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.