Alan Knox

Alan Knox

Alan Knox is a PhD student in biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a web developer. His interests include PHP and ecclesiology. His dissertation topic is the purpose of the gathering of the church in the New Testament. By God’s grace, he tries to live what he is learning about the church.

He writes about how our understanding of the church affects (or should affect) the way the we live our lives among other brothers and sisters in Christ. He's found that many aspects of our understanding of church (gathering, leading, teaching, etc.) are woven together such that it’s almost impossible to focus on only one aspect.

Find out more on his website, The Assembling of the Church.

Discernment, the Bereans, and Scripture

As I said in a previous post, I’m working my way through a series on the role of discernment when the church gathers together. (See the “Introduction” post here.) I’ve also stated already that I believe that discernment is the work of those who are gifted at “distinguishing between spirits,” but it is also the work of those who are not gifted in that way. Similarly, I pointed out that discernment is part of the edifying process that occurs while the church gathers together.

For the last two posts in this series, I want to highlight a couple of examples of discernment that we find in Scripture. The first example is found in Acts 17:

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. (Acts 17:10-12 ESV)

In this case, the Bereans were not judging “prophecy” in the sense that we read about in 1 Corinthians 14. Instead, they were discerning the good news that Paul and Silas was proclaiming in the synagogue. The “received” the message that Paul and Silas spoke, then checked it against what they read in Scripture. Some of those who weighed this message “believed,” while, apparently, some did not believe.

If we remember that at this time the Jews in Berea would not have owned a personal copy of the Scriptures, we can get a better idea what was happening. Obviously, they would have had to gather together in order to “examine” Scripture and compare that to the message proclaimed by Paul and Silas.

Similarly, we should not forget that Luke tells us that this examination happened “daily.” This was not a once-per-week synagogue service, but a daily gathering in order to check the verity of the good news concerning Jesus Christ. (By the way, this kind of daily gathering is more in line with other historical accounts that shows the synagogue as more of a gathering for community and social activities.)

In a similar incident, when believers gathered together in Jerusalem and discussed whether or not it was valid to teach that Gentiles must be circumcised and keep the law in order to be saved (Acts 15:6-21), Luke lists several methods of discernment. James, for example, turns to Scripture, like the Bereans mentioned above. Luke writes:

After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, ‘After this I will return,and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’ Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God… (Acts 15:13-19 ESV)

James remarks that Simeon’s (Peter’s) experience matches up with what he had read in “the Prophets” (part of the Hebrew Scriptures).

Thus, in these two examples, we see people turning to Scripture to help them in discernment. (Of course, in both of those examples, the people were turning to the Old Testament Scriptures.) This does not mean, however, that Scripture always has all of the answers that we need in discernment. In the next post, we look at other examples where believers do not rely on Scripture to help them discern what God is telling them.

What are some of the benefits of using Scripture to help us discern what God is communicating with us? What are some dangers of using Scripture?

Discernment: Part of the Edifying Process of the Church Gathering

As I said in a previous post, I’m working my way through a series on the role of discernment when the church gathers together. (See the “Introduction” post here.) I’ve also stated already that I believe that discernment is the work of those who are gifted at “distinguishing between spirits,” but it is also the work of those who are not gifted in that way.

In this post I want to point out something that I’ve assumed several times already: discernment is part of the edifying process that occurs while the church gathers together. That would also mean that discernment is a mutual process, meaning that the whole church is involved in the work.

As I said in the previous post, Paul includes “discernment” (“the ability to distinguish spirits”) among the examples of the many ways that the Holy Spirit manifests himself in his children for the benefit of all. (See 1 Corinthians 12:10.) However, it is important to note that Paul also includes “discernment” (“weigh what is said”) specifically in the principles that he lays out for meeting together in a way that allows the church to work together to build up one another:

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up…. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. (1 Corinthians 14:26-29 ESV)

So, the context of this passage is coming together as brothers and sisters in Christ, and Paul begins by stating (emphatically) that everything done should build up others (not only the one speaking). He also specifies that several should be allowed to exercise each type of speaking (one at a time, of course).

In the midst of these instructions about meeting together, Paul includes discernment, saying, “[L]et the others weigh what is said,” referring specifically to what prophets say, in this case. For Paul, these instructions about discernment fall within the realm of the church gathering and fall within the process of building up one another.

