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…”
Many Christians take the beginning of a new year to evaluate their Bible reading habits, and then change or begin a Bible reading plan. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105) For your convenience, we’ve compiled a list of Bible reading plans for you to choose…
Many have asked me what my views are regarding Santa Clause. Specifically, they want to know if I, as a pastor, am OK with his participation in the church’s annual Christmas celebrations. The question almost always catches me off guard. Those who raise the issue are usually doing so for a reason. They feel the loss of a precious tradition. They want to know whose side I am on and if I am willing to bring it back.
To my shame, I rarely have a well thought out answer that doesn’t attempt to alleviate the tension.
When questions like this arise, our first course of action should be to turn to Scripture. Does the Bible, the inspired Word of God, without error, fully trustworthy in all things, address whether or not Santa should be in our Church celebrations?
The answer isn’t as simple as some would have you believe. The Christian’s course of action, however, is.
First, is it wrong to encourage the whole Santa Clause enterprise in the first place?
One side says that to teach our kids the legend of Santa Clause, to allow them to sit on his lap and ask for presents, to encourage them to anticipate his coming on Christmas Eve is harmless. To do otherwise is to set them at odds with their friends at school and to deprive them of the joy to be had at Christmas time.
The other side says that the Bible is clear. It is a sin to lie. To teach our kids that a jolly old man in a red suit with a bushy beard comes down the chimney every year to give gifts to them is to lie. Not only that but we also encourage the idea that good people deserve good things and bad people deserve bad things (coal, perhaps), which contradicts the message of the gospel that there are no good people and all need Christ.
I think both sides need to think long and hard about this.
Is it totally harmless to teach our kids about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman (he terrified me as a kid!), etc? Can’t we agree that there is at least the possibility that when we present fiction to our children as fact, then fact (Jesus) might later be perceived as fiction?
On the other hand, is it really a lie to teach our kids about Santa? I know of a godly Christian ethics professor who would argue that practicing these traditions is akin to Rahab lying to save the Israelite spies or Germans lying to the Nazis to protect Jews. In other words, character and motive are just as important to the action when determining whether something is in fact sin. Or, so he would argue.
At the end of the day, I think we have to place one’s views on Santa Clause in the category of personal conviction. If you are personally convicted that it is wrong to participate, then so be it. If you are personally convicted that it is ok to participate, then so be it.
My wife and I decided before we had children that we would neither encourage nor discourage the Santa tradition. We would allow our children to enjoy their imaginations if they so chose to believe, but we would not teach them outright that he is real. And we certainly would not lie to them if they asked us point blank. “Where do the presents on Christmas morning come from?” “Mommy and Daddy.” Have we taken the easy way out? Maybe. We just don’t believe it’s a hill worth dying on.
Second, and this flows from the discussion above regarding one’s personal conviction, how should Christians who disagree on Santa treat one another?
We should acknowledge outright that the Bible does not address this issue specifically. The concept of Santa Clause would have been unheard of by the biblical authors, and so they give neither a “yay” nor a “nay” regarding the practice. This is one of the reasons that it becomes a personal conviction issue. One has to pray and then examine the tradition/belief in light of Scripture and come to one’s own conclusions.
Romans 14:1-4 says, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
Verses 12-17 read, “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this-not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
The following principles are evident in the text:
Am I saying that the person who is against endorsing Santa Claus is the weaker brother? No, I am not. The context of Romans 14 is rather specific, so I am uncomfortable assigning weakness to either side of the Santa debate. The principles, however, still apply. We are to consider our brother as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
Now, let’s answer the question we began with. Should Santa participate in our church Christmas celebrations?
It goes without saying that Santa (and a great many other things for that matter) should not be present during a worship service. The regular gathering(s) of the saints should be characterized by prayer, Word and sacrament. Personally, I would not be opposed to using the real St. Nicholas as an illustration in such a gathering, but as there is little we can say about him definitively, this might be unhelpful as well.
Is the annual Christmas program/pageant/cantata/concert considered a worship service? If it isn’t, what is its purpose? One could argue that it is a worship service but not the worship service and should, therefore, operate under different guidelines, but if it’s a worship service at all, it’s hard to argue for the presence of Santa Clause.
Even here, it becomes the decision of each local body. This means the principles of personal conviction apply yet again.
All of this leads me to conclude that if there is even one person in the body who is against the idea of Santa’s participation in the church’s annual Christmas celebrations, then the church should lovingly and willingly set that tradition aside.
Because to do otherwise, to force a brother in Christ, including the pastor, to participate in something that violates his personal convictions is to sin. You hurt your brother, and this is unloving.
The reply might be, “Well, he doesn’t have to participate,” but is excluding him any less unloving? I think not.
Brother, sister…if you care more about Santa Clause than you do the members of your own eternal spiritual family, I would encourage you to pray for forgiveness and repent. Let us endeavor to pursue righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For it is the kingdom of God rather than the temporal trappings of this world that matter in the end.
Merry Christmas to you all and love in Christ,