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The Church

  1. Which Church to join?
  2. What is a Spiritual Church?
  3. Which is the Bridal Church?
  4. Is it right to hold dual Church membership?
  5. Who can baptise converts?
  6. Liturgical worship or the freestyle?
  7. Can we dance in worship?
  8. Can believers break bread with unbelievers?
  9. Is footwashing an ordinance?
  10. Can we use titles like Reverend, Father, etc.?
  11. Should women cover their heads?
  12. Can women lift hands in worship?
  13. Can women preach?
  14. Where should the tithe go?
  15. What about mega-Churches?

1. Which Church to join?

You are already in the Church if you are born again. I mean the Universal Church which is the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit has baptized you or inducted you into Christ's Body (1 Cor 12:13). All believers are members of this Body (1 Cor 12:27).

But what is universal must be expressed locally. In the beginning of the Church age, which commenced at Pentecost, there was only one Church for each locality. We read of the Church at Corinth, the Church at Ephesus and so on. On the other hand, while speaking about provinces, we read of Churches in plural: Churches in Galatia, Churches in Asia and so on. But today the condition is quite different. There are several Churches even in one street. These are denominations or divided units. Because of this complex nature of the situation it is not possible to give an easy answer to this question. Let me however offer certain guidelines—

  • Our primary calling is to worship the Lord. Join a group of Christians who worship the Lord not ceremonially but in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:23,24).
  • It is written about the early believers that "they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine" (Acts 2:42). Choose an assembly where the Bible is believed to be the Word of God, faithfully preached and taught. If the pastor is a modernist or a liberal, you are signing your own death warrant if you join that Church.
  • The Church is a fellowship. It is a family (Psa 133). Become a member of a Church where the members freely relate to one another, share in joy and sorrow, exhort one another and help to grow (1 Jn 1:7; 1 Cor 12:26; Heb 3:13; Eph 4:15,16).
  • The Church exists for one purpose and that is to reach a lost world for Christ. Be a part of a local Church which keeps missionary evangelism as its priority number one (Mt 28:18-20).

Every local Church has its plus points and failures, and so don't go in search of a "perfect" Church. "Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things!" (2 Tim 2:7).

2. What is a Spiritual Church?

New believers are usually told in follow-up talks to attend a "spiritual" Church. What the preacher means and what the people understand may be quite different from each other. If the evangelistic programme is an united effort of various Churches, the preachers would be apprehensive of clearly explaining how to identify a "spiritual" Church. This delicate issue should however be addressed.

Churches can be broadly divided as Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal. The main difference is on how one understands the experience of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit. It is wrong to say that the Pentecostal Churches are all "spiritual" and others are not. In the Biblical sense, the word "spiritual" is the opposite of "carnal" or "natural." It is not the style of worship, the form of government, the mode of baptism or the method of breadbreaking that decides whether or not a Church is "spiritual." The deciding factor is its character as a group and the lifestyle of its members. The Corinthian Church was Pentecostal in every sense. It had all the gifts of the Holy Spirit in operation (1 Cor 1:7; 14:12a). But according to Apostle Paul it was not a "spiritual" Church but "carnal" (1 Cor 3:1-3).

If we honestly analyse today's situation, an unbiased assessment would be that no Church is 100% spiritual or 100% carnal. There is always a mixture of spirituality and carnality. The percentage of course varies. Some Pentecostal Churches are more carnal than non-Pentecostal Churches; and some non-Pentecostal Churches are more spiritual than Pentecostal Churches. I might upset some of my Pentecostal friends here, but truth must be faced (Gal 4:16). I have also observed that some of the so-called "spiritual" Churches have more unscriptural traditions than some of the so-called "traditional" Churches.

After rebirth one should choose a local Church where he can really "grow" into maturity. That's God's desire concerning each of His children. Ask the following questions before choosing a Church—

  1. Does it believe the Bible as the Word of God? Our growth depends on the intake of the "milk" of God's Word (1 Pet 2:2). Members of Churches where there's solid Bible teaching grow fast and strong. Though minor doctrinal differences may be tolerated, there can be no compromise on major issues (Eph 4:4-6). Go to a Church where the pastor makes you fall in love with the Bible and does not misuse the pulpit.
  2. Is true worship encouraged there? According to Jesus, "true" worship is what's offered in "spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23,24). Some Churches are rich in the "truth" content of their worship, whereas others are jubilant and enthusiastic in "spirit" while worshipping. There must be a balance (1 Cor 14:15).
  3. Is there real fellowship? There's no "fellowship" in many of our fellowships. People come to the services simply to be ministered unto and not to minister to one another. Singing "to the Lord" is there; but speaking "to one another" in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs is absent (Eph 5:19). There's nothing more than a formal greeting or a handshake. Smaller Churches seem to be stronger in this horizontal dimension than the larger congregations. Sharing material blessings with the needy was the most attractive feature of the early church (Acts 4:32,33). Christianity is charity! (Js 1:27).
  4. Do its leaders equip the believers for ministry? One cannot expect to grow in a Church where the pastor is the main actor and the members are simply an audience. Feeling of insecurity cripples many pastors and they would not trust others with responsibilities. The fivefold ministry in the Church is chiefly to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry" (Eph 4:11,12). In other words, the ministry of every minister is to make every believer a minister. Though ideal conditions may not exist, look for a Church where all the members function as "kings and priests" unto God (1 Pet 2:5,9). Also it is safe to be part of an assembly where there's shared leadership.
  5. Does it reach out to the lost? Dr. Oswald J. Smith (1890-1986), the founder pastor of the People's Church, Canada, used to say, "The Church that does not evangelize shall fossilize!" Make sure that the Church you choose keeps missions and evangelism its top priority. You will suffocate if you are in a Church which does not send out and support missionaries or if the pastor speaks against parachurch missionary organisations (Acts 13:1-3). Members should have the freedom to associate themselves with evangelistic agencies of their choice. The Church must not become a clutch.