Don’t miss the significance of this: discernment is both part of gathering together as the church and also part of mutual edification.

In another letter to the church in another city, Paul again included discernment within the context of the work of edification by the whole church:

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:11-22 ESV)

While this passage from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian Christians is not limited to times when the church gathers together, it does seem to include those times as well. Again, the focus is on encouraging and building up one another, and both listening to prophecies as well as discernment (“test everything”) is part of that edification.

This last passage will lead us to the final two passage in this series. In 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, Paul wrote in stoccato fashion: Test everything. Hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every kind of evil. In many ways, this helps us understand what the work and role of discernment is when we gather together.

Have you ever gathered together with other Christians in a way that included the work of discernment? Would you share something about that with us?

Discernment: A Gift of the Spirit and the Work of All

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’m working my way through a series on the role of discernment when the church gathers together. (See the “Introduction” post here.)

I struggled with how to being this series… or, actually, I guess I should say that I struggled with how to continue this series. I’m going to study several passages, and I could have begun with any of those passages. However, I decided to continue where I started in the introduction: from Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts in his letter to the Corinthians.

In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, Paul lists several types of ways that the Holy Spirit gifts individuals to help the church:

For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:8-10 ESV)

As you can tell, Paul is focusing on the fact that the same Spirit is giving these different gifts. The variety in the giftings does not detract from the singularity of the source (i.e., the Holy Spirit). And, if you started reading a little earlier, you would have found that there is also a singularity of purpose: for the common benefit (or, as Paul would say later, for building up the church). (1 Corinthians 12:7)

In this list, “discernment” is called “the ability to distinguish between spirits,” or, literally, “the differentiation of spirits.” Paul uses the verb form of “differentiation” (“discernment” or “ability to distinguish between”) in 1 Corinthians 14:29 in the context of prophecy and “weighing” what prophets said. (I mentioned that passage briefly in the introduction post.)

Thus, “discernment” is a gift of the Spirit, along with prophecy, teaching, apostle, etc. As Paul insinuates later, all are not gifted with “discernment,” just as all are not gifted as apostles, teachers, prophets, etc. So, some are divinely empowered to do whatever it is that I am calling “discernment.”

However, as we see with the other spiritual gifts, the activities described by the “spiritual giftings” are not limited to those with the gifts themselves. Thus, while only some are “gifted” as teachers, all believers are instructed to teach each other. Similarly, while only some are “gifted” as exhorters, all believers are instructed to encourage one another. (I think we also see that all believers have the ability to prophesy in 1 Corinthians 14:31.)

So, I would say the same thing applies to discernment. Some are divinely gifted to discern “between spirits.” However, all are to do this work. (By the way, if Ephesians 4:11-12 is not limited to the gifted individuals there, then those gifted at discernment should be equipping others to do the work of discernment as they all serve the church.)

Putting this all together, we see that both those gifted at discernment and those who are not gifted as discernment are to do the work of “distinguishing between spirits.” I think that every follower of Jesus Christ would be included in one of those two groups. So, when we are gathered together, we should all seek to discern what is said.

[This is a side note - although related. It really shouldn't have to be said, but it does. There is nothing in this passage (1 Corinthians 12-14) or any other passage to limit the work of discernment when the church gathers to only those who view themselves as leaders or are viewed by others as leaders (pastors, elders, bishops, deacons, etc.). Of course, there is also nothing in this passage or any other passage to limit any type of speaking when the church gathers to leaders.]

But what does it mean to discern what is said? And what type of speech should be discerned? Is discernment only for prophecy? Should teaching/preaching be discerned?

In the next couple of posts, I’ll examine some passages that will help us answer those questions.

How to Be an Example to Others

In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul reminds the Christians in Thessalonika about the time that he spent with them. Paul probably only spent a few weeks with the Thessalonian believers. However, it seems that he made the most of that time.

This is what Paul says:

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed--God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved--so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last! But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you--I, Paul, again and again--but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2 ESV)

What can we learn from Paul’s example:

1: Continue making disciples in spite of difficulties.

2: Seek to please God, not people.

3: Do not try to persuade people by your rhetoric or your method of teaching or your arguments.

