. The founders refused to designate any particular observance or practice as being more sacred than another…The Quaker ideal is to make every meal at every table a Lord’s Supper. Again, the reality lies, not in the nature of the material substance, but in the way it stirs the heart of every partaker. (The Sacraments)

These are radically different and incompatible views. A memorial is NOT the same thing as the literal body and blood of a dead savior! There is a good amount of magical thinking and a lot of passion surrounding the Lord’s Supper. As Martin Luther said:

In the same way I also say and confess that in the Sacrament of the Altar the true body and blood of Christ are orally eaten and drunk in the bread and wine, even if the priests who distribute them or those who receive them do not believe or otherwise misuse the sacrament. It does not rest on human belief or unbelief but on the Word and ordinance of God – unless they first change God’s Word and ordinance and misinterpret them, as the enemies of the sacrament do at the present time. They, indeed, have only bread and wine, for they do not also have the words and instituted ordinance of God but have perverted and changed it according to their own imagination. (Which Churches Have the Lords Supper? Which Churches Do Not? Quotations from Martin Luther)

However, the differences don’t stop here. There is also controversy over how often the Lord’s Supper should be observed, who can partake, and even what to serve! Of course everyone has biblical support for their views and are passionate about them.

How Often?

Unfortunately, omniscience in a god doesn’t seem to prevent carelessness. When the command was given to “do this in remembrance” of me, he forgot a little detail – When!

Should it be done once a week?

Bible authority teaches us to have the Lord’s supper on each first day of the week. To have it any other day is to act without God’s authority. Therefore, Christians must refuse to eat it on any other day. (When Should We Have the Lord’s Supper?)

How about often but not too often?

There is no biblical guideline for how often a group of believers should observe the Lord’s Supper…A general guideline to follow would be to not take communion so often that it becomes ritualistic and routine, but often enough that believers benefit from the reminder. (The Lord’s Supper)

Or maybe once a year on a very specific date?

Let us return to the faith once delivered. Let us humbly and obediently observe this solemn, sacred ordinance as we are commanded, and at the time set apart in the Bible, after sundown on the 14th of Abib, or Nisan, sacred Hebrew calendar. (How Often Should We Partake of the Lord’s Supper?)

What to Serve?

It seems that the believer better get the day right or risk departing from the faith that was handed down so long ago. However, that is only the first hurdle to overcome in remaining faithful to god. Once the day question is settled, the next question is what to serve. Surely this should be easy – bread and wine? Right? Seems clear. Doesn’t it? Well, no.

While many OSP churches have come round to using wine in the Lord’s Supper, there is a common misunderstanding among many churches that the kind of bread we use in communion should be unleavened. The biblical data does not support this position however, and the Old School Presbyterian consensus was always that the common leavened bread of our every-day use was the element we should be using at the Lord’s Supper. (Must We Use Unleavened Bread in the Lord’s Supper?)

 

Only unleavened bread, picturing the sinless body of our Lord Jesus Christ can properly be used as an element in the Lord’s Supper. Although this may sound distastefully strong to some, to use leavened bread in the Lord’s Supper is to not discern the sinlessness of the Lord’s body(The Elements of the Lord’s Supper What Kind of Bread and Fruit of the Vine Are We to Use part 2)

Leavened or unleavened, what a quandary. I wonder if it should be white bread, whole wheat or 7 grain? I’m surprised there doesn’t seem to be any debates on the flour that needs to be used. Wouldn’t processed and bleached white flour change the symbolism of the bread? We will let the theologians argue that point, but what of the wine? Surely wine means “an alcoholic drink made from fermented grape juice.” Or maybe not?

Can you really justify drinking ‘old fermented wine’ in remembrance of the ‘Holy Blood shed atonement made for us on Calvary’s cross? No way hosey! (The Lord)

Is it a sin to use fermented juice in keeping the Lord’s Supper? Let me ask this: Is it a sin to use raised bread in keeping the Lord’s Supper? I think the answer to both is “yes” because it violates the symbolism Jesus established for his memorial meal. (Can fermented grape juice (wine) be used in the Lord’s Supper?)

