In the first article it is stressed that while the family is of great importance it can not be what we, in the end, worship. We as the people of God need to keep the Word of God central to all we do. Scott Brown relates that family integrated churches need to be “God-centered, Word-saturated, Christ-exalting churches.” This is so true, while I think that all too many churches have strayed from dealing with families as God desires them to be treated the main cause is that the church has strayed from God being the central focus of church. I am sure that most churches would deny this but what has happened over time is that while we say that worship of God is the central purpose for meeting the reality is that the worship of God is only part of what is done and everything else has become the focus. Whether the focus is the incorrectly labeled concept of “family friendly” or the church being totally designed around evangelism the issue is that the people of God are going to church for all the wrong reasons and often do not even realize it.
The antidote for this is not just to change what we do but to change what we focus on. Once the word of God becomes central and the preaching of that word is done correctly then the direction of the church will change. We can focus on families correctly but if God’s word is not central to what is done then in the end we will do as Mr. Brown is concerned can happen, that the family (or any other thing for that matter) can be come the center of the church as a replacement for Christ.
The second article deals with the idea that the scriptures are sufficient for us to “examine, regulate and reform the church.” Many claim the sufficiency of scripture but then look to everywhere else but scripture to see how the church should function. In today’s culture one of the main places we seem to look for guidelines for the church are the unbelieving world and the culture that it lives in. I do think that if we read scripture we will find principles and practices that are more universal than we may like to admit. What usually happens is that the culture decides that some practice is undesirable and the church in an effort to be “relevant” and “contextualized” changes what is to be done. As the article speaks of , preaching is one of those practices that scripture is very clear is to be central but since preaching is not in vogue today many have either done away with it in an real sense or have minimized it to a place that makes it not preaching at all.
Since the Word of God is unchangeable it should be the one thing we as a church should turn to. This does not mean we are to preach unintelligible sermons but it does say that preaching needs to convey the true meaning of God’s word no matter how offensive and do so in a consistent manner that shows the people of God it’s sufficiency for the church. This also entails us as preachers not only to preach the sufficiency of scripture but to live it. If we proclaim its proficiency but then turn to every thing else when directing the church what have we communicated to the people we lead.
So before I get into what I would see a local church looking like what are some characteristics of the local church that should be common among any local church.
First, based on the simple understanding of the church being a group of called out saints or holy ones I would surmise the church is made up of believers. Of course there may be those that are not truly believers but it is made up of those professing Christ as Savior and Lord. For the church to be made up of regenerate people that takes the Gospel truly being preached so that people are not making pragmatic decisions but ones truly wrought by God from a changed heart. This would also preclude infant baptism since only those that have professed faith would be considered and simply baptizing infants does not make them believers.
Second, since the church is to be made up of believers then the function of the church is to equip those believers and disciple them. For now I am not dealing with how this is done but instead simply want to make it clear that the church is to be there for believers and not the unbeliever. This does not preclude unbelievers attending services and such but it does mean that the meetings of the church are molded around believers based on scripture. So we do not take polls of what an unbeliever would like in church and we do not simply look at the surrounding culture and mold the church to that but we look at the church from a scriptural perspective. There may be items that culture may mean making changes. By this I mean that if one is in a foreign country the cultural aspects such as language would be implemented. But cultural aspects that are unbiblical would not.
Thirdly, just as Paul exhorts Timothy in 2 Tim 4:1-5 preaching the word needs to be central to the church life. There may be other things that are done but the primary thing is that God’s word is preached. The Word of God is central to all that is done. God had a reason He instilled in Paul such a heart for preaching and that is because it was God’s ordained means to proclaim His word. So if the activities of the church take away from the preaching of God’s word then those extraneous activities need to be curtailed so that the church can be saturated with God’s word. We will not know what to do without knowing what God wants us to do and it is His word that informs us of that. This also does not mean we simply hop around God’s word but that we work through it as it comes to us and take the uplifting along with the convicting. This is best done through expository preaching and I think this best accomplishes what Paul claimed in Acts 20:27, that the whole counsel of God is to be preached and this truly only happens if we preach and teach through the Bible. If we stick to thematic sermons we will by nature skip those difficult passages. Also from this preaching will come the doctrinal statement of the church which helps the church to define where it stands on key beliefs about God and His economy. So, it is important to have doctrinal statements so that people truly do know where it stands on certain topics. In today’s post-modern times it is even more important because all too often it is not simply what one claims it is what meaning is meant behind the words that says the most. Doctrinal statements often help to solidify that area and in the long run bring unity and cohesiveness.
