Archive | Ecclesiology (Church)

Five Ways to Go Wrong with Church Discipline

church-discipline

What is Church Discipline?

There is hardly a practice in the local church that is misused more than “church discipline.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have many answers and its misuse is understandable. I think there are three primary ways that we can find it misuse: 1) It is never used at all, 2) it is misused in an unbiblical way, and 3) people are brought in for discipline for “sins” that don’t require its use.

Matthew 18:15-17 is the primary passage that speaks to the practice of church discipline (even if we are still left with a lot of questions).

First, let’s say this: the purpose of church discipline is the restoration of the brother in sin (Matt. 18:15), to bring recognition to the seriousness of sin (1 Tim. 5:20), and to protect the church from the influence of sin (1 Cor. 5:6). This much is clear.

Here is what Christ has to say about it in Matthew

Matthew 18

15 “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.

16 “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.

17 “And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer. (NAS)

Let’s try to take this step by step.

1. Discipling Every Time Your Brother Sins at All

If Your Brother Sins [Against You] (Matt. 18:15)

The very first thing that must be realized here is that this does not say, “If your brother sins, go reprove him in private.” Wait . . . I suppose it does. Reread the passage about. I added the text in brackets. However, while this is how it reads, this is not what is meant. To make a long story short, this here are the options of translation:

“If you brother sins . . .”

or

“If your brother sins against you . . .

See the difference? It is quite significant. The NAS, HSV, NIV, and NET all have the unqualified “If your brother sins . . .” The ESV, NAB, KJV, and NLT qualify it with ” . . . against you.” The best and earliest manuscript evidence points to the unqualified version: “If your brother sins . . .” Ouch. So, any time my brother or sister in Christ sins at all, I am to go through this process? Not only would that be an impossible task for anyone in church (can you imagine having to go take someone through this process any time any other Christian sinned?—that is all we would be doing!). However, I do believe this needs to be interpreted with the qualification “against you” due to Peter’s follow-up question in Matt. 18:21 (“Lord, how many times can my brother sin against me . . .). Peter obviously understood Christ as qualifying it, so should we.

Further Reading on this Subject: “Textual Problem: Matthew 18:15

Therefore, this is a sin against you. Thus the process begins.

2. Do Not Talk to Others About the Problem

Go to him in private (Matt. 18:15)

Let me say this as emphatically as I can: Don’t get this wrong. Incredible and sinful damage will follow if you do. God is very concerned about protecting people. The first engagement of the sin in question is one of privacy. Rumors spread, grow, evolve,  and damage people faster than anything on earth. James said this about the ability of the tongue to destroy a person:

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (Jam 3:6 ESV)

Just think about this . . . whatever sin your brother may or may not have committed against you would be be hard to compare to you spreading this offense to others (even one person) before you go to your brother in private. In this context, you discuss your problem, where you believe they sinned against you, and listen to the response.

Maybe after he or she explains themselves, you have more understanding and your anger either dissipates or is seen to be unwarranted. This is why private conversation is so important. Or, conversely, he or she may recognize their sin and repent. If so, case closed. You have won your brother. And the matter always remains between you and him or her.

However, their explanation may not be satisfying, they don’t repent, or they just don’t care about your problem with them. Then you take it to the next level.

3. Do Not Bring Your Wingmen to the Confrontation

Take Other Neutral Parties with You (Matt. 18:16)

Here, Jesus is taking from the Law of Moses (Deut. 19:5). The sin must be confirmed to be sin by others. There are a couple of things that must be kept in mind here. First, the issue is still private. You don’t go public with the sin. We are still protecting the accused if the sin has yet to be established. The second issue is that those you take with you on this next encounter are not your wingmen! They are not those who you have talked to, made sure they are on your side, then bring them with you to the confrontation. What good would that do?

The two or three witnesses are neutral parties, ready to listen to both sides (see 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19). They are there so that they can make an unbiased judgement. If, having listened to both sides, they determine the brother has not sinned and the one making the accusation is in the wrong, then you do not repeat the process until you find those who will take your side. The matter is over. Leave it with the Lord. However, if the brother is judged by the others to be in the wrong and repents, rejoice! You have won your brother. But, still, keep it all private, not even telling your closest confidant about the proceedings.

