Friday, November 9, 2012

Church Polity, part 4

Note: If you are planning to pick apart every thing I say, I'm not interested. If you really want to dialogue about the subject, I'm all ears (and my ears are big, literally).

Last week, we looked specifically at Acts 6:1-7 making a couple of observations about the decision-making process of the early church, specifically as it related to a conflict that had arisen and the roles & responsibilities of elders and deacons.

Remember, the apostles’ function in Acts 6 is analogous to the role of pastors/elders in the church today with respect to primary responsibility of oversight, shepherding, guiding, and teaching. Given these responsibilities, it does not preclude the greater congregation of believers from having input nor does it say for the greater congregation to blindly follow the pastors/elders. In fact, while pastors/elders are the serving leaders of the congregation and the deacons are the leading servants, the New Testament places a heavy responsibility on the total congregation in certain situations.

Here are a few of them. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus gives the final authority in the decision to excommunicate an un-repentant brother or sister in Christ from the congregation rather than to the pastors/elders. While the pastors/elders would play a role in that process, the final decision is from the greater congregation.

This reality shows up in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. In this specific situation, Paul addresses the entire congregation because they have allowed a young man in the church to sleep with his step-mother without calling him and her to repentance. Paul addresses the whole congregation, not just the pastors/elders. This is a responsibility of the entire church body.

Also, while the pastors/elders provide spiritual oversight and leadership for the church body, the church body is also responsible for holding the pastors/elders accountable, particularly in their teaching ministry of the church so that they do not teach & preach false doctrine.

As the Holy Spirit leads and guides, there is a check and balance in the decision-making process of the church working through the pastors/elders and the greater congregation.

Church Polity, part 3

Note: If you are planning to pick apart every thing I say, I'm not interested. If you really want to dialogue about the subject, I'm all ears (and my ears are big, literally).

This week, let’s explore Acts 6:1-7 for few minutes as we glean some important truths about church polity.

Notice that there is a conflict occurring in the Jerusalem church about the serving of the widows that were present among the church--Jewish widows and Hellenistic widows. Out of this conflict, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we can glean some important truths even though the church is fairly young at this point in history.

First, there is a consensus of decision-making among the church. The apostles gathered the disciples together to give information about the situation. The apostles instructed the disciples as to the best method for solving the conflict and moving forward. The disciples chose the seven who would be appointed to this task of “serving tables” to aid in the ministry to the widows, particularly the Hellenistic widows. The seven were brought back to the apostles for affirmation and appointment. There was consensus among the church and the leadership (apostles) all under the Lordship of Jesus and leadership of the Holy Spirit. If you will notice the process that we have used the last couple of years in our Deacon Nomination process, we have tried to follow this pattern ourselves.

Second, there is a division of labor among the church. While pastor-teachers are not equivalent to apostles, there is I believe an analogous relationship that is borne out in this passage with respect to the primary responsibilities of pastor/teachers. The apostles primary responsibility was to “prayer and the ministry of the word”. While serving tables was not out of their purview of the apostles’ ministry and they did participate, it was not primary. The ministry to the widows had become too much for the apostles to handle to the point that they were neglecting their primary calling and responsibility to the disciples in prayer and the word. Therefore, in order for the apostles (and by analogy, pastor/teachers) to give primary attention to “prayer and the ministry of the word” to the congregation, there was a division of labor among the church with the seven taking the lead on the task of serving the widows among the church.

Third, notice the result in v. 7 - “and the word of God continued to increase and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” The conflict was resolved and the church unified. The word of God increased and the church was strengthened. This passage gives us a picture of church polity and division of labor among the church that promotes a healthy church that bears fruit for the kingdom and glory of God in making disciples.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Church Polity, part 2

One of the fundamental realities of church polity that must be recognized (or re-recognized) is the fact that Jesus is the head of the church--the universal church and local congregations that are expressions of the universal church. This is a truth that cannot be overstated because if Jesus is the "head" of the church, then He is the one to whom we must give account as to how we are organized, structured, and how we make decisions. Therefore, in one sense, our opinions do not matter on issues related to the church and her decision making processes. What matters is what Jesus has already said. If there are items to which the bible is either silent, it is imperative that we spend much time in prayer asking for the wisdom of God and seeking to follow principles in the scripture that speak to the subject at hand. For example, the bible says that churches ought to have deacons. However, the scripture does not say anything about "terms of service" nor does it give us an exact "job description".

We are responsible and will be held responsible for following what Jesus has said. What flows from this is the reality that Jesus has not left us to ourselves in the structuring of the church. Jesus has spoken to us in his word; therefore, if we believe that God has spoken in His word and his word is binding on us, we are obligated to follow his word if we are to be a faithful church.