Then again…

If someone is so lacking in faith that he cannot take a tiny amount of wine that symbolizes the blood of His Savior who died to give him the precious gifts of forgiveness and eternal life, that person ought not take the Lord’s Supper at all. (The Elements of the Lord’s Supper What Kind of Bread and Fruit of the Vine Are We to Use part 6)

Let us use FERMENTED grape juice for the annual New Testament Passover, as the Bible clearly commands. (God’s Holy Days: Should GRAPE JUICE or WINE be used for Christian Passover Service?)

Clearly commands? I think not. I wonder if the type of grape matters? Syrah, Cabernet or Zinfandel anyone?

Who Can Partake?

Assuming a believer figured out what day to observe the Lord’s Supper and what to serve, the next task would be to determine who to serve. In some respects, this depends on how a denomination views the Lord’s Supper. If the denomination sees it as a church ordinance, they most likely want it to be controlled by the church. Even more so for a church sacrament. If they see it as something that is universal to all believers, the denomination may be more open in who should partake. What I find strange, is that the denominations that hold it to be a “memorial” often have the strictest rules. You would think that those churches that believe partakers are actually eating the literal body and blood of a god would be very strict indeed. (Or maybe you really can’t because it is so absurd!)

Should children take part? Absolutely not:

In the first place: children may not partake of the Lord’s Supper… (May Children Partake of the Lord’s Supper)

Well maybe:

There is no basis for excluding a child that can make a profession of faith and also is able to discern the significance of the elements. (Children and the Lord’s Supper)

Surely it should be up to the individual to examine him or herself and make it a personal decision:

The Lord’s Supper is for people who have faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, even if they have not been baptized yet. We tell people that the bread and wine are for those who have faith in Christ. They must make their own decision as to whether to partake. We do not believe it is appropriate to refuse to let people partake if they want to do so, even if they are not baptized. (Question & Answers About the Lord’s Supper)

Well, maybe that is too generous. There should be some rules:

I believe the Scripture clearly teaches “The Lord’s Supper” is a church ordinance and therefore the church is responsible to see that it is Scripturally observed. There may be those who believe it is not a church ordinance, but was promiscuously given to every individual Christian to be observed individually or in groups without any church supervision or oversight. As I see it, to believe in open communion, it would be necessary to insist it is not a church ordinance, for if we agree that it is a church ordinance then the only logical conclusion is, that the first requirement for partaking of the Supper is membership in a Scriptural church.(Vital Church Truths Chapter Four-The Lord’s Supper)

More rules might be better:

The requirements for partaking in the Lord’s Supper are:

    • Belief in the articles of the Apostle’s Creed
    • Baptism in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
    • Church membership (exceptions allowed for those seeking membership)
    • Affirmation of the real presence of Christ in the sacrament, as explained above
    • Children must make a public profession of faith (What is the Lord’s Supper?)

I was once member of a church that took the oversight of the Lord’s Supper so seriously, that those charged with handing out the elements (unleavened bread and grape juice in this case) were instructed to withhold them from any child and those not church members.

Once more we see that a core Christian belief is racked with division and controversy and, of course, the absolute assurance a particular view is correct. Once again, we see that the bible is a horrible guide to faith and practice. It can be interpreted in radically different ways by people who are sincerely trying to discern the “truth” that is supposedly contains. The fact that an omniscience god is so incompetent in communicating vital truths to his creation, strongly suggests that such a god is nonexistent or doesn’t really care what we do or believe. In the latter case, why worship him?

 

Another controversy within the Christian community is that of baptism. If you believe the Bible, Jesus gave a simple command:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-28:20 NIV)

Now, I ask you, how many ways can such a simple command be messed up? Apparently, a lot! With this simple straight forward statement comes controversy, church splits and bitter downright hostile disagreements. Christians can’t agree even agree on who should be baptized, never mind how they should be baptised or what baptism even means! Such a simple concept, that god could have easily clarified, is left open to mutliple intepretations and meanings. If you are going to give a command – “go an make disciples..baptizing them in..” doesn’t it make sense to clarify what you are commanding? How hard would it be to add: “And by baptizing, I mean…”? Strangely an omnipotent and omniscient god couldn’t see the outcome of leaving definitions out of a command. Probably because it wasn’t an omnipotent and omniscient god that had anything to do with the command! Let’s look at the controversies:

How Should a Person be Baptized?