4: Do not make demands on people, even if you think you may have the right.

5: Gently care for people.

6: Share your life with people, not just your words.

7: Work hard serving people and serving with people.

8: Continually encourage people to walk with Christ.

9: Give God all the glory when people grow in maturity.

I don’t know about you, but I think I still have a long way to go before I am following Paul’s example. While I can see where my life and discipleship has matured in some of these areas over the last few years, I can also see where I have much more need for growth.

Primarily, I think the first item is one of the toughest for me. Paul suffered greatly at Philippi – he was imprisoned. Yet, he continued to make disciples. He did not let the difficulties distract him from his purpose.

I tend to be distracted much more easily. If something goes wrong or if life gets difficult, I tend to withdraw and forget or ignore the fact that I am supposed to be making disciples. Sometimes, I let my circumstances dictate my level of obedience. I can learn from Paul here. I can learn to trust God and follow the Spirit in spite of my circumstances, allowing him to strengthen me.

What about you? Have you seen growth as a disciple-maker in your life? In what area or areas do you still need to grow?

Discernment When Scripture Doesn’t Answer Our Questions

As I said in a previous post, I’m working my way through a series on the role of discernment when the church gathers together. (See the “Introduction” post here.) I’ve also stated already that I believe that discernment is the work of those who are gifted at “distinguishing between spirits,” but it is also the work of those who are not gifted in that way. Similarly, I pointed out that discernment is part of the edifying process that occurs while the church gathers together. I pointed out a couple of examples in which people used Scripture to help them weigh what was being said.

While it’s popular to state that Scripture answers all questions, Scripture itself never makes that claim. In fact, there are a few examples of people discerning what God wants them to do when Scripture does not answer the question. I’ll cover two of those examples in this post.

The first example is found in Acts 16 during Paul’s travels with his team on what is typically called his second missionary journey:

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:6-10 ESV)

Previously, Paul had decided to visit the believers in the cities where he and Barnabas had traveled. Once he got to Antioch of Pisidia, he decided to continue. He first tried to go into the region of Asia, then they attempted to go to Bithynia. Finally, they went Troas. There, they not only met Luke (apparently), but Paul had a dream of someone from Macedonia asking for help. Luke tells us that the group concluded that God wanted them to go to Macedonia to proclaim the gospel.

So, when Paul and his team was trying to decide where to go next, they could not turn to Scripture. There was no passage in the Old Testament that would tell them what city or region to travel to. Instead, they apparently used their own reason or desires until God stopped their progress or directly communicated with them. Even when he directly communicated with Paul through a dream, it appears that Paul shared the dream with the group so that they could all weigh their response. (Note: The participle “concluding” does not necessarily point to a long, drawn out debate, but it does point to the potential for deciding one way or the other.)

The next example is even more intriguing (at least to me). Later in Paul’s journeys, he decides that God wants him to go to Jerusalem. In fact, he feels that the Holy Spirit has him in chains and is pulling him to Jerusalem. (See Acts 20:22.) When his team sails across the Mediterranean and reaches Caesarea, the are approached by a prophet:

While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:10-15 ESV)

This passage is intriguing to me because the prophet Agabus accurately communicated what eventually happens to Paul. (So, this was not only an instance of prophecy, but also of foretelling the future.) However, there was disagreement concerning what they should do with this information. Paul knew that God wanted him to go to Jerusalem. The people with him thought the prophecy meant that Paul should not go to Jerusalem. Again, this is not a question that is answered in Scripture.

In these cases we get a better view of what is included in “discernment.” Discernment not only refers to determining what something means, but it also refers to determining how it may or may not apply. Something could apply to no one, to an individual, to a sub-group, or to the entire group. This is all part of discernment.

Does it concern you that we must often discern (“weigh”) questions that are not answered by Scripture? What other means do we have to discern different types of questions or speech or activities?

Internet Ministry: Interaction

In my first three posts concerning Internet ministry (“What is it?,” “Evangelism and Discipleship,” and “Global Interaction”), I defined Internet ministry as “the use of online services, apps, functions, and technologies in order to serve people with the intention of helping those people grow in maturity towards Christ” and concluded that even if we pursue evangelism online, our ultimate goal should be discipleship – that is, not simply making converts, but helping people maturing in their walk with Jesus Christ. Finally, I encouraged those involved in “Internet ministry” to recognize the importance of personal, face-to-fact contact and example in discipleship.