There are several other characteristics one should look for in a spiritual church, but these five are the basic. Aim for the ideal but accept and work with the actual and optimize your expectations. Because no single local Church has it all, do visit other Churches for enlarging your vision and expanding your knowledge. One's strength will help the other in his weakness.

3. Which is the Bridal Church?

When a person is born again, he becomes a child of God (Jn 1:12), a citizen in the Kingdom (Col 1:13) and a member of the Body of Christ (1 Cor 11:12,13). His name gets registered in Heaven (Heb 12:23). God is his Father, and Jesus is his Elder Brother (Heb 2:10-13). This company of the redeemed of the Lord is called the Church (Acts 2:47; Heb 12:22-24). All the members in it have an equal standing.

To illustrate the mystical union with Christ today, the Church is called His Body (1 Cor 12:27; Eph 5:30,32). To explain her literal and eternal union with the Lord tomorrow, she is pictured as His Bride (Rev 19:7; 21:2,9). Therefore the Bridal Church can be defined as the congregation of God's people who are preparing themselves for the marriage of the Lamb.

No single Church or denomination can exclusively claim to be the Bride. Members of the Bridal Church are found in all the Churches and denominations all over the world. They are not only in the Ephesian Church but also the Corinthian Church (2 Cor 11:2). Christ loves everyone of them. He is sanctifying and cleansing them that "He might present the Church to Himself... not having spot or wrinkle" (Eph 5:25-27).

There are some who divide believers into two groups as "guests" for the marriage and the "bride." This is a sheer misunderstanding of the figurative language of the Scriptures. Guests invited to the marriage of the Lamb are not just friends. They are the very Bride. Jesus Himself called His disciples as the "friends of the bridegroom" (Mt 9:15). Did He mean they would simply attend the marriage of the Lamb and not be married to Him?! Saints are called the living stones of the Household of God (1 Pet 2:5). Does it then mean they would not be the Bride but just be the house where the Bride and Groom would stay?!

Beware of any group or Church which excludes other believers and which claims superiority. Its doctrines may appear to be of a deeper revelation but they will actually paralyse God's people from fulfilling His purposes on earth.

4. Is it right to hold dual Church membership?

When the Church lost its "first love," it had a form of godliness but no power. The backslidden Church went into total apostasy and that was the "dark ages" of its history. Lest the Church would have become like Sodom and Gomorrah, the Lord had left a "very small remnant" of true believers (Isa 1:8,9). The Reformation of the 15th century set the stage for the restoration of the lost truths and power to the Church. With Martin Luther (1483-1546) came the restoration of the truth of Justification by Faith. God used John Wesley (1703-1791), Charles Finney (1792-1875) and several others to restore the truths of Sancti-fication by the Spirit, and the Gifts of the Spirit. Refor-mation is not complete yet. As such no single Church or denomination has it all. Each has its strengths and weak-nesses. When Christians are not satisfied with one Church, they join the other. Some Churches are strong in structure but not fervent enough in Spirit, whereas others are aflame in the Spirit but weak in structure. Therefore several believers tend to hold dual membership, one in a well-structured Church and the other in a live spiritual one. Is it right?

It is difficult to find a direct Biblical answer to this question, because in the New Testament times there was only one Church in each town (1 Cor 1:2; 1 Thess 1:1; Rev 2:1,8,12, etc.). If it was a province like Galatia, there was more than one Church (Gal 1:2). Today even in a single street or locality we have so many Churches. We cannot say whether this is God's perfect will or simply His permissive will. As such an answer to our question cannot be dogmatic but has to be just pragmatic.

A good percentage of members in the Pentecostal and other free Churches is from mainline and orthodox Churches. Some of these Christians have left their "mother" Churches for good, whereas others would like to take advantage of the plus points of both the old and the new Churches. When children, because of their education in English medium, prefer English services to vernaculars, parents have to strike a compromise. Some Churches may be very spiritual but they don't have systematic and specialised ministries to children and youth. Young people would prefer an enthusiastic youth pastor who addresses their issues openly and practically. They will suffocate in a Church dominated by older people who resist change.

There's another situation where dual membership is thought about. Suppose a Pentecostal man goes on job transfer to a place where there is only a Baptist Church. As long as he is there, he must happily function as a member of that Church. Marriage is another factor. Should a bride be forced to give up her Methodist membership when she marries a Lutheran groom?

Some believers who join new Churches for their spiritual growth would like to retain their membership in the old Churches for the blessing of the members of the latter. Paul and the other apostles did not sever their links totally with the Jewish congregations, even though they started house Churches (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 13:14-16; 14:1; 17:1-3; 18:4). They worked in the existing structures to reach the masses. Once an angel himself told the apostles, "Go, stand in the Temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life" (Acts 5:19,20). On one occasion Paul even performed certain rites like purification in the Temple (Acts 21:26). He got Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3). He knew that circumcision had no place in Christian faith, but he acted with practical wisdom. To the Jew he became as a Jew. This he did "for the gospel's sake" so that he might "by all means save some" (1 Cor 9:19-23).