One of the first places we find this in scripture is Acts 6:1-7. In Acts 6, we find an internal conflict occuring in the church at Jerusalem. A particular segment of the congregation (i.e., Greek-speaking Jewish widows) were being neglected in the daily distribution of the food. In this exchange, there is a partnership in making decisions among the congregation. The apostles came up with the plan action. Then, they involved the congregation in the carrying out of the plan. Then, they (the apostles) affirmed the input from the congregation. Then, they moved forward, which is defined in terms of v. 7--"and the word of God continued to increase, and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith."

Next week, we will lay out a basic outline of church polity we glean from this passage.

What do you see in the passage? How should the church make decisions? Who has the final say--congregation, elders, deacons, committees, etc.?

Monday, October 15, 2012

On the Blogs for October 15, 2012

Talking about homosexuality (this is a really good article)

8 Terrible Church Visits (very interesting)

Pulpit Freedom Sunday (interesting)

Pillars of Ministry (pretty good especially since our church is studying spiritual gifts on Sunday nights)

Biblical Womanhood and the OT (deep discussion if you are interested)

Wishing (good encouragement for when we don't desire God)

Church Polity, part 1

Over the last several weeks we have been looking into the subject of church membership, what it means, what it does not mean. We now turn our attention to something that usually gets people’s blood pressure up--church polity. Church polity is the subject of how a local congregation is governed, how the local church makes decisions. One author entitled his book on this subject, Who Rules the Church?. His use of the word church is referring to a local congregation.

Unfortunately, much of what Americans believe about church polity is colored by the realm of politics in the United States rather than the bible. We have taken much of our American political system and imposed it upon the local church (for the record, that’s a bad idea).

In fact, in our Southern Baptist statement of faith, the Baptist Faith & Message, here’s part of the article on “The Church”, p. 13: “Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes.” While I endorse our statement of faith as a whole, I cringe a little at the second half of this statement. “Under the Lordship of Christ”---absolutely, that is to be the case---Jesus is head of the church universal and the church local (Colossians 1:15-18; Ephesians 1:22; 5:23). However, I still haven’t found “democratic processes” in the New Testament.

With that being said, what does the bible say about church structure and the decision-making of a congregation? Is the bible silent about this issue? Is the bible vague about the issue as some have stated? Who leads the church? How are decisions to be made? Can we answer any of these questions with certainty from the scriptures?

I believe we can. And, that will be our task over the next several weeks as we look at the issue of church polity and structure of the local congregation.

For further study check out these books:

  • Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever
  • Who Rules the Church by Gerald Cowen
  • A Theology for the Church edited by Daniel L. Akin

Church Membership, part 8

We have spent the last several articles here in the Forerunner talking about church membership and what it means. Today, I want to share a few more thoughts.

In my limited experience, I have heard various reasons why people don’t “join” (participate with) a local congregation of believers in the Great Commission in a committed manner. Some people are afraid they will be asked to do something; some do not want to lose their cemetery plot at their “home” church; others are just shy and don’t want to walk “down front” during the last song; others still do not “join” because they refuse to be held accountable by the church for the way they live (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5).

God has so designed each of us and the church for us to belong to Christ and to each other...we are members of one another (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Church membership is for our good and designed by God for our sanctification as we journey together with other believers on mission with Jesus following him. Belonging to and being committed to a group of believers is the pattern of the New Testament for every believer (just read the book of Acts).

In our church, we want membership to mean something. We want it to matter...not for social status, not for cemetery plots (yes, I know we don’t have a cemetery...thank goodness), not for institutional management, not for tradition keeping. We want membership to matter for growing in Jesus, exercising spiritual gifts to help the body grow, and fulfilling the Great Commission.

Don’t you want to be a part of that? That’s what I want church to be about...that is what church is about.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Church Membership, part 7

We have already laid out the reasons why church membership is important and significant to the life of a Christian. Those things would be included in a “membership class” or “membership interview”, so those things will not be re-written here.

Some church membership processes are more involved than others. Most of them include some variation of the following elements.

  1. Baptism by immersion - This is the “confession of salvation” in the NT church. It is one of the first steps of obedience in following Christ as his disciple. It is a public demonstration of a spiritual reality.
  2. Membership interview or class - Some churches have several-week long classes for those interested in becoming members. During these classes, topics such as doctrine, church membership responsibilities, vision of the church, spiritual gifts, and testimony of salvation are discussed. Other churches discuss have a membership application and then an interview with an elder/pastor or other designated person.
  3. Elder affirmation - Because of the responsibility of elders to oversee the church, some churches require that the elders/pastors give an affirmation for new members. The elders/pastors are also the ones who conduct the interviews or classes.
  4. Congregational affirmation - Because of the authority in scripture to the church body as a whole, most churches require some form of affirmation from the congregation at some point.