Fourth, churches need to be structured as God called them to be in scripture. This would mean that churches should strive to have Biblical Elders (a plurality) and Deacons and not simply positions as they are commonly filled today. Again, the specifics of how many and such is for another time but the main point is that God had a purpose in calling for Elders and Deacons and when we do not aim for God’s best we are basically telling God we know better.
I do not like to say “lastly” as I am sure there are other things and I will add them as I go so I am going to leave it here for now and as I begin to try and formulate what I see the church to look like I will bring out other important areas. Mark Dever at 9Marks has a couple good books on the church that I highly recommend: 9Marks of a Healthy Church & The Deliberate Church. These books have more items that I would also say are important I simply here wanted to list a few things that I think the church as a whole has lost sight of. Things like: Regenerate Church Membership, The Church Being for Believers rather than Unbelievers, The Preaching of God’s Word as Central to the Church, The Organization of the Church. While I only listed four things in truth those four items carry with them a whole lot of other issues and each one can be fleshed out to much broader issues. If the church is inhabited by believers and the word of God is taught diligently then the commands and desires of God will be done by the power of the Holy Spirit then the church will begin to look different from the world rather than a poor copy. If scripture is preached and the Holy Spirit works in the people of God then such things as Biblical church discipline would be practiced, the correct focus on intergenerational aspect of the church would flourish, Biblical evangelism would ensue and so on. So as more things come to me I will add them.
Those of you that have followed what has happened at Lakeshore Baptist Church in Lakeshore, Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina can find an interview that Cindy Swanson has done with Don Elbourne the pastor of Lakeshore. If you have not heard of Lakeshore you may want to check out Don’s blog, Locust and Wild Honey, to see the grace of God in the midst of the destruction of Katrina.
After having looked at some general issues surrounding the church in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 I now move on towards more specifics.
It is clear from scripture that while the universal/invisible church does exist the bible deals mainly with the local/visible church. These churches consisted of believers, those that are called by God as saints, but it is clear from Paul’s letters that there were also people in these churches that were in all likelihood not members of God’s family. These unbelievers were there by false conversions not by being admitted as members by the church knowing they were not believers.
It seems that all too often people want to claim to be a New Testament Church or an Acts church but in doing so I think there is an error made. Acts is a historical book and by design of God more of a descriptive book than a prescriptive one. This does not mean we cannot gain principles from it, we should, but to take what was done in the New Testament and apply it exactly as prescriptive for all time is incorrect.
For example to claim we are to have house churches because that is what is in Acts we may miss the point of why house churches were utilized in the 1st century. If we read scripture and look at the times the first Jewish believers still met, initially, in the synagogue if possible until persecution began and then due to the times they met in homes. Thus the principle today is that the place of meeting is not the important aspect and this fits well with the word for church, Ekklesia, since it does not speak to a building but to a people. So the place of meeting is not the focus. When we see a country such as China the circumstances believers face would necessitate the house church but in other places a more localized meeting in a specific building may be more prudential.
The principle I see in Acts is that the church is to be a place where a community of believers/saints meets to worship God and if that takes place in a hut, a school, or a warehouse it should not matter. This community is a group of individuals called to faith by God that meets for the primary purpose of worshipping/serving God. Just as the Jews were called out of Egypt to worship/serve God the believer is called out of the world to worship/serve God (Ex 7:16). Where this is done is of less importance than that it is done.
From this we can see that the where of worship is of less importance than the fact that believers gather to do so. I think the next issue I will cover is to deal more with some things that I think scripture touches on that are to be elements or aspects of the meeting.
