FAQ: For people seeking to understand the Christian faith

 

I’ve become a follower of Christ. What next?

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Please contact a pastor from a local church (or a gathering of believers) in your area – a church that teaches the Bible and how to get saved by grace through Jesus Christ. If the church does not teach that salvation is a free gift to all who repent, continue to search, until you find one that does.

Once you connect to a church, attend regularly and become involved with church activities, such as Bible study and serving others, that will help you grow as a member of the Body of Christ.

If you are unable to find a suitable church, continue to read the Bible and ask God to give you a better understanding of who He is and how He can help you grow through Jesus Christ. Believe, in due course, God will provide a way. He always does.

 

How do I find a church? What should I look for?

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“We have no servers,” one of the young women said in a low voice to her small audience.
“Excuse me?” another girl said.
“They forgot to arrange for enough people to serve the guests. We need volunteers. Can you help?” the first woman repeated.
“Sure,” the girls replied.
“What do you need?” the men asked.
“Servers to cut the meat, arrange the tables, and serve the food.”
“Consider it done.”
The author once attended a wedding of church members, as an invited guest. The bride had such a crowded schedule that she forgot to arrange for enough servers. Her groom took care of certain things, but naturally assumed that this part was covered. He had no clue. No problem, we, the church members, jumped in to fill the gap as servers – not near as miraculous as Jesus turning water into wine (John 2: 1-12), but we had a great time and got better acquainted with the bride’s and groom’s relatives. The bride and groom had a wonderful wedding, the other invited guests had a great time and the impromptu servers went home with sore feet, but happy that the party turned out well. That’s what the body of Christ is all about – supporting and encouraging one another, heaven-bound.

You’ve seen people flock into a building every Sunday, they look ordinary enough and you want to check them out, but you don’t know where to start. Or you’re new to the Christian faith and you’ve no idea where to start. What do you look for in a church? How do you know if you’ve found a good worship gathering?

What is a church?
Webster’s dictionary calls a church a building, an organization, or public worship1.

The Christian definition of a church is not a building, but a group of people who believes in God through His resurrected Son, Jesus Christ. The church predominantly refers to followers of Christ, commonly referred to as the body of Christ in the Bible (I Corinthians 12: 14-28). A church can be a gathering of believers to worship God, and by default, the building that houses the gathering of the local body of Christ (Act 2: 1ff; Matthew 18:20; Revelation 2: 1ff).

What about denominations?
If you’re new to church, denominations may mean little to you. In recent centuries, a plethora of church branches, called denominations, have emerged. Denominations sprung from debates over the tenets of the Christian faith, how followers of Christ should worship, and where the emphasis of the faith should be placed. However, when Christ ascended into heaven, He left one body, His disciples and followers, with a mission to help others get to know Him, until He returns to gather His people home (Acts 1: 6 – 14; John 14: 1 – 4).

Given that followers of Christ have only one Savior, denominations have drawbacks because they fracture the body; but if a body of believers departs from the true teachings of the Word and the pursuit of God’s holiness, it may become necessary for those who choose to remain true to find another body of Christ that upholds the true Gospel. Every follower of Christ should select a local body of Christ among whom to worship.

A home church is a local gathering of Christ’s followers within a reasonable travelling distance from your home, where you can worship and get involved frequently, preferably, at least once a week.

If you have relatives who belong to a denomination, you may think that you should choose that denomination. Since salvation is by grace, not by works, in truth, a follower of Christ should remain true to God through Christ Jesus, not to a denomination (Ephesians 2: 8 – 9; I Corinthians 3: 1 – 22).