Usually, precluding any of these things may be a conversation with a pastor/elder or deacon or other church member. Some churches do the membership class kind of as an “interest/get to know you” kind of thing. Others require the church membership class as a prerequisite to becoming a “full member”.

Next week - lingering thoughts about church membership.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

On the Blogs for September 20, 2012

8 Reasons to serve outside the four walls on a Sunday (interesting)

The Gospel and Fasting (good reminder)

Prayer - Illumination

Good quote here for preachers - Dr. John Stott wrote: "Authentic Christian preaching is a bridge-building operation. It relates the text to the context in such a way as to be both faithful to the biblical text and sensitive to the modern context. We must not sacrifice either to the other."

Suffering and a Good God (interesting)

new book "Everyday Church" - this is a great quote

Corporate Worship Behavior  (thought this was interesting)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Church Membership, part 6

Over the last two weeks’ articles, we have listed 12 biblical responsibilities of a “church member”. Putting them all together would be similar to what many congregations have in place today called a church covenant. A church covenant is a declaration of church members’ responsibilities and one’s commitment to those responsibilities as a participating member of a congregation of believers. Church covenants can be helpful in reminding all church members that being a church membership is meaningful and significant, something more than just a name on a roll. Church covenants should be a reflection of the principles found in the “new covenant” that all Christians are under in Christ Jesus rather than something in addition to what has been spelled out in the New Testament regarding church.

Therefore, church covenants, should be taken seriously. It is much more than a contract or agreement or bargain because of the seriousness of what church is and the significance that the New Testament places on the church as the body of Christ. Church covenants are a promise of responsibility and accountability. It is a commitment of giving ourselves to a group of people with whom we share in Christ and with one another the burden and privilege of making disciples (Matthew 28:16-20; Matthew 22:34-40). It represents our commitment to each other as brothers and sisters in the family of God for the mutual edification of one another through the exercising of spiritual gifts as we each grow up to spiritual maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4:1-17).

Many church covenants start out something like this: “Having been led, by the grace of God, and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, and upon our profession of faith and baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we do now before God and this congregation covenant to do the following”.

Then, the covenant will go on to list things that should reflect (hopefully) the “responsibilities” that we have listed the last couple of weeks in the Forerunner articles that come straight out of the scripture.

The learning of what church covenant means and what church membership in churches usually takes place through a church membership process. It takes many forms in different churches.

Next week, we will look at what a church membership process might look like.

Church Membership, part 5

Let's continue our list of biblical responsibilities of church members:
  • Every member is responsible to submit to other members in general and to the elders/pastors whom God has placed among them as the under-shepherds who watch over their souls.
  • Every member is responsible to pursue a holy lifestyle that communicates the gospel so as not to bring reproach to the name of Christ, and thereby bring discipline into their lives from the church.
  • Every member is responsible to pursue the means of God's grace in growing toward spiritual maturity.
  • Every member is responsible for an on-going lifestyle of repentance, showing humility and dependence upon God's grace.
  • Every member is responsible to seek to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace among the church through a biblical peacemaking process.
  • Every member is responsible to care for the needs of others, particularly those of the household of faith, but generally to all those whom God places in their path.
  • Every member is responsible to speak the truth in love at all times, particularly in times when sin must be confronted among the church.

These biblical responsibilities are in no particular order nor is this an exhaustive list. These are a list of about 12 that cover the general responsibilities of all church members.

In fact, notice carefully. Many of the things on this list (last week and this week) refer to the character that the Holy Spirit produces in the lives of Christians; they are lived out within the context of a congregation or community of believers.

These responsibilities are not to be seen as rules & regulations. In fact, for the Christian, 1 John tells us that the commandments of the Lord are not burdensome; they are a joy because they are for our good and God's glory.

What does all this look like when applied to a congregation?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Church Membership, part 4

The question we left hanging last week was this: how do we do church membership according to biblical principles?

Entrance into the "universal church" is accomplished by the Holy Spirit as He applies the work of Christ in a person's life, regenerates his or her spirit, and baptizes him/her into the "body of Christ". The physical representation (or sign) of this entrance into the "universal body of Christ" is through the ordinance of water baptism by immersion that pictures the death, burial, and resurrection to new life in Christ. Therefore, baptism by immersion is the "profession of faith" we find in the NT rather than the "walking down an aisle" that we so often associate with this.

