Paul’s greeting to the troubled Corinthian believers was one filled with hope. He began his letter by taking the time to reassure the Corinthian church of her salvation in Christ. At the heart of this glorious reminder, however, lay another truth, that the church at Corinth belonged to God. She owed everything she was and every good thing she had accomplished in her history to Him and to Him alone. There are four indicators in the text that remind troubled churches today that they belong to God as well.
Last month, we learned Indicator #1—that the church was founded upon and must be governed by God’s perfect revelation of Himself, the Bible, and that if the sick and troubled church is to repent and return to gospel faithfulness, she will have to relinquish control of her idols of authority (e.g. an outdated constitution and bylaws, unbiblical traditions passed down through generations, or even errant views of authority with regard to church leadership, the congregation, the deacons, and the pastor.) This month, we look at Indicator #2.
Indicator #2—The church is saved and brought into fellowship by God’s sovereign design. The church is comprised only of those who have been saved. According to the Apostle Paul in verses 2 and 9, those who are saved are those who have been sanctified or set apart as holy, those who have been called, that is drawn to salvation by the Holy Spirit, and those who in turn call upon the name of the Lord. In one sense, this refers to the universal body, every saint from every time who has repented of sin and trusted in Jesus as Lord. In another sense, particularly the sense imparted by the author, it is local. Not only is the universal church comprised only of those who have been saved, the local church is as well. God must save and bring both the universal and the local into fellowship by His own power.
God’s church is comprised only of those who have been saved by Him in Christ. It is His sovereign work. Paul says that…
The church exists, because God willed it to exist. We did not save ourselves. We were living in rebellion, running as hard and as fast away from God as we could run. We were dead in our sins, and the God of the universe had mercy on us and breathed life into us and snatched us from the grave and saved us. Sanctified us. Called us out. Adopted us as his children. Placed us into His family. We have nothing in which to boast. Arrogance has no place in the household of God.
If the sick and troubled church is to repent and return to gospel faithfulness, she must relinquish control of her idols and acknowledge her prideful dependence upon herself. She must cease to boast in past accomplishments and former glories and return to boasting in the God who saved her and brought her together as a fellowship for HIS sovereign purposes—to make His glory known among the nations through the spread of the the gospel which is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
Henry Blackaby writes, “Over time [a church’s] sense of purpose can fade. Rather than being on mission with God, churches can degenerate into religious bureaucracies. Now their concern is filling vacancies on their committees or staffing their current programming rather than reaching people and impacting their community…At times church members fixate on facility upkeep or doing ‘business as usual’ until they forget why God commissioned them in the first place…Balancing the books, mowing lawns, and maintaining flooring are not the primary ways churches glorify their Savior…What brings God glory is when churches…focus on what He cares about.”
“I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent… He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:2-5, 29 NASB).
The church at Corinth, like the churches in the book of Revelation and so many churches today, was a sick and troubled church. Paul’s letters and visits to her were stark reminders that there was hope for a vibrant future if she would only repent of sin and return to gospel faithfulness. They are reminders for us as well. There is still hope for sick and troubled churches.
Paul’s introduction in I Corinthians chapter one is filled with hope. He begins by taking the time to reassure the Corinthian church of her salvation in Christ.
“To God’s church which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus, their Lord and ours” (1:2).
Don’t read the verse too quickly and miss the point though. At the start and heart of this glorious reminder, at the heart of every loving rebuke that follows, and at the heart of every hope offered is that the church at Corinth belonged to God. “To God’s church,” he wrote. She owed everything she was and every good thing she had accomplished in her history to Him and to Him alone. There are four indicators in the text that help us to see this. For now, we will look at one of them.
Indicator #1—The church was founded upon and must be governed by God’s perfect revelation of Himself, the Bible. In verses 1 and 3 Paul speaks as one commissioned by God Himself. In the same way that the prophets of the Old Testament spoke as from God, Paul does so as well. Paul affirms that he is an apostle called by God, sent by Jesus Christ, and that he speaks on behalf of God and by God’s authority, not his own. Paul’s letters, penned in ink on bits of parchment, would constitute the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. Peter affirms this when he calls the writings of the apostles scripture in II Peter 1:16-21. In II Peter 3:15-16 he even refers to Paul’s writings specifically in this way.
