Q&A: Christianity

Q: On what basis can we believe that Christianity is true and therefore other religions are not?

A: The truth of Christianity is predicated on the validity of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. As Paul established, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity is false, its hope barren, and we are lost in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:12-20). Among religions Christianity is distinctive for its insistence of the historical legitimacy of Jesus and His involvement in the “real world”; as Paul testified before Agrippa, the things surrounding Jesus of Nazareth and His Kingdom did not take place in a corner (Acts 26:26); Peter could depend on the common knowledge regarding Jesus and His actions among his fellow Israelites (Acts 2:22, 10:36-37). If the Apostles’ witness of the Risen Jesus is true, then He is the Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and we would be foolish to try to find hope in any other avenue (John 14:6, Acts 2:36).

We also may have confidence in Christianity as making the most sense of the world in which we live. We can recognize joy, majesty, and beauty, and yet also see misery, pain, suffering, and horror. The story of God in Christ, creating a good universe which was corrupted by sin and death, making man in His image, seeking after relational unity with God and each other, alienated by sin, and finding reconciliation and hope in Jesus’ death and resurrection, looking forward to life in the resurrection when sin and death are fully vanquished explains all these things well (Genesis 1:26-31, Romans 5:6-21, 8:17-25). Judaism and Islam tell a similar story but have no means to assess why some ought to be redeemed and others not beyond the capriciousness of God; Eastern religions tend to take the existence of evil for granted and find no hope to overcome it, yearning for spiritual bliss or enlightenment. Modern secularism cannot account for beauty, truth, or the search for meaning and order. Thus we have strong reasons for confidence in the truths made known to us by God in Christ.

How would you answer the question? Please let us know in the comments below. Thanks!

Do you have questions about the Bible or Christianity? We’d love to discuss them!

Life in the Resurrection

The Vine

Throughout time humans have wanted to understand more about their meaning and purpose in life. Such questions are extremely important and cannot be separated from questions regarding identity, origin, and destination. We must understand something about who we are before we can understand why we are here; it is very difficult to have any grounding in who we are if we do not understand from where we have come and to where we expect to go. Christians understand, based on God’s revelation in Scripture, that all people are made in God’s image to share in relationship with God and each other to God’s glory (Genesis 1:26-27, John 17:20-23, Romans 1:19-20). What do the Apostles envision as our ultimate destination? What do they have to say about life after the judgment day?

The New Testament does not reveal as much as might be expected about life after the judgment: most discussions of the afterlife focus on the Judgment and the day of resurrection. Nevertheless we are given a few glimpses into what that future life may involve.

In John 5:28-29 Jesus spoke of a day in which all will come out of the tombs: those who have done good will experience the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil will experience the resurrection of judgment (or condemnation). While Jesus focused on the day of judgment and resurrection we do well to note how He envisions life afterward in terms of resurrection: the redeemed experience a resurrection of life, while the condemned experience a resurrection of judgment. Thus we may know that eternal life is life in the resurrection, life after life after death. Paul explains the nature of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:20-48 and 2 Corinthians 5:1-10: the return of the soul to the body and the transformation of the “psychical” body into the incorruptible, immortal “pneumatical” body. In this way we gain the victory over death.

In both Romans 8:17-18 and 2 Corinthians 4:17 Paul looked forward to the glorification of Christians by God. God’s glory was manifest in His presence; in a former covenant Moses’ face shone because he was in the presence of the glory of God, and so how much more amazing and awesome will it be for us to receive the fullness of God’s glory (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:7-11)?

Paul continued to look forward to unfulfilled expectations in Romans 8:18-25. He spoke of the creation yearning to be set free from its bondage to corruption, just as the sons of God yearn for the adoption as sons, the “redemption of the body.” While Christians remain part of the creation, Paul makes a distinction between “the creation” and “we ourselves” in Romans 8:23; in Romans 8:24-25, Paul made evident that the hope of which he speaks is not yet present reality, and yet Paul assured Christians that they presently had eternal life spiritually and presently were adopted as sons of God in Christ in Romans 6:3-11, 8:9-17. This hope of redemption cannot be spiritual life eternally; the “redemption of the body” is therefore best understood as a reference to the resurrection to come (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-58). Paul therefore extended hope that the creation itself in some way would obtain redemption when Christians receive the glory of God.