The importance of committing to one local Body of Christ

  1. Commitment to corporate worship and growth: Having a home church eliminates the weekly guess-work of where to go and encourages regular church participation. You are more likely to go to church if you know what church you will attend, than if you have to make a decision every Sunday morning of where to go to worship. Assume you are looking for a church that meets over 75% of your needs, but haven’t found one. What do you do? Roll over every Sunday morning and go back to sleep? No. If you do, you are more likely to quit than to try, to your detriment and regret later in life. Choose a church that meets 50% of your needs – as long as the qualities include: i, teaching the Word of God, ii, Salvation by grace, iii, transforming power of God and iv, holding the believers accountable – and make it your home-church for now. Continue praying for one that meets over 75% of your needs, as listed in “What to look for in a church”. The advantages?
    • Consistency in worshipping with other believers. Every Sunday when you wake up, if you don’t have a list of churches you should visit, instead of rolling over and hoping for better luck next Sunday, get up, get dressed and go to your temporary home-church, then keep praying and searching for your ideal church
    • You can ask the local believers and leaders for help. They may help you create a program to help meet your needs, or they may know a church down the street that has such programs
    • You will not get tempted to crowd God out of your life by scheduling golf, or other distracting activities on Sunday mornings, that will distance you from the LORD and other believers who can support you in your quest to finish strong
  2. Spiritual growth: Churches offer Sunday schools and Bible study classes that cover several weeks, or months. Increasing your knowledge of the Word and applying it, will help you grow spiritually.
  3. Friendship: It is nice to have a variety of friends, more importantly, friends with similar values who can encourage you. The more you frequent a Christ-focused church, the more likely you are to make friends with people who have the same spiritual value as you have.
  4. Support: As related in the true story at the beginning of this guide, local churches usually offer support to their congregation in the form of ministries, e.g, the birth of a child, visiting the sick, praying for special needs, and more. Helping one another is an integral ministry of the body of Christ in each local gathering.
  5. Using your God-given gifts: A home church offers many opportunities, including resources, to believers to use their God-given talents to serve others. Serving others is one of the ways to mature in your faith. As you get involved, you will also get the most out of the church.

Warning! As many pastors often say, a church is full of ordinary human beings, just like you, but who believe in an extraordinary God. There is no such thing as a perfect church; but a gathering of believers who are in the process of being made to be like their perfect Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Corinth-plain-and-excavations-from-Acrocorinth-tb050803135-bibleplaces

The Corinth Plain (used by permission).

Paul wrote two letters to the Corinthians. The first letter corrected problems in the church. In the second letter Paul testifies about his hurt and triumph over adversity. He also discusses Christian life and service.

One day, when Christ returns, the Church will be perfect, in the meantime we continue to grow. As in any healthy, growing, maturing family, the sign of a maturing follower of Christ, is one who is able to remain committed through the aches, pains and triumph of corporate church growth with other believers, while also remaining committed through the aches, pains and triumph of his, or her, own personal spiritual growth. With this caveat in mind, what should you look for in a church?

What to look for in a church

General Qualities
Look for a church that:

  • believes in the infallible Word of God. Avoid churches where the leaders cherry-pick their way through the Bible, especially if they themselves are apostate, or are living in disobedience
  • teaches salvation by grace, not works and encourages believers to submit to the transforming power of God through Christ Jesus alone
  • holds believers, including the pastoral leaders, accountable for their behavior. The pastoral leaders should be humble and obedient to the undiluted principles of God
  • offers variety of programs designed for growth of the local believers, or allows believers to start one, provided it is within the precepts of God
  • is innovative, within the boundaries of the Holy Word
  • preaches the Truth boldly – a church that teaches the Truth will continue to grow, but one that compromises may appear to grow initially, but will ultimately fade away
  • is growing. The church should be reflective of the local demographics
  • is stable – where members of the church are routed in the Word and committed to Christ. The members should respect their leaders, but worship the LORD. Believers of the local church are more likely to hold their pastors accountable if they stand in awe of God, than if they stand in awe of their local pastors
  • is trustworthy with the LORD’s resources

Ministry Programs
In addition to qualities listed under General Qualities, look for a church that provides ministry programs that meets your needs, or the needs of your family, or look for a church that will support your initiative to start new ministry programs to serve others, provided your desire is in line with Biblical teachings and the core tenets of being a follower of Christ. Always keep in mind that the purpose of church ministry is to build the body of Christ, not to destroy it (Ephesians 4: 11 – 16).

Parents with Children
In addition to recommendations listed under General Qualities, look for a church that offers children’s programs – such as Children’s Sunday school and midweek activities. While many churches do due diligence to vet children’s volunteers, and volunteers are generally good, decent, conscientious people, ask the church about their policy on selecting volunteers who work with children.

Single People

In addition to the other suggestions for qualities to look for, if you are single, look for a church that:

  • encourages you to remain true to your faith as a single person, for example, remaining pure, until you get married, of if you choose to remain single, continuing to honor God with your body and thus honoring yourself.
  • offers programs that incorporate single people
  • has other ministry areas where you can get involved

Financial Stewardship
Part of worship includes free-will donation. Firstly, it allows you to align your priority with God. Jesus said that your heart will be where your treasure is (Luke 12:34). Secondly, giving in worship help pay for the local overhead expenses, including administrative costs. The solvency of a local church is often dependent on the generosity and faithful giving of the local believers through God’s grace. In otherwords, in order for the church door to remain open every Sunday, the bills must be paid. The local congregation takes care of that. Thirdly, giving helps build God’s kingdom (1 Corinthians 9:13 – 14). It is not unusual for a new body of Christ, or, a church with needs, to get help from more established branches (2 Corinthians 9: 1ff).