The outworking of one's "membership" in the universal body of Christ is represented by one's "membership" in a "local congregation or assembly" of believers through full participation in the life of that local congregation.

Being a church member comes with responsibilities rather than rights. And, all those who desire to "join" our local congregation must understand and commit themselves to fulfilling these responsibilities. Here are a few:

  • Every member is responsible to believe the gospel and live out the implications of the gospel in every arena of life under the Lordship of Jesus through the indwelling presence and enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Every member is responsible for being baptized by immersion as a testimony of one's faith in Jesus and entrance into the body of Christ.
  • Every member is responsible to give time, talent, and treasure to the mission and well-being of his/her church.
  • Every member is responsible to participate in the life of the church--gatherings, Lord's Supper, exercising spiritual gifts, ministries, outreach, etc. unless providentially hindered.
  • Every member is responsible for his/her role in the Great Commission.

More to come in the next installment in this series.


Here are some quotes from the book The Trellis and The Vine that didn't make it in the sermon yesterday about how making disciples is fleshed out in a congregation:

  1. What is God doing in the world? God is calling people into his kingdom through Spirit-backed gospel preaching. He is growing a great worldwide vine, which is Christ and the people who are joined to him.
  2. Everyone who by God’s grace becomes a disciple of Christ is not only part of the vine, but also a vine-worker, a disciple-maker, a partner in the gospel. Although some Christians have particular gifts and responsibilities for teaching and oversight, all Christians have a role in prayerfully speaking the word of truth to each other and to those outside.
  3. Training is the process of growing mature Christian vine-workers--that is, Christians who are mature enough enough in their faith to look for opportunities to serve others by prayerfully speaking God’s truth to them. This is our aim in people work. It involves not just ministry skills and competencies, but growth in convictions (understanding) and character (godliness). This is a fundamental aspect of church life, and might involve a shift in the way we think about church.
  4. Training (understood in this way) is the engine of gospel growth. People move from being outsiders and unconverted through to being followed up as new Christians and then growing into mature, stable Christians who are then in turn trained and mobilized to lead others through the gospel growth process”

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Church Membership, part 3

Many people wonder about the issue of church membership, whether or not it is even biblical. Well, there is no command present in scripture, old or new testament, that says, "Thou shalt walk down the aisle to "join a church".

However, there is a clear pattern set forth in scripture that salvation is not just an individual reality, but also corporate or collective reality. God has, since the beginning, been calling and redeeming a "people" to and for himself. A "people" is composed of individual persons. There is a corporate identity to the people of God.

Also, the images used in the NT to describe church also bear out this "membership" of individual persons into a "corporate" reality-------the body of Christ (the exercising of spiritual gifts for the good of the congregation), family of God, living stones, etc. The pattern in the book of Acts is that whenever someone became a Christian, they automatically became part of a group of believers in their specific location. Their "joining" this group of believers was a natural outflow of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. A Christian's participation and involvment in a "congregation of believers" is a picture of that Christian's belonging to the "universal church". Jesus' teaching on church discipline in Matthew 18 (see also 1 Corinthians 5 & Paul's instruction to the church at Corinth) gives evidence of "belonging to" a congregation of believers in order for this kind of edification & sanctification to take place. There is an authority that Jesus gives to a congregation. Also, the fact that pastors/elders will give an account of the souls over which they are called to care for is further evidence for "membership"; the pastors/elders must know for whom God has given them responsbility to care (Hebrews 13:7, 17).

So, is "church membership" biblical? I believe the clear answer is yes. Being a part of, participating in, being invloved in a "community of believers" is necessary for one's growth to spiritual maturity and is clearly the pattern for all believers.

Therefore, the question is not anymore, "is church membership biblical?", but "how do we do church membership so that our process reflects the principles in the bible"? Does the bible tell us how to do this?

We will begin to tackle that next week.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Church Membership, part 2

Let’s revisit this quote from The Trellis and the Vine: "One church we have been involved in tried to express this by not having 'membership' of the congregation, but 'partnership'. In our society, when you join as a 'member' of something, it can have connotations of passivity and consumerism. I join a club, and expect certain benefits. The 'partnership' language, on the other hand, communicates immediately that we are signing up for active involvement--for being partners together in a great enterprise: the gospel mission of Christ."

