On Sunday, June 17, I preached my final sermon in our Common Confession series, a look at what our church has adopted in our constitution and bylaws as our official statement of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Over the last five months we have been asking the questions What do we believe? Why do we believe these things? and Do we practice what we say we believe? I want to take a moment to properly wrap up the series by addressing the third question. After all, at the end of the day, it is not what we say that indicates what we truly believe but rather what we do.
Two passages of scripture from the gospel of Matthew make it clear that one’s actions are indicative of one’s beliefs.
Matthew 7:17-21 reads, “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.”
Then, in Matthew 15:18, Jesus says, “But the things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.”
In other words, our actions indicate the true state of our souls and the deepest motives and beliefs of our hearts. If how I live my life contradicts what I say I believe, then I don’t really believe what I’m saying. In one sense, we all walk contrary to certain of our beliefs. Part of the sanctification process is coming to terms with our own sinful contradictions. However, once these contradictions are recognized, the true believer, empowered by the Holy Spirit, will make a course correction in his life so that his actions align with the truth. The unbeliever and the false believer, which are really one and the same, will not. Now consider this with regard to the local church.
A church that says one thing and does another is a church ill-prepared to be and to do what Jesus has called her to be and to do. No church is perfect, but the same process of sanctification that occurs in the individual Christian happens corporately as well. The church will regularly come to the knowledge of sinful contradictions between its belief and its practice. A healthy church will acknowledge this reality and make course corrections to bring its ministries in line with the truth. An unhealthy church will deny, make excuses, side-step or blame the messenger. She will refuse to change. This is unfortunate and gives credence to those who say, “I’ll never set foot in that church, because it’s full of hypocrites.” If the church to which they refer fails to live according to its own set of values and beliefs, then such a statement is appropriate. Some basic questions regarding our own statement of faith will help us assess the ministry at Reddicks Grove.
Should a visitor walk through the doors of Reddicks Grove Baptist Church and ask for our statement of faith, will they see what they read? Christian, will they see it in your life? If not, you may need to find another place to worship, a place where you are free to live out what you truly believe. Church, will they see it corporately in the functioning of our congregation? If not, either we need to change our statement of faith to match our practice or adjust our practice to match our statement of faith.
Which will it be?
This month’s article will be the final entry in a series on the nature and commission of the church under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, her Commander and King. So far, we have learned that:
1) The church is comprised of the people of God, only those who have repented of sin and turned in faith to Jesus for salvation. She is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic people founded upon a common confession, namely, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and she is characterized by reverence, unity, love, submission and devotion, that is devotion to God’s Word, to the local church, to corporate worship and to the spread of the gospel to the nations (Mt. 16:13-19; Acts 2:41-47; Acts 5:11-14; I Co. 12; Ephesians 5:21; Hebrews 13:17)
2) By His authority, King Jesus has commanded the church to accomplish His mission. We go in the presence and power of Jesus to the ends of the earth sharing the gospel with all, that He might call unto Himself a people from every nation, tribe, tongue and people group (Mt. 28:16-20; Acts 1:8; Rev. 7:9-10)
3) By His authority, King Jesus has commanded the church to preserve her purity through formative church discipline, namely, all of the avenues of which a church takes advantage to biblically train her members in righteousness, and corrective church discipline, boldly holding one another accountable for sin and calling one another to repentance, for the sake of the sinner and the body as a whole (Mt. 18).
Equally essential to these are the biblical principles regarding church leadership. By His authority, King Jesus has established offices of leadership within the church to equip her to accomplish His mission and preserve her purity (I Timothy 3; Ephesians 4:11-16). Specifically, He has established two offices, each distinct in both nature and authority.
First, King Jesus has established overseers, who, according to Acts 20:17, 28-30 and I Peter 5:1-5, are also known as “pastors” or “elders.” While each title gives us insight into the nature of the overseer’s role, all refer to the same office of leadership.
The pastors/overseers are men gifted by God and given to the church to equip her to do the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). They do this primarily through preaching and teaching (v. 11). With the Word of God, they lead the church in truth, guard the church from error, and preside over the affairs of the church, all in a spirit of love “from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (I Ti. 1:5, NASB).