Whether it is a result of my recent studies in Biblical Theology or simply a conviction gained simply by reading scripture I have found lately that there seems to be an excessive amount of preaching and preaching instruction on application. I am not saying that there is no application in scripture as I do see all of scripture leading to some form of application. What I am saying is that all too often the scriptures are put forth as a book of instruction instead of one about Christ.
I do not know if you have ever heard Bible used as an acronym – Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth – with the result the Bible is seen more as a user manual than a book about the creator of the universe. Again, this does not negate that the Bible will promote application but what I think we need to see is that the Bible is not a book about application but is a book that brings about application.
It is our standing with Christ which allows us even to apply what we read in God’s word. If the bible is given as one of instruction then the listener may be inclined to seek after the next thing to do rather than realize it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that any work at all can be done.
As I read about preaching the one thing that seems to be promoted the most is to preach sermons that are applicable to the audience. We should preach understandable sermons but if we simply give instructions about how to save money or have good marriages we will have accomplished nothing if the source the ability to have those things is overlooked. So I would say we need to revive preaching that is Christ centered and then the application that is revealed is then able to be based on Christ rather than simply being a how-to sermon.
I had the privilege of preaching this week on John 19:25-42 entitled - Its All About Christ - and sought to make sure that all I did was focused on Christ rather than man. How successful I was I am not sure but I do know that from now on my preaching needs to first focus on Christ and then move from there to where the text leads. My fear is that in the effort to be relevant we, including myself, have made the Bible to be about man and not about Christ.
I want to make sure I am understood and that is I do believe that we do need to apply what we read and hear from scripture. But, this application has to come from a heart changed and controlled by Christ. So we simply need to remember that scripture Is All About Christ!
While this is simply a picture of our individualistic, me first, times the bigger issue is how this attitude seems to have infiltrated the church. How often is it frowned upon if a child should disturb our worship time as a congregation, I am sure that Jesus was never interrupted by a crying child. We so segregate the population of our churches, and not just the children but youth and many other groups, that in the end we are no different than the world.
I have written before, Article 1 and Article 2, on how the “Family Friendly” Church is often anything but friendly to the family. I understand the cultural difficulties in trying to worship as entire families and even to do this in such extra activities as Sunday School (or whatever name is used for Sunday bible study). But, the fact that it is difficult does not mean it is to be avoided. We are to be different from the world and if we effectually, whether actively or passively, prohibit children or any other group from corporate worship and study we are no different than the world. Then again so much of church growth strategy is to provide what the world demands so what more can we expect.
May prayer is that the church would seek to be truly family friendly and not just claim to be so.
One reason I think that many in the hierarchy of the SBC as well as many members would not pass such a resolution is that if it was passed, and followed, think of the ramifications.
The news the next day would read something like: “SBC Exodus: SBC looses 8 million members.” Actually the number might be hogher than 8 million. Now you and I know that in reality there were never truly that many regenerate members but the pride of being able to say we have 17+ million members seems to override the truth of the matter.
At the heart of this is pride because adjusting membership lists would mean churches would have to admit they had been accepting non-regenerate members for some time, pride will not allow this. Thus it is a travesty that we continue to cover up what membership really is.
I pray that the SBC over the next year will truly get down on their knees and seek God’s will in this. Next year I would pray that the same resolution would be brought to the floor and be able to be voted on.
Here is a link to the Pre-Desiring God 2006 National Conference videos of; John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller and David Wells. They have been really good to listen to, unfortunately I will not be able to go but look forward to the conference recordings afterwards.
I said listen to as I just do not have time to watch them but I was able to convert them to MP3s and listen to them in my car on my MP3 player. If you have a new video IPOD or other device that will play these then you probably do not need to do this but as I do not I had to get them into a form I could listen to. This is how I was able to get them to MP3s:
1) Download the movies and put them in ITUNES 2) I numbered and renamed them as I found the names they came with were not easy to recognize when playing them. So I named them as they are labeled on the site. 3) Once in ITUNES I made a Playlist for them that kept the total run time to around an hour 4) Then I burned the Playlist to an Audio-CD, This is the reason to keep them at around an hour 5) Then I converted the Audio-CD to MP3 in ITUNES 6) I them made sure the info was correct, such as author and album name, so I could find them on my IPOD 7) Then I simply transferred them to my IPOD
There may be an easier way but this worked for me.