Partnering with (joining) a local congregation is an expression of being part of the universal church. It is something that is patterned in the New Testament. For example, everyone who became a Christian in the NT joined themselves with other Christians--it just happened. It was the natural outflow of the Holy Spirit working in that person’s life. Whenever Paul wrote a letter to a congregation, he had a particular group of Christians in mind when he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For example, Colossians 1:2 says, “to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae”. Paul was writing to the specific congregation there in the city of Colossae. This practice gives some indication that the congregation in Colossae knew the people who were “part” of their congregation and those who were not---our normal terminology for this would be “members” and “non-members”. Unfortunately, these words are loaded with baggage from outside the church that give them connotations that do not resemble what scripture teaches or patterns for us today.

Church membership is less about rights and more about responsibility, covenant, mission, and fellowship. These four things manifest themselves in the “one another” passages of the bible. Everyone who is covenanted together as a congregation is responsible for caring for, serving, loving, building up, looking after, speaking the truth in love, and admonishing everyone else. It is a partnership with other believers under the Lordship of Jesus and His Word. One of the best pictures for what “church membership” looks like is Acts 2:40-47. We can also discern other practices and principles from the letters of the Apostle Paul.

Here are a few questions we will tackle over the next couple of weeks:

  • Why one should join a congregation?
  • How does one join a congregation?
  • What does joining a congregation mean?
  • What are biblical expectations of “members”?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Church Membership, part 1

In this second detour from the book of Nehemiah, we are looking at the NT to find patterns, principles, commands, and instruction about what a healthy church looks like. Last week we defined church and then defined a “local congregation”. We defined local congregation as the following: A local congregation is a group of believers (Christians) in a particular geographical location who are committed to Jesus as Lord & to one another by covenant for mutual love & accountability for the purpose of displaying the glory of God and fulfilling the Great Commission.

In the forerunner articles over the next several weeks, we will examine three different aspects of church life that flow out of this definition. We will examine: church membership, church leadership, and decision making in a local congregation.

The New Testament speaks to each of these aspects. We will be using these articles to examine the scripture, find out what it says, and then seek to bring our church in line with what the scripture teaches by putting systems and structures in place that will flow from the biblical definition of church and support the primary purpose and mission of the church.

First up is church membership. Let’s begin with the following quote that I found helpful in re-orienting our thinking about what “membership” means in a congregation. This quote is from the book The Trellis and The Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.

"One church we have been involved in tried to express this by not having 'membership' of the congregation, but 'partnership'. In our society, when you join as a 'member' of something, it can have connotations of passivity and consumerism. I join a club, and expect certain benefits. The 'partnership' language, on the other hand, communicates immediately that we are signing up for active involvement--for being partners together in a great enterprise: the gospel mission of Christ."

What is church membership all about? Does the New Testament even speak to the issue of church membership? If so, what does it means for us today?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Membership or Partnership?

I thought this was very insightful from the book The Trellis and the Vine:

"One church we have been involved in tried to express this by not having 'membership' of the congregation, but 'partnership'. In our society, when you join as a 'member' of something, it can have connotations of passivity and consumerism. I join a club, and expect certain benefits. The 'partnership' language, on the other hand, communicates immediately that we are signing up for active involvement--for being partners together in a great enterprise: the gospel mission of Christ."

While there are "benefits" to belonging to a local congregation for mutual love, edification, and accountability, that is not usually the way most people think of benefits. Regardless, this is a great quote and worth thinking about.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Repost of "When Entitlement Comes to Church" by Thom Rainer

This is a very good article and worth reading. The following is only part of it:

If there is one place where entitlement should be anathema, it is the local church. Remember the reason Jesus came to earth? “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life – a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, HCSB). And how are we followers of Christ to live? We are to “make (our) own attitude that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).

Servanthood should dominate the lives of church members. Putting others first should be our first priority. Entitlement has no place in our churches.

How do we know when entitlement becomes pervasive in our churches? We can be sure it’s present when we hear comments similar to these:

“I have been a member of this church for 20 years, so I deserve things my way.” “Someone was sitting in the pew where my family sits.” “I tithe to this church, so you work for me.” “If I don’t get my way, I’ll withhold my money from the church.” “Some people will be in trouble if they mess with the worship the way I like it.” “We’ll just visit another church until he changes things back to the way they were.” “Why didn’t you visit me? That’s what we pay you to do.”

I could continue. Indeed you could add to the quotes as well. But my point, I believe, is clear. There is no place in the church for a self-serving attitude. To the contrary, we are to give cheerfully and serve others joyfully.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Healthy Church, part 10 - Biblical Church Leadership

Dever’s chapter in What is a Healthy Church? primarily focuses on the particular office within the church called elder. In some baptist circles, many people are not accustomed to hearing that term, though it is a very biblical one.

