The Center

When we think of the word center we think middle or mean. In politics, the center is the middle point between radicals on the left and right; we call them moderates. When we think of an object such as an apple, the center is the core or middle, the part of the apple that contains the seeds. In religion, however, the center involves religious dogma or teaching. It is that teaching that most influences the whole of the religion. What ought we to put at the center of our theology? The answer to such a question would surely influence how we, as believers, behave.

Some have suggested that we put grace at the center of our theology. Grace is God’s unmerited favor toward man. God has demonstrated this favor in sending His Son, Jesus, to the earth for the purpose of dying on the cross for the sins of man. Through Jesus sacrifice, God made it possible for man’s sins to be forgiven. There’s no doubt that grace is a very important part of theology, but is it the center? Ephesians 2:5 says that we are saved by grace through faith which puts faith in an equal position with grace. So, grace, by itself, can’t be the center of our theology.

Some have suggested that we put the Bible at the center of our theology. The Bible is definitely important. Without it we would have no knowledge about God, salvation, Jesus, faith, and just about any other subject in the Christian religion; after all, faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). However, the Bible is a tool for learning. It, in and of itself, isn’t the object or center of our theology. The Bible (God’s word) points back toward the giver of that word, God Himself.

Some have suggested that we put Jesus at the center of our theology. Certainly this comes closer in our efforts to define what is at the center of our theology. Jesus is our Savior; He is our King; He is our Lord. He is the one to whom we give allegiance as Christians and there’s no doubt that He ought to be constantly in our thinking. However, even Jesus acknowledged that He was here to do the Father’s will. Jesus said, I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. (John 5:30). Jesus certainly comes closer than any particular doctrine or teaching and He points the way to what is at the center or heart of our theology (John 1:17).

So what ought to be the center of our theology? I would suggest that the word theology answers that question itself. God, with all of His attributes, is the center of our theology. Grace comes from God; faith comes from God; obedience comes from God as exemplified in the life of Jesus; the Bible comes from God as it is inspired by the Holy Spirit; love comes from God for God is love. Simply taking one aspect of God and putting it at the center of our theology really misses the point. God is at the center and His characteristics the subject of theology. The more we learn about God, the more we will be able to imitate His attributes and be like Him. Ephesians 5:1 says, Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children.

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Practical Principles for Unity

Paul exhorted the church at Ephesus to walk worthy of their calling, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. An endeavor is an exerted effort undertaken to reach a desired result. In the case that Paul sets forth, maintaining unity is that effort that we undertake that requires exertion! Unity doesn’t just happen; we must work at it in order to have it, and it is worth having. Our efforts unity must not compromise doctrinal truth, but be based upon it. Hence, we have the seven great ones of Ephesians 4:4-6. In such matters we cannot compromise truth for unity. However, in matters upon which one’s salvation doesn’t hinge, there are some principles for maintaining harmonious unity among the brethren. Let’s discuss a few of these things.

First, there is always the safe thing to do. Let’s suppose that we are discussing a doctrinal issue and there are two equally possible ways to understand a scripture. Take for example the qualification of elders to be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2). It is clear that a man that has never been married would not meet this qualification. It is also clear that a woman would not meet this qualification. However, what about the man whose spouse has died and he now has a second wife? Some say that he is qualified. Some say that the qualification means one wife for life. How ought we to resolve the matter? We ought to be willing to go with what we know can’t be wrong. In this case, a person who has only had one wife his entire life no doubt meets this qualification. The path of unity, then, is clear. We choose the path that has no doubts and cannot be wrong.

Second, we do not necessarily need to insist upon our way of things even if we know we are right. There is a principle in scripture that Paul sets down in 1 Corinthians 6:7 that sometimes we ought to accept being wrong in order to maintain unity in the body. The example that Paul uses is a brother taking another brother to court. There may definitely be someone in the right and someone who is wrong in such a situation. However, Paul teaches that it would be better to be defrauded than to engage in such shameful behavior. This principle can be applied to other situations as well. Unity trumps our right to be right in such matters. Sometimes it is better to suffer wrong than to demand satisfaction.

Third, we need to exercise plenty of patience with those who are in error on matters that would not be the source of division (James 5:10). There are some sins that individuals commit that don’t threaten the unity of the church and there are some that do. In those sins that don’t threaten our unity, we need to be patient and allow people to grow. Every Christian has an obligation to grow (2 Peter 3:18) and the fact of the matter is that we don’t learn everything about being a Christian all at once. Moreover, some learn through teaching and others through personal experience. Each of these avenues requires patience in those who are spiritually mature to allow the learning Christian to absorb the material as well as apply practical experience to the information. Patience goes a long way toward unity.