Peter’s future expectation in 2 Peter 3:7-13 is often held in tension with Paul’s in Romans 8:18-25. Peter envisioned a judgment of the present creation in fire leading to the dissolution of matter (2 Peter 3:7-10, 12). And yet Peter declared that Christians await a “new heavens” and a “new earth” in which righteousness dwells based on the promises of God (cf. Isaiah 65:17-25, 66:15-24, Revelation 21:1-22:6). The sum of God’s Word is truth (Psalm 119:160); while it may be that we do well to understand Romans 8:18-25 in terms of 2 Peter 3:7-13, we must at least remain open to the possibility that we are to understand 2 Peter 3:7-13, to some degree or another, in terms of Romans 8:18-25. Peter never suggested that the purification by fire means the end of the created order for eternity; on what basis should we believe that God will ultimately fully give up on and abandon His creation?

The most complete picture of life in the resurrection, even if given in a figure, can be found in Revelation 21:1-22:6. After Satan is cast into the lake of fire and the day of judgment has transpired (cf. Revelation 20:7-15), John saw a new heavens and a new earth, for the former had passed away (Revelation 21:1). In this picture of the new heavens and the new earth he saw the heavenly city, new Jerusalem prepared as a bride, coming down out of heaven (Revelation 21:2). John heard a voice declaring that the dwelling place (tabernacle) of God is with man; they will be His people, and He will be their God; there would be no more crying, pain, or distress (Revelation 21:3-4). John was then granted a more detailed vision of the bride, the wife of the Lamb, the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven (Revelation 21:9-10). John saw it given the glory of God, described in terms of bejeweled walls and foundations and golden streets (Revelation 21:11-21). He saw no temple in it, nor source of light, for God and the Lamb are in its midst, and His glory gives it light (Revelation 21:22-23). John was then shown the river of the water of life with the tree of life on either side of it (Revelation 22:1-2). In that place the servants of God worship Him and dwell with Him face to face (Revelation 22:3-6).

The visions granted to John are symbolic and metaphorical and yet cohere well with the picture seen in the rest of the New Testament. We are given no indication God is giving up on His creation: according to Paul, sin and death have led to the corruption and decay of the creation, and once those are fully defeated, the creation can be redeemed from its curse (Romans 5:12-21, 8:17-25). Even if the present creation is purified as through fire, refined and then made anew, the goal is never elimination and separation from the creation. The people of God, seen in glory in terms of a bejeweled city, come down from heaven; God dwells with man, not the other way around (Revelation 21:1-10, 22-23). The end is as the beginning: humans dwell in face-to-face communion with God, in the presence of the tree of life and the river of the water of life (Genesis 2:4-24, Revelation 22:1-5). Those who have done good and have obtained the resurrection of life will experience eternity in the resurrection body, transformed for imperishability, incorruption, and immortality, and will receive the full glory of God, to worship Him and bask in His presence forever in the new heavens and the new earth.

Humans are made in God’s image; God desires to maintain relationship with mankind. We see this manifest in the picture of the end: the redeemed are made perfect, given immortality and imperishability in the resurrection body, and are portrayed as remaining in the presence of God for eternity. We are looking for that new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. We look forward to maintaining face-to-face communion with God, to know as we are known. In the end we return to the beginning. We do well to live accordingly, seeking to glorify God in our lives, ever more conforming to the image of the Son, and thus obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Q&A: The Covering

Q: Why would a woman wear an artificial head covering in the assemblies of Christians?