How many ways can you possiblity use water on someone? Well there are several and they are all represented in the various modes of baptism.

  • Aspersion – This is more commonly called sprinkling. Water is simply sprinkled on the skin, usually the head.
  • Affusion – This is a little more intense than sprinkling as it is the literal pouring of water over the head and is most common in churches practicing infant baptism.
  • Immersion – Strictly speaking this is when a person stands or kneels in water and water is poured over them during baptism. Less technically, it is often used as a synonym for submersion.
  • Submersion – Submersion is where the body is submerged under water and is common in many evangelical churches where believers baptism is performed.

You may rightly ask whether the mode of baptism matters. Well, yes and no. Some denominations, clearly do not care and leave the choice to the individual. For instance the Methodists teach:

“Let every adult person and the parents of every child to be baptized have the choice of sprinkling, pouring, or immersion” (The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Church).

For other denominations it is clearly important. What it comes down to in these denominations is how you view scripture. If it is the inerrant word of god, then you are compelled to try to do what god supposedly commands. Figuring out exactly what is commanded is a good trick given the contradictory nature of the Bible. But once that is “figured out” by a given demonination or church, they are usually inflexible and totally sure of their intepretation. For instance David E Pratte says:

Sprinkling and pouring are human in origin. They are changes from God’s plan. Only complete immersion can be practiced according to Jesus’ authority.

What if you once received sprinkling or pouring instead of immersion? Gospel baptism is immersion, not sprinkling or pouring. If you have not been immersed, then you have not obeyed Jesus’ command! You have followed only the doctrine of men.

If you now wish to obey Jesus, you must do what He said to do: be baptized (immersed) as described in the passages studied above. He who believes and is baptized will be saved – Mark 16:16. (The Action (Mode) of Baptism: Sprinkling, Pouring, or Immersion?)

According to Mr Pratte, if you were baptized by the wrong method, you haven’t been baptized. Daniel R. Vess, using the same logic, goes even further:

Does sprinkling, pouring, or immersion meet the Bible requirement for baptism? Bible baptism requires: Water (Ac. 10:47); much water (John 3:23); going down into the water (Acts 8:38); coming up out of the water (Mark 1:10; Acts 8:39); a burial (Romans 6:3,4); a resurrection (Romans 6:5; Col. 2:12); a washing of the body with water (Hebrews 10:22) and a birth of water (John 3:5). Only immersion meets all the requirements. Sprinkling and pouring are inadequate substitutes for immersion, and even worse, they are additions to the Word of God (Rev. 22:18,19).

If you have not been immersed in water you have not been baptized. If you have not been baptized you have not been saved: “He that believes and is baptism will be saved, he that does not believe shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). (Is Sprinkling or Pouring Baptism?)

Here the correct mode of baptism is directly linked to ones salvation. Get it wrong (sorry Catholics) and you aren’t even saved – you are going to burn in hell! Does the mode of baptism matter? To these people and others, the answer is YES and they are willing to condemn entire Christian denominations that practice anything less than full immersion (submersion) as unbelievers.

Who Should be Baptized?

If you think the controversy over the mode of baptism gets a little intense, you haven’t see anything yet. The topic of who should be baptized is explosive! It seems simple. From the command of Jesus, it appears that baptism is linked with disciples (“go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them…”), so only disciples should be baptized. However, nothing in the Bible is clear or simple, as much as individuals would like to argue otherwise. As with the mode of baptism, there are several choices as to who should be baptized, encompassing almost every possible combination. In general, the categories are:

  • All infants
  • Infants of believing adults only
  • Believing children and believing adults
  • Believing adults only
  • A Believer(s) and his/her entire household regardless of belief

Entire demonimations have been formed around the topic of who should be baptized and to some extent, “who” may also determine the mode of baptism. If you believe that infants should be baptized, most likely you are not a proponent of baptism by submersion!