Under ideal conditions, believers should devote themselves to one local Church, and maintain cordial relationship with the members of other Churches. But in today's context, if there are legitimate reasons like the ones mentioned above, it is not wrong to hold dual membership if that's permissible. Single membership or dual membership does not affect or alter our position as members of "One Body" and as sheep under "One Shepherd" (1 Cor 12:12,13,20,27; 1 Pet 2:25; Heb 13:20,21; Jn 10:16). However, what I have written here should not be used as a cloak for indiscipline and unaccountability.

5. Who can baptise converts?

Anyone who is commissioned by the Lord to preach the gospel can baptise those who respond to the message (Mt 28:19; Mk 16:15,16).

Nowadays mostly the pastors baptise the converts. But in the Acts record we consistently observe that baptism was administered by evangelists and missionaries (apostles). Philip the evangelist baptised the Samaritan believers and the Ethiopian official (Acts 8). Lydia and her family were baptised by Paul or one of his missionary team members (Acts 16). The jailor and his family were baptised by missionaries Paul and Silas (Acts 16). And so on.

Ananias who baptised Paul is simply introduced as "a certain disciple" (Acts 9:10). When there's a special need and guidance, any Spirit-filled believer can baptise the gospel respondents. But under ordinary circumstances, it is advisable that a minister of the gospel administers baptism. It does not matter whether or not he is a fulltimer. There's however no record in the New Testament of a lady baptiser.

Anyone who thinks that those baptised by him belong to him is not worthy of this holy job. Apostle Paul didn't even remember whom all he baptised! (1 Cor 1:14-16). The Spirit of the Lord snatched away Evangelist Philip before he collected the official's address and the first offering! (Acts 8:39). Prominent ministers should resist the temptation to administer baptism themselves. When they let their associates do it, the emphasis goes to the act and that is important. What an example Jesus set! He let His disciples do the baptising (Jn 4:1,2).

Some Pentecostals in India insist on rebaptising those baptised by Brother Bakth Singh because he never spoke in tongues! Another group calls the baptism administered by married ministers invalid! A little sanctified common sense will expose the folly of these views. While baptising we just assist a believer in making a covenant of clear conscience with the Lord (1 Pet 3:21b).

6. Liturgical worship or the freestyle?

The highest form of Christian service is the worship of the Almighty. The chief end of all evangelistic labour and missionary endeavour is to raise worshipping congregations to the praise of God's glory (Rom 10:14; 15:9-11). In order to teach the new congregations how to make worship rich and regular, prayers of praise and thanksgiving were written down by Church leaders to be read out in worship services. But in course of time such readings became a meaningless routine and an empty ritual. This led Prophets like A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) to call worship as the "missing jewel of evangelical Christianity!" But in the recent years there is a worldwide outpouring of the spirit of praise and worship as a fresh breeze into an otherwise suffocating situation. Over-excited Christians in response have totally abandoned the old forms or the liturgical pattern of worship and adopted the freestyle. This has created a tension between the older people and the younger generation as well as between the mainline Churches and newer congregations. How to ease the situation?

It was under the anointing of the Holy Spirit that the Church leaders of the yesteryears wrote down prayers for public worship. It is the same Holy Spirit who has raised numerous worship leaders these days to lead congregations into rapturous worship. Maturity therefore demands that both are accepted as complementing each other rather than contradicting.

In His discourse with the Samaritan woman Jesus insisted how worship must be offered both "in spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:24). While writing down regulations for the operation of gifts in public, apostle Paul mentioned that praying and singing must be both "with the spirit and with the understanding" (1 Cor 14:15). Liturgical prayers are unquestionably rich in content whereas freestyle praise and worship often tends to be repetitive and of limited coverage of Biblical revelation. At the same time liturgical prayers limit the free expression of the worshipper's inner feelings. One needs the other. Each group must add a little bit from the other for a healthy balance. No form is superior or inferior to the other. As much as many who had been used to only liturgical worship find the new wave quite refreshing, several people grow tired of the sameness and leanness of the content of the freestyle of worship and begin to feel that "the old is better!" (Lk 5:39).

Physical posture in worship is another factor to be considered. Except standing, bowing and kneeling no other posture is generally encouraged in Churches which follow liturgical order. But the other expressions sanctioned in the Bible namely lifting up of hands (Psa 134:2; 1 Tim 2:8), clapping of hands (Psa 47:1) and dancing (Psa 149:3; 150:4) are freely practised in the other group. The first group must come out of its apprehensions if partiality to the Scripture is to be avoided. Of course culture has a role to play here. The Bible was written in the middle-eastern culture. No form of expression mentioned here seems to be totally objectionable to any culture. Emotionalism is unedifying but emotions are God-given to be expressed in our love for Him and our fellowmen (Mt 22:37-39).

Some of those who can intensely enjoy the singing of a thousand voice choir cannot tolerate the noisy worship of charismatics. They criticize it as disorderliness inappropriate for a divine service. Here again the Bible teaches both. Psalm 46 says, "Be still, and know that I am God" (v10), whereas the very next Psalm calls us to "shout to God with the voice of triumph" (Psa 47:1). Zechariah 2:10 calls us to "sing and rejoice" whereas the 13th verse exhorts all people to "be silent before the Lord!" I call upon Pentecostals to do things more "decently and in order" (1 Cor 14:40). I encourage non-Pentecostals to add more enthusiasm and excitement to worship to make it livelier. I remind sober worshippers that silence is rather rare in Heaven! (Rev 8:1). Pentecostals at the same time must stop condemning non-Pentecostal worship as dead. Noise alone is not proof of life. Don't take out of context the verse 2 Corinthians 3:17, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." The context is liberty from the Law of Moses (vv 14-16) and it does not mean license to behave as we please in God's presence. Reverential fear can never be forsaken in worship (Eccl 5:1,2; Heb 12:28,29).