A: The practice is based in Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16:

Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you. But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonoreth her head; for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven. For if a woman is not veiled, let her also be shorn: but if it is a shame to a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be veiled. For a man indeed ought not to have his head veiled, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man: for neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man: for this cause ought the woman to have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, neither is the woman without the man, nor the man without the woman, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, so is the man also by the woman; but all things are of God. Judge ye in yourselves: is it seemly that a woman pray unto God unveiled? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. But if any man seemeth to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

We do well to explore this passage in terms of Paul’s argument structure. Paul began by commending the Corinthian Christians for holding fast to the apostolic traditions as he delivered them (1 Corinthians 11:2). He established the divine hierarchy: the head of Christ is God, the head of man is Christ, the head of woman is man (or possibly wife is husband; 1 Corinthians 11:3). He then introduced the explicit instruction: when praying or prophesying men are to maintain uncovered heads, while women ought to have their heads covered (Greek akatakalupto; 1 Corinthians 11:4-5). The woman who prays or prophesies without her head covered dishonors her head, as if she were shaven; if she would not cover, she should cut off her hair; but since it remains shameful for her to have short hair, let her be covered (1 Corinthians 11:5-6; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:15). Having set forth the expected practice, he began defending the practice with his primary argument rooted in the creation: a man is not to be covered because he is the glory of God, yet woman is the glory of man, since woman was created from man and woman was created for man, not man for the woman (1 Corinthians 11:7-9; cf. Genesis 2:18-25). Paul gave the angels as the reason why women needed a covering, as a sign of authority, on her head (1 Corinthians 11:10): perhaps lest the angels lust after the “daughters of men” again as in the antediluvian days (Genesis 6:1-4), or to see that the people of God understand their relative standing and give angels no reason to rebel. Lest he be accused of not properly honoring woman’s station in life Paul then reassured the Corinthians that men and women are not without each other in the Lord and that all men are born of women, but all are from God (1 Corinthians 11:11-12). He then asked a rhetorical question, asking the Corinthian Christians to judge for themselves whether it is appropriate for women to pray or prophesy with head uncovered (1 Corinthians 11:13). Paul continued with his secondary argument from physis, nature or reality: “nature” teaches that it is shameful for men to have long hair, but long hair is the glory of women, for it is given to her for a covering (Greek peribolaiou; 1 Corinthians 11:14-15). Paul concluded his discussion of the matter by declaring that if any would be contentious, they have no such custom, neither do the churches of God (1 Corinthians 11:16).

Unfortunately, ever since, the passage and the practice have proven very contentious. Some details do seem a bit obscure: why does Paul never explicitly identify a covering? Why not just have women be shorn? Why does his reasoning involve the angels? Why would he make any argument, even if secondary, based on “nature” or “reality,” especially since among many cultures it is not shameful for men to have long hair? Why is the covering mentioned only in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and nowhere else? These questions are understandable, valid, and impossible to answer without additional revelation from God.

As Christians we do well to believe that God has equipped the man of God for every good work through what He has revealed in Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-17); our goal is to make the best sense of what God has made known and ground ourselves in what we can explicitly demonstrate is true and faithful from its pages. There are practices which are right and cannot be wrong based on convictions about what Scripture says is true. In all matters of faith each must be fully convinced in his or her own mind; what is not of faith is of sin, but we must be careful lest we are condemned in what we approve (Romans 14:5, 21-23). In terms of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, we hazard that we do best to fulfill the passage as written, that such is right and cannot be wrong if a woman covers her head when praying and a man maintain an uncovered head.