A good overview of the issue of who should be baptized from an infant or believer dicotomy and from an “infant” or “household” view is “A Better Case for “Infant Baptism” by William Shishko. I reference this article for two reasons. The first is that it fairly shows that two groups can disagree about core doctrinal issuses and still be cordial. The second is I think that it is fairly obvious the extent to which the scriptures are contradictory and confusing on this important issue. A lot of assumptions have to be made in order to support a particular viewpoint since there is no clarity in the bible alone. For instance, when it comes to the household baptisms recorded in scripture, you have to make the assumption that infants were included or even part of the household since the Bible is silent. Again, how hard would it be for an omnipotent and omniscient god to “inspire” the writers of scripture to include a simple statement: “… all their household was baptized including all the men,woman, children, servants and their infants…”!

Bryn MacPhail says it this way:

…we must readily admit that neither side of this debate has as much supporting evidence as we would like. What we’ll call ‘the Baptist position’ has plenty of evidence to support the practice of ‘believer’s baptism’. However, what is missing is overwhelming evidence to support ‘believer’s baptism’ to the exclusion of infant baptism. And those who endorse the baptism of Christian children must admit that this endorsement is made by reasonable inference rather than according to a clear mandate. What I mean is that there is no verse in Scripture that reads, ‘You shall baptize every child born to Christian parents’—there is no explicit biblical mandate to baptize children. By the same token, there is no verse that reads, ‘You shall not baptize children; you may only baptize those who profess faith in Jesus Christ’—there is no explicit verse forbidding the baptism of children. So, again, in the absence of explicit New Testament instruction on this matter, neither side of this debate has as much supporting evidence as we would like. (The Biblical Basis For Infant Baptism)

However, as nice and polite as this discussion can be, this conflict can get downright nasty. Usually this is by those who profess some type of believers baptism since almost everyone who holds to infant baptism also holds to believers baptism for those not baptized as infant. For example:

The insistence on trying to use circumcision and household as the basis for this doctrine is damaging enough, but this is compounded by a total disregard for all the other many Scriptures which clearly teach water baptism is only for believers in Christ…no Christian should have anything to do with infant baptism for any reason. In fact, such is a baptism in name only. If such a person who was previously “baptized” as an infant should become a real Christian, he is commanded like all others to undergo true Christian baptism. Moreover, the mode of Christian baptism found in the Bible is immersion. (Infant Baptism—Is It Christian by Dan Corner)

Infant baptism is not a Scriptural doctrine. It is not found in the Bible. There is not one example in the Bible of one single baby being baptized. We will show that baby baptism is of pagan origin. It is my purpose in this article to set forth my reasons for saying, as I often have said, that…INFANT BAPTISM IS RESPONSIBLE FOR SENDING MORE PEOPLE TO HELL THAN ANY OTHER RELIGIOUS ERROR. From my point of view, it is a dreadful thing to baptize a baby and let him grow up believing that by that baptism he has been saved and is on his way to heaven. (Infant Baptism Exposed! It’s History and Harm by William Pettingill)

Being baptized as an infant doesn’t show that we understand God’s word and can apply his knowledge to make sound Christian decisions when Satan attacks. An infant can not understand what this type of dedication will entail and therefore should not be baptized. Baptism is a personal choice that should only be done after someone has dedicated his/her life to God. It is not a decision that should be made lightly. And it is certainly not a decision that should be made by someone else, such as the parent of an infant child. (Is Infant Baptism Christian? by CRAOM)

Infant Baptism is nothing, has no saving efficacy, delivers no grace, confers no faith, is a symbol of nothing. It is absolutely and totally pointless. It leads to ritualism, confusion and false security. (Is Infant Baptism Biblical? by Grace To You)

The fact is, infant baptism is no more than a human tradition. It has no higher authority than fallible man. It represents a digression from the New Testament order of things and ought to be abandoned by conscientious people who respect biblical authority. There are eternal consequences associated with advocating this error. As Schweitzer acknowledges: “[I]f Christian baptism is only for those who have enough faith to repent and believe, we are wrong and hypocritical to baptize anyone who is too young to exhibit these qualities.” (“We Baptize Babies” – A Response by Wayne Jackson)