A word about music: Oldtimers do not relish jarring music and fast beats. The feelings of elders must be respected to maintain harmony in congregations. At the same time, in order that we may not lose the younger and future generations, the elders must become more tolerant and not resist all change.

The old hymns have no par for their theological content (Eph 5:18,19; Col 3:16). They cover a huge variety of subjects whereas most of the modern choruses repeat just a few thoughts and are not doctrinally sound enough. I would urge composers to sit with Bible teachers before releasing their songs and choruses. Worship that lacks theology (= knowledge of God) is undesirable to God (Hos 6:3,6). Even in Heaven we will be using the ancient Song of Moses (Rev 15:3,4; Dt 32).

I come from high Anglican tradition, but I am comfortable with both Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal forms of worship as long as worship stems from the "heart" and is not merely the sound of "lips" or motion of "hands!" (Isa 29:13; 1:15).

7. Can we dance in worship?

Dancing is a rythmic movement of the body, usually done to musical accompaniment. Throughout past ages, dancing has been linked with worship. The Book of Psalms was the songbook of the people of Israel and it repeatedly called the worshippers to praise God with dance (Psa 149:3; 150:4).

Dancing is a celebration of victory. Led by Miriam, the Israelite women danced celebrating the victory of God's people over the armies of Pharaoh (Ex 15:19-21). Jephtha's daughter welcomed him with dance when he returned after victory over the people of Ammon (Judg 11:34). The women joyfully danced with singing when David was returning from the slaughter of the Philistines (1 Sam 18:6,7).

Dancing is an expression of joy and jubilance. But when the people of God backslided and went into apostasy, joy was cut off from the house of God. Jeremiah lamented, "Our dance has turned into mourning" (Lam 5:15,16; Joel 1:16). David cried, "Will You not revive us again that Your people may rejoice in You?" (Psa 85:6). He longed for the days when mourning would be turned to dancing (Psa 30:11).

David danced before God when the ark of God was being brought back to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6:12-15). It was a type of the restoration of God's glory in the Church (1 Sam 4:21). We are in the days of revival and restoration. It is therefore not a surprise that this way of worshipping God in the dance is being recovered today (Jer 31:11-13).

Just like singing, dancing can be organized or spontaneous. One is not superior to the other. The Jewish people developed their own type of dancing. The Western world has its own style. The Indian dance is known for its fine and artistic movements. Churches should encourage both solo and group dancing in their worship and witness. It is such a delightful and edifying experience to join the tribal believers in their dance to worship the Almighty.

The Salvation Army used to go on gospel processions in the streets with their highly organized musical band. All the Christian groups can organize such open-air processions with music, singing and dance to celebrate the victory of the Lord and show forth His praise (Psa 68:24,25). The Palm Sunday procession is a classic example (Mt 21:8-11). Such expressions of praise will be common-place in Heaven. Better practise them now! (Rev 7:9,10).

The Preacher wrote, "To everything there is a season... A time to mourn and a time to dance" (Eccl 3:1,4). Times of self-examination and repentance with tears usually result in joyful praise. Another prescription for spontaneous exuberance is soulwinning. The only place where the word "dance" is mentioned in a good sense in the New Testament is the story of the prodigal son (Lk 15:22-25). The angels in heaven also join this dance! (v10). Harvest dances are popular in rural India.

However, no congregation should be pressurised directly or indirectly into any particular form of worship. Each believer is free to choose whatever mode of expression he thinks is best to offer his praise and worship. The psychological make-up of each individual is different. God delights in variety. Unity is not uniformity. Women are generally more emotional than men. This may be one reason why most of the dances mentioned in the Old Testament were by women!

In a New Testament congregation where men and women worship together, any culturally unacceptable expression must be avoided and everything should be done "decently and in order!"

8. Can believers break bread with unbelievers?

Never! "What fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? What part has a believer with an unbeliever?" (2 Cor 6:14-16).

In the early Church, only those who received the Word and were baptised joined in the breaking of the bread (Acts 2:42,46). We read only of the "disciples" coming together to break bread (20:7).

The bread is the communion of the Body of Christ. Those who are not organs of the Body of Christ cannot partake of that bread (1 Cor 10:16,17). Only those who are born again or those who are baptised by the Spirit into the Body of Christ have a right to the Lord's Table. If those who have not become the Children of God by repentance and faith dare to participate in the Lord's Supper, those who are born again should not become part of it. We should not provoke the Lord to anger.

The Passover is a type of the Lord's Table. The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "This is the ordinance of the Passover: No outsider shall eat it. But every man's servant who is bought for money, when you have circumcised him, then he may eat it. A sojourner and a hired servant shall not eat it" (Ex 12:43-45). Today the circumcision is of the heart. Only those who have experienced the miracle of new creation can enjoy the new covenant meal.

If in your Church or assembly the bread and wine are served to those who are not born again, have a chat with the pastor and request him to stop it. If he refuses, you have no other go than to partake of the Lord's Supper in another assembly where only believers are served. There are levels in fellowship and therefore such an arrangement to agree with one's conviction should not be difficult.

9. Is footwashing an ordinance?

During the Passover supper with His disciples Jesus rose up from where He was sitting and started washing their feet one by one. After this beautiful symbolic act He told them, "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you" (Jn 13: 1-15). Some believers have taken these words of Jesus literally and insist on footwashing before breadbreaking. Whereas others see in this act only a servanthood principle taught by Christ from a cultural practice. Who is right?