The pastors/overseers are recognized by the congregation who in the power of the Holy Spirit see the appropriate gifting and calling (Acts 1:23; Acts 6:2-3). Likewise, they are answerable to the congregation for the purity of their doctrine and the fulfillment of their task (Acts 17:10-12). More importantly, they are answerable to God for every soul in their care (Hebrews 13:17).
Second, King Jesus has established deacons who, contrary to popular belief, are not the overseers of the church. Not only does the deacon have a unique set of qualifications (I Timothy 3:8-13), but the Bible portrays a very different role for him to play within the body.
Deacons were first chosen in Acts 6 to ensure the fair distribution of food to both native Jewish widows and to Hellenistic Jewish widows. However, this task was ultimately so that the ministry of the Word would not suffer. This role of engaging in pastoral care/benevolence to facilitate prayer and Bible study on the part of the elders/pastors/overseers seems to have continued. The term deacon (“servant”) itself implies that those chosen to fulfill this task were to be servants, servants on behalf of the pastors/overseers to the congregation. In modern times, appropriate jobs for these servants might include finances, benevolence, building and grounds ministry, hospitality, greeting and the like.
In summary, Christ is the head of the church. He is the only one to whom the Bible refers as the Senior Pastor (I Peter 5:4). The Word of God is the constitution and bylaws, the document by which He governs His church and that to which we must all give an account. Yet, King Jesus has appointed under-shepherds to preside over and to serve under the congregation according to the Word. He has established a group of men who are recognized by the congregation, who represent the congregation, who answer to the congregation and who oversee the affairs of the church body. The Bible is clear that these men are pastors/overseers/elders. But to ensure that this board of pastors can adequately spend time in prayer and Bible study and so lead and equip the congregation to do the work of ministry, King Jesus has gifted the church with deacons, servants who meet the needs of the people.
It is apparent that in most of our churches today, the Bible’s model for leadership is largely ignored. More often than not, the deacons have become the pastors, leaving the shepherds chosen by God to equip His church as mere chaplains, men who preach and visit the sick and nothing more. At the end of the day it all boils down to faithfulness to God’s inspired Word. Obedience, however, will take great patience and ultimately sacrifice. The question is, “Do we care more for our traditions than we do for the Lord Jesus?
This is now my third article on the Church, who she is and what she is to do. First, we learned that the church is made up of the people of God, only those who have repented of their sin and placed their faith in Jesus and in His finished work on the cross. We are a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic people founded upon a common confession, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and we are characterized the world over by certain attributes, namely, reverence, unity, love, submission and a devotion to the Word of God, the local church, corporate worship and the spread of the gospel to the nations.
In part two, we zeroed in on our commission to go and make disciples of all the nations. By His authority, King Jesus has commanded the church to accomplish His mission in the world. We go in the presence and power of Jesus to the ends of the earth sharing the gospel with all, that He might call unto Himself a people from every nation, tribe, tongue and people group.
Today, we turn our attention to another aspect of the Church, her purity. By His authority, King Jesus has commanded the church to preserve her purity through formative and corrective church discipline.
Formative church discipline is comprised of all of the avenues of which a church takes advantage to biblically train her members in righteousness. For most, this form of church discipline is acceptable. More often than not, however, we neglect corrective church discipline which involves lovingly but boldly holding one another accountable for sin and calling one another to repentance, for the sake of the sinner and the body as a whole.
Jesus makes this clear in Matthew 18 which can be found here.
In this passage, Jesus uses three metaphors to describe His church and to illustrate the importance of her purity.
First, He uses the metaphor of a child. King Jesus is concerned for the purity of God’s children, those who have been converted (v. 3), having come to the end of ourselves and the pursuit of our own righteousness and having humbly repented and believed the gospel message, that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (v. 4).