Infant baptism is an evil, because its practice is unsupported by the word of God; because its defense leads to most injurious perversions of scripture; because it engrafts Judaism upon the gospel of Christ; because it falsifies the doctrine of universal depravity; because it contradicts the great fundamental principle of justification by faith; because it is in direct conflict with the doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration; because it despoils the church of those peculiar qualities which are essential to the church of Christ; because its practice perpetuates the superstitions that originally produced it; because it subverts the scripture doctrine of infant salvation; because it leads its advocates into rebellion against the authority of Christ; because of the connection it assumes with the moral and religious training of children; because it is the grand foundation upon which rests the ration of church and state; because it leads to religious persecutions; because it is contrary to the principles of civil and religious freedom; because it enfeebles the power of the church to combat error; because it injures the credit of religion with reflecting men of the world; because it is the great barrier to Christian union; because it prevents the salutary impression which baptism was designed to make upon the minds both of those who receive it, and of those who witness its administration; and because it retards the designs of Christ in the conversion of the world. These, mainly, are the charges I prefer against infant baptism, and I believe that I have proved each one of them conclusively, if so, it is a great and unmitigated evil. It not only does no good, but it does evil, immense evil, and only evil (The Evils of Infant Baptism by Robert Boyt C. Howell)

What is the Meaning of Baptism?

As with the other aspects of baptism, there are also disagreements on the meaning of baptism. Is it:

  • A sign of obedience to a command of Christ?
  • Is it necessary for salvation?
  • Is it a symbol of identifying oneself as a believer in Christ?
  • Does it actually confer salvation?
  • Is it an obsolete – something for another time and age?
  • Is is a sign of the New Covenant that replaces the Old Testament’s sign of circumcision?

To some extent, how a Christian views the mode of baptism and who should be baptized, impacts the question of the meaning of baptism. For instance, if a Christian believes in infant baptism, it would be difficult to believe that it is a means of identifing oneself (as an infant) as a believer in Christ; although it may be looked at as identifying the parents as “in Christ” who are being obedient to Christ in baptizing their infant. As might be expected, those who see it as actually confering salvation are in direct opposition to those who see baptism in some symbolic sense.

Most of the hostilities in this area come over the question of whether baptism actually does something. For instance the Roman Catholic Church believes that baptism removes the taint of orignal sin and actually accomplishes several things (abbreviated list from A Guide to Catholic Baptism):

Baptism does five things specifically.

  1. It forgives all sins that may have been committed prior to a person’s baptism including original sin and it relieves the punishment for those sins.
  2. It turns the person into a newly adopted son of God and a member of Christ.
  3. It brings someone into the flock of the faithful and brings them to share in the royal priesthood of Christ (1Pet. 2:9-10).
  4. It gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers and it also brings about the sacramental bond of the unity of Christians.
  5. Last, but certainly not in the least, it leaves and indelible spiritual mark (character) of belonging to Christ on the soul. Nothing you can do will take away this mark even if you sin a million times.

Most protestant denominations would strongly disagree with #1 and #5 and may have problems, to varying degrees, with the other points. However “Baptismal Regeneration” (salvation is linked to baptism) is also believed by several Protestant groups as well (see Baptismal Regeneration). I’ll deal with this topic more in depth when I tackle the topic of the varying views of salvation; but, for our purposes right now, it is enough to show that there are strong disputes over what baptism means and accomplishes.

For instance, on the other side, is the more common Protestant view that baptism is a symbolic identification with Christ:

Why do we have to be completely covered by water when we are baptized? God chose immersion in water because it is a very powerful way of showing us that our sins must be forgiven. Believers realise that they need saving from sin and require God’s grace. They go under the water in baptism, and die to an old way of life. They come up out of the water to a new life. In baptism, believers identify with the death of Jesus Christ, who died for us. Just as Jesus rose from the dead, they also rise from the waters of baptism…(Baptism in Christadelphian Bible Mission)

