Monday, May 24, 2010

Video Monday- Johnny Mac!

This is John MacArthur's message from the Together for the Gospel conference. It is vintage MacArthur and solid exposition. You need to set aside about an hour to watch this- it will be time well spent.

T4G 2010 -- Session 5 -- John MacArthur from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

Label #2: COMMUNAL

Communal is an odd word but it is a good label. Before I explain what this label means let me explain what it is not. Being communal signifies that the church is not an event or a series of events. The church is not a menu of programs. Therefore discipleship is not rated based on the degree of participation in said programs. The church is not a product and the people are not the consumers of that product. The church is not a professional business (being good stewards with finances does not mean a church should view itself as a business corporation). The problem with these concepts for the church is that they are not Biblical.

We think very highly of our creative and intellectual abilities so we come up with these concepts and say things like, “What’s really wrong with it if it brings in the people?” The church’s goal is not to “bring in the people”. The church is the people… the people of God. We are to “go make disciples”, meaning as we live amongst the people of the world we are to build relationships, share the gospel, and pray that the Spirit would cause them to be born again. The church is a community of people who are called together in covenant by a common faith in the Lord Jesus. We come together for worship and fellowship (worship=devotion to God’s Word). We go out and make disciples. There is no concept in the New Testament for the church as some separate event or entity that markets itself to unbelievers. We come together and we go out. It is simple. It is communal.

As a communal local church we want to be closely knitted together in covenant membership. We want to be clear what it means to be in covenant membership, who is part of that membership, who is not, and how one becomes part of that membership. Church membership is not like gym membership. Gym membership does not connect people beyond surface-level interactions. Everyone is on a membership list but only to withdraw a service. No one goes to the gym to help other members and be helped by other members. There is paid staff to take care of that.

Church membership is concerned with watching over each other’s lives. Holding each other accountable. Encouraging each other to grow in the Word. Speaking truth in love to one another. Teaching each other. Sharing with each other. Doing ministry together. Worshipping together. So my hope for Memorial is that we would stand out as not having a consumer-minded membership or be consumer-driven as it concerns our weekly gatherings, our finances, or our leadership. When people visit our church gatherings on Sunday or Wednesday or whenever we meet they should encounter a family, not a clientele. They should experience a home, not a hotel. They should find a community, not a business. They should see a church, not a gym. So that’s the communal label.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Piper on Church Membership

Before I get back to my series on labels here is a great video from John Piper regarding the importance of church membership and its role in a Christian's life. On this subject I want to recommend anything put out by Nine Marks and also the book Total Church by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Label #1: BAPTIST

The Baptist label is already attached to our church and for good reason- we are Baptists. This label has come under a lot of scrutiny and it is very hip to say one is post-denominational these days. Denominational labels are often accused of creating disunity but I’d argue they protect unity. Rather than secondary or tertiary issues becoming points of division in a local church we can separate according to those issues to preserve our unity around the gospel (we are really divided by faith when we must separate over primary issues- i.e. resurrection, virgin birth, inspiration of Scripture, etc). So what does the label Baptist mean? In other words, what secondary or tertiary issues distinguish a Christian as a Baptist?

I’ve come across a couple of clever acrostics that articulate Baptist distinctives. Here goes…

Biblical authority: Though this isn’t unique to Baptist the Reformation principle Sola Scriptura is historically a foundational conviction among Baptists. We believe that Scripture is the ultimate authority for faith and practice because it is the inspired Word of God and revealed will of God.

Autonomy of the local church: This is a dicey phrase since it can be very dangerous if abused or misunderstood. It is generally agreed to be a defining characteristic of the Baptist tradition though. This simply means that each local church is self-governing and not subject to a non-local church entity for direction. This does not mean that local churches shouldn’t associate or partner with each other. It also doesn’t mean that local churches should not willfully submit to each other for the purpose of gospel and doctrinal fidelity.

Priesthood of every believer: Simply put, every believer can confess sin, pray, worship, and receive grace by submitting directly to God through the blood of Jesus. In the New Covenant, inaugurated with His blood, Jesus has “removed the veil”. No other mediator is necessary. However, we do “act” as priests for each other by praying and interceding for each other to God.