Other conclusions have been offered. Some believe that Paul overthrows all of 1 Corinthians 11:4-15 by what he says in 1 Corinthians 11:16, believing that the “custom” is the covering itself. There is no other passage in Scripture which exists and then is entirely overthrown by its conclusion; why make the argument as is if it is ultimately meaningless? We do better to understand that contentiousness is not the custom of Paul or the churches of God: it is one of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21, and thus such an interpretation is consistent with the rest of what God has made known in Scripture. Others believe that the long hair in 1 Corinthians 11:15 is the covering. As noted above, the Greek words for “uncovered” and “covered” in 1 Corinthians 11:4-13 are not the same as the term used in 1 Corinthians 11:16; the former truly mean cover (or veil)/uncovered (or unveiled), while the latter carries a connotation of something thrown around a person, a mantle; the verbal form of the term is used to describe Solomon “arrayed” in clothing in Matthew 6:29. 1 Corinthians 11:15 is best understood to explain that a woman’s long hair is given to her as a mantle, especially since women tended to wear only the tunic without the toga/cloak that the man would generally also wear. If long hair were the covering, it seems odd to restrict the covering to two practices (praying or prophesying); Paul’s determination that a woman who does not wear a covering is as if shorn is also very odd; and would it demand that a man who would be uncovered must shave his head bald to be so?

Some wonder if “men” and “women” are better translated “husbands” and “wives.” This is not a new dispute; Tertullian, ca. 200 CE, wrote about it in his treatise On the Veiling of Virgins. Christians in his day are making the same argument; he does well in asking if it means that unmarried men should be covered, among other objections. If nothing else, Tertullian’s treatise demonstrates that whereas there were disagreements in belief as to whether all women or just wives were to be covered, all agreed that what Paul declared to the Corinthian Christians 150 years earlier still demanded respect and satisfaction among Christians in North Africa and elsewhere.

Many more accept the text as written yet believe that it was a cultural custom or only based in the exercise of spiritual gifts. We do well to note that Paul does not say “praying and prophesying,” but “praying or prophesying” (Greek he, not kai; 1 Corinthians 11:4-5). We no longer prophesy, but we still do pray (1 Corinthians 13:8-10, 1 Thessalonians 5:16); Christian women may not lead prayer in mixed groups or the assembly, but they still participate in the collective prayer (1 Corinthians 14:14-17, 33-35, 1 Timothy 2:9-15). As to cultural custom, such a position has been frequently advanced but not historically substantiated. It is one thing to claim it was a cultural practice, but where is the evidence that it is uniquely cultural for all women to be covered in prayer while men are not in Corinth in the first century? For that matter, if it were merely cultural, why do Tertullian and other early Christians continue to insist on its practice 150 years later? Why did it remain a practice among Christians for a very long time, likely even influencing current Jewish and Muslim practice? And, above all things, why does Paul ground his argument in the order of creation if it is merely a cultural phenomenon, the same ground on which he will argue about gender roles in the church in every other situation (1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 14:33-35, 1 Timothy 2:9-15)? Those who would be in opposition regarding women in leadership in the congregation are not unjust in pointing out the inconsistency to claim the cultural argument in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 while denying it in terms of 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15.

In the end, let everyone be fully convinced in their own minds; each will stand before God on the judgment day in terms of their decision about the proper interpretation and application of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Nevertheless, the above is offered to demonstrate that a woman is not sin by wearing an artificial covering while praying, and does so in order to take seriously and fulfill Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

Ethan R. Longhenry

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Thanks!

Church

The Vine

For a lot of people, “church” evokes unpleasant experiences. We have all seen many examples of churches and their leaders not acting like they should. Maybe you grew up in a church and found it to be boring and/or irrelevant to the things you were going through in life. Perhaps you visited a church service that featured some great performances but you walked away feeling just as empty as you did before.

In a lot of places, “church” focuses on a building, the Sunday services, and maybe a Bible study or two, and that is about it. It’s like a social club: people come together, wearing nice clothes, acting like they have everything together, no matter how broken things really are on the inside. They sit for the standard rituals, exchange platitudes, and then continue on with life as normal. It all seems so fake and contrived! Little wonder, then, that so many people are no longer identifying themselves as part of a church. People still like Jesus; far fewer like the church!

Why would anyone want to be a part of such a group? Is such a group what Jesus had in mind as the church that He said He would build (Matthew 16:18)? What is the point?