In this final installment in my series on “Internet ministry,” I would like to continue discussing the importance of “face-to-face contact and example” by talking about using online interaction to further facilitate discipleship.

When I use the term interaction, I’m talking about communication that takes place in both directions. Now, certainly, it is possible to help someone without this kind of two-way communication. For example, someone could post a teaching based on a particular passage of Scripture, and someone else reading that teaching could benefit, without further interaction.

In reality, this is similar to the teaching/preaching found in many churches today. A person hears a teaching/sermon, but has no further interaction and no deeper relationship with the teacher/preacher. The person hearing can be helped with this type of teaching/preaching, but the amount and type of help is limited.

The way the Jesus and others in Scripture practiced and taught it, discipleship was interactive, in the midst of sharing life together, with questions and answers and follow-up and discussion and argument and another example, etc. It is possible to include this type of interaction using online resources.

The problem is that many who post material on the Internet consider the “posted material” to be the most important part of their work. In fact, that posted material is simply the beginning. Whether through comments or emails or phone calls or whatever, the further interaction with other people is often much more important than the posted material that began the further interaction.

Again, do not misunderstand me. Still, personal, face-to-face interaction is both important and necessary. But using various means, Internet ministry can be more interactive and, therefore, more effective at helping people mature in Christ and walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.

Of course, this also means that the way that we interact with people is as important (if not more important) than what we say (or write) in our posted material. If we react with hostility to someone who disagrees with us, it will completely nullify our post about the love of Christ. If we reject someone else, it hinders our message about the grace we have through Christ.

Finally, through interaction, we can demonstrate that we are also teachable – that we also need to be discipled – that we do not have all the answers – that God can and does speak to us and changes us through other people.

So, as we use online tools and resources to disciple others – that is, to help others grow in maturity in Christ – we should seek as much interaction as possible, always attempting to demonstrate the love of Christ in that interaction. In humility, we should admit that we do not have all the answers, that we are sometimes wrong, and that our relationships with others is more important than proving ourselves to be right.

Internet Ministry: Global Connection

In my two previous posts concerning internet ministry (“What is it?” and “Evangelism and Discipleship”), I defined Internet ministry as “the use of online services, apps, functions, and technologies in order to serve people with the intention of helping those people grow in maturity towards Christ” and concluded that even if we pursue evangelism online, our ultimate goal should be discipleship – that is, not simply making converts, but helping people mature in their walk with Jesus Christ.

In this post, I am will discuss one of the major benefits of serving people using online resources, and I will show how this benefit can also be a disadvantage.

Of course, the benefit that I’m talking about (as indicated in the title of this post) is the global connection, meaning that by using online resources we are able to connect to people all around the world. Until very recently (less than 100 years), if I wanted to communicate with someone in another country, it would take days, weeks, even months or more. Today, I can talk with people from every country on the planet in seconds.

In previous generations, the only people who could carry on conversations with people of different religions were those who traveled to different countries, or those with neighbors who were part of different religions. Today, anyone with a computer or cell phone with an Internet connection can communicate and interact with people from any number of belief systems.

So, the ability to communicate with other people has been drastically improved through the use of online resources. Because of the advancements in communication, many have compared the invention of the Internet to the invention of the printing press. And, in many ways, the two inventions are similar. Both inventions dramatically increased the ability to communicate ideas.

This then, leads to one of the disadvantages of this new global connection. But let’s take a step back and consider the practices of the apostles and other Christians as demonstrated in Scripture. Often, Peter, Paul, James, and others would desire to communicate with other believers in distant lands. They would then write letters – often dictating the letters to others who could write – and then send those letters by couriers, a process that could take weeks or months to complete.

However, neither Peter nor Paul nor James nor any others mentioned in the Scriptures relied completely on long distance communication methods. The letters were generally sent with other people who were to live among the recipients and help them with any problems they may have. Thus, the long distance communication was combined with personal interaction.