Many churches, including churches in emerging countries, publish congregational offerings regularly in the open church bulletin. Some publish their total giving weekly, others monthly, but most at least quarterly.

Whether a church depends solely on local free-will offerings, or gets donations from the body of Christ in other areas, among qualities you should seek, is a church that encourages good stewardship and transparency.

A Growing Church
Look for a church that is growing. A church that is growing, as long as it teaches the Word boldly (2 Timothy 4: 1-5), is a church that is alive. Apart from language barrier, a church that is growing should be reflective of the local demographics. Jesus commissioned His disciples to go into the world and make disciples, beginning in Jerusalem, their home town (Luke 24: 47).

Caveat: Even a diminishing local body can be turned around, if that body starts practicing the qualities of a good church. Paul planted, Apollos watered, but it was the Holy God who gave the increase. (I Corinth 3: 1ff).

In conclusion, the secret is always to look for the church that puts God first, not human beings, and one that teaches the Truth, instead of pleasing the world. Happy church hunting!

Glossary
ff = and the following verses

References
1. Webster’s New Ideal Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Co. 1978
2. Bible references can be found in any version of the Bible: The New King James Version, The Living Bible, the New International Version and others.

 

How do I find my way around the Bible?

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This short overview assumes you are new to the Christian faith and may be a bit intimidated about reading the Bible. There is nothing intimidating about the Bible. It is a Holy Book and must be treated with reverence, but it is not a scary book. To get the most out of the Bible requires discipline, a teachable heart and a willingness to listen to God’s voice through His Word and to obey His leading. Some versions of the Christian Bible have instructions at the beginning of the book on how to use the Bible; some also have study resources presented at the end of the book. Those Bible versions that come with study resources are called, “Study Bibles”. As always, never forget that your best teacher is the Holy Spirit whom the LORD sent to help followers of Jesus Christ. By asking God to increase your understanding before reading the Bible, you will gain better insight of His Word and grow faster in your Christian walk.

If you have access to a Christian Church, seriously consider getting involved. Sunday school classes, or Bible Study groups, at your local church would provide a good supplement to the pastor’s sermons. If you don’t have access to a church, continue to read the Bible frequently and pray.

Why does the Bible have versions?
The Holy Scriptures came in original form of manuscripts written in Aramaic or Hebrew and Greek. Subsequently, the manuscripts were translated first by scribes who completed all the translations by hand, then later through printing. The Septuagint is the first translation of Hebrew Holy Scripture into another language – in this case, Greek. Other translations followed. The first book ever printed in the western hemisphere was the Gutenberg Bible. Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of printing with movable type, completed the printing of the Holy Bible in 1455, in Mainz, Germany. One of the next most important translations was the King James Version which was completed in 1611 in England. Since then, many translations have been completed into numerous local languages so that each tribe and kindred can read the Word of God in their own local language.1

How do I find my way around the Bible?
The manuscripts that came down from the early times had no chapters, or verses; they were scrolls written, unbroken, from the beginning to the end of the book. Imagine what fun it must have been trying to remember where you stopped in your reading the last time!

How Do I Read the Bible?
Here is a brief overview of how to find your way around the Bible. The Bible has two major parts: the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT), each presented in the form of chapters. You can find the books of the OT and NT listed at the beginning of the Bible, in the Table of Contents. The OT is the entire Tanakh, the Jewish Bible, with a major difference that the Tanakh is arranged chronologically, and provides a clearer overview of timing and when prophesies were given. The table below matches books in the Tanakh to OT books in the Christian Bible. As you can see, every book is contained in the OT, except for the chronological order:

Jewish to Christian Conversion

New Testament

The NT was written by the Apostles and Disciples of Jesus Christ, circa, AD 45 to AD 96, a few years after Jesus returned to Heaven.4 The people whom God inspired to write the NT, except the Apostle Paul, were either the Apostles, or Disciples of Jesus Christ who had worked with Him, among them, James and Jude, believed to be Jesus’ half-brothers. James addressed his letter to Jewish Christians to instruct them on practical living. Jude addressed his letter to believers warning them about the danger of false teachers. The Apostle Paul, lived during Jesus’ time, but did not work directly with Him, and probably did not meet Him before the Resurrection. He met the Resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus and subsequently God inspired him to write many books of the NT, after his conversion to become a believer, or follower of Christ.5

How do I find my way around the Bible?
As in other books, a chapter is the longest segmentation of a book, and may contain more than one message. A verse provides the shortest text with a message in the Bible. A verse can stand alone, i.e, the full context of a message can be contained within one verse, such as in the Book of Proverbs, but in many cases, it is necessary to read through several verses to get the full message. Often, a chapter contains the full context of the message, but because chapters and verses were inserted later on after the original Word was written, it may also be necessary to read through more than one chapter to get the full context of the message. For example, to get the overview of the Book of Hebrew, it might be necessary to read through all the chapters first, before breaking them into chewable sections.

