Who Killed Jesus, and Why?

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By the time you read this book, you may have attended a few evangelical Sunday school classes and worship services. If you have, this chapter will help you understand what you already have experienced. If you are so recently born again that you are still anticipating your first Sunday in an evangelical church, these comments may be valuable in preparing you for experiences which can be spiritually uplifting and confusing at the same time.

The first time you attend a Sunday school you should plan to arrive at least 15 minutes before starting time, especially if you have young children. This extra 15 minutes will give you time to get your children situated in their classes before it is time for your class to begin.

Sunday school usually lasts an hour. The traditional schedule for this hour used to include opening and closing exercises in the sanctuary with dispersal to classrooms for the time in the middle portion of that hour. However, this caused such fragmentation of a relatively short period of time that many Sunday schools have students reporting directly to their classrooms.

The study of the Bible should be done in the most efficient and effective manner possible. But Sunday schools are operated by volunteers who may have no professional training in good teaching techniques. However, many teachers do an excellent job. They spend hours preparing the lesson and make a sincere effort to keep things interesting. The lesson discussion should provide opportunity for interaction between teacher and students in the form of concept questions, exchange of ideas, and expressions of differing views.

You might expect the sanctuary to convey an atmosphere of awe and reverence. Instead, you may find worshippers chatting in the aisles and over seat backs as they wait for the service to begin. Remember that you are observing the family of God getting together for another family reunion. Evangelicals are known for their friendliness and the church often forms the hub of their whole lives. People who worship together are best friends as well as brothers and sisters together in Jesus Christ. That's why the exchanging of greetings and pleasantries may be an accepted part of pre-worship activities.

The organ prelude tends to quiet things down and some pastors ask the congregation to assume an attitude of prayerful meditation for two or three minutes before the service begins.

This may be very informal, not much more than a few words of greeting and a brief, extemporaneous prayer by the pastor or worship leader. The content of that short prayer of invocation is extremely important, however. The word "invocation" comes from two Latin words which mean to "call in" or literally, to "voice in". Therefore, the invocation is the act of calling in the presence of the Holy Spirit to the worship service.

Evangelical congregations are known for their enthusiastic and relatively spirited singing. A worship leader may conduct the singing and sometimes arm motions are used. Both piano and organ may be used and the choir will sing along. For the evening service, a small orchestra made up of volunteers may play along with the singing. Many churches have an orchestra for the morning service, also.

Evangelical piano playing deserves a special mention at this point. If this is your first evangelical service, you may not have heard anything quite like it. The arrangements in the hymnal are very dull and unimaginative. They consist of solid, four note chords with few frills. This is because these arrangements were written to be sung in four part harmony. However, evangelical singing has given rise to a style of piano playing which expands the basic melody and harmony into a lively and vibrant accompaniment. This greatly enhances the congregational singing and special music. Many evangelical pianists are self-taught as far as the improvisations on the hymns are concerned. Some can play any song in any key by ear. If you are used to hearing hymns played ker-plunk, ker-plunk straight from the hymnal, you will be thrilled by a good evangelical pianist. This kind of playing may be a skill, it may be a talent, or it may be a gift straight from the Lord.

Click for more on the evangelical pianist:

Evangelical pastors pray extemporaneously and sometimes with great fervor. On occasion, the pastor may call on a respected member of the congregation to pray. Some congregations follow the custom of simultaneous prayer. While the pastor or a layman is leading in prayer, members of the congregation may join in with oral prayers of their own. During the prayer, the congregation may stand, sit with bowed heads, or kneel in the pews while facing the rear of the church. Many churches provide an open altar during prayer time. This gives anyone an opportunity to go forward to the sanctuary altar and pray silently while the pastor is praying.

The members of the choir may be volunteers rather than persons who have been selected by audition. They may or may not wear robes. However, evangelical choir music is usually lively and quite sound musically. The selection may be an arrangement or variation of a hymn or Gospel song rather than an anthem. The choir members may take seats down on the floor of the sanctuary when their selection and all congregational singing is finished.