However, if this person is determined by these neutral parties to be in sin, yet he or she remains stubborn and obstinate in their wrongdoing, then and only then is the next step is ready to be taken.

church-discipline-comic

4. Do Not Announce the Sin from the Pulpit

Bring it Before the Church (Matt. 18:17)

Bringing to the “church” is the final step. Exposing the sin to this larger gathering of believers is still to be seen as a somewhat private engagement (at least in modern terms). In other words, I don’t think we should see this necessarily as an announcement made from the pulpit (although that could be the case in smaller churches). The hope is still repentance as can be seen in the statement “and if he refuses to listen to the the church . . .”

This is only the second time the word “church” (ekklesia) is used (the first was in Matt. 16:18). Christ had in mind a small gathering of people (house church type). He may have only been thinking about the eldership of the church (those in authority), thereby upping the ante of non-repentance if guilt was found.

5. Do Not Kick the Person Out of the Church

Let Him Become as a Gentile and Tax-Gatherer to You (Matt. 18:17)

This is the final step if the accused is deemed guilty by the “church” and remains unrepentant. However, like so much of this passage, I think there are so many ways to go wrong here. For starters, what does it mean to be “as a Gentile and tax-gather.” This was a common Jewish idiom which simply means “unbeliever.” Christ was not affirming the idiom. In other words, he did not see Gentiles or tax-gatherers as unbelievers. This was just a common expression that Christ used that would have been well understood by his listeners.

To be treated “as if he were” or “just as” (hosper) an unbeliever is not affirming that the person was an unbeliever, but that he was to be treated as if he were. In the church, the implications would be severe for one who is involved in the church, but negligible for those who are merely pew-sitters.

What did it mean then? What are churches actually supposed to do when we have gone through these steps and the person is unrepentant? What do we do with those who are to be treated as if they were “Gentiles and tax-gatherers”?

First, we must realize that in the there was always a place for sinners and Gentiles in the synagogues (i.e. “church”). Even in Herod’s temple, there was a very important place called the “Court of Gentiles (seen below) for Gentiles to “attend” services and engage with God.

court-gentiles

So Christ was not saying that (except in extreme circumstances) there was to be a security usher at the door of the church making sure that said sinner could not get in. I think this has more to do with positions of leadership, influence, and authority. The guilty sinner could not hold such positions, exercising their spiritual gift. They could, however, attend church services. After all, don’t we let those whom we consider to be unbelievers into our churches? What better place for them to be!

Further complicating the matter are the words “to you” (Gk. soi). “Let him be considered as a Gentile and tax-gatherer to you” (not, as we like to say here in the south, “to y’all”). This is a singular, most definitely referring back to the person against whom the sin was committed. It is possible that it was only to this person that the sinning party was to be considered a “Gentile and a tax-gatherer.”

Either way, how to we treat “Gentiles and tax-gatherers”? Do we shun then, speak ill of them, say vile things about them behind their back, ruin their reputation, and never speak to them again? Far from it! We love them, care for them, and treat them with grace and mercy. Isn’t this what Christ did? Wasn’t he called a friend of sinners, tax-gatherers, and prostitutes? How did he engage unbelievers?

Book Recommendation: What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey

Conclusion

While we have not even touched upon the hardest question (what sins are worthy of this kind of discipline?), we have seen that this type of process has great value in the church. In fact, this is how we should approach anyone who has wronged us, in the church or not. Unfortunately, so often we go the opposite direction, bringing the sin to everyone’s attention and then ganging up on the suspected wrong-doer after his reputation has already been stained (often beyond repair). The sinfulness of going in this direction, not approaching someone in private, as I said before, rivals just about any sin that could be brought against the accuser.