What is the fastest way to look up scriptures?
Let’s say you’re new to the Bible and have never been to church and you decide to attend church for the first time. You walk in, carrying your brand new Bible, feeling a little bit awkward. The usher smiles at you and takes you to your seat. The people look normal, the music is great. It almost feels like going to a concert. Not bad, eh? Just as you’re beginning to feel really good about your decision to join a church, the pastor tells the congregation, “Turn to John chapter 1, verse 1 and while you’re there, keep your hands on Colossians …” What do you do? The fastest way is to go to the Table of Contents, or remember to turn to the NT, which is after the first half of the Bible, then find the Gospel of John, which follows Matthew, Mark and Luke and find John 1. Also, don’t be embarrassed to ask for help from the person sitting next to you. Colossians is the Epistle, or Letter, of Paul that comes after Philippians. (Also note, with advancement in technology, online Bibles are now available. Some churches may allow limited use.)

Or, supposing you were reading through a Christian article, and you came across references such as, “Genesis 1: 26 – 31; 5: 1 – 2,” this means: turn to the Book of Genesis, found at the beginning of the Bible:

• then find Chapter 1, verses 26 – 31, which reads, “Then God said, Let us make people in our image…”;
• next, go to Genesis, Chapter 5, verses 1 through 2, which reads, “This is the history of the descendants of Adam…”

If you find a reference such as, “John 1:1ff”, “ff” means, “and the verses following”, go to the NT, Gospel of John and start reading from Chapter 1, verse 1, until you have completed the full context of the message contained in this passage. In this case, the full context would be John, Chapter 1, verses 1 through 18, or John 1: 1 – 18. Matthew 13: 1ff, would be Matthew 13:1 -23. If you stopped reading at verse 17, you would miss the full meaning of Jesus’ parable, which is really not the story of the farmer and the seeds, but rather, the type of people who get exposed to the Gospel of Good News and how they progress in their spiritual maturity, based on their level of commitment.

Referencing segments of a verse is usually accomplished through the alphabet. John 10: 10 (a) means the first part of John, Chapter 10, verse 10; 10 (b) refers to the second part of the same verse. In this case, John 10: 10(a) reads, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy.” 10: 10 (b) reads, “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” The full verse reads, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” A quotation of a portion of words Jesus spoke while teaching the people. The full context begins with 10: 1 (The Book, a special edition of the New Living Translation (NLT). While it maybe okay to break a verse into subsections, it could lead to quoting a verse out of context, so again, it is always important to read the whole passage first, before referencing segments of it.

Any references to Letters mean go to the NT side of the Bible. Letters, or Epistles, start from Romans (found after the Acts of the Apostles) and cover most of the NT. They are addressed to specific groups of Christians, for example, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, as the title indicates is addressed to the Christians who were living in Rome. He wrote the letter while he was living in Corinth, circa A.D. 58, or 59.6

Where should you start reading the Bible?
There is no hard and fast rule. Some believers read through the Bible every year, starting with Genesis. As a new follower of Jesus Christ, consider starting with the Gospel of John. John will give you a good overview of Jesus, such as He is the Light, the Door, the Good Shepherd, and more. John also covers Christ’s deep love for His followers and what He envisioned for them [The Book]. Next, you can read Genesis, or read through the rest of the Gospels, and also get familiar with Acts of the Apostles and the letters to the early Christians. Another good alternative are topical studies. Topical studies help each person focus on specific areas of needs in their life at a point in time, for example: growing in faith, receiving God’s promises, overcoming fear, dealing with loneliness, or temptation, etc. If you have access to a Christian bookstore, ask them for good references on study materials suitable for a new Christian, otherwise, check online bookstores.

Finally, if you have no access to a Christian Church that teaches the Biblical truth, or to a bookstore, consider contacting one of the Christian colleges, or Seminaries. It is possible that if you make them aware of your predicament, they may permit you to take an online class that is customized to your need to understand the Bible better, without requiring you to complete all their other courses. To review a list of Christian colleges, please google, Christian Colleges and Universities.

