Bible Terms

Bible Term: Universal Church

The phrase universal church is not found in the Bible, although the concept is. The universal church (or simply Church, as a proper noun) refers to all who follow Jesus (Matthew 16:18). As such, there is only one Church.

In some circles, the universal church is also called the catholic church, which is not to imply the Roman Catholic Church. However, it should be noted that the Roman Catholic Church is, by definition, part of the universal church.

Bible Terms

Bible Term: Church

When people think of church, they generally think of a building, as in “go to church.” Other times it is a reference to a denomination, such as the Baptist church or the Catholic church. Although commonly used and understood, this is not what the Bible means by church.

In a local or micro sense, church is understood to mean a group of people who meet together, such as “the church that meets in your home” (Philemon 1:2 or Colossians 4:15).

It a global or macro sense, Church simply refers to all who follow Jesus (Matthew 16:18). As such, there is only one Church. This is sometimes called the universal church.


What Does it Mean to Greet One Another With a Holy Kiss?

Many churches have a time of greeting at some point in their service. This can range from awkward to inviting.

At some of these churches people merely shake hands and mumble a rote greeting. Other congregations actually make eye contact and smile as they greet one another. And at a few places, a meaningful connection begins.

One of the 52 churches we visited carried this to an extreme. The minister told us to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” It was a bit creepy, marking one of my more uncomfortable moments that year. Fortunately, few people attended that Sunday, so the number of holy kisses we received was minimal.

I know this is biblical, with Paul mentioning it four times. But I don’t really know what it means. Even after experiencing it, I can’t describe it, except for creepy. And Paul doesn’t explain it or offer instructions; he just says to do it. But we can infer a few things.

Church: Each time Paul mentions holy kiss, it’s in a letter to a church, so it must be just for the church community. I take this to imply that outsiders (or in our case, visitors) are not included.

Intimate: A kiss is an intimate sign of affection. Since the context is church, we might want to dismiss a holy kiss as being an act of physical intimacy, instead understanding it as spiritual intimacy.

Holy: Something sacred or hallowed.

This implies a holy kiss is a sacred act of spiritual intimacy for a church community, but I still don’t know how to do it.

[Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26]


Jesus is God’s Child and So Are We

The Bible says that Jesus is God’s one and only son.

However, God also calls the church his children. How can we be God’s children if he has only one son?

Although the Bible is full of paradoxes – which are hard for modern people to accept but not so difficult for post-modern people and certainly not an issue for ancient people – I don’t think this is one of them.

Another truth may explain this seeming contradiction. One metaphor in understanding our relationship with God is that of a bride and groom, with Jesus being the groom and the church being the bride. Therefore, by virtue of this union, Jesus, the only son of God, brings the church into his family through marriage, thereby making us, the church, become children of God.

This is just a thought, but it’s an interesting one.

[John 3:16, 1 John 3:1, 2 Corinthians 11:2]


A Different Perspective on the Bible

In one of the blogs I read, someone posted a comment.  The message only somewhat tied in with the topic and the back link was to an unrelated website.  I dislike the idea of giving the author’s rant any more exposure by repeating it, but once its invective nature is set aside, there is both truth and insight within.  Here is the comment:

“The bible is a poorly edited anthology of 3rd Century literature. Calling it “God’s Word” perpetuates the church’s fraud.”

Let’s break it down:

poorly edited: Yes, the Bible is poorly edited.  In fact, aside from what is necessary in the process of translation, the intent is that it is not edited at all.  This is a good thing.

anthology: An anthology is a collection of literary works.  With the Bible’s creation spanning a couple of millennia and written by about 40 authors, it is definitely an anthology.

third century: This is only somewhat correct and a great oversimplification.  The components of the New Testament were being compiled in its present assemblage in the third century, even though that effort started a couple of centuries prior.  The contents of the Old Testament were assembled much earlier.  The actual writing of the various sections (called “books”) of the Bible, however, certainly predates the third century.

literature: The Bible is literature — great literature, in my opinion.  Based on worldwide sales, it is the most popular literary work ever.

God’s Word: Yes, this is what many people call it.

perpetuates the church: the Bible is a resource that propels the church forward, though I believe that could happen even without the Bible.

fraud: the Bible acknowledges that its message will seem as foolishness and be offensive to those who don’t understand it, so the writer’s conclusion is consistent with what the Bible predicts.

My only hope is that the author who penned this comment will one day see fit to change the final word from “fraud” to “faith.”


The Song of Songs

After my prior post about the number one hit that used the Bible for lyrics, you may thing that it is the “song of songs.”  Not so.  There is another.  You may have heard the book in the Bible, Song of Solomon.  It is sometimes called the “Song of Songs.”  (A more comprehensive title might be “Solomon’s Song of Songs.”)

Song of Songs can be thought of as a “biblical erotica,” albeit a PG 13 version.  It is a bit explicit and somewhat suggestive, but in a literary way.

