Are Singing and Instruments Permitted in Christian Worship?

“David Playing the Harp” by Jan de Bray, circa 1670

There are some people who say that we should not use musical instruments in church, should not sing, or should at least not sing anything other than the Psalms. They base this upon the regulatory principle of worship, which states that God should only be worshiped in the ways He has laid out in scripture. Well, does scripture have anything to say about this? Continue reading

What I Learned about Scripture from Gardening

Bees hanging out on a zucchini flower

Three years ago, my husband and I moved from our urban setting near Washington, D.C. to a decidedly suburban environment in Ohio. This brought about a number of changes in our lives, not the least of which was that we were able to rent a house rather than an apartment, property being far less expensive in Dayton, Ohio than it is in Arlington, Virginia. With the house came both a front and back yard, and for the first time in my life, I began to think about gardening.

Although I did not grow up in a large city, I was pretty far removed from an agricultural mentality. My mother had always been a wonderful gardener, but I rarely helped her growing up, and she can attest to my decided lack of interest. I was much happier indoors reading a book. Yet, renting a house forced me to think about how that house looked, for no one wants to be the eyesore of the neighborhood. With some extra time on my hands, I decided to start growing a few plants for food in addition to all those flowers and shrubs. My aspiration was no greater than having some fresh basil to put on my pizza. Continue reading

“I Do Not Allow a Woman to Teach”

“The Creation of Eve” by William Blake, circa 1803-05

The Honorable Joseph Turner, youth pastor extraordinaire and reader of this blog, has asked me if I intend to write about women in the church. Well, as a woman in the church myself, one might argue that anything I write at least touches on that subject, but as luck would have it, I was intending to address the topic as the climax of my series of essays on 1 Timothy. The trouble is, I have been attempting to make these posts short, and what I am about to discuss does not lend itself to brevity. The passage is among the most controversial in scripture.

A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.

1 Timothy 2:11-15

I well remember the day that I led a discussion on this passage with a women’s Bible study. The ladies ranged in age from about 25-35, came from various walks of life, and had a basic knowledge of scripture but not a deep, academic sort of understanding. They had evidently not read the verses ahead of time. I spoke the words out loud, then looked up from my Bible to see horrified faces staring back at me. It was as if I had just killed their pet dog. Continue reading

Exploring 1 Timothy – Common Confession

This 13th century illuminated manuscript from Somme le Roy, in the collection of the British Library, depicts the apostles writing the Apostle’s Creed.

What does it mean to confess something? There are two possible answers. Either you are 1) admitting that you did something wrong, or 2) stating that you believe something. Scripture has a lot to say about both subjects, but in the book of 1 Timothy, it is that second definition that is particularly on Paul’s mind. Continue reading

Exploring 1 Timothy – Above Reproach

Statue of Paul outside St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Photo by Wikipedia user AngMoKio

When he was writing to Timothy, the Apostle Paul made a point of emphasizing the requirements for becoming an overseer – that is, a pastor or elder.

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

1 Timothy 3:1-7

Paul lists a number of characteristics that every pastor should have. Rather than discussing every one of them, I would like to focus on the phrase that seems to encapsulate them all: “above reproach”. Not only is this the first requirement Paul mentions, but the importance of every other thing on that list seems to revolve around its relation to the first thing. Clearly, the importance of personal testimony, moral character, and the like is foremost in Paul’s mind when it comes to pastors. Continue reading

Exploring 1 Timothy – The Invisible God

“The Conversion on the Way to Damascus” by Carvaggio, circa 1600. This was the moment when God became visible in more than one way to Saul/Paul.

At one point in his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul breaks into a kind of benediction: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.” (1:17) This is a great statement of praise, but what strikes me is the list of attributes he applies to God.