I have had the reverse process happen to me twice. Once with a group of elders who called me into a meeting, all having come to agreement that I was in the wrong based on the testimony of one person. None of them approached me privately and I was not given a chance to explain myself. This was not too damaging due to the nature of the sin I was being accused of. The second was much worse. Again, no one approached me privately about the accusation that was being brought against me and none of the parties present were neutral. I was brought into a surprise meeting and given no chance to explain myself. And even after I had repented of a wrong that I had done (though nothing to the degree that I was being accused of), there was nothing private about it. The rumors had already spread and there was no way for me to get the toothpaste back in the hundreds of tubes that had been let out. It was very hurtful.

But, this process is a wonderful process when done according to the steps that Christ put forward here. Keep it private, listen to the accused, bring neutral parties, and make restoration the goal.

 

Why I am No Longer a Dispensationalist

My Dispensational Upbringing

I have been taught Dispensationalism from my mother’s womb. I was born in a dispensational environment. It was assumed at my church to be a part of the Gospel. There was never another option presented. It made sense. It helped me put together the Scriptures in a way that cleared up so much confusion. And, to be honest, the emphasis on the coming tribulation, current events that prove the Bible’s prophecy, the fear that the Antichrist may be alive today (who is he?) was all quite exciting. But what might be the biggest attraction for me is the charts! Oh how I love charts. I think in charts. And dispensationalism is a theology of charts!

Making Fun of Dispensationalism

The first time I came across someone who was not a Dispensationalist was in 1999. I am not kidding. It was the first time! I don’t think I even knew if there was another view. It was when I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary (the bastion of Dispensationalism) and I was swimming with some guys who were at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Once they discovered I was a dispensationalist, they giggled and snickered. They made fun of the rapture, the sacrificial system during the millennium, and the mark of the beast (which, at that time, was some type of barcode). It was as if they patted me on the head and said “It’s okay . . . nice little dispensationalist.” I was so angry. I was humiliated. I was a second-rate theologian. They were “Covenantalists” (whatever that was). But they were the cool guys who believed in the historic Christian faith and I was the cultural Christian, believing in novel ideas.

The Novelty of Dispensationalism

This made me mad enough to start studying with great passion. And you know what I came to find out? Dispensationalism was a novel idea. It did not really catch on until the 19th century and was popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible (the standard Dispensational Sword of Truth—oh, and always in the NAS). This disturbed me. But what disturbed me most is that so many of the great theologians and personalities made fun of it. The Left Behind series was in full swing at this time. I think I was on the third book eagerly waiting for the fourth. But when I listened to a popular Reformed radio personality make jokes about the books, using them as foils and examples of how radical Christians can get, I stopped reading them. I was embarrassed to even have them on my shelf.

I was very conflicted. Dispensationalism still made a lot of sense, but I did not like the fact that it was new and my reformed crowd distanced themselves far from it. I remained a dispensationalist through seminary, but I tried to keep it a secret. Continue Reading →

When is Someone Disqualified from Ministry?

When Is Someone Disqualified from Ministry?

This is an unspoken question for many evangelicals. Most of us don’t know where the idea of “disqualification” comes from. We may be hard pressed to find anything definite in Scripture that says close to what we mean.

Peter Denies Christ and is Disqualified from Ministry

Peter Denies Christ and is Disqualified from Ministry

Sure, Paul talks about being disqualified from ministry if he were to fail. But what does he really mean?

But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

— I Corinthians 9:27 (ESV)

But here, at least, context has nothing to do with moral failure as is so often thought. He is talking about becoming “all things to all men.” This is so that Paul might make the Gospel relevant in all contexts. Otherwise, Paul would be disqualified if he succumbed to any temptation to legalism, and a stilting of the Gospel.

Further Reading: Called Into Ministry? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

Am I saying nothing would force someone to step out of ministry for a time of restoration? No! But that’s an article for another day.

The Apostle Peter: Disqualified and Restored

I want to share a story most of you are familiar with. This story should be brought into all discussions of “disqualification.” It is included only in the Gospel of John.

John wrote his Gospel over twenty years after Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Its contents likely represent John’s many years of reflection. He certainly saw relevance something  that the other Gospels passed over.