In Egypt, Syria and Palestine people washed the dust from their feet when they entered a house (Gen 18:4). After a long journey in a warm climate, washing of feet with cold water before returning to bed was refreshing (Gen 19:2). It was also a sign of warm welcome (Gen 24:31,32; 43:23,24). The Lord Jesus mildly reproved Simon the Pharisee, in whose house He was a guest, for failing to give Him water for this purpose (Lk 7:44). Even today in certain tribal villages in India, missionaries are advised not to enter the village if no one comes out to meet them at the entrance of the village to pour water on their feet. In affluent homes of the Middle East, it is the duty of a servant to give water or wash the feet. But Jesus reversed the role to teach us how to "serve one another through love" (Jn 13:14; Gal 5:13b).

There are three criteria by which an ordinance is determined. It must have been (a) commanded by Christ (Gospels); (b) practiced by the early Church (Acts); and (c) explained by the apostles (Epistles). Thus only Baptism and the Lord's Supper are qualified as the ordinances of the Church. Of course there's nothing that prevents believers from washing one another's feet in a worship meetings or a breadbreaking services or any gathering. I love to do this whenever there's an opportunity. The staff of the Blessing Youth Mission used to wash one another's feet in their special gatherings and we found it extremely meaningful. But it cannot be insisted as an ordinance. Those who see only a spiritual lesson from the act of footwashing by Jesus but who never practice it literally are not wrong. Maturity grants liberty in such matters.

The New Testament admonishes us atleast five times to greet one another with a "holy kiss" (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26; 1 Pet 5:14). But we don't generally practise it in our Churches because this is not culturally acceptable in many parts of India. Footwashing is similar to kissing as an act of greeting and welcome (Lk 7:44,45). Let's not fight over cultural practices and lose the greater virtues of love and acceptance.

10. Can we use titles like Reverend, Father, etc.?

In the Old Testament there was a distinction between the members of the congregation and the ministers. Only the prophets, priests and kings were anointed. But under the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit comes on "all flesh"— that is, all the people of God— "sons, daughters, young men, old men, menservants, maidservants" (Acts 2:16-18). All believers in Christ are kings and priests to God now and in eternity (1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1:4-6). There are no two groups called clergy and laity. All of God's people are clergy. Each believer is a minister to God and people with varying responsibilities and various gifts.

Even before the New Covenant was actually established, Jesus spoke against the Jewish synagogue practice of using special titles and wearing special dresses (Mt 23:1-10). His twofold argument was: "One is your Father who is in heaven... You are all brothers." In any matter, the words of Christ are final and we dare not modify it.

The apostles followed Christ's teaching closely in the Church. We don't read of Rev. Paul or Rt. Rev. Peter or Father John in Acts or the Epistles. Peter addressed Paul simply as "Brother Paul" (2 Pet 3:15). One of the outstanding Indian apostles, Bakht Singh (1903-2000), never let anyone call him Rev. Bakht Singh. Pastor G. Sundaram of Chennai (1908-1989), one of the godly pastors of India, had his name printed anywhere as Brother G.Sundaram only. Once upon a time the Pentecostal pastors were making fun of the ministers of the mainline Churches for using clerical titles. But now they themselves are hunting for the same. What a shame! If we change anything it must be to get closer to the Scriptures and not another manmade tradition. Even the angel, who brought the Revelation to John, introduced himself as a "brother" (Rev 19:10; 22:9).

The introduction of clerical titles was made in latter years when the Church went drifting away from the simple New Testament Church pattern to hierarchial systems. The great Protestant Reformation was not a total restoration of the New Testament Christianity. In fact the reformation is not complete yet. Every step of restoration is both costly and painful. But that is the call of the Head of the Church: "Remember from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else..." (Rev 2:5).

The act of ordination is only for appointing a person for a specific function and not for awarding any "title" (Acts 13:2,3; Tit 1:5). For example, Paul and Barnabas, who were "prophets and teachers" in the local Church at Antioch, came to be known as "apostles" after they were ordained and released for a translocal ministry (Acts 13:1; 14:14). We can say Apostle Paul, Evangelist Philip or Pastor Timothy, because these are ministerial or functional titles with Biblical approval. But not Reverend or Father. "Holy and Reverend is HIS Name!" (Psa 111:9).

The present craze among Indian preachers is for honorary Doctorates. Titles don't make one great. Some of these doctorates are two a penny these days. I thank the Hindustan Bible Institute, Chennai, for honouring me in 2000 with a Doctorate in Divinity as an acknowledgement of my contribution to the Body of Christ. Some people now call me as Dr. Stanley but I prefer to ever be addressed as Brother Stanley.

One may argue that there were many great men mightily used of God in Church history who had used clerical titles. This is no reason for continuing the practices of the "times of ignorance." God's tolerance does not mean His sanction. The earlier we discard the old wineskins, the more we can enjoy the new wine!

11. Should women cover their heads?

A major portion of Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians deals with problems which existed in their Church. He gives his "frank answers" to more than ten of their questions. God in His Sovereign wisdom has included this Epistle in the canon of the Scriptures because the issues dealt with by the apostle are timeless. The first half of the eleventh chapter of the Epistle discusses the matter of head covering. I urge you to go through verses 1 to 16 atleast thrice without prejudice before reading the comments below.

"Women's hair was a common object of lust in antiquity. To fail to cover their hair was thought to provoke male lust. Headcovering prevailed in Jewish Palestine and elsewhere, but upper-class women eager to show off their fashionable hairstyles did not practise it. Therefore Paul had to address a clash in the Church between upper-class fashion and lower-class concern" (The IVP Bible Background Commentary).