The Spirit-revealed apostolic Word has been preserved for us in the Spirit-inspired written Word, the Bible. It is our sole source of authority in the church. She is founded upon His Word, and she is to be governed by His Word.
If the sick and troubled church is to repent and return to gospel faithfulness, she must relinquish control of her idols of authority—perhaps an outdated constitution and bylaws, unbiblical traditions passed down through generations, or even errant views of authority with regard to church leadership, the congregation, the deacons, and the pastor. She must acknowledge that the church belongs to God and God alone and that she must be governed by His voice, His heart, the Bible.
Yet, many self-deceived churches believe that they are operating in this fashion. However, God says through the prophet Isaiah, “This people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote (29:13).
It is possible for a church to be so brainwashed by tradition that she begins to believe that such things are not only normative and right but even biblical and so live out her days without ever questioning. More often than not, theses traditions, because they are not rooted in Scripture, become idols that steal the hearts of the people away from her head, the God of the Bible.
Of his own sick and troubled church, Henry Blackaby writes, “The dispirited church in Canada was not accurately representing their holy, all-powerful God. The only ministries the people undertook were what they thought they could afford, which wasn’t much. They often argued and acted un-Christ-like toward one another…The church was not seeking what was on God’s heart. Instead, they concentrated on electric bills, water drainage issues, and aging copier machines. As the new pastor, I realized we had to quickly repent…and return to the Head of the church” (from Flickering Lamps)
Where does final authority lie at Reddicks Grove? Is it the Word of God? If so, are we willing to make the changes necessary to bring ourselves in line with that Word? Are we willing to repent of where we have erred and return to God as the Head of His Church?
“I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore; repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth” (Revelation 2:13-16).
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:17a, NASB).
Unexplained illness often prompts the dispatching of an expert to assess the situation. In looking at common symptoms, he or she can determine the precise cause of death and so prevent future occurrences. A band of farmers with failed crops might call in the environmentalist. The homicide detective looks to the medical examiner. A failing business might hire an auditor. So, who does the sick and troubled church call?
Fortunately, there are those who have dedicated their lives and ministries to helping sick churches become healthy again and to helping healthy churches flourish and avoid death. The way in which they do so is to study both thriving and dying churches to assess commonalities.
Thom Rainer, CEO of Lifeway, is such an expert. In his book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Dr. Rainer points to 9 signs that a church might be near death.
1.) The past is the hero. Nostalgia for the way things used to be has crippled the church.
2.) The church has become a fortress. The congregation has become so consumed with “self-preservation” that they have forsaken the community around them.
3.) The budget has moved inwardly. These churches cut everything from their budget except those things most needed to keep them comfortable. More often than not, the pastor’s salary is the last to go, because he is the hired hand paid to take care of the members, most often at the expense of reaching the lost.
4.) The Great Commission becomes the Great Omission. The church is no longer concerned with going and making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded.
5.) The church is driven by personal preference. “A church cannot survive long-term where members are focused on their own preferences: my music style, My desired length and order of worship services. My desired color and design of buildings and rooms. My activities and programs. My need of ministers and staff. My, my, my.”
6.) The church rarely prayed together. Corporate prayer for the church and the community is almost non-existent.
7.) Pastoral tenure decreases. While there was a time when the church held pastors for ten to twenty and even thirty years, over time the tenure decreased to seven, five or only a couple of years at best.
8.) The church had no clear purpose. “None of the members asked what they should be doing; they were busy doing what they’ve always done…routines and traditions and rituals replaced the original purpose of the church, to go and make disciples of all nations.”
9.) The church obsessed over the facilities. Pews and pulpits became more important than the mission.
At the heart of every symptom stands pride, the love of self, and the dethronement of Christ-who He is, what He has done, and all that He has commanded-as the head of the church. This should come as no surprise to us. After all, pride has always been the downfall of sick and troubled churches.