All the Gospels record Peter’s denial (Matthew 26:69–75; Mark 14:68–72; Luke 22:55–62). It’s only John who records Peter’s restoration:

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

— John 21:15–17 (ESV)

Notice the odd series of questions. Christ asked Peter three times “Do you love me?” Many have focused on the differences in the Greek word translated “love.” This probably had little meaning to John. He always switched cognates for literary purposes, not theological.

Christ's Charge to Peter by Raphael

Christ’s Charge to Peter by Raphael

What I want to point out is the threefold nature of Christ’s questions. Remember, Peter had denied Christ three times. Now, Peter’s threefold and frustrated response, “I love you” reminds us of his threefold denial.

About ten days after Peter’s rejection of Him, Jesus restored Peter to ministry. The specific language is “feed/tend my sheep/lambs.” Let me repeat this a different way: Peter committed arguably the worst sin a Christian can commit, the denial of Christ. and Christ restored him just a few days later.

What’s going on?

What about these words of Christ?

[B]ut whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

— Matthew 10:33 (ESV)

Didn’t Peter deny Christ before men?

What Were the Apostles Thinking?

I wonder what the other Apostles were thinking.  I can just hear their thoughts (that is, if they thought like us today):

“If you restore him too quickly, this will be an implicit approval of his sin”

“Let us all sin more so that grace might increase!”

“Jesus does not know human nature. You have to draw attention to his sin or he will never change.”

Peter is certainly sorry and repentant for what he did that day. I am sure it haunted him for years to come. And you may think he never did this again. But Peter never really gets over this issue. He is always afraid of what his countrymen might think.

From Act 2–10 (a ten year period) Peter lived with a terrible sin: prejudice. Remember, in Acts 2 the Holy Spirit filled Peter. But it is not until Acts 10 that Peter finally let go of his prejudice (to some degree). He finally allowed himself to enter a Gentile’s (non-Jew’s) home. Before this he held to the unbiblical belief that:

  • He wasn’t to step foot inside a Gentile’s homes.
  • He was forbidden to eat with them.

Can you imagine someone doing this today? My dad hated Japanese people. He wouldn’t hang around them or befriend them. This lasted his whole life (a WWII thing). We recognize how sinful this was.

Peter had this attitude for almost twenty years. This is after the Holy Spirit filled Him at Pentecost! He was always afraid of what the Jews thought of him. So much so, he would change the message of the Gospel throughout his life in the way he lived. Paul ended up having to have a difficult discussion with Peter about this (Galatians 2:11–13).

Further Reading: Why Paul Should Not Always Be Our Example in Confrontation

The Imperfect Lives of Christian Ministers

I’m not trying to jump all over poor Peter. Peter held the lofty position of Apostle. We would be blessed to have lived his life; including his upside down crucifixion.

My point is that those who minister for God don’t live unimpeachable lives. By “unimpeachable” I mean perfect. But the sins we are often quick to use to disqualify someone from ministry are far less severe than:

  • Denying Christ
  • Adjusting the Gospel to make it square with our prejudice

We look only at the most tangible (and often unbiblical) moral failures. We fail to realize the heart issues we live with. These go unnoticed.

Do the Unexpected: Forgive

This is my thesis: If Christ restored Peter to ministry so quickly, why don’t we? Who are we to have such an itchy “disqualification” trigger finger? Isn’t being gracious one of the ways we should be like Christ?

Maybe you’re like me and are tempted to think:

“This sin has to be pointed out! He must go through a ’time of restoration.’ The seriousness of his sin needs to be exemplified through punishment and a long time of restoration.”

Maybe the best way to exhibit grace and affect change in others is to show mercy. We should be like Christ and do the unexpected, forgive. In all honesty, I do believe there are character issues and sins that can and should “disqualify” people from ministry. These are listed in 1 Timothy:

1 Tim 3:1-7
A bishop then must be blameless [was Peter], the husband of one wife [which does not mean “not divorced, but faithful], temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable [was Peter to the Gentiles?], able to teach [in my experience, few have qualified]; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well [what if the wife is not following the Lord or has children that don’t believe?], having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside [did Jesus have a good testimony with the religious leaders? This begs the questions, “Who are those who are “outside”?], lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

All I am saying is that this story about Jesus’ restoration of Peter and his continued problems does give me much pause. Things are not as clean as we would like them to be. Grace may be the default in so many things.