It is beyond doubt that the apostle took a positive stand in favour of headcovering. He gave atleast four reasons for his conclusion. First, the headship of God, of Christ and of man (1 Cor 11:3-8). Secondly, he presents God's purpose of creation of man and woman (v 9). Thirdly, he speaks of the angels who observe our worship and are concerned about God's order of administration in the Church (v 10). Remember, the archangel who rebelled against God's headship became Satan? Lastly, Paul reminds us of "nature" (v15). This verse implies that for a woman to have a headcovering in addition to her long hair is to say amen to the divine ordination.

It is unwise to totally set aside the matter of headcovering as merely cultural. Such an approach will ultimately discard so many precious New Testament passages as irrelevant. For example, the Lord's Supper, which is discussed in the second half of the same chapter, is essentially symbolic and it was also instituted in the Jewish cultural context! We must guard ourselves against losing the power of symbolism in Christian life.

Modern hairstyles and dress fashions are erasing the sex distinctions. Keeping the apostolic "traditions" will save us from a cataclysmic collapse (v 2). Anyone who understands the trend of the age with the mind of the Lord will only urge for a conservative conduct in the House of God where men and women gather for worship (Jer 6:16; 1 Tim 3:14,15).

Moreover, covering of head by women in the Church generally offends no one whereas if they don't cover, it does offend atleast some. What do we lose by embracing an ancient symbolic custom upheld by the apostles? Eighty percent of Indian population is rural and this is the most unevangelised sector. Headcovering by women in villages as a mark of respect and reverence is deep-rooted in culture. Let's preserve it while planting Churches here.

There are many sincere believers who hold an exactly opposite view in this matter of headcovering. The conclusion of Paul to his argument will help us maintain a spiritual unity in spite of such differences: "If anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the Churches of God" (v16).

12. Can women lift hands in worship?

Apostle Paul, while writing to Timothy instructions on how men and women should conduct themselves in the Church, said, "I desire that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" (1 Tim 2:8). In the very next verse he exhorted women to dress modestly and concentrate on inner virtues rather than on outward appearance (v 9). This has given rise to the question whether women can lift hands like men in worship.

The passage does not suggest that Paul would not allow women folks lift hands in worship. In fact the 9th verse begins with the phrase, "in like manner also!" He did not begin his exhortation to women with the conjunction, "but!" Paul's intention here was not to say that lifting up of hands was allowed for men only.

Lifting up of hands for praise and prayer was normal in Hebrew practice. Moses told Pharaoh, "I will spread out my hands to the Lord" (Ex 9:29). David prayed, "Let my prayer be set before you as incense; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice" (Psa 141:2). Solomon "spread out his hands toward Heaven" while offering the prayer of dedication of the Temple (1 Ki 8:22). The grief-stricken Ezra fell on his knees with fasting and spread out his hands to the Lord God (Ezr 9:5). God in His anger over the wickedness of Judah said, "When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you" (Isa 1:15).

Obviously the practice of lifting up of hands as a normal posture in prayer was not limited to the male members. "Miriam took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances" (Ex 15:20). How is dancing with timbrel possible without lifting up hands ever? Similarly the women who came to greet King Saul in appreciation of the new champion David were "singing and dancing... with tambourines, with joy, and with musical instruments" (1 Sam 18:6). Imagine such a hilarious expression with hands hanging down or folded! Were there not women folks in the great crowd which came out with palm branches in their hands to meet Jesus and sing hosanna? (Jn 12:12,13).

In tribal culture, men play the instruments and women dance. It's an accepted fact that women in general are more graceful in dancing than their male counterparts especially in fine movements. In mission fields we encourage tribal dance in worship. It's beautiful!

Those who oppose women worshipping with uplifted hands belong mostly to the section in which women wear sarees, and have to use one end of the saree to cover their heads. Those who wear salwar kameez or frocks or similar dresses have no problem. In any case, during worship men are supposed to keep their eyes closed in such conservative culture!

Some women are less expressive in physical postures of worship. They must not be pressurised directly or indirectly to lift up their hands or dance. Those women who find lifting up of hands in worship very natural and relaxing should not be criticized or discouraged. This is not a doctrinal issue at all. "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor 14:40).

13. Can women preach?

Women are not second class citizens in the Kingdom of God. In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female (Gal 3:28). Both men and women have equal standing before God. The Father loves both alike (2 Cor 6:18). The husband and wife are "heirs together of the grace of life" (1 Pet 3:7). Women are not inferior to men, because one is not independent of the other (1 Cor 11:11,12).

However, in the life and ministry of the Church there are certain boundaries set for women, for their own and common good. They can prophesy, that is, speak words of "edification, exhortation and comfort" under the anointing of the Spirit (Acts 2:17,18; 21:9; 1 Cor 14:3; 11:5). But the Bible does not permit them to "teach" (1 Tim 2:12). That is, a woman cannot teach doctrines in the Church. The teaching of doctrine carries with it a sense of authority and great responsibility (2 Cor 13:10; Js 3:1). This women are not called to do. Apostle Paul gives the reason why. "Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression" (1 Tim 2:14). Women in general are more prone to deception than men.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians that it was shameful for women to "speak" in Church, he was not referring to prophesying, praying or testifying (1 Cor 14:34,35). The Corinthian women were interrupting the speakers in the Church asking questions. Paul felt it was not decent and orderly. Therefore he suggested that the wives clear their doubts by discussing with their husbands at home (v 40).