Evangelical churches are financed through a process known as tithing. Tithing is giving ten percent of your income to the Lord. This custom was established by God in the Old Testament era as a means of maintaining the temple and the people who worked there. It is still the best system for supporting all that goes on in the church, from salaries to plant maintenance. The practice of tithing permits a relatively small congregation to maintain an attractive sanctuary and pay a pastor a living wage. Tithing is tax deductible, of course. Most churches maintain an accounting system and provide a receipt at the end of the calendar year for tax purposes.

You need to begin thinking about tithing. In addition to being a sound process for financing a church program, tithing can be a source of spiritual blessing for the contributor. However, if you are already tithing your income to some other ministry, or if you are still thinking through the doctrine of tithing for yourself and your family, a courtesy contribution of a dollar or two in the offering plate will be perfectly acceptable.

Music is the hallmark of evangelical worship, as stated above regarding congregational singing and choir music. At least once during the service, usually right before the sermon, there will be special music. This may be a solo, duet, trio, quartet, or small vocal ensemble.

In recent years, special singers have been able to sing to recorded sound tracks. Some Gospel record companies are producing these orchestrated accompaniment sound tracks so non professional singers can sing a song from an album right in the home church. Many churches are able to play these tapes to good advantage because they have gone beyond a simple PA system and have installed a sophisticated sound system.

Now we have come to the main course, the most important portion of a worship service. The sermon, or "message" as it is often called, usually takes up about half the length of the entire service. The pastor may begin with a scripture passage followed by a brief prayer. Then he may announce his topic and the "text" for the sermon. The text is really a verse or portion of a verse which contains the central idea for the sermon.

Sermons fall into two broad categories. In the first category, the pastor will use the scripture lesson and text to support a topical discussion of a particular concept which will be developed in outline style. In the second category, the pastor will analyze a passage of scripture, verse by verse and, perhaps, word by word. A Biblical incident may be described within the context of the times and customs of the author or persons being written about. The original meaning of Greek or Hebrew words may be discussed in order to help you understand what the passage has to say for us today.

As the pastor nears the end of his sermon, he may begin setting the scene for an altar invitation. The invitation provides an opportunity for persons to walk to the front of the church and kneel at the altar. This is done because such persons have recognized they have a need to accept Jesus and receive forgiveness for the sin in their lives. In addition, the altar is always open to persons who are not seeking any specific work of grace but who may have problems which they would like to take to the altar in prayer.

The congregation usually stands during the altar invitation. The organ may play softly while the pastor invites persons to come forward to pray. The congregation may sing a song of invitation. Just As I Am may be the world's best known invitation song because it has been used by Billy Graham in his worldwide crusades for many years. Between verses of the song, the pastor often exhorts persons to mind God if He is calling them to come forward and pray.

When the pastor has determined that it is time to end the altar invitation, he may invite persons who did not go forward to the altar to raise their hands for prayer. The pastor will make a mental note of these persons and pray for them during the week.

Following the benediction or close of the altar service, you will not see a stampede for the door. Although some people may leave right away, many will linger to exchange pleasantries and carry on conversations. There will be much hand shaking and introductions of visitors.

Your first visit to an evangelical church may not generate any opportunities for socialization which extend beyond the church premises. However, if you continue attending the same church for a few Sundays, you should start picking up invitations to participate in the informal social life of the church. Sunday night after church seems to be a favorite time for informal, impromptu fellowshipping. Two or more families may agree to meet at a family restaurant for a snack. A small group may go to someone's home for refreshments and table games. These affairs seem to work best with two or three families but larger groups may assemble, also. In a smaller group, you'll have a better chance to get to know people and to begin associating names and faces.

If you attend the same church for several weeks and no one offers an opportunity for socialization beyond the church building, it may be time to consider looking for a more friendly church.

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