In fact, in many of Paul’s letters, instead of simply telling his readers what to do, he would remind them of how he himself had lived while he was among them. Thus, the letters were only part of an ongoing process of discipleship that included past interaction and present interaction. In other words, these people knew one another face to face, not just through letters.

With the advantages of today’s global connectivity, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of face-to-face interaction. As we help people walk with Christ, no written words – no matter how eloquent – can replace a living example.

It’s easy to hide behind a computer screen and never interact with others face to face. We must never allow our “online” ministry to replace the process of building mutually discipling relationships with other people that God brings into our lives. In fact, Internet ministry should work to supplement – not replace – our service to other people in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, etc.

So, as we attempt to disciple people using online resources, we must remember that Internet ministry – as with other types of long distance communication – works best when it is accompanied by face-to-face, personal interaction, either with us or with other Christians who can demonstrate a maturing faith by example.

Internet Ministry: Evangelism and Discipleship

In my previous post, “Internet Ministry: What is it?,” I defined “Internet ministry” as follows:

“Internet ministry” is the use of online services, apps, functions, and technologies in order to serve people with the intention of helping those people grow in maturity towards Christ.

What what kind of service can be included in “Internet ministry”? Is this evangelism or discipleship?

The short answer is, “Yes.”

First, in Scripture, evangelism is part of discipleship. “Discipleship” is simply the process of helping someone live in a manner that honors Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. “Discipleship” is helping someone else mature in Christ.

Evangelism is the process of proclaiming the gospel with someone or some group. This is the first step of discipling that person or group.

Note that evangelism is different from apologetics. Apologetics is presenting arguments in support of one’s beliefs in order to show that those beliefs are reasonable, cohesive, coherent, and consistent. So, apologetics may or may not include a presentation of the good news.

Evangelism, on the other hand, focuses on the good news of Jesus Christ and the fundamentals of trusting Christ for salvation and life. As such, evangelism is part of the process of helping someone live as a disciple of Jesus Christ – that is, discipleship.

Thus, Internet ministry – if it is truly ministry (“service”) – is a part of the process of discipling others. This process begins with evangelism, but must not end there. Remembering that “ministry” includes interaction with others, “Internet ministry” must continue beyond evangelism to helping the new believer follow Jesus more closely – that is, to mature in Christ.

(Note: I believe this is true of all evangelism, not just online evangelism: Evangelism must include the intention of continuing the discipling process.)

So, an “Internet ministry” (or any type of service) that focuses on proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to unbelievers must include the further service of helping new believers grow and mature. Why? Because our goal as disciples of Jesus Christ is not to evangelize (only), but also to make disciples. Our goal is not converts, but disciples.

When we proclaim the gospel to someone, we are (whether we realize it or not) beginning the first step of discipleship. So, when we proclaim the good news, we should understand that we’re asking the person or people to begin to share our lives with us so that we can help one another grow in maturity in Christ.

Yes, there will be occasions when these types of ongoing discipling relationships are not possible. But they should be the exception, not the rule. We should not plan to use the Internet only to serve people through evangelism. Instead, we should understand that evangelism should include further discipleship, and so include discipleship in our plans to serve people.

Jesus told his apostles, “As you go, disciple all nations…” (Matthew 28:19-20). If this command applies to us (and I think it does), then we should seek to disciple other people wherever we go. If we go across the oceans, we should seek to make disciples, even if that includes evangelism. If we go across the street, we should seek to make disciples, even if that includes evangelism.

And, if we go online, we should seek to make disciples, even if that includes evangelism.

Internet Ministry: What Is It?

A couple of months ago, I was asked to write a post about Internet ministry. Since I was preparing to leave for Ethiopia, I said that I would write the post after I returned. As I was studying and thinking about the topic, my post turned into a series of posts.

In this first post, I want to define what I mean by the term Internet ministry. Now, to be completely honest, this is my definition. While my definition may be similar to others, I wanted to define the phrase in a way that expresses what I think about ministry itself. So, I’ll begin my definition with the term “ministry.”

As many, many scholars have pointed out, the English term ministry comes from the same Greek term as the English term service. “Ministry” is “service” and “service” is “ministry.” In the New Testament, there is not difference. So, in my definition there is no difference either. “Internet ministry” is “Internet service.”