In the New Testament, there are three words used to point to this particular office: overseer, elder, and shepherd (or pastor). They are used interchangeably, according to Dever. One place to notice this is in Acts 20 when Paul is talking to the elders from Ephesus. He uses all three words in some way to refer to the same group of men. Therefore, we can conclude that there need not be a distinction made as there is in some denominations.

The term “elder” seems to be the proper biblical label for the office, while the terms “overseer” and “shepherd” (or pastor) seem to be more descriptive words concerning the function and responsibility of the elders. The qualifications for elders, as well as some of their responsibilities, are found in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3. And, while elders are not in the same class as apostles in the New Testament, Acts 6 does give us a picture, I believe, of one of the primary responsibilities of elders when compared to that of the first deacons (Acts 6:1-7).

Another thing Dever points out is the abundance of times in the NT when “elders” is in the plural rather than the singular. This calls our attention to the fact that a “plurality of elders” is the pattern we find in the NT even one of the “elders” may have the primary responsibility of preaching and teaching. The shepherding responsibility of a congregation is impossible for one man to shoulder alone. God has given us the pattern for the spiritual leadership and care of the congregation through a plurality of elders and deacons in their distinctive roles.

Healthy churches have an understanding of biblical leadership based upon the NT rather than a business or civic club model. Recognizing qualified elders and deacons among the congregation and letting them serve according to the functions laid out in the NT is an essential ingredient for a healthy church.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why - For the Great Commission

We have been examining the fundamental reasons for pursuing a path of revitalization and rebuilding over the last 3 weeks.

The first reason we must pursue this path is "for the glory of God"

The second reason we must pursue this path is "for the good of God's people"

The third reason we must pursue this path is "for the Great Commission"

Yesterday (without the AC) we examined this reason by answering 4 questions:

First, what in the world is God doing?

Answer: God is actively seeking, drawing, redeeming, and bringing a people out of all nations to live in fellowship with Himself conforming them to the image of His Son for the purpose of sharing in His glory for all eternity by means of His chosen instruments, the church, through the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ so that He might display His glory to them and through them so that they might worship, serve, and praise Him in all His majesty, splendor, brilliance, power, and supremacy for all eternity.

Second, Where are we headed?

Answer: Revelation 5:9-12

Third, how has God ordained for this reality to come to pass?

Answer: Matthew 28:16-20 and Acts 1:8 - we get to participate in God's plan of redemption for the nations

Fourth, what does that look like in moving forward?

Answer: When we look at our organization & structure (ministries, programs, worship service, Sunday school, committees, outreach, etc.), are we being effective in making disciples?

We want to see:
- people growing in their love for Jesus
- people growing in their love for each other
- people growing in their love for neighbors
- people involved in opportunities of ministry
- people involved in small groups (Sunday school) growing together in Christ by engaging God's Word
- people taking personal responsibility for their spiritual growth
- people seeing themselves as missionaries wherever they are

Question we must consistently ask as we apply this to our church: How does this ("this" referring to any program, committee, decision, etc.) help us make disciples?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Healthy Church, part 9 - Biblical Discipleship and Growth

Dever writes, "Another important mark of a healthy church is a pervasive concern for the church growth as growth is prescribed in the bible. That means growing members, not just numbers." This is the important mark of watching people's lives being transformed by God's grace through the gospel by the Holy Spirit.

Here is a paragraph that is very important for many in churches today: "Some today think that a person can be a "baby Christian" for a whole lifetime. Growth is treated as an optional extra for zealous disciples. But growth is a sign of life. If a tree is alive, it grows. It an animal is alive, it grows. Being alive means growing, and growing means increasing and advancing, at least until death intercedes."

But, how do we measure growth? As we learned this past Sunday, it isn't necessarily by "bodies, budgets, and buildings".

Dever offers these possible ways:

  • Growing numbers being called to missions
  • Older members getting a fresh sense of their responsibility in evangelism and in discipling younger members
  • Younger members attending the funeral of older members out of love
  • Increased praying in the church and more prayers centered on evangelism and ministry opportunities
  • More members sharing the gospel with outsiders
  • Less reliance among members on the church's programs and more spontaneous ministry activities arising from members
  • Informal gatherings among church members characterized by spiritual conversation, including apparent willingness to confess sin while simultaneously pointing to the cross
  • Increased and sacrificial giving
  • Increased fruits of the Spirit
  • Members making career sacrifices so they can serve the church
  • Husbands leading their wives sacrificially
  • Wives submitting to their husbands
  • Parents discipling their children in the faith
  • A corporate willingness to discipline unrepentant and public sin
  • A corporate love for an unrepentant sinner shown in the pursuit of him or her before discipline is enacted

Where are we seeing "church growth"? Where are you seeing personal growth in your life today?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Why - For the Good of God's People

Another fundamental reason & purpose for rebuilding and revitalizing is for the good of God's people. We discovered that there are at least 3 elements to rebuilding for the good of God's people.