He is concerned, because to receive one of God’s children is to receive Jesus Himself (v. 5). On the flip side, to reject one of God’s children is to reject Christ Himself (v. 6). God’s children are valuable, because though not divine we make up the body of Christ. We are an extension of Him. We are His hands and feet in the world.
The second metaphor He uses takes the pressure for purity even higher. He compares His church to a body, and He gives strong warnings to those parts of the body who would cause another member to stumble in sin and so threaten the purity of the whole (vv. 6-11). While stumbling blocks are inevitable from the world, they should not be tolerated among the members of the body. The one who would cause stumbling must be cut off (i.e. removed through corrective church discipline).
Finally, He compares His church to a flock of sheep (vv. 12-14). The idea here is that some will inevitably be caused to stumble. Paul makes it clearer for us in Galatians 6:1 when he refers to the brother or sister who is “caught in a sin.” The language speaks of one who has fallen into a trap like fish to a fisherman’s net. He is guilty to be sure, but he has become ensnared and needs the help of his fellow Christians to be set free.
King Jesus gives instructions as to how His sheep are to deal with those brothers and sisters who have succumbed to stumbling blocks (vv. 15-35).
First, God’s children are to pursue the straying brother or sister out of love (v. 15.
Second, God’s children must discipline the one who is unrepentant (vv. 16-20). Specifically, the text says that the offended party is to go to the individually personally. If he refuses to repent, the offended party is to return with witnesses. Ultimately, the situation is to be taken to the church body. If the person refuses to repent, he is to be treated as a Gentile and a tax collector. In other words, the church has no recourse but to treat him like a lost person, because that is how he is behaving. This would involve removing the person from the membership of the church and barring him from partaking in communion.
However, many will repent when confronted with their sin. Verses 21-35 are beautiful. Peter asks the question, “How many times she we forgive?” Jesus’ answer is every time. Always. Why? Because the Lord has forgiven you.
Church, it is incumbent upon the congregation to lovingly and boldly discipline its members who have strayed from the truth. Lovingly because we do so for the good of the individual and for the body as a whole. Boldly because it will mean saying hard things and ultimately doing hard things if the person is unrepentant.
The Bible teaches that the church is not a building, not literally anyway. Rather, it is a people, the people of God. That is to say that the church consists of those and only those who have repented of their sin and turned in faith to Jesus for salvation. We are a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, racially diverse body bound by a common confession, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, and characterized by shared attributes, namely, reverence, unity, love, submission and devotion to the Word, to the local church, to worship and to the spread of the gospel.
As a people, we answer to our ruler, King Jesus, who upon leaving this earth gave certain commands regarding our purpose and how we are to function in order to fulfill it.
By His authority, King Jesus has commanded the church to carry out His mission-the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ through the salvation of those for whom He died, a people from every nation, tribe, tongue and people group.
I was told of a bright young pastor fresh out of seminary who began to reach his community for King Jesus. Only, the people He was bringing into his church didn’t look and act like the current membership. Eventually, people began to grumble and ask the question, “Who gave him permission to bring ‘those people’ in?” Matthew 28:19-20 answers that question very clearly.
Matthew 28:19-20 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (NASB).
King Jesus, the Creator of all things, the Head of the Church and Savior of the World not only gave that young pastor permission to engage the lost on His behalf but He commanded him to do so.
We embark on His mission to seek and to save the lost for the same reasons, by His authority and per His command. He has granted us the permission and privilege to bear witness on His behalf, and He has charged us to go and to make disciples.
And when we doubt…
We engage His mission by His presence and in His power.
Jesus says in Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (NASB).
The Lord makes it clear that He will be with us always, and the way in which He will be with us is by the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit. Not only that, but by His Spirit He will actually empower us to continue, carry out and accomplish the mission He left us to do. This means that no matter the response, the mission of God cannot fail. Jesus has already won the victory on the cross and in the resurrection. Hell cannot prevail against the army of God, the church, who storms her gates with the gospel of King Jesus.
And how far do the gates of Hell extend?
