HOW DO I CHOOSE A CHURCH?
Make sure they teach the Word and are true to what the Bible says. Don’t be part of any church that compromises on what God has spoken in the Bible. Find one where the Holy Spirit is free to move. The Word without the Spirit is lifeless. Both are essential. Look for one where the presence of God is sought. The Christian life is one of experiencing God, of living in relationship with Him. God wants tangible encounters with His presence for His people. Good teaching is important, but heart knowledge is essential too. So you want a worshipping church, that delights in lifting God up and releasing His presence in their midst. Look for love! If you don’t experience God’s love through those who belong to that church, it isn’t right for you. Love will welcome you, make you feel part of that body and make a place for you. This will mean there are healthy relationships where you will be nurtured, discipled and built up, but also able to nurture, disciple and build others up. Look for a church that isn’t just about the pastor and the leadership, but one where each member is encouraged to use their gifts and talents, so they really function as the body of Christ. For some of you it might be important to be part of an ethnic church because that is you racial and linguistic background. You might want to be able to worship and be taught in your heart language , but the above principles still apply. No church is perfect. Ask God’s Spirit to show you which church He wants you to be in !
Why are there different Bibles?
Since the original Bible texts were not written in English it has been necessary for people to study the original language texts and translate them into our current language for us to read and understand. Because there are cultural differences as well as different languages to consider not all words in the original language have direct translations – and so translators study not only the language but also the culture to discern the best equivalent words in our language. Even our own language has changed over the centuries – hence there is the King James version of the Bible from the 1600s and now we have the New King James Version – which has brought the language of the original King James version up to date with language we currently use. The New King James Version (NKJV) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB) are both very accurate translations from the original text. There is another version called the Amplified Bible – which includes in brackets words to help us gain additional insight into the meaning of a particular word. Eg. Ephesians 2: 8 (Amp) reads For it is by grace (God’s remarkable compassion and favour drawing you to Christ) that you have been saved (actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life) through faith. And this (salvation) is not of yourselves (not through your own effort) but it is the (undeserved, gracious) gift of God. Other versions of the Bible are called paraphrases. In these bibles the focus is to express the scriptures in an easy to read and understand language. In an effort to make it easier to read sometimes key words are substituted with simpler words which may lose some of the depth of meaning eg grace may be replaced with favour – which is part of grace but lacks the fullness of the meaning of grace. Another popular modern bible is The Passion Translation. This version of the bible was developed by a linguist skilled in translation, Brian Simmons, and his intent is to reveal the heart of God. This makes it easy to read and rich in its expression of God’s heart but probably not the best study bible.
WHY ARE THERE DIFFERENT CHURCHES?
The Body of Christ consists of many individuals, knit together by faith in Jesus. Hence, the many varieties of church meet the needs of different people. God’s people don’t all want to worship in the same way. They don’t all want to be organised in the same way. Some like structure, others like a much freer style of worship. Culture may play a part – with churches rising out of a particular culture to minister in a way unique to the character of the people. Some place an emphasis on one facet of Kingdom life, while others emphasise another. One size doesn’t fit all. No one church or denomination has the complete picture. There should always be the common factors that form the basis of faith: Jesus, the Son of God, with God in the beginning, born as a human by the virgin birth, lived a sinless life, died on the cross as atonement for all sin, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, releasing the Holy Spirit to every believer. These are the basic tenets of the Christian church. Jesus only has one church! He only has one body! Most denominations began as a movement to correct something wrong within the church, or due to a revelation concerning a particular emphasis God was placing on an aspect of His Word. If you go back to the 16th century, you find the beginnings of the Protestant Church, breaking away from the Roman Catholic church. This was a protest against non-biblical practices and the power given to the pope above the Bible. The final authority of the Word of God must be the source of doctrine with personal faith in Jesus the means of salvation, rather than works being the way to heaven. Since then, there have been many other breakaway groups that became denominations with different understanding of doctrine, or practice or structure. The most common division between churches is their differing interpretations of scripture. But the core beliefs must remain the same, otherwise that group is a cult rather than part of the church founded by Jesus. Whatever the church you choose to be part of, however you choose to express your passion for Jesus, the bottom line is that the church is His body, His people coming together to worship Him, the purpose being summed up by Paul as this: “to him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and forever”. (Ephesians 3.21)
Why are the 4 gospel accounts of Jesus’ life on earth so different?
The 4 gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – while different, they complement each other. Just as 4 different people who all witness the same event will have slightly different accounts – as different aspects stand out more to different people. So when we read accounts of the same events in the various gospels different details will be included by different writers. This doesn’t make one right or wrong but by adding the different details together we can gain a fuller perspective. Also each of the 4 gospels was written with a different emphasis for differing audiences. Matthew’s gospel emphasises Jesus as the Messiah, the one the Old Testament prophesied would come. He quotes the Old Testament 41 times and refers to Jesus as the Son of David. Mark is the shortest gospel and is a gospel of action, moving rapidly from one scene to another. He includes little reference to Jewish law and customs and it is believed that he wrote for a Gentile, Roman audience. Luke, the physician, liked detail and presented his facts chronologically. His emphasis was on the universality of the Christian message – that Jesus is the Saviour for the whole world not just the Jews. John’s gospel is quite different. He doesn’t follow chronological sequence and doesn’t include many of the familiar parables. His focus is on Jesus – the Son of God – who became flesh. Much of his book centres on the later events of Jesus’ ministry and he includes quite a lot of detail about the Holy Spirit who was to be poured out at Pentecost after the resurrection.