It is sad that the condition of many churches has come to this, for it was never God’s intention for churches to act like social clubs. Instead, God intended for the church to be one of the greatest blessings in our lives!

In the New Testament, the “church” never refers to a building or a denominational organization. The “church” always involves the people who believe in Jesus and seek to serve Him (cf. Acts 2:42-47, Ephesians 4:11-16, 5:22-33). While all obedient believers are considered the one church (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, Revelation 21), the believers in a local area would meet together and represent the church in that area (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1). Whenever possible, those local churches would be guided by qualified men who served as elders (Philippians 1:1, 1 Peter 5:1-4), yet in all things, Jesus was considered the real authority in the churches (Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 5:22-33). In the New Testament, there was the “universal” church, and local congregations of God’s people; there were no organizational structures in between!

God declares in Scripture what the church is supposed to be all about through three images: the church as a Temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 1 Peter 2:4-5), the church as a body (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28), and the church as a family (1 Timothy 3:15).

The image of the church as a Temple shows us that God is interested in people becoming more holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). The Temple is the location where the presence of God dwells; it is not in a building anymore, but within and among Christians. Christians, individually and together, are to reflect God’s thoughts, feelings, and actions, both in doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong, based in what God has revealed to us through Christ and His Apostles (cf. Galatians 5:17-24, Ephesians 2:20-22).

The image of the church as a body shows us how God expects the church to function. As a human body has many different parts that work independently and together, so the church is made up of people who work independently and together. As a human body is governed by the dictates of the mind, so the church is governed by what Christ its Head has said. As a body is made up of different parts, some public, some private, having different functions, yet all important and necessary for proper functioning, so the church is made up of different people who serve the Lord, some in more public ways, others in more private ways, and they all are important and valuable in God’s sight. And just as body parts compensate for one another in times of weakness, so Christians are to strengthen each other in moments of weakness (cf. Galatians 6:1-2).

The image of the church as a family underscores the strong relationship that should exist among God’s people. God is understood to be our Father (cf. Romans 8:15), and Jesus as our older Brother (Hebrews 2:11, 17). We are to appreciate and value our fellow Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ (cf. 1 Timothy 5:1-2, 1 John 3:14). As people are supposed to find warmth, acceptance, and love within a properly functioning family, so the church should be the place where all who seek to serve the Lord find warmth, acceptance, and love (cf. Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 John 1:7).

All of these images point to what God expects the church to be, powerfully displayed in Ephesians 4:11-16: a group of people who share in relationships with God and one another, loving and strengthening one another according to the message of God in Christ, learning how to serve God and all men through Christ, and all so that the church can grow in the glory of God. A lot of that work is done when Christians come together on Sundays to strengthen one another through praying together, singing together, giving together, taking the Lord’s Supper together, and learning more about God’s message together through preaching and teaching (cf. Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 11:23-26, 14:16-17, 26, 16:1-4). Yet just as Christianity is much more than what is done on Sunday morning, so also the church is more than just its assemblies: we show hospitality to one another, finding ways to get to know one another so that we can bear one another’s burdens, give to each other as needed, and strive to be a constant source of strength in each other’s lives (Romans 12:10-13, Galatians 6:2, 1 Peter 4:9).

We, the members of the Venice church of Christ, believe that the church as God wants it to function has an important part to play in the role in the lives of every believer. We are not perfect people and we do not claim to have everything figured out, yet we still seek to reflect God’s intentions for His church, to be the Temple, body, and family that honors God by strengthening one another. We welcome you to learn more about our family and hope that you will consider joining us so that we can strengthen you and build you up in your faith! If you would like to talk more about the church and how to become a part of it, please call us at 310.351.1199 or contact us here; we also invite you to visit with us at our assemblies and Bible studies. Thanks for reading this material, and we hope to hear from you soon!

The Vine

The Vine is designed to strengthen and build you up spiritually, giving you something to think about and apply to your life and your relationship with God and others. It is a publication of the Venice church of Christ, published monthly while school is in session.