Eternal means He has no beginning or end – He is the creator of time and beyond time. Immortal means He Himself is not created, and He can never not be. But what exactly does it mean that our God is “invisible”? What is Paul getting at here? Continue reading

Exploring 1 Timothy – Sound Words

“Timothy and Lois” by Willem Drost, circa 1650s

In the coming days and weeks, I would like us to take a break from all of this political commentary and dig into a lovely little book of the Bible that has many practical applications for the Church today: 1 Timothy. I intend to bring you a series of essays, hopefully little more than 1,000 words each, that address some of the aspects of this letter that have left the greatest impression on me. Today, we start with the concept of “sound words”. Continue reading

Two Ways to Think about the Lord’s Supper

“The Last Supper” by Vicente Juan Masip, circa 1562

Friends, I would like to consider today the deeper meanings of that meal we call the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, for I feel that in many places, its importance has been rather downplayed. Over the course of my life, I have attended multiple churches, each of which did the Lord’s Supper in a slightly different way. The Baptists I grew up with held it four times a year and with a purely symbolic interpretation. Later on, I was among other Baptists who felt it was important enough to do twice a month. The Anglicans, of course, did it all the time and used real wine. I was fine with the alcohol, for if it was good enough for our Lord, it was good enough for me. The communal cup did give me the heebie jeebies, but I got over it.

My academic study brought me into contact with a broad array of interpretations of this thing that we call either an ordinance or a sacrament. This caused me to truly contemplate the nature of what was occurring when I participated in the Lord’s Supper, and it became to me much more sacred and monumental. Over the past year, while in the process of observing the Lord’s Supper, I have had two different thoughts about how we can view it, neither of which is particularly original. However, I think you are less likely to hear these mentioned on a Sunday morning, depending on what church you attend. I would like to suggest that we can view the Lord’s Supper in terms of two words: communion and covenant. Continue reading

Truth with a Capital ‘T’

Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City (author photo)

Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City (author photo)

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other articles at the bottom of this page.

When I finally had the chance to visit Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the largest and arguably most important church in the world, there were three things in particular that I wanted to do: 1) I wanted to gaze in wonder at Michelangelo’s Pietà. 2) I wanted to stand on the same red porphyry tile on which my distant ancestor Charlemagne was crowned as Holy Roman Emperor. 3) I wanted to pray for the reconciliation of the Church.

The basilica did not disappoint. We got there early enough in the morning that it was not yet packed with tourists, so the place was quite peaceful. I was unfortunately not able to get close to the Pietà as the chapel was blocked off, but I did see it from a distance. I confused my husband thoroughly by making him take my picture standing on the porphyry. I tried to explain in whispered tones the significance of this rare holdover from the Old Saint Peter’s Basilica, but in the end I suppose it was just a reddish piece of stone.

We had made our way through much of the sanctuary (no small task, especially when you are stopping constantly to take pictures) and were about to head down to the grottoes when I chose my moment to pray. I had many altars to pick from, but all featured relics or icons of some saint or another to which Catholic pilgrims were praying, and I would have felt somewhat of a fraud kneeling there. Therefore, I picked an obliging spot near the Altar of the Transfiguration – roughly halfway between the bones of Saint Peter and Saint Gregory – and squatted down to say my prayer. Continue reading

True Love

Flickr photo by Sam Caplat

Flickr photo by Sam Caplat

This is the eighth in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other articles at the bottom of this page.

Here’s a situation we have all found ourselves in at some point: an acquaintance says or does something with which you disagree. I don’t mean they say that Starbucks coffee is great and you think it’s overpriced, over-roasted sludge. I mean something important – something that gets your moral compass spinning. You like this person, or at the very least, you want them to like you. Instinctively, you know that telling them that you disagree will cause tension in the relationship. So do you inform them of your disagreement, do you say nothing and hope the subject will go away, or do you agree with them in order to make them happy?

Variations on this situation are playing out every day. The most popular response is probably to avoid responding to a person who disagrees with you. If they don’t force you to come out and make a decisive statement, why cause an unnecessary fight? If the issue isn’t that big of a deal, why make a mountain out of a mole hill? Continue reading