1. Rebuilding for the good of God’s people is about getting back to the basics of our identity and purpose as a congregation.

2. Rebuilding for the good of God's people is about becoming a spiritually healthy congregation in all aspects of church life.

3. Rebuilding for the good of God's people is about helping everyone in our congregation become and maintain spiritual healthiness

Why - For the Glory of God

On Sunday morning, July 1 we dealt with the subject of rebuilding for the glory of God.

Ephesians 3:20-21 declares for the glory of God to be displayed "in the church", so we asked a question prompted from this text: how is God's glory displayed in the church, specifically a congregation of his people.

Here's how we answered that question:

God's glory is put on display when Jesus is the center of attention

God's glory is put on display when the gospel is the lifeblood

God's glory is put on display when believers are growing in Christ

God's glory is put on display when the lost are served in compassion and love

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Healthy Church, part 8 - Church Discipline

The next mark of a healthy church, according to Dever, is Biblical Church Disipline. This certainly follows after the biblical understanding of church membership.

There are a couple of key passages concerning what has come to be known as "church discipline": Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 5. Many of the Reformers in the 1500s declared that if a church did not practice church discipline, then it was not a true church.

Over the years, church discipline is something that has been used and abused by many churches rather than being exercised in the redemptive manner for which God designed it. Just because it has been abused by some does not make it null and void as a biblical practice of the church.

While discipline itself comes in two forms, formative and corrective, it usually the corrective form that generates the most attention and controversy. Does the church, the congregation of God’s people covenanted together, have the authority to correctively discipline someone who continues in a state of unrepentant sin?

Dever offers “five positive reasons for practicing corrective church discipline”: (p. 106)

  1. It shows love for the good of the of the disciplined individual
  2. It shows love for other Christians as they see the danger of sin
  3. It shows love for the health of the church as a whole
  4. It shows love for the corporate witness of the church and, therefore, non-Christians in the community
  5. It shows love for the glory of God. Our holiness should reflect God’s holiness.

He closes this chapter with the following sentence: “It should mean something to be a member of the church, not for our pride’s sake, but for God’s name’s sake.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Healthy Church, part 7 - Church Membership

Another important mark of a healthy church according to Dever is church membership. He begins his chapter on church membership with the following two paragraphs:

“Is church membership a biblical idea? In one sense, no. Open up the New Testament, and you won’t find a story about, say, Priscilla and Aquila moving to the city of Rome, checking out one church, then another, and finally deciding to join a third. From what we call tell, nobody when “church shopping” because there was only one church in each community. In that sense, you won’t find a list of church members in the New Testament.

But the churches of the New Testament apparently kept lists of people, such as the lists of widows supported by the church (1 Timothy 5). More significantly, a number of passages in the New Testament suggest that churches did have some way of delineating their members. They knew who belonged to their assemblies and who did not.” (p. 93)

He goes on to write about 4 things that biblical church membership means:

1) Biblical membership means commitment - commitment to & covenanted with other believers for mutual edification and the carrying out of the Great Commission

2) Biblical membership means taking responsibility - being responsible to serve one another through love; held accountable for a holy lifestyle by others; caring for one another; helping one another follow Jesus

3) Biblical membership means salvation affirmation - being part of a congregation helps clarify what it means to be a Christian to a watching world; other believers can affirm God’s work in a person’s life through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit

4) Biblical membership is meaningful - membership with a congregation is much more than a club (of any kind); it’s not just a place to keep our name so we don’t have to buy a cemetery plot; it’s not a place we keep our name for sentimental reasons; it is about calling, commitment, and responsibility

Church membership is more about “family responsibility” rather than “rights”. How do we view membership?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Healthy Church, part 6 - Evangelism

Dever writes, “So far, we have described healthy churches as marked by expositional preaching, biblical theology, and a biblical understanding of the gospel and conversion. That means when churches don’t teach the bible and sound doctrine they become unhealthy” (p. 89).

The next mark of a healthy church that Dever points to is the understanding of evangelism. He asserts that our understanding of “evangelism [should be] shaped by [our] understanding of conversion.” And, it really is, intentionally or not.