Two Ordinances: The two ordinances or sacraments are Lord’s Supper and Baptism. Some denominations call these sacraments and though that word is perfectly appropriate Baptists tend to use the term ordinance to avoid any sacerdotal idea being associated with them. Baptists believe that Scripture teaches baptism to be only for professing Christians (and thus reject paedo-baptism) and practice it by immersion as a symbol of regeneration. The Lord’s Supper is viewed mainly as a symbolic observance in remembrance of Christ’s atoning sacrifice but also is for the purpose of testing one’s faith. Baptists do not believe Christ is physically present in the elements but some (like me) regard Him as spiritually present.

Individual Soul Liberty: This is also referred to commonly as “soul competency”. The conviction every person is accountable to God. One is not saved by their family, their church, or the state. Each person is responsible and competent to respond to God- either by continuing to act according to their sinful nature or by faith upon the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Some will make “soul competency” into a very Arminian statement like, “Each person determines his own destiny” (actual quote). That’s not what this means.

Separation of Church and State: This does not mean the church should be anti-government or that the government should be anti-church. It simply means that these are separate entities with separate purposes. One’s citizenship in one does not necessitate citizenship in the other. Furthermore, the authorities of these two entities should not mix.

Two Offices: Real simple, Baptists believe the Bible teaches two offices of leadership in the local church- elder and deacon. Baptists have historically had both and each represented with a plurality. Recent Baptist history has seen the term elder fall out of favor over terms like pastor (Biblical) and minister (not really Biblical). Recent history has also seen a move away from a plurality of elders and a blending of responsibilities for the office of deacon. Let’s hope Baptists keep away from trends and move back to the Bible on this matter.

Salvation by grace through faith: Sola Fide and Sola Gratia are two reformed principles that Baptists hold dear. We believe one is saved according to God’s gracious election which is applied through faith alone, apart from works of merit. I’ll stop there before I start preaching. One other point though, we believe that to be a member in the local church one must be saved (aka regenerate church membership).

So are you embarrassed to believe those things? If so then you’re right not to call yourself or your church Baptist. We shouldn’t be embarrassed by the label. The label has been tagged with some less than flattering things of late but we should redeem the term for the purpose of making clear what we believe and why.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Applying Labels

A friend of mine (and fellow pastor at a neighboring church) stopped by my office yesterday and as we are prone to do carried on for a couple hours on theology, the church, family, and other matters. One of the things that came up was the advantages and disadvantages of labels. People are quick to throw around labels to describe another person or their beliefs. Sometimes those labels provide a helpful distinction but often times they generalize one's beliefs. Take for example the label Baptist which I'm happy to receive and happy to have my church receive. There are a few things that almost every Baptist church would agree upon but there are a vast array of things that they would disagree on. One cannot assume that because I am a Baptist former President Jimmy Carter's theological beliefs mirror my own. I happen to know they do not and I'm not referring to political views.

So when a person comes to me and says something like, "Are you a Calvinist?" I want to know what they mean before I receive the label. One person told me that his understanding of Calvinism is that a guy is walking down the street and God strikes him like lightning so poof, he's saved whether he likes it or not. If that is Calvinism then no, I'm not a Calvinist. If you understand the doctrines of grace as are revealed in Scripture and call that Calvinism then I'm happy to receive the label. Labels are not helpful when the definition of the label is unclear or if you are just trying to generalize a person.

Why are labels helpful? When someone rejects a label it is usually to say what they are not. So labels are helpful to determine distinctive beliefs. For example if someone says they reject the label 'conservative' (in a theological, not a political sense) it let's me know there is something they do not believe- like the inerrancy of Scripture. I don't want to make assumptions but the rejection of the label leads me to investigate further. Now what labels am I comfortable with? Well I think of this in terms of the labels I want my church to be identified with. I'm going to post on each of these labels over the next couple weeks. Here are labels- in alphabetical order- I'd like my church to get stuck with (or continue to get stuck with):

  1. Baptist
  2. Communal
  3. Confessional
  4. Conservative
  5. Evangelical
  6. Evangelistic
  7. Healthy
  8. Reformed

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Would you pick this church?