If the meaning of baptism could be boiled down to one word, that word would be identification. Baptism speaks primarily of a personal, public identification with Jesus Christ. (What does Baptism Mean? by Ray Pritchard)

Conclusion

Even though the topic of baptism and the command to baptize appears to be fairly straight forward, it is far from it. Deep divisions and even church splits are caused by a little water – to sprinkle or not, to baptize infants or not, to save or not. The supposed word of god, in spite of what the church wants you to believe, is not clear on even such a basic issue. But why take baptism so seriously? Obviously, some denominations don’t, but the closer one gets to believing the bible is the literal word of god, without error, the stronger one has to hold “fast” to the “truth” as they see it. If the bible is without error… If your interreptation is correct… If god cares about the “truth” contained in his word… It follows that any interpretation that doesn’t agree with yours is not only error it is heresy! It can’t be otherwise.

It’s hard to understand this passion unless you lived it; but, understanding it is the key to breaking the spell of belief and faith in an imaginary god.

In this series of posts, I’ll be showing some of the doctrinal diversity that exists within the Christian framework.  Some Christians treat these differences as small internal squabbles of no real consequence since they agree on the larger Christian “core” doctrines. However, I think we will see that these “squabbles” aren’t so inconsequential. Some groups look at them as “core”, while others see anyone not believing as they do as believers in serious error. They are second class Christians bordering on heresy, if not actual heretics. In many cases the conflicting beliefs are radically incompatible with each other and have a direct impact on faith and practice. It should be noted that each camp can support their beliefs by various scripture passages and believe that their interpretation is the one true, god-ordained belief and that other interpretations are seriously flawed. Those interpretations are going against the word of god and thus perverting what god himself has said. The results are a lot of heated debates, church splits, new denominations and other devisive (them vs. us) behaviors.

My contention is that such doctrinal variety and diversity shows that the supposed “word of god” is unclear, murky and confusing.  There is no guarantee that any group has it right and a lot of evidence that they all have it wrong. After all, can you really believe that a sovereign, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god who desperately wants to communicate with his creation in order to show them the ONLY way to salvation can bungle the job so badly? As we will see, even a “core” belief such as “what must I do to be saved?” has radically different, incompatible answers. If there is a god and the Bible is his inspired, inerrant word then he shows himself to be an incompetent communicator at best and malicious at worst. Of course, I believe that it shows the Christian god to be no god at all and the Bible to be just the ramblings and thoughts of ancient man – neither better nor worst that any other past mythology.

It should be obvious that I’m not attempting to show which “belief” or doctrine is the “correct” one.  Indeed, there is no correct belief since all Christian doctrine is simply made-up with some scripture verses and unending commentary as support. It is staggering when you think about how much has been written about, how many wars have been fought, how many people have been killed and martryed over made-up doctrine and belief! None of it can be supported. None of it can be proved. How much tragedy has been caused in the history of the world over vacuous, imaginary beliefs that supposedly came from an invisible, inaudible god?

Let’s start with something “easy” such as speaking in tonques or the charismatic gifts. Bradley correctly describes the differences as follows:

There are two basic views when it comes to the charismatic gifts debate. One of these views is the cessationist view, which basically claims that charismatic gifts such as prophecy, speaking in tongues, and healing among other things ceased to happen after the New Testament. On the opposite side of the spectrum there is the continuationist view, which claims that such gifts have continued all the way until today and that Christians are still able to perform such gifts in their lives. (The Charismatic Gifts Debate)

Of course, even this description is simplistic.  Within these 2 basic camps are a wide variety of beliefs ranging from cautious disagreement to an “if you don’t agree with me you aren’t a true believer” attitude. George Knight in the article “Facing the Charismatic Challenge” in New Horizons Magazine says:

One of the most important differences between the Reformed, and the Pentecostals and some charismatics, is the belief of the latter that the book of Acts is our guide for the special gifts and that the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as it appears in Acts, occurs as a special act subsequent to regeneration by the Spirit… How then are we to interact with our charismatic fellow Christians? When the opportunity is appropriate, we should talk with them in an understanding way and try to show them from Scripture that the supernatural special gifts have ceased because they have completed the tasks God assigned to them. When they point to their own lives as proof positive of their charismatic thinking, we should try to point out to them other ways of understanding their experiences… We must be eager to protect the Christian flock from the error of the charismatics. But, at the same time, we must embrace those who are caught up in that error as brothers and sisters in the Lord and seek to lead them away from that error. (Facing the Charismatic Challenge