I thought this was interesting. “One sign that a church may not have a biblical understanding of conversion and evangelism is that its membership is markedly larger than its attendance” (p. 90). I imagine that this statistic is true in the majority of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention.

The word evangelism is the word that means “to announce good news”. The good news we are to announce is the good news of Jesus Christ, that he died on a cross in our place and for our sins. There are lots of these that we do so that we might have the opportunity to “announce the good news”, but those things must not be confused with “evangelism” itself. These things, in my understanding, go hand in hand as God uses us to spread the gospel and extend his kingdom in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

I heard someone say one time that evangelism is “sharing the gospel and leaving the results to God.” Since the work of conversion is decisively God’s work and not man’s, this is a good definition for evangelism.

Our response? As the hymn writer said, “tell the good news, tell the good new”!

Monday, June 18, 2012

When Taking a Risk is Really a Step of Faith

Here are the sermon points from this past Sunday as we journeyed through Nehemiah 2:1-10.

Taking a Risk is really a step of faith when God:

1. Gives you a burden for his glory, the good of his people, and his work

2. Puts you in a position to be part of his plan

3. Orchestrates the opportunity to exercise faith

4. Provides the resources necessary to carry out his plan

5. Gives evidence of his presence in the process

6. Reveals the opposition that we will face

Recognizing all of these is an important step toward revitalizing and rebuilding for the glory of God and the Great Commission.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Healthy Church, part 5 - Conversion

The next few “marks of a healthy congregation” from Dever’s book that we will summarize flow out of the first three---expositional preaching, biblical theology, and a biblical understanding of the gospel.

Having a biblical understanding of the gospel, Dever writes that the next mark of a healthy congregation is a “biblical understanding of conversion”.

Conversion can be defined as the result of regeneration in a person that bears the fruit of repentance from sin and faith toward Jesus. The root of conversion is God’s act of regeneration.
Regeneration: “The concept is of God renovating the heart, the core of a person’s being, by implanting a new principle of desire, purpose, and action, a dispositional dynamic that finds expression is a positive response to the gospel and its Christ” (can’t remember where I got the quote). Synonyms for this are being born again, born from above, granted spiritual life, the act of spiritual life being imparted. It is absolutely necessary for faith to be exercised; otherwise, no one would ever be saved. Repentance: “The change is radical, both inwardly and outwardly; mind & judgment, will & affections, behavior & life-style, motives & purposes, are all involved. Repenting means starting to live a new life” (can’t remember where I got the quote).

John MacArthur says, “True salvation is not mere profession or ritual act. It is the divine transformation of the soul from love of self to love of God, from love of sin to love of holiness.”

Conversion, therefore, does not only point back to a one-time experience, but conversion begins a revolutionized life toward a continual lifestyle of repentance and faith pursuing Jesus as the master and lover of one’s soul.

Dever quotes the New Hampshire Confession of Faith: “We believe that Repentance and Faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God; whereby being deeply convinced of our guilt, danger, and helplessness, and of the way of salvation by Christ, we turn to God with unfeigned contrition, confession, and supplication for mercy; at the same time heartily receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Prophet, Priest, and King, and relying on him alone as the only and all-sufficient Saviour.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Healthy Church, part 4

So far we have looked at Mark Dever’s first two marks of a healthy church, namely, expository preaching and biblical theology. A third mark of a healthy that Dever points out as foundational is a Biblical Understanding of the Good News. To be a healthy church we should have a right understanding of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

He writes, “A healthy church is a church in which every member, young and old, mature and immature, unites around the wonderful good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.” Much is being written today calling congregations to be “gospel-centered”--that everything they say and do be about the gospel and flow from the implications of the gospel. To be sure, if we cease to rightly understand, proclaim, or live the gospel, we have ceased to be a NT congregation.

A healthy congregation continues to grow deeper in her understanding and application of the gospel to daily life as she lives for the glory of God and the Great Commission.

What is the gospel? I like the way it is put in the following sentences from another book co-authored by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander: “This gospel, then, is that God is our holy creator and righteous judge. He created us to glorify him and enjoy him forever, but we have all sinned, both in Adam as our representative head, and in in our own individual actions. We therefore deserve death--spiritual separation from God in hell--and are in fact already spiritually stillborn, helpless in our sins and in need of God to impart spiritual life to us. But, God sent his son Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, to die the death that we deserved, and he raised him up for our justification, proving that he was God’s son. If we would have Christ’s perfect righteousness credited to us, and the penalty for our sins accounted to him, we must repent of our sins and believe in Jesus Christ for salvation.”

This represents a good summary of the Doctrine of Justification by faith. That is good news! Maybe take some time to meditate on this truth today.