These certainly aren’t the only practical principles for unity, but a generous application of each of these principles in our lives will help us to be united. Of course, in all of our Christian life we need to coat everything with a strong layer of love. Love goes a long way toward resolving differences before they get started. Love doesn’t solve everything, but we are definitely worse off without it than with it. So on top of everything else, we need to maintain an attitude of love toward one another. With love as our attitude and a willingness to practice patience, suffer wrong, and choose the safe path, along with our efforts to base unity on truth, we can maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.

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Will There Be Instrumental Music In Heaven?

Revelation 5:8 and other passages in the book of Revelation talk about there being harps in heaven. If there are instruments of music in heaven, why can we not use them here on the earth in worship to God?

Frequently those who defend the use of instrumental music in the worship of the church appeal to the book of Revelation for justification of their worship practices. The following passages are cited and the instrument devotee will then say, See, there are instruments used in worship to God in heaven. Therefore, one may use instruments in worship to God on earth. The passages are:

Revelation 5:8 And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.

Revelation 14:2 And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps:

Revelation 15:2 And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.

The argument stated in classical form would be as follows:

Major Premise: Anything that is permitted in worship in heaven is permitted in worship on earth in the church.

Minor Premise: Instruments of music are permitted in worship in heaven.

Conclusion: Instruments of music are permitted in worship on earth in the church.

The first thing that ought to be noted is that the major premise of the argument itself is flawed. The major premise of the argument is that anything that is permitted in worship in heaven is permitted in worship on earth. We ought to note that in the same context of Revelation 5:8 John speaks of golden vials full of incense. Are we thus allowed to burn incense in worship to God? According to the argument set forth by those who believe in instrumental music, we are. But where, other than in the highly symbolic book of Revelation, do we find in the New Testament the church offering incense in worship to God? We do not. There is simply no authority for it.

The second thing that ought to be noted is that the minor premise of the argument is flawed. The idea that instruments of music are permitted in worship in heaven is suspect because of the highly figurative context of the book of Revelation. In fact, in Revelation 5:8 John explains that the golden vials full of incense are in fact symbolic of the prayers of the saints. Why would instruments of music not by symbolic of the songs of the saints and not the literal instrument itself. Given the context, that ought to be the conclusion one should draw. In addition, it ought to be questioned whether or not these allegedly literal harps are literally in heaven as physical things. Heaven is a spiritual place (1 Corinthians 15:42-50), not a physical one and we know that all material things on the earth are going to be burned up at the end of time (2 Peter 3:10), but those who argue for the instrument must say, They will all be burned up, EXCEPT for instruments of music! They will be preserved so that we may worship with them in heaven! The very idea that in heaven, a spiritual place, we will be reduced to worshipping God with physical harps of wood and string is contradictory to everything the Bible teaches about the spiritual nature of heaven (see 2 Corinthians 4:18 and 2 Corinthians 5:1).

Finally, it is often overlooked by those arguing that in Revelation 14:2 John doesn’t hear harpers, he hears the sound of harpers. The ASV translates the verse as follows: And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and the voice which I heard was as the voice of harpers harping with their harps: The ESV translates it like this: And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps.” This passage gives no support to the USE of instruments of music in worship whatsoever. The Greek clearly includes the word hWS, which means that the description of harpers harping with their harps is a simile to describe the sound that John heard. Just as the sound he heard was AS the voice of many waters and was AS the voice of great thunder, so also it was AS the voice of harpers harping with their harps. The figure of the water emphasizes the unity of what John heard; the figure of the thunder emphasizes the volume of what John heard, and the figure of the harps emphasizes the beauty of what John heard. But the fact of the matter is that what John heard was singing! That is what verse 3 tells us plainly; and they sing as it were a new song before the throne. Those who argue for the use of instruments of music in the worship of the church based upon these passages do nothing but show their biblical ignorance of God’s word. The book of Revelation is stated at the outset to be a book of things that were put in signs, or signified (Revelation 1:1). To use such signs literally completely ignores the context of the book.

The real question that needs to be answered from those who defend the instrument is where, in the New Testament, is it authorized? There is not one single passage of New Testament scripture that authorizes the use of mechanical instruments of music in the worship of the church, and that is the bottom line.

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