Just a word to my pastor friends who may be lured into leaving their churches for "greener pastures" or for anyone who picks a church because of all the external adornments (charisma of the music minister, portfolio of the ministry programs, size of playground on the children's annex, cleverness of the preacher's funny stories, etc etc). I say this because I often hear of people being "called by God" to big and busy churches in well manicured and well-to-do suburbs. Of course God wants the gospel preached there too but be careful that not all external appearances indicate ease and success. Consider the external scenery of the isalnd of Crete where Titus was called to "set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city".

Pretty huh? Who wouldn't want to serve a church on this lush island? Paul described those who Titus would be ministering among, "For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumsision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. One of themselves, a prophet of their own said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is true."

Sounds like fun! Instead of picking a church based on the superficial just do this... if you are a pastor, go where the gospel is needed. If you are a layman looking for a church home, go where the gospel is proclaimed.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Video Monday- Albert Martin

This will make at least one of our church member-candidates pretty happy today. Here is a brother who brought the Word to his church consistently, faithfully, and powerfully for 30+ years. Below is a "sermon jam" of Albert Martin. To listen or download some of his preaching go HERE or HERE.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Well said Erasmus

My sentiments exactly... and I love food.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Punishing your Child

My son is almost six months old so when I came across THIS POST by Tyler Kenney over at DG it was welcome counsel. Kenney cites a quote from 19th century missionary John Paton's experience with his father regarding discipline. You cannot rightly parent your child without showing discipline and by that I mean punishment of wrong. Paton puts the practice of punishing your child in a right Christian perspective. Paton's father in essence communicated the seriousness of sin when he punished him and his siblings. I'm more and more convicted that I want whatever discipline and punishment Blair and I give to Asher to be more than just protecting him from hurting himself or modifying his behavior. We want to communicate the seriousness of sin and the holiness of God. That's a tall order that is calling us to much prayer. Paton's testimony is helpful though and perhaps will be helpful to you as well.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Case for Underprogramming

Many churches tend to think the mark of a healthy church is more programming. More activity. More busyness. More events. More "ministries". Not necessarily. The church isn't the YMCA after all. We are a family, a gospel culture, and people united to display the character of God. We gather for worship, edification through the Word, and for fellowship. Our work and our witness happens through our loving and sacrificial community and through our faithfulness to live and speak the gospel during the week as we walk among the peoples of the world. Here is a good case for under-programming the church so that we do not "shoot ourselves in the foot" for our true mission and purpose. READ HERE.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Issue is Repentance

When I heard recently that Jennifer Knapp was coming back I was glad. When I heard even more recently that Jennifer Knapp was coming out I was grieved. Knapp's earlier work is excellent-- especially her first album, Kansas. It saddens me though that this professing Christian has embraced her sin as a lifestyle. Let me be clear though that my issue is not that she's sinned. I've sinned. You've sinned. We all still sin. The issue is repentance.

Those who have been truly regenerated by the Holy Spirit and are genuine disciples of Jesus still sin-- sanctification happens over a lifetime-- but when we sin the Spirit works to bring conviction and repentance. Repentance is a change in direction. We realize our sinfulness and need for forgiveness. We fight that sin by faith in Christ. Some argue against the practice of church discipline or any effort for spiritual accountability (ignoring the obvious commands in Scripture) by saying that we aren't qualified to be "sin police" since we are all sinners.

Once again, the issue is not that we are all sinners. Of course we are! The issue is that we all need to repent and if we really love one another we'd help each other to repent. Repentance recognizes the holiness of God and the deadliness of sin. It should grieve us when one chooses the love of sin over the love of Christ (erroneously they may reason that Christ loves them in spite of their sin so it is okay to keep on as they are). When one will not repent it bears evidence that they are not of the faith and stand unprepared for judgment. If we really love them we will intercede to help them see their need for repentance. For myself, I hope that if I find myself caught up in any tresspass then those who say they love me will show it by such intercession.

See: Galatians 6:1-2; 2 Corinthians 7:8-13; 1 John 2:18-24