But serving whom? In Scripture, service is also directed toward other people. While it may be beneficial to do something that benefits only yourself, this is not service. For example, if I write a book, but do not show it to anyone, it is not an act of service. It only because a possible act of service when I then share that book with others. So, “ministry” or “service” is directed toward others and interacts with others in some way.

Thus, “Internet ministry” is “internet service directed toward and interacting with other people.”

Now, what about the “Internet” part of the phrase “Internet ministry?” For this series, I will include any technology, app, or function that uses the Internet as “Internet.” That may seem obvious, but this means that both email and cell phone apps could be included in the phrase “Internet ministry.”

On the other hand, simply having a computer program does not mean that I would include that program in the phrase “Internet.” For example, I often use BibleWorks, but I would not include that software package in the term Internet.

There is at least one more statement that needs to be made about “Internet ministry.” I’m writing this from the perspective of a child of God – from someone who desires to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. As such, my intentions in serving others is so that those other people will be drawn to the love of God and begin following him as well. In other words, I want to see people grow in maturity toward Jesus Christ as the ultimate goal.

So, I could give a hungry person food as an act of service. But as a child of God, I also give them that food to demonstrate the love of God and to attract them to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This idea is not found in the terms ministry or service but should always be found in the life and actions of a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Thus, as a Christian, my idea of “Internet ministry” must include the idea of helping someone grow in their understanding of God and in maturity in Christ.

So, “Internet ministry” is the use of online services, apps, functions, and technologies in order to serve people with the intention of helping those people grow in maturity towards Christ.

Why Do We Often Respond Differently to Jesus?

One day, a friend of ours asked about dealing with a brother or sister in Christ who seemed completely apathetic to following Jesus. That led to a good discussion and some good advice from others, but it also led to a good discussion between my wife Margaret and myself.

As Margaret and I were talking about this subject, I remembered something that I had noticed earlier. When Jesus talked about dealing with a brother or sister who “sins against you,” those listening to him responded differently to the way that people today often respond to that same teaching.

What am I talking about? Well, start with this familiar passage:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Matthew 18:15-20 ESV)

Upon hearing or studying this passage, I’ve heard people respond with many questions, such as:

* Is this only for when a person sins directly again you, or is it also for someone who sins in general?

* Who should the one or two others be?

* What does it mean to “tell it to the church”? Who tells and when?

* What does it mean to treat the person “as a Gentile and a tax collector”?

* What does it mean to bind and loose?

* When Jesus says “where two or three are gathered,” is he only talking about “church discipline” or is he defining the church?

But, if we keep reading, we find that Jesus’ first audience responded quite differently:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV)

Peter recognized something that we often miss: Jesus’ statements were about relationships. When faced with the potential of breaking a relationship, most people will ask for forgiveness (even if they don’t really mean it). Peter recognized this, and wondered how many times he would have to forgive this brother who continued to sin against him.

How did Jesus respond? Keep on going to them, and keep on forgiving them.

I think there are other examples, too. But, to me, this is an obvious example of Jesus’ listeners responding to him differently than we often respond to him. Perhaps their focus (and Jesus’ focus) was different than our focus as well.

The Disciples, the Apostles, and the Twelve

When I was growing up, I thought that the terms “disciples,” “apostles,” and “the Twelve” all referred to the same group of twelve men who followed Jesus around between his baptism and his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. In fact, I often heard the terms combined as in “the twelve disciples” or “the twelve apostles,” and I rarely heard the terms “disciples” or “apostles” used to refer to anyone other than “the Twelve.”

Now, I understand that “the Twelve” were “apostles,” but other people were apostles as well. I also understand that “the Twelve” and the “apostles” were “disciples,” but other people were disciples as well.

Believe it or not, Matthew only uses the term “apostle” once. He uses the term “twelve” eight times. But he uses the term “disciple” over 30 times. A few times, Matthew combines the terms: “twelve apostles” or “twelve disciples.” That clarification (i.e., the fact that Matthew occasionally says “the twelve disciples”) indicates that at times Matthew is using the term “disciple” to refer to a group that does not include ONLY the Twelve.

It’s clear from reading the Gospels and Acts that many people – not just the Twelve – followed Jesus as his disciples. In fact, we learn in Acts 1, that at least 2 people – but probably more – followed Jesus from the time of his baptism by John and were still with the 120 when they were gathered in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension. (See Acts 1:21-23.)

