The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 11)

Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at Read the entire series.

Chapter Seven: Conclusion

It is no “stretch” to find in the churches of the NT what may be characterized as “Christianized” synagogues. The membership in the synagogue was rather restricted, being based first on physical requirements (male and Jewish by birth), but slightly expanded to admit those men who spiritually came over to the Jewish religion and submitted to its rituals and requirements. In the churches, the membership requirements were spiritual rather than physical in nature, being based on a new spiritual birth for both Jews and Gentiles, followed by a public declaration through immersion of faith in the Messiah Jesus. Gentiles were not required to “become Jews” in order to qualify for admission. Women as well as men were admitted into the congregation.

The chief constituent elements of a synagogue service—prayer, Bible reading and a sermon—are found as well in the churches. There are some differences, of course. While the synagogue naturally enough limited its Bible reading to the OT, the NT churches also included the reading of the NT books as they became available. The prayers in the synagogue tended toward the written and liturgical while the NT churches betray no evidence of such a practice in the first century. Read more about The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 11)

The Church and the College

From Voice, Nov/Dec 2014.

Leading a Christian college, university, graduate school, or seminary is a challenge in the varied uncertainties of our day. It is especially disheartening when academic publications use terms like “tsunami” and “danger” and “at risk” to describe the perilous nature of the traditional education landscape. One wonders how the smaller private Christian colleges will surf the coming tsunami and overcome the challenge.

This brief presentation is not meant to be a “how to” survival guide for the small college. Rather, it is a perspective on why ecclesiology matters in the overall mission and purpose of a Christian liberal arts college. In what follows I address the nature of the church, the mission and core values of the college, and then consider how ecclesiology informs college life and operations.

What I mean by the church

So what do I have in mind when I reference the Church? I am not writing about a particular denomination nor am I writing about a specific style of ministry. Rather, I am considering what the Bible reveals to us about the nature of the Church in both its universal and local significance. Read more about The Church and the College

Were the Novatians Early Baptists? Cyprian on Church Discipline

(Read the series so far.)

Most Baptists would not disagree with Cyprian on church discipline if they would only read what he wrote. But Ernest Pickering’s characterization is representative of what most Baptists believe about this issue: “Basically, [Novatian] and his followers were contending for a stricter view of the requirements for church membership than was generally accepted in his day.”1 Thus, Novatian is a crusading separatist; Cyprian is a lax compromiser. The truth, however, is that Novatian was a schismatic exclusivist.

Cyprian on church discipline

Cyprian was not lax. He believed that the truly repentant ought to be re-admitted into fellowship, and that the un-repentant should be excluded. When some of the lapsed presumptuously demanded to be re-admitted to the church, Cyprian condemned this “seditious practice” and charged that the clergy who permitted it were “frightened and subdued” men who “were of little avail to resist them, either by vigour of mind or by strength of faith.”2 Instead, Cyprian advocated a moderate, sensible policy: Read more about Were the Novatians Early Baptists? Cyprian on Church Discipline

Were the Novatians Early Baptists? Part 2

Read part 1.

The doctrine of baptism

Baptists believe the New Testament teaches that baptism is only for a believer, by immersion, upon a profession of faith, as a step of obedience and public testimony. Baptists do not believe baptism is a means of grace or regeneration. Novatian disagreed with all of these propositions.

On the Apostolic Tradition (possibly written by Hippolytus) records the practices of the church in Rome in the early third century.1 Since the Decian persecution, and the subsequent Novatian schism, took place during the early to late 250s AD, the Apostolic Tradition is a very important resource for understanding how the church at Rome likely operated in Novatian’s day. It is a fact that the church practiced infant baptism:

You are to baptize the little ones first. All those who are able to speak for themselves should speak. With regard to those who cannot speak for themselves their parents, or somebody who belongs to their family, should speak. Then baptize the grown men and finally the women, after they have let down their hair and laid down the gold and silver ornaments which they have on them. Nobody should take any alien object down into the water.2

Read more about Were the Novatians Early Baptists? Part 2

The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 4)

Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at Read the series so far.

Chapter Four: Requirements for Membership

The Synagogue


It goes without saying that one must be a Jew, part of the nation of Israel, before one is qualified for inclusion as a constituent member of the synagogue. However, this did not absolutely ban Gentiles either from attendance at the weekly Sabbath meetings, or from becoming a part of the congregation through the conversion process. Acts is replete with example after example of interested Gentiles, whether proselytes or not, in attendance, often in great numbers, at the Sabbath synagogue service (see, e.g., Acts 13:44; 14:1).

In the NT, we commonly find Gentiles, whether described as “proselytes” (proselutos) or “God-fearing” (sebomenos, lit. pious or reverent), associated with the synagogues. Philo (d. ca. A.D. 50) explains the term “proselyte” and the status of such people: Read more about The Synagogue and the Church: A Study of Their Common Backgrounds and Practices (Part 4)

Why Be a Faithful Member of a Local Church?

From Voice, May/June 2014. Used by permission. Related: “De-Churching” Trends.

It is my conviction that every Christian should be an active member of a Bible-teaching local church. As believers in Christ, we are members of His body and must discipline ourselves to be actively involved in ministry as a way of life. Here are some specific reasons why you should be a committed member of a solid, Bible-teaching local church.

You follow the pattern set forth in the New Testament. Although the word “membership” itself is not used in the New Testament, the principle is present nonetheless. For example, most of our New Testament books are letters that were written to specific groups of people who had chosen to identify themselves with Christ and each other. The word “church” is almost always used to refer to a specific group of people who in some way had committed themselves to serving the Lord and one another in the same ministry location. Numbers were known (Acts 1:15, 2:41, 4:4), rolls were kept (1 Timothy 5:9), servants were selected (Acts 6:2-5), discipline was practiced (1 Corinthians 5:12-13), worship was corporate (1 Corinthians 14:23), and shepherds knew for whom they were responsible (Hebrews 13:17). If you are a part of the body of Christ by virtue of repentant faith in Jesus Christ then you should want to make that association visibly known through church membership.

You have a greater opportunity to use your spiritual gifts. At the moment of your conversion the Holy Spirit came to live inside of your body (1 Corinthians 6:19). When He did this, He brought along the spiritual gift(s) that He sovereignly chose for you to possess for the blessing of the church (1 Corinthians 12:7, 11). As we use our gifts, we are being good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1 Peter 4:10). Can you use your spiritual gift without joining a church? Yes, but in most churches many ministry opportunities are limited to church members only. This is as it should be. Unity in doctrine, purity of life, and submissive accountability to one another and leaders are necessary for a healthy Christian life. The process of becoming a member also gives the existing leadership the opportunity to discern one’s agreement in doctrine, ministry purpose, and goals; thus enabling them to know where best you may serve. Read more about Why Be a Faithful Member of a Local Church?