Each one should remain with God in that calling in which he is called (1 Cor 7:24). Instead of coveting the responsibilities delegated to men, women should specialise in areas where their gifts and talents can be gracefully used for the glory of God. Why touch the forbidden fruit when there are so many other fruits?

For example, women can teach women how to fulfil their God-given role at home and in the society (Tit 2:4,5). We need Miriams to lead women in praise and worship (Ex 15:20,21). There is always a scarcity for Dorcases to show love in action (Acts 9:36,39; Prov 31:20). Women can serve as helpers in the ministrial teams, both locally and translocally (Lk 8:1-3; Phil 4:3; Rom 16:6). We read about a deaconess in the Church at Cenchrea (Rom 16:1,2). Undeniably women are the best teachers for children, because of their motherly character (Prov 1:8; 31:28).

God has greatly used many women in the mission fields. In a country like India, especially in the rural areas, women alone can reach women. Nearly fifty percent of Indians is women! Wanted women like Anna to go on sharing the message of redemption! (Lk 2:36-38).

As long as they don't assume a dominant role, wives are not prohibitted from sharing in the ministry of their husbands, like Priscilla (Acts 18:25,26). They can very well involve in counselling individuals or explaining the Scriptures even to men. The authoritative teaching in the common assembly is what is discouraged. They can always share words of edification and testimonies of God's grace.

In the Bible about twenty apostles are named and all were male. The pastors or elders were always men. Note, an elder was to be the "husband" of one wife! (1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:6). The leadership in the Church is reserved for men as in the home. Let's not reverse roles!

14. Where should the tithe go?

Tithing was commanded in the Law to the Jews under the Old Covenant. But the New Covenant which came into force with the death of Christ (1 Cor 11:25; Heb 9:16,17) does not teach tithing as a "law" for Christians. Even though Paul was an ardent Jew, he never once mentioned tithing even while he was writing on giving. On the other hand we are taught to give liberally, cheerfully and sacrificially (2 Cor 8:2,3; 9:6,7). In the absence of a "law" of giving in the New Covenant, there are no set rules as to where the money should be given. However, the following guidelines can be evolved from the Bible—

  • Our first responsibility is to support those who minister the Word of God to us. Those who labour in Word and doctrine deserve "double honour" (1 Tim 5:17,18). The Word of God comes to us both through local pastors and translocal preachers, both from pulpits and through media like books, periodicals, audio tapes, DVDs, radio, television, etc. Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek who brought him bread and wine, symbolic of spiritual blessings (Gen 14:18-20). Anyone who sows spiritual blessings for us has a right to reap our material benefits (1 Cor 9:11).
  • Next, we must support those who go evangelizing the non-Christians. "The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel" (1 Cor 9:14). The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was a missionary and he commended the believers for letting him "plunder their goods" (Heb 10:34). Because missionary evangelism is essentially among the non-Christians, the workers cannot expect support from the people they reach (3 Jn 7,8). Also by its very nature pioneer evangelism is expensive.
  • Thirdly, we must contribute to speacialized ministries like Bible translation, ministry to drug-addicts, blind, deaf, dumb, lepers, invalids and so on. Unless Bible translators, Bible publishers and such literature agencies are strongly supported, the new Churches and growing congregations cannot have enough Bibles and books.
  • Then we have the responsibility to support the poor. "He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord" (Prov 1:17). Especially we must help the poor believers (Gal 6:10). The Old Testament tithe was used also for the strangers, the fatherless and the widows (Dt 14:28,29). The spontaneous giving following the Pentecostal outpouring was to the have-nots (Acts 2:44,45; 4:32,35). What's done to the hungry and the thirsty is actually done to Christ Himself (Mt 25:35-40). The main reason why the rich man went to hell was his indifference towards poor Lazarus (Lk 16:19-21,25). Relief agencies which pave the way for evangelism must find a place in our support list.
  • In the New Covenant we have neither a special tribe called Levites nor a separate group called priests. "All" believers are priests today (1 Pet 2:9; Rev 5:9,10). For what? "To proclaim His praises!" Yes, every believer must proclaim the greatness of God and the uniquenes of Christ, in his neighbourhood and wherever he can go. For this personal soulwinning and evangelism, one needs tracts, gospel portions, Testaments and other tools. There is also the cost of travel for outreach programmes. Nothing prevents believers from using the "Lord's money" for "Lord's work." Paul was a tentmaker (a builder or an engineer!). He used his earnings to pay for his ministerial expenses and that of his team members (Acts 18:3; 20:34). Even in the Old Testament, people were allowed to spend their tithes themselves for religious things (Dt 14:22-26).

Quoting Malachi 3:10, there are some who teach that the "tithe" belongs to the local pastors only. This interpretation is wrong. Pastors are only one of the five groups of ministers of the New Testament Church. The other four are apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers (Eph 4:11). Of these five ministers, some are mobile or translocal and others are residential or local. Whereas the ministry of the mobile ministers is primarily to the universal Body of Christ, that of the residential ministers is to the local Church. Whatever money we set aside for God should be distributed to both these types of ministers, according to the nature and needs of their work. If a pastor demands "all the tithes" for himself, he is robbing the other four ministers of their legitimate share.

Both Paul who plants as a pioneer worker and Apollos who waters as a pastoral worker should share the Lord's money given away by the Lord's people. The shepherds who tend the sheep which are inside the fold (1 Pet 5:2) as well as those shepherds who go in search of the sheep which are outside the fold (Mt 9:36-38) are equally important. Both need the right hand of fellowship and partnership of God's people.