We extend His mission to the ends of the earth. The battle must be waged on every front. Jesus said that the witness of the church would begin in Jerusalem, expand to Judea and Samaria and eventually reach the remotest parts of the earth. This mission would last until the end of the age. The apostles are gone, and yet there are 3.14 billion people on the planet who are considered unreached (Joshua Project). With nearly half the planet’s population desperately in need of the gospel, the church’s task is largely unfinished, and it is the call of every individual Christian and every local congregation to “strategically and comprehensively embrace [a] plan to reach” our Jerusalem, our Judea and Samaria and even those hard to reach places and unengaged peoples with “message of salvation through Jesus Christ (David Horner, When Missions Shape the Mission).
As the people of God, we must lovingly and obediently heed the command to carry out the Great Commission. But John Stott is correct when he says that we must be driven by more than mere love and obedience, as important and as necessary as those things are. Our passion and motive must be the glory of His name among the people for whom He died.
To ensure that His Kingdom outposts, local churches throughout the world, remain healthy and faithful to this call, King Jesus has established systems to protect their purity and to foster their spiritual growth-church discipline and church leadership. In my next two posts, we’ll look at each.
Recent events have reignited the debate over whether or not Congress should act on gun control. Extreme reactions from both sides abound, and such polarity tends to lack common sense, compassion, knowledge or some combination of the three.
Then, there are the sentiments that on the surface seem right but are not well-thought-out and are instead fraught with cliche. For instance, take this statement making the rounds on FACEBOOK:
“The problem is not guns, it is hearts without God, homes without discipline, schools without prayer, and courts without justice.”
It sounds good at first glance. But look closer. Religion (not necessarily Christianity as there is no mention of Jesus), discipline, prayer (again, to whom or what it does not say), and justice are the solutions. Are they? I think not, and others agree.
In a New York Times op-ed Rod Dreher says, “Christianity is declining in the United States. First, Americans are falling away from the church in unprecedented numbers. Second, the faith American Christians profess is moralistic therapeutic deism [which] jettisons the doctrines of historical biblical Christianity and replaces them with feel-good, vaguely spiritual nostrums [remedies]. The highest goal is being happy and feeling good about oneself. [This] is not Christianity. Christians in the 21st century are going to have to step back to some meaningful degree from the world for the sake of building up orthodox belief, learning the practices of discipleship and strengthening our communities. The most pressing problem Christianity faces is not in politics. It’s in parishes” (brackets and emphases mine).
The absence of religion in the public square, discipline in the home, prayer in our schools and justice in our courts, these are just symptoms of a much bigger problem. First, sin abounds and has since the fall in the garden. But I would submit that the decline of our culture has much to do with an absentee church as well. The church has ceased to be what Christ has called her to be and to do what He has called her to do.
It is important to understand that the church is not an institution, it is a people. Specifically, the church is comprised of those and only those who have repented of their sin and have put their faith in Jesus. Baptism won’t save you. Church membership won’t save you. Riding the religious coattails of your parents and grandparents won’t save you. Good works are a dead as well. Jesus did all that was required, we are called to repent and believe.
And yet we understand that locally, pockets of this people operate according to quasi-institutional framework. As outposts of this larger kingdom, though, each local congregation is to mirror the church at large in every way.
Therefore, the local church’s members are bound together as one by a common confession, that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the Living God (and so God Himself) and the only means of salvation. The one who cannot or will not confess THIS Jesus-over and against the Jesuses of culture who was a good man, a great prophet or one prophet among many-is not a believer, he is not saved, he is not a member of THE church and so should not be a member of the local church either.
The local church’s members are also characterized by shared attributes, traits common to every believer the world over and throughout time. Those who have put their faith in Jesus and now have the Holy Spirit living inside of them giving them new affections devote themselves individually and collectively to God’s Word, to the community of faith (the local church), to corporate worship (i.e. singing, prayer, baptism, communion, preaching, teaching and the like), and to the mission of God-to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that Christ commanded and trusting in Him to be with us to the very end (Matthew 28:16-20).