Over at Fideo-O there is another great list that deals with Covenant Theology. This an area that I think many in the church, especially Baptists, fail to understand. We have allowed popular theology, dispensationalism, to hijack scripture and in the process make scripture fit a particular theological and world view rather than ones theological and world view fitting scripture.
I think my study of Biblical Theology has opened my eyes to the reality that Covenant Theology best reveals the continuity of the scriptures. What often holds people back, especially Baptists, is a lack of a true understanding of what Covenant Theology consist of and this list is a good place to start.
I have linked to these before but there are some MP3s on Covenant Theology at the 2005 Founders Conference Southwest that you can download from the Spurgeon Baptist Association of Churches in Kansas for free.
Over at Camp On This there are more words of wisdom from Tozer. It is interesting how true these words are today. I was particularity caught by the following:
Prophets… not Mascots This kind of freedom is necessary if we are to have prophets in our pulpits again instead of mascots. These free men will serve God and mankind from motives too high to be understood by the rank and file of religious retainers who today shuttle in and out of the sanctuary.
They will make no decisions out of fear, take no course out of a desire to please, accept no service for financial considerations, perform no religious acts out of mere custom, nor allow themselves to be influenced by the love of publicity or the desire for reputation.
Much that the church - even the evangelical church - is doing today, it is doing because it is afraid not to do it. Ministerial associations take up projects for no higher reasons than that they are scared into it. Whatever their ear-to-the-ground, fear-inspired reconnoitering leads them to believe - or fear - the world expects them to do, they will be doing come next Monday morning with all kinds of trumped-up zeal and show of godliness. The pressure of public opinion calls these prophets, not the voice of Jehovah.
The true church has never sounded out public expectations before launching its crusades. Its leaders heard from God and went ahead wholly independent of popular support or the lack of it. They knew their Lord's will and did it, and their people followed them - sometimes to triumph, but more often to insults and public persecution - and their sufficient reward was the satisfaction of being right in a wrong world.
How often today is the church led more by public opinion than the Word of God? It would appear by our actions we would rather please the world than God. But of course that is not what we would claim as the usual reasoning behind this is that we are called to be relevant and are to contextualize the Gospel to reach the lost. In the end what is it the lost are reached with but simply more worldly babble. What would seem to truly be at the heart of the matter is the fear of the world that Tozer speaks of.
Whether one speaks of the Seeker driven/friendly/sensitive church or the Emergent Conversation/Movement both appear to seek to find their way by the opinions of the world. Read any book written by Barna, or other pollster, and the gist is that this is what the world seeks so if we do not get on that boat/wave/current we will miss out and the church will be doomed. We are called to Glorify God, the antithesis of what the world seeks, so what we will do will be counter cultural and look out of place. This is not a license to worship without thought but it is a call to look to someplace else other than the world.
In 2 Tim 4:1-4 it says:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
While the world will see the word and the message of the Gospel as foolish (1 Cor 1:18-20) we are to be fools, in the world’s eyes, and keep to the Word and not let all of the other things detract from this. This takes perseverance and boldness but is possible because of the power of the Holy Spirit.
I pray that the church would step back and make sure that the main thing, God’s Word, stays the main thing no matter what the world thinks.
There is a good article over at Fide-O on amillennialism called A Quick Look at Amillennialism. The article lists what amillenialism is and is not as well as listing a number of people that adhere to this eschatological view. I would probably take RC Sproul and Gary Demar off of the list as I do not think they would claim to hold to this eschatological view presently..
Amillennialism has been greatly misunderstood in this age of dispensationalism, there are just no movies that employ this eschatology, and the list of what it is and is not may help those that do not completely understand the view.
Now that we can see that scriptures use of the word Ekklesia by itself lets us see who the church is made up of it is the context of scripture that helps see more of what the church is. One the first areas that is dealt with is the nature of the church as it relates to the local/visible church and the universal/Invisible church.