Where am I going wrong?

Shameless Plug

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One Sermon People would Remember

From a human perspective a sermon is so subjective. If a person preaches for any length of consecutive weeks it becomes surprising how differently people respond to sermons.

The exact same sermon can be described by people as: Amazing, Convicting, Deep, Light, Boring, Faithful, Questionable, Solid and Weak.

Several times I have used the scene from Walk the Line to explain a sermon. In the biographical movie about Johnny Cash he finally has a shot to impress someone who could get him started in the music industry. Sam Phillips stops Johnny Cash a couple verses into the audition. The following dialogue ensues:

Sam Phillips: You know exactly what I’m telling you. We’ve already heard that song a hundred times. Just like that. Just… like… how… you.. sing it.

Johnny Cash: Well, you didn’t let us bring it home.

Sam Phillips: Bring… bring it home? All right, let’s bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you was lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had one time to sing one song. Huh? One song that people would remember before you’re dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up. You tellin’ me that’s the song you’d sing? That same Jimmy Davis tune we hear on the radio all day, about your peace within, and how it’s real, and how you’re gonna shout it? Or… would you sing somethin’ different. Somethin’ real. Somethin’ you felt. Cause I’m telling you right now, that’s the kind of song that truly saves people. It ain’t got nothin’ to do with believin’ in God, Mr. Cash. It has to do with believin’ in yourself.

Johnny Cash: I got a couple of songs I wrote in the Air Force. You got anything against the Air Force?

Sam Phillips: No.

Johnny Cash: I do.

You can see parts of the scene here:

Please don’t misunderstand my reason for writing this post. It is not to beat up pastors. Satan, sin and the flesh do enough to beat up all of us. Instead, my primary goal is to encourage pastors to preach Jesus with their voice. Don’t preach the sermon of another person. Preach your sermon. Don’t try to emulate your favorite preacher. Don’t try to follow a textbook outline on preaching. Find your Savior. Find your voice. Preach the Word.

One of my living heroes is Chuck Swindoll. It was a privilege to hear him preach every Sunday for more than 6 years while I went through seminary (I’m a slow learner). On many occasions I heard him tell small groups of men about his first pastoral experience. Swindoll has literally preached to millions of people but his first ministry was in the New England area and it was a failure. Swindoll had many “famous” preachers and professors as mentors. Swindoll was one of the first interns of Ray Stedman. Many younger people have probably never heard of Ray Stedman, but he was in some ways the Mark Driscoll, Craig Groeschel, Matt Chandler of a couple generations ago.

Swindoll tells the story that he was basically trying to be like, sound like, and think like his wonderful mentors. He was succeeding in trying to sound like his mentors, but he was failing at actually making any difference for the Kingdom of God.

Swindoll tells the story that he was driving down a highway many decades ago in New England and started to weep. His ministry was a failure. He pulled the vehicle over to the side of the road and continued to weep. Swindoll says Galatians 1:10 came to his mind, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

I’ve heard Swindoll explain many times that it was at that precise moment he realized he had to stop trying to be like and sound like someone else and just be himself. He would speak about Jesus and teach the Bible with his voice. He is not Ray Stedman. God does not want another Ray Stedman. The New England ministry failed but Swindoll’s next pastoral position was in California. He became famous there for his authenticity and clear biblical teaching.

The last time my wife and I heard a sermon we both knew was poor I was waiting for the inevitable question, “What did you think of the sermon?” About halfway home with the kids occupied in the backseat she looked at me and asked the question. After pausing for a bit I said, “I don’t think that’s the message he’d preach if he knew he’d die tomorrow. And, I don’t think he has found his voice.