Song of Songs is a tale a passionate love affair between the king and his lover.  The king is Solomon and his lover is foreign royalty (she is described has a “Shulammite” and a “prince’s daughter).

However, in addition to this real life drama, Song of Songs is also points to a passionate spiritual love affair between God and his people.  (In the New Testament, this love affair is even more specific, being between Jesus and the church, who is his spiritual bride.)

As such, Song of Songs can be read and appreciated on two levels: a personal love story between two people and a spiritual saga of God’s desire for his people (us) and the way he longs for us to respond.


Definitely Out

In this series of posts on what should rightly be included in the Bible, several examples were given of items that, while not in all Bibles are in some

Given that there has been historical and/or significant acceptance for these texts, I feel there’s reasonable justification for their inclusion in the Bible; I think that they are rightly part of the whole narrative.

But I don’t opt for inclusion in all cases.  There are other historical documents that could arguably be embraced and accepted. 

Notably there are other gospel accounts and other epistles (letters to churches), which although seemingly similar to what is in the Bible, have never been included or deemed to be on par with other books in the Bible. 

I feel that to embrace them, would be to commit the error of adding to the Bible.

Having purposefully never read these texts, I dismiss them because virtually everyone else does so — and has done so over the centuries.  I see no reason why I should deviate from this perspective.

Although a bit curious, the reason I opt to not read these non-Biblical texts is that I don’t want them to distract me from what is in the Bible — nor do I want to commit the error of the Pharisees by interjecting any possibly unwise or unwarranted teachings into my pursuit of God. 

For me, these extra-Biblical writings are out.


The Risk of Complacency

The word complacent means to be “pleased or satisfied” or especially, to be “extremely self-satisfied.”

This seems to describe many people that I know.  They are complacent, perhaps not materially, but certainly spiritually.  They are content to sit back, with no concern for their non-material well-being and little remorse for a lifestyle that is less then optimum; they are complacent.

God doesn’t like complacency.  Through the prophet Zephaniah, he says he will search out the complacent people and punish them. 

They are even complacent about his response to their complacency, for God specifically says that they assume he will do nothing to them, neither good nor bad.  They are truly complacent and God is ticked off.

Another group of people who suffer from complacency is the church in the city of Laodicea.  To them God simply says he will spit them out.  What an apt image of disgust — and for one who wants to be close to God, what a frightening picture of separation and aloneness.

I hope that God never finds me complacent — the consequences are too great.

(See Zephaniah 1:12 and Revelation 3:14-16)


Lessons from the Life of John Mark

There is an interesting story that begins in Acts 13.

God tells the church to commission and send out Barnabas and Paul to other cities, telling the people they meet about Jesus.  They do this, taking with them John (also called, John Mark or just Mark).

The thing is, God didn’t tell them to take John Mark; he apparently doesn’t belong there.  This is borne out later, when John Mark deserts Barnabas and Paul to return home.

Later, Barnabas wants to give John Mark a second chance (an example of mercy), but Paul says “no” (an example of justice).  They part company over this disagreement, each going their separate ways. 

This might seem like a bad thing, but it turns out to be a good thing, as they are then able to cover twice the ground, doubling their effectiveness and outreach.

For John Mark, his story ends on a positive note, too, with him and Paul later being reconciled (an example of grace) and Paul esteeming John Mark as his fellow worker and as being useful to him.

This is a great lesson in life.  Despite making mistakes along the way, we can still finish well.  John Mark did and so can we.

(See Acts 13:2-3, 5, 13; Acts 15:36-41; Colossians 4:10, Philemon 1:24, and 2 Timothy 4:11.)


The Writings of Doctor Luke

Paul is the most prolific writer in the New Testament. Who is second?  That would be Dr. Luke.

Luke wrote an account of Jesus’ life (called “The Gospel According to Luke,” or simply “Luke”) and also chronicled the activities of the early church (called “The Acts of the Apostles” or just “Acts”).

These two accounts encompass over 25% of the New Testament and give us valuable historical information about Jesus and his followers, providing a powerful and compelling two-book combination.

Luke was a doctor and the only non-Jewish writer in the New Testament.  As such, his words are that of an outsider and may more readily connect with those on the “outside.”  Luke wrote with simple, yet compelling language.

As a trained professional, Luke was a keen observer and provides many details and facts that are not included in the other three historical accounts of Jesus.

The book of Acts looks at Jesus’ followers’ and their efforts to continue on without him.  They wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, who Jesus promised to send to them for guidance, direction, and counsel.

Many people look to Acts for a model for how the church should function.  Noteworthy in Acts is the frequent mention Holy Spirit.  With about 100 references, Acts provides a close and personal insight into the function and mystery of the Holy Spirit.

Both our monthly Bible reading plan and the New Testament reading plan kick off the year with the books of Luke and Acts.  Regardless of your Bible reading intentions for the year, I hope you are off to a good start—and if not, why not start today?