As you read about the church you will see that many people tend to take up the cause of one side or the other so as to often times promote their view of what the church should be. One example with regards to the Local Church would be the Roman Catholics and even Landmark Baptists (you probably do not see these together often). Both of these groups focus on the local/visible church so as to promote the idea that the church is an organization and thus has some jurisdiction or say over other churches that would be part of this organization. An example of those that would promote the idea of the Universal/invisible church would be the Plymouth Brethren that do not see the church as an organization but an organism and thus have noo church membership (at least in paper form) and no ordained clergy .
Which side is right or are both wrong? As I read scripture it would seem clear that both exist. For example the scripture we have comes to us in many forms but one of those is that of letters to specific churches and even if you see some of the letters being circular letters to a number of churches it would speak to the existence of the local church. The word Ekklesia which we previously saw as “called out ones” also refers to an assembly and was often used in Greek to refer to such groups so there is in the word itself the idea of both universality in the nature and locality in function.
Thus I think the clear teaching of scripture is that the Ekklesia is made up of all believers in the world that also shows itself in gathering locally. Notice that none of this speaks to how they gather or where but more to the who of the church. The issue that all too often muddies the water is that the word church is often seen as more of an it than a who and this does not give a clear picture of what God has called the church to be.
When a group such as the Roman Catholics, or Landmark Baptists, claim that the local church is all there is and they are it, this then says that if you are not in their church you are not in THE church, as I think Vatican 1 speaks to. Before one jumps on the wrong bandwagon many protestant or evangelical denominations have issues of their own. The issue is that the meaning of the church or Ekklesia is missed and the concept of a regenerate membership seems to be lost. If we truly saw the church as for the “called out ones” we would seek to not have those that are not yet believers, this includes children and infants, as members. What it would, or at least should do, is refocus our attention on what the church is to do and that is to worship God and not seek to placate the world or make it comfortable. This does not mean we ignore unbelievers but it says we are to focus our attention on leading believers into correct worship of God, since unbelievers cannot worship Him. We are not to take cues from the world as how to do this but from scripture.
What I hope I have answered, or at least perked interest in, is that the church is much bigger than any one local body but it is made up of many such bodies and the idea of a Universal/Invisible church allows us to have a fellowship with other believers worldwide and should enhance not only our desire for missions but for aiding other churches. Worldwide. This is similar to what Paul did in collecting for the Jerusalem Church to aid it in its poverty. I would pray that we do not lose focus on the local/visible church and that we do not neglect the universal/invisible church but seek to promote both.
One becomes a member of the Universal/Invisible church as soon as conversion takes place. Thus they become a part of the “called out ones” as a whole. However, since we are called to live the “called out” life in a community of other believes, the assembly side of Ekklesia, once one is a believer they need to find a place to use the gifts that come with conversion and join an assembly. From this we see that both concepts are important and need to be viewed as such.
Here is a good Tozer Quote I got over at Thinkerup:
"Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified. The body becomes stronger as its members become healthier. The whole church of God gains when the members that compose it begin to seek a better and a higher life."
An article in the New York Times reveals that congregants at Gregory Boyd’s church were upset when he announced that he would not preach on political stances from the pulpit. The article says some got up and left and did not come back, a fairly large number leaving permanently. Now some may say this shows people concerned for the country but what is most disturbing to me is that the people left over this issue but Boyd’s doctrinal stance on the sovereignty of God apparently does not bother them. Gregory Boyd is an open proponent of Open Theism, in such books as Is God to Blame? (see endorsers here), which denies God’s sovereignty. I am fairly sure he and others that hold to Open Theism would say they do not deny God’s sovereignty as they have redefined God’s sovereignty to fit their view but they have since the God they worship is in the end nothing but a reactionary powerless God. So I guess, by their actions, for Woodland Hills Church supporting the correct candidate or political stance is more important than proclaiming who God truly is.
Where are we when people are more upset about ones political stance or even the ministries the church are involved in than the doctrinal stance of its pastor or leaders. None of this is to say that doctrine is all there is but in the end ones beliefs drive ones action and unorthodox beliefs in the end lead to unorthodox practices.