Error? Explain their experience in other ways? What of Mr. Bradley’s suggestion:

I think the best way to find out is for one to experience it himself. When a person sees someone healed (or perhaps is the person being healed) it will become much more obvious that God still does these things. Or if someone is prophesied over they just might fall to their face and worship God, declaring that God is there (1 Cor. 14:25). Most of the charismatic gifts that Christians practice are Biblical and until a cessationist tries to experience it, they will have a hard time understanding or believing it, which is not only their loss, but also the Holy Spirit’s. (The Charismatic Gifts Debate)

Or is David King right?

The mania for the miraculous that one finds among charismatics has the effect of making God’s promised means of grace look dull and uninteresting to many. There is a great danger in this. If we despise what God does use in preference for dramatic “ministries” carried on and hyped up by the will and energy of man, we will get man-made “blessings” instead of God’s real work. Paul warns that when the man of lawlessness is revealed, his coming will be “in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thess. 2:9–10). (Are Charismatic Gifts for Today?)

Or maybe CARM’s position is the one to take:

The issue of whether or not the charismatic spiritual gifts are for today has caused much debate and division in the body of Christ. The extremes are amazing. There are groups that say that if you do speak in tongues, then you are under demonic control and are not saved. On the other hand, some say that if you do not speak in tongues then you are not saved. What’s more, both extremes use scripture to support their positions. It is my opinion that the charismatic spiritual gifts are still in effect. I do not believe they ceased with the apostles or with the completion of the Bible. (Have the Charismatic Gifts Ceased?)

Maybe Jim Feeney has it right?

Speaking in tongues? Prophecies? Healings? Discerning of spirits? These and other supernatural signs and spiritual gifts were commonplace occurrences in the early Church. On that the Bible record is clear. But should we expect such spiritual gifts in our churches today? A growing number of Christians responded “Yes!” to this question during the twentieth century and up to the present time… and expect God to confirm His word with “signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 2:4) (Gifts of the Holy Spirit Are for Today!)

We can go back and forth like this for days, but there are a few things to note:

  1. All of the articles above site scripture to support their claims, sometimes using the same verses with radically different understandings.
  2. All of the authors are confident in their understanding even calling the other view an error, seeking to please man rather than god, not taking the scripture (or god) seriously, etc.
  3. The reformed position (Calvinistic) attempts to belittle personal experience in favor or a more “intellectual” scripture based approach.
  4. The Charismatic side attempts to show that personal experience validates the scripture and hence is true.

I find the downplaying of “personal” experience as a means of validation in the Reformed, non-Charismatic camp very interesting. The fact is that the entire Christian faith is experience oriented.  Notice the word FAITH.  Without it, you cannot be saved and faith, by definition, means there is no evidence. It appears that in some Christian camps personal experience is ok to “come to Christ” but it isn’t appropriate to validate the things of Christ – an interesting and inconsistent position.

Why is this debate important? Simply speaking, if god did intend for the Charismatic gifts to remain, then opposing them is opposing god – a serious charge.  Yet, if god intended them to end with the early church, claiming that these gifts are for today is also opposing god and attributing to him something that he has done away with. Both obviously cannot be true and one party sees the other as going against the dictates of god. This is why this debate rages and is taken seriously by all parties.  It is also why this is not just a petty squabble!

Strangely neither camp sees that the Bible is not clear in this regard; rather, they see that their scripture is clear but the interpretation of the other side is faulty. Indeed, they fail to see that god is an incompetent communicator, incapable of clearly presenting his will and plan to man.  How hard would it be to say something like this: These gifts will end a decade after my death.” Or “Everyone will know you are my children because these gifts in your life will be present until I come again.”  Of course, if there really was a Christian god, he would not be so competent. I maintain that this is just more evidence that the Christian god does not, in fact, exist.