Here’s a passage from Matthew, for example, that indicates that the term “disicples” was used to refer to more than just the Twelve:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:47-50 ESV)

Why is this important? Well, think about these questions:

Who was in the boat with Jesus when he calmed the storm? (“And when he [Jesus] got into the boat, his disciples followed him…” Matthew 8:23 ESV)

Who did Jesus teach privately? (“Then he [Jesus] left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’” Matthew 13:36 ESV)

Who did Jesus eat ‘the Last Supper’ with? (“He [Jesus] said, ‘Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, “The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.”‘” Matthew 26:18 ESV)

In the same way, we know that other people (besides the Twelve) were referred to as “apostles,” especially in Acts and Paul’s epistles. Therefore, when we read that apostles said or did something, we cannot assume that the author was referring to the Twelve. (However, as an interesting aside, perhaps Matthais was chosen to replace Judas as one of “the Twelve” in Acts 1:15-26.)

This passage by Paul specifically points out this difference:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 ESV)

Did you notice that Paul makes a distinction between “the Twelve” and “the apostles”? Notice that we see that Jesus also appears to “more than five hundred brothers (and sisters).”

So, we should be careful when we read these terms in Scripture. Otherwise, we might limit the scope and reference more narrowly than the authors intended.

Test Everything: The Role of Discernment When the Church Gathers

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul begins a long (3 chapters) section of the letter addressing spiritual gifts. In the first part (chapter 12), Paul focuses mainly on the variety types of gifts and the importance of all the gifts working together for the benefit of the whole church. In the next part (chapter 13), he tells his readers that demonstrating love is more important than exercising any kind of gift. (In a rhetorical exclamation, he announced that even exercising great faith is nothing if the person is not showing the love of God to others.)

Finally, in the last section of this teaching about spiritual gifts, Paul turns more toward the use and exercise of the various gifts when the church gathers together. Since he primarily discusses the gifts of prophecy and tongues, some believe that the Corinthian church struggled with those two gifts. This is possible, perhaps probable.

But while correcting the way that the Corinthians were practicing or emphasizing spiritual gifts, Paul gives them (and us) a key principle: everything that is said or done when we are gathered with other Christians should edify those others. In fact, the only reason (according to Paul) that prophecy is preferred to tongues (uninterpreted) when the church is gathered together is that prophecy directly edifies the church while speaking in tongues does not.

When Paul comes around to laying down some general guidelines for speaking when gathered with other believers (1 Corinthians 14:26-40), he again divides his instructions into two parts: one set of instructions for speaking in tongues and another set of instructions for prophesying. Among the instructions for prophesying, Paul adds the importance of “discernment”: Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. (1 Corinthians 14:29 ESV)

So, while Paul believes that prophesy directly edifies the church, he also says that prophesy should be weighed. He says something similar when writing to the church in Thessalonica: “Do not despise(AD) prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 ESV)

This discernment (or judging/weighing) becomes even more important when we think about other forms of speaking when the church gathers together. For example, I would think that teaching is directly edifying also (like prophesying). Thus, teaching would fall under the same guidelines as prophecy, and any type of instruction should be judged also. The same would be true of other types of speaking such as encouragement or even admonishment.

But what does it mean to “weigh” what someone says? What is discernment? Who should judge what is said and for what reason? What examples of discernment do we find in Scripture? I hope to examine each of these questions in the next few posts.

But let’s be honest. For the majority of Christians who gather together (at least in the Western world), discernment is not and cannot be part of their gatherings. Usually, only one person speaks. If someone else speaks, that person must first be given permission to speak. Then, if someone has a question about what is said, or if someone disagrees, there are few avenues of asking questions, much less discernment. (Yes, I understand that some “preachers” or teachers allow for questions and disagreements. But for most Christians in America and the West, this is not allowed or encouraged.)

In spite of this, discernment was important to Paul. Plus, this is a topic that I have not studied much. So, I’m looking forward to looking at various passages of Scripture that I think are related to this topic.

What passages would you study in order to understand discernment? Do you think everything said among the church should be “judged”? Why or why not? When something is spoken, what about that should be “weighed” by others?