In the book of Revelation, God issues strong and sometimes harsh warnings to the churches of Asia minor. While almost all of them had done great good for the Lord, each was in danger of closure due to sin.
The church at Ephesus had forsaken Jesus as her first love. The church at Pergamum had bought into false doctrine. The church at Thyatira had succumbed to sexual immorality and the tolerance of sexual immorality among the members. Sardis had rejected God’s Word as her supreme authority and source of spiritual life. And Laodicea, she was so sickening to God that He longed to vomit her from His mouth.
Another sick and troubled church not mentioned in Christ’s letters is the church at Corinth.
Corinth was a vibrant city known for trade and athletics, and as such she saw an innumerable influx of people. Unfortunately, she had also become a cesspool of sexual immorality, in large part due to the presence of the temple to Aphrodite, complete with cult prostitutes. The church at Corinth had allowed this pagan culture to influence her to the point that Paul, who had planted the church there, visited her no less than three times and wrote to her on at least four separate occasions. Why? To address her sin and to admonish her in the Lord.
According to I Corinthians, the church was plagued with several vices. Chapters 1-4 detail the problem of division. Chapters 5-6 address sexual immorality and the church’s refusal to discipline its members. In chapter 7, Paul answers the church’s questions on Christian marriage and divorce and godly devotion to the mission. 8-10 deal with Christian liberty. 11-14 address proper worship, humility in worship, and the use of spiritual gifts for gospel witness and the edifying of the body. Finally, in chapter 15, Paul reminds the Corinthian believers of their hope in the resurrection.
A cursory reading teaches us that, like the churches surveyed by Dr. Rainer and like the churches of Asia minor, at the heart of their sin was the issue of pride—pride regarding their wisdom and knowledge, pride regarding their status as a church, pride regarding immorality and church discipline, pride regarding their rights as Christians, pride regarding the abundance of spiritual gifts, and pride regarding their place at the communion table. In all these things they boasted in themselves rather than submitting to the headship of Christ and to the worship due Him.
In all this, however, there was hope for Corinth. There was hope for the churches of Asia minor. And there is hope for sick and troubled churches today. We know this, because we have the letters written to these churches. Had there been no hope for the churches of Asia minor, Jesus would not have sent them messengers calling them to repent of their sin. Had there been no hope for the Corinthian church, Paul would not have poured himself out for the repentance and faith of the Corinthian believers. In fact, Paul begins and ends his letter, I Corinthians, by reaffirming the saints there of their position and hope in Christ.
Over the next fifteen weeks, we will be looking at the sick and troubled church at Corinth-the good, the bad, and the ugly. What we will see is this:
1.) First and foremost, the church is God’s church. Everything she is and everything she accomplishes is due to Him and Him alone. His will. His presence. His power. His love, and mercy, and grace.
2.) There is hope for the sick and troubled church. Jesus says to the believers at Laodicea, a church so sickening she made Him nauseous, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” Jesus loves His church and longs for her good. So long as that is true, there is hope for sick and troubled churches.
3.) Moving forward will be costly for the sick and troubled church. It will involve confrontation, confession, and repentance. It will mean casting down long-held idols and returning to the God of Scripture and His gospel mission, whatever the cost.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Revelation 2:7a, NASB
Thom Rainer’s book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, can be purchased at the follow link: http://lfwy.co/2Mr2V5Z
Background information regarding the city of Corinth taken from the MacArthur Study Bible notes.
“When people are searching for a church to join, they usually have a set of criteria in mind. These criteria can revolve around sermon delivery or personality of the preacher, stance on the Bible, mission activities, local outreach, social awareness, church programs, music or the friendliness of the people. I understand this is not an exhaustive list, and this list may not include the characteristics you look for in a church. In Revelation 2:1-7, the apostle John describes the church at Ephesus. He compliments this body of believers on some wonderful characteristics that we have come to desire in our church…”
Full Article by Marty Jacumin, Pastor of Bayleaf Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC, can be found by clicking here.
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.