The Bible versions referenced here are either from the New King James Version (NKJV), or The Book [a special edition of the New Living Translation (NLT)]

References
1. Lee Biondi. From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible in America, Legacy Ministries International, Spire Resources, Inc. Camarillo, CA.93011. 2009. Pg. 27, 35.
2. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, editors. The Jewish Study Bible. Tanakh Translation. Oxford Press, Inc, 198
Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10016. 2004.
3. The New King James Version (NKJV).
4. The Book (special edition of the New Living Translation), Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., P. O. Box 80, Wheaton,
Illinois 60189. 1996.
5. Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 9: 1ff. NKJV, or The Book.
6. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Introduction. The Book.

Glossary
(Some of these words have Latin origin. The English translation is used here)
AD = Anno Domino = after Christ
BC = Before Christ
Circa = about
f = and the verse following
ff = and the verses following
10: 10(a), or 10: 10(b) = the first part of Chapter 10: verse 10, or the second part of Chapter 10, verse 10
.

 

What does it mean to be holy?

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“Holy” simply means set apart, sanctified, dedicated – set apart for God. It is a privilege that restores believers into direct communication with God. Being privileged does not create a class difference, but rather recognition of what anybody can be, as a result of embracing what Christ has accomplished for any and all human beings who choose to recognize Him as the Deliverer. It is a privilege that is freely available, but not to be abused (I Peter 1:13 – 21).

Followers of Christ believe it is difficult to be holy on our own, without the help of Christ. Being holy requires that we take our eyes off the self and focus them on God and make choices that honor Him. Being holy is not me centered, but God centered. It is selfless, but ultimately the biggest benefactor is the self.

Being holy does not mean we never make mistakes. As long as we live in the human flesh, we will always deal with the flesh; but it is our attitude that determines whether we continue to mature into a holy life. Whoever turns a blind eye and rationalizes about sin, will never overcome his, or her, faults, let alone mature into a holy life; but whoever throws themselves at the Lord’s mercy, will be forgiven and restored into communion with God.

Does being holy mean isolating yourself? No and Yes.

No. Living a holy life is more of making life choices which emanates from a condition of the heart, through the help of God, than a separation from the mainstream of living. The more you choose to honor God with your life as a follower of Christ, the more you will find yourself seeking guidance from the Bible regarding what choices to make in any given situation.

Yes. There are times when you may need to separate yourself from certain friends, or situations, that drag you down, or pull you in the wrong direction. Common sense says, if a friend gets you in trouble, it is prudent to stay away from that friend. Jesus mingled with ordinary people, as a result, the Pharisees disdained Him for it, but he never sinned against His Father. His very mission to earth was to honor God, the Father, with the entirety of His being (John 12:44ff).

Being holy not only honors God, but us also. It is impossible to choose to be holy without honoring God. It is impossible to honor God, without ultimately honoring yourself. Every message from the Bible that directs us to revere and obey God is designed to help us improve our:

• Conduct
• Choices
• Attitude toward our body
• Attitude toward other people
• Attitude toward possession and material things

 

Will God hear my prayers? Or how do I pray?

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If Jesus is the Son of God, why do Christians tolerate the misuse of His Name?

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Like anybody who loves someone, Followers of Christ are offended by the misuse of the Names of the LORD and of Jesus Christ; but they also know that God is bigger and He will defend His Name. To use our modern day language, God is a Big Boy, He is more than capable of defending His name.

In truth, it is those who profane God’s name who should be afraid. The Bible says our God is not only a loving Father to His children, but He is also a consuming fire to those who oppose Him.

Another passage talks about just because God is silent, it doesn’t mean He‟s asleep at the wheel. Yet another passage says God does not desire that any should perish, but He wants everyone to have a chance to get saved, so they too can live with Him forever, in the new world. So, if it appears that the mockers of Jesus Christ seem to get away with it, it’s because God in His mercy is patiently waiting for those who wish to come to their senses and repent and submit to Him as LORD GOD.

Our current world is living under the Dispensation of Grace. This era started with the ascension of Christ to Heaven and will end with His return to collect His followers. During the period of the Dispensation of Grace, God does not necessarily mete out immediate judgment on the world, lest He wipes out those who would have come into His kingdom.

As long as the door is open, anyone who repents, can come it. The time will come when the door will be closed. Jesus said the only sin that will not be forgiven is the sin against the Holy Spirit. He also said that everyone will be judged by the words they have spoken (Matthew 12:31-37).

So, it is better to revere the Lord, no matter what the trend is.