If you are a preacher or can encourage a preacher here are some quick points:

  • Find your voice. If you don’t know what I mean then you haven’t found your voice.
  • Preach Jesus. Every sermon, even on Leviticus 4, is infinitely changed by the reality of the living Jesus.
  • Listen to advice, but not too much. You answer to God. You live only for the applause of our God.
  • Don’t ever preach what hasn’t first affected you. If it hasn’t moved you, it probably won’t move others.
  • Even if you are preaching Leviticus 4, preach it like it’s the last thing people will ever hear from you this side of glory.

Why I Think Non-Pastors Should Care About Pastoral Theology

(Lisa Robinson)

I’m not a pastor. I have no intentions of being a pastor even if I were affiliated with a denomination or church structure that would allow it. Yet, I find that I have quite an interest in pastoral theology, particularly as it relates to the pastors role in the church and shepherding the flock of God. I like to read and think about what makes for an effective pastoring. Now you may ask why I would be so concerned if it doesn’t apply to me. That’s a good question! But I am struck by a variety of reasons.

First, we have to consider the task of pastors from the perspective of a healthy local body. That means caring about pastoral theology is not so much about scrutinizing the ones in that role as much as it is seeing the broader picture of healthy church life. We can be incredibly self-focused and critical people and care only for what the pastor for us individually. But there is something much bigger than ourselves to consider – the body growing itself up together in love (Ephesians 4:15-16) So pastoral theology really is about a love for the church.

We shouldn’t care about pastoral theology to be critical. Yet, an understanding of the pastoral role is an issue of discernment. It amazes me when reports of pastoral malfeasance arise in the public eye and defended by those who question  Believe it or not, pastors do have job descriptions and qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9; and 1 Peter 5:1-3.

Not only that but the New Testament gives strong support for the church to be governed by a group of elders. And by elders, I don’t mean a board of directors that give a yes vote to the pastor, but those who are actively governing the affairs of the local body.

Now, if your church is structured this way please don’t read what I write as endorsement to go nitpicking the leadership. That is not the intention. But I do believe that every church going believer should be aware that Scripture provides some pretty clear mandates for how the household of God should be governed. Granted there are varying leadership structures and we should have some familiarity with what those are. Ignorance on this matter makes it that much easier for transgressions to occur in the name of a self-proclaimed, God-given mandate. I think that is a sign of healthy pastoring is informing the congregation of what Scripture says about the pastoring responsibility that is rooted in what the breadth of Scripture concerning the nature and purpose of the church (not just cherry-picking some Old Testament passages out of context).  Continue Reading →

Should We Abandon Structured Leadership?

(Lisa Robinson)

Increasingly, I am encountering a definition of the priesthood of the believer to mean a rejection of structured leadership in our local assemblies. Because we are priests with direct access to God, we minister to each other and do not need special offices (pastor/elder) that separate clergy from the rest of Christians, aka lay people. I know that many have been hurt by the local church and especially her leaders. I get that some fear any kind of hierarchical structure for for whatever reason. That may contribute to this form of polity.

For clarification, the term was coined by the Reformers to distinguish the direct access believers have to Christ vs. their access to through clergy. This of course was in repudiation to the papists who claimed that they alone provided access contrary to Hebrews 4:14. Through this direct access, we serve as ministers of the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:18) and minister to one another (Colossians 3:15-16). In this regard, we don’t need structured leadership to minister to one another.

But I will argue that we do need structured leadership for local church. Now, I’m not framing the discussion in terms of congregationalism because I think this is something different (good article on 9Marks here).  Also, I confess that I hold to a presbyterian polity that is somewhat shaping my thesis. But even so, I’m want to be fair to alternate forms of church structure and acknowledge where there is consistency with Scripture.  I question if this egalitarian type of structure is faithful.

If we think just gathering by itself is sufficient and reject the idea of structured leadership, consider Ephesians 4:4-16. There is one body who is to walk according to its purpose, growing up together in Christ through specific means – “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers (vs 11)”

Now there is a diversity of interpretation of the five classifications mentioned.