Praise God for the missionary-minded pastors. From what God's people give them, they take just a bare minimum for their own needs and turn over the rest to outreach ministries. It's safe to trust such ministers with large sums. But there are others in India who oppose missions and such parachurch organisations tooth and nail but open their mouths wide for dollars and deutchmarks from parachurch organisations overseas! Why this double standard? Let them refuse funds from overseas missions which thrive on the "tithes and offerings" of Christians in those lands.

The distribution of the Lord's money is a personal matter between the Christian and his Lord. Someone suggested to give half of what we set aside for the Lord's work to the local Church and distribute the other half to others. This sounds good. In any case, never yield to any threat or pressure but stand firm in the liberty by which Christ has made you free!

Beware of giving to Churches where the pulpit is used to promote modernism and shake up the faith of Christians. Don't support such apostates (2 Jn 10,11).

Make sure there's financial accounatability wherever you give the Lord's money. The civil law requires all monies to be accounted for and audited, in whatever name it's received. Beware of those who say they are accountable to God only (2 Cor 8:20,21). Invest your money in ministries that build the Kingdom of God instead of blindly giving to ministers who build their own empires and promote self-interests. Unless you give to the right hands, it may not be credited to your account in Heaven!

15. What about mega-Churches?

The numerical strength of congregations has become the status symbol for many pastors. There's a rat race among them, especially in cities and towns, as to who would have the biggest Church. Undeniably it's God's will that every congregation experiences a phenomenal growth. But pastors must count the cost of shepherding huge congregations and beware of the associated problems when "the number of disciples multiplies!" (Acts 6:1).

God's will in general is that we get scattered everywhere. Following the deluge God said to Noah and his sons, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth" (Gen 9:1). But the people launched the Babel project lest they be scattered. They worked diametrically opposite to God's plan because they wanted to make "a name for themselves" (Gen 11:4). We know how God intervened and "scattered" them all over the earth (vv 7,8). The early Church in Jerusalem made a similar mistake. The plan given to the disciples by the Head of the Church was that beginning at Jerusalem they should go out as witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). But they got stuck in Jerusalem being lost in the "spiritual enjoyment" of daily gathering, daily growth and daily breadbreaking (Acts 2:46,47). God allowed severe persecution to the Church over there because that was the only way He could get them out to go everywhere! (Acts 8:1).

Already in most of our fellowships there's no fellowship. When the number increases too much, interaction between believers and mutual ministry to one another become almost impossible. Exalting the Lord together in worship is there, but edifying one another is usually absent (Eph 5:18-20). We sacrifice the horizontal dimension of fellowship and get satisfied with the vertical. Members may feel good but they don't grow (Eph 4:16). People become impersonal in their relationships.

Many pastors suffer burn-out because their ministries outgrow their capacity. They fail to consciously work within the "measure of faith" God has granted them, and exceed "the limits" He has set for them (Rom 12:3; 2 Cor 10:13). No doubt some pastors are exceptionally gifted to handle huge congregations, but their successors usually do not have the same level of anointing and they struggle even to maintain status quo. The sheep suffer malnutrition. Also pastors who have enjoyed leading big congregations usually hesitate to hand them over to anyone other than their sons or sons-in-law even though some of their fellow-elders might be more experienced and gifted. This sad trend is frequently observed in Pentecostal circles.

When the strength of a congregation exceeds a few hundreds, it is advisable to split it into smaller units and plant them in various localities. This would give opportunity to the secondliners to grow in leadership and there will be room for variety and creativity. The "chief" pastor should not be in the Sunday Service of the "headquarters" assembly all weeks. Rather he must participate in the "branch" Church services by turn and as far as possible without the prior knowledge of the people. David Wilkerson (1931-2011), the author of The Cross and the Switchblade, was the senior founder-pastor of the multinational Times Square Church in the city of New York, USA. He decided with his associate pastors as to who would preach in the next Sunday Service, but this was kept a secret until the last hymn before the sermon was sung! Pastor Wilkerson did not want people come to the Church just to hear him.

Neighbourhood evangelism will be more effective with the visible presence of Churches in various localities. Salt is useless until it is shaken out of the saltcellar. Unless we decentralise our gatherings, several communities cannot be penetrated. The secret of the amazing growth of the early Church was the numerous house Churches (Acts 2:46,47).

If congregations are not split into smaller units, too much of time, energy and money will have to be spent for construction and maintenance of buildings. Having come to the end of the age, more and more of our resources must be invested on people rather than on properties. We should be content with simple structures. Persecution is becoming widespread in India. It is easier to attack one mammoth structure than ten smaller units. Besides the hand of the Lord, "the favour of the people" of various localities will be an added strength (Acts 2:46). In military strategy all the Generals do not travel in the same vehicle!

World evangelisation is the top priority in God's agenda for the endtimes (Mt 24:14; Acts 1:7,8; 2 Pet 3:9). If this is so in our Church budget, we will not sink millions of rupees in Church buildings in the South Indian towns and cities but spend them in the States like Rajasthan and Bihar where the percentage of Christians is much less than the national average (Rom 15:20-22). This will also end secret competitions between pastors.

Paul Yongi Cho of South Korea is known as the pastor of the world's largest Church. Truly he is an inspiration to ministers but he is not the universal pattern to follow. Church history presents different models. This is not to decay mega-churches but to promote Biblical principles of Church growth.

Not only Churches but also missionary organisations should not go on increasing their size. Better to have five agencies with two hundred missionaries each than one organisation with one thousand workers. We must "lengthen" only to the extent we are able to "strengthen" (Isa 54:2). Otherwise it is presumption and not faith or vision.






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