Finally, the church is the God-ordained locale for fulfilling the “one-anothers” of Scripture. The Bible commands that we:
Consider also II Thessalonians 1:3 which says, “We ought always to give thanks to God for you brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”
Heed the warning of Galatians 5:15: “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”
Reddicks Grove, are we going to be the church God has called us to be, the church that Jesus commissioned us to be? A people devoted to the Word of God, a people willing to receive it and believe it and speak it and obey it? A people devoted to the local body, coming together around a common confession, gathering regularly for corporate worship, loving one another, submitting to one another and to our leaders, serving one another? A people devoted to the mission of God, the salvation of His people, a people from every nation, every tribe, every language and every people group?
Will we be a people enslaved to our traditions and destined for death?
“If your church loves a past era more than the current mission, it loves the wrong thing.” – Ed Stetzer
“What would you be willing to give up, what would you be willing to change if it meant your kids and grandkids were worshipping Jesus long after you’re gone?” – Barr Fields
As I entered the church on Sunday morning I became painfully aware that Satan’s forces had arrived there long before me and were moving rapidly to undermine God’s purposes for the worship service. I sat as on pins and needles throughout Sunday School, quiet, prayerful, even a little frustrated, knowing the sermon that lay ahead but unsure of what the moments leading to it held in store. Upon the final amen, most scattered to attend their various classes throughout the church. But some of us gathered to pray.
Before long, a pattern became clear, a pattern that would drown out the negativity and the opposition. God had fashioned a corporate gathering focused on love. Love had been expressed between brother and sister in Christ during the Sunday School assembly, the children sang of love during their weekly song, even the offertory, though wordless, focused on love. The hymns buttressed the theme, and the sermon became the crescendo for there is no greater love than this, that a man, in this case the God-Man Jesus Christ, lay down his life for his friends.
This love was under attack Sunday morning, and God struck the evil down by the power of His holy Word.
So it reads…
1. Love is from God. Romans 5:5 says, “Love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” The one who loves does so because the Holy Spirit lives inside of him.
2. Thus, love is proof of one’s salvation. I John 3:13-16; 4:7-8 reads, “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren…Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
The one who does not love cannot do so, because the Holy Spirit does not live inside of him.
3. Christian love is and is not defined by certain things. “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
I Corinthians 13:1-8; 14:1, NASB
So those who have had the love of God poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit are patient with their brothers and sisters in Christ. They are kind to them. They are not jealous of them. They do not brag and boast, they are not arrogant. They do not act unbecomingly. They do not seek their own preferences and desires but rather defer to others. They are not provoked. They forgive. They love the truth.
While we all fail at times, these qualities should be ours in increasing measure as we grow in Christ-likeness if we truly know Him by grace through faith in Christ.
The reminder was painful, but Sunday God was calling all of us to pursue love.
Philippians 2:2-5 says, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.”
Folks, God is not glorified, in fact, He is dishonored, when we fail to love, for it is the clearest indication to a lost and dying world that we actually know Him and are known by Him in Christ. Therefore, let us strive with every fiber of our being to walk in His Spirit that we might love as we have been loved – selflessly, sacrificially, passionately and worshipfully.
“Authentic expository preaching is marked by three distinct characteristics: authority, reverence, and centrality. Expository preaching is authoritative because it stands upon the very authority of the Bible as the word of God. Such preaching requires and reinforces a sense of reverent expectation on the part of God’s people. Finally, expository preaching demands the central place in Christian worship and is respected as the event through which the living God speaks to his people…”
via Preaching with Authority at Albert Mohler’s Blog
It seems appropriate that we should end our time in Genesis on the last day of 2017. Just as a new year gives us a moment to reflect on the triumphs and failures of the previous year and so make adjustments, this timely transition from Genesis into 2018 offers us a chance to walk in obedience to all that God has taught us.
So, what has He taught us in the last 14 months? In brief…
Now how do we as individuals and as a corporate local body walk in obedience to these truths?
To the end that when the King returns He will indeed receive the reward for His suffering, a precious bride without spot or blemish, a people for His own possession to the glory and praise of God-the-Father.
“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Mt. 7:19-21, NASB).
“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.
Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week…”