1) They are offices representing the means through which God has chosen to work through

2) They are gifts representing the means through which God has chosen to work through

3) They refer to specific people that God has chosen to work through

For the sake of brevity, I’ll just provide what I think makes the most sense, which is  definition #1 though I can see some validity for #2. I also think its important to consider prophets and apostles in light of what Paul said earlier in Ephesians 2:20. The very foundation of what Christ built is grounded in the prophetic and apostolic witness, which is transmitted through Scripture. Continue Reading →

Do We Really Need to be Culturally Relevant?

(Lisa Robinson)

Every Sunday morning, I am transported to another place in time. There are no contemporary aesthetics, only architecture and relics that scream “church”. The pastor does not stand on a stage with cool graphics flashing in the background and deliver his sermon from a little round cafe table or no table at all. He stands behind a big wooden pulpit, you know the kind that churches used to use. The music consists of a blend of hymns (sung classic style) and more contemporary songs…well contemporary for 40 years ago. There’s no big screens to follow along, only hymn books and our worship guide. And there is an organ! When the pastor preaches, he does not bring up props or gimmicks and try to make the message cool. He exposits from a carefully selected text and preaches the word. He’ll use personal anecdotes only sparingly as it assists in the explanation of the text.

Now admittedly, I am new to the church. But I’ve been at this type of church before – small and seemingly unappealing to contemporary sensibilities (some differences in affiliation).  Yet, these two churches are probably the best I’ve encountered for progress in the faith. Why? Because I believe the focus is where it needed to be – on feeding the faith of God’s gathered people through gospel-centered preaching, rich biblical studies and the provoking of genuine fellowship. It hit me a couple of weeks ago that if someone who is accustomed to cool, hip, “culturally relevant” churches were to come into these folds, they might be turned off and wonder why the church is so far behind. There might be the question of how these kind of churches will attract people to them since they don’t have any symbolism of contemporary culture.

Tim’s video on not competing with the Superbowl plucked at some strings that have been bothering me for some time, which is this observation: there seems to be this prevailing mindset that if we don’t make the church culturally relevant that we might lose people. It can become the driving force. Buildings must look aesthetically pleasing. There must be the latest technology flashing cool graphics. Sancturaries…oops I mean worship centers must situate people comfortably and look modern. Preaching is designed to connect people through language and stories that appeal to our human sensibilities. Topical preaching is designed to show people how to cope with life in ways that are relevant, preaching relevant topics as one my friends said today on Facebook “series about raising children, spiritual disciples that I fail at, character improvement that I can’t muster up, a new series about erasing world poverty, based on the latest book that the pastor is reading.” Continue Reading →

Some Random Thoughts on Christian Ministry and Ministers

(Lisa Robinson)

These are some pretty random thoughts that have swirling around in my head for awhile so I wanted to just splash them out in writing. Tim Challies posted this article a while back on his blog that served as the catalyst. The article concerns the workforce but I think it’s premise is very transferable to Christian ministry. Basically, it highlights that productivity is best accomplished when we quietly do what we do and let the work speak for itself. When we’re secure and confident in what we do, there is no need to make a lot of noise about what we do.

Noise. This has been an increasing observation and concern regarding churches. When I say noise I mean advertising about what you do. Now it’s reasonable that in the 21st century technology age that you’ll want to do a certain amount of advertising. But sometimes the way churches and ministries are advertised make it seem that you will miss out on God if you don’t participate. Here’s where I think the principles of that article resonate. Churches should concentrate on being faithful and committed to the gospel rather than marketing and how to get more people in the door. I think this cartoon from the Naked Pastor  speaks volumes.

The same can be said of ministers, i.e., pastors and preachers. There is little that turns me off more than when I hear a pastor or church leader brag about what they are accomplishing or how great they are (usually embedded in language of how much the Lord is using me). I am convinced by scripture that it is Christ’s church. Those who get the opportunity to shepherd should be grateful and caring not noisy. Let the Lord use you to impact others and let them tell you how much they’ve been impacted. It doesn’t really mean much if the pastor or preacher talks about how much what they’re doing will change somebody’s life if it isn’t actually happening. I can’t help but wonder if it’s due to illusions that one has arrived. Paul Tripp posted an excellent article about delusions of grandeur. Continue Reading →