Great answer from David Powlison of the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation.
In our Christian version of the American dream, our plan ends up disinfecting Christians from the world more than discipling Christians in the world. Let me explain the difference.
Disinfecting Christians from the world involves isolating followers of Christ in a spiritual safe-deposit box called the church building and teaching them to be good. In this strategy, success in the church is defined by how big a building you have to house all the Christians, and the goal is to gather as many people as possible for a couple hours each week in that place where are isolated and insulated from the realities of the world around us.
When we gather at the building, we learn to be good. Being good is defined by what we avoid in the world. We are holy because of what we don’t participate in (and a this point we may be the only organization in the world defining success by what we don’t do). We live decent lives in decent homes with decent jobs and decent families as decent citizens. We are decent church members with little more impact on the world than we had before we were saved.
Discipling is much different.
Whereas disinfecting Christians involves isolating them and teaching them to be good, discipling Christians involves propelling Christians into the world to risk their lives for the sake of others. Now the world is our focus, and we gauge success in the church not on the hundreds or thousands whom we can get into our buildings but on the hundreds or thousands who are leaving our building to take on the world with the disciples they are making. In this case, we would never think that the disciple-making plan of Jesus could take place in one service a week at one location led by one or two teachers. Disciple making takes place multiple times every week in multiple locations by an army of men and women sharing, showing, and teaching the Word of Christ and together serving a world in need of Christ.
All of a sudden, holiness is defined by what we do. We are now a community of faith taking Jesus at his word and following his plan…a community of Christians each multiplying the gospel by going, baptizing, and teaching in the contexts where they live every day. Is anything else, according to the Bible, even considered a church?
An excerpt from Jonathan Leeman’s new book “Church Membership.”
1) It’s biblical. Jesus established the local church and all the apostles did their ministry through it. The Christian life in the New Testament is church life. Christians today should expect and desire the same.
2) The church is its members. To be “a church” in the New Testament is to be one of its members (read through Acts). And you want to be part of the church because that’s who Jesus came to rescue and reconcile to himself.
3) It’s a pre-requisite for the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is a meal for the gathered church, that is, for members (see 1 Cor. 11:20, 33). And you want to take the Lord’s Supper. It’s the team “jersey” which makes the church team visible to the nations.
4) It’s how to officially represent Jesus. Membership is the church’s affirmation that you are a citizen of Christ’s kingdom and therefore a card-carrying Jesus Representative before the nations. And you want to be an official Jesus Representative. Closely related to this…
5) It’s how to declare one’s highest allegiance. Your membership on the team, which becomes visible when you wear the “jersey,” is a public testimony that your highest allegiance belongs to Jesus. Trials and persecution may come, but your only words are, “I am with Jesus.”
6) It’s how to embody and experience biblical images. It’s within the accountability structures of the local church that Christians live out or embody what it means to be the “body of Christ,” the “temple of the Spirit,” the “family of God,” and so on for all the biblical metaphors (see 1 Cor. 12). And you want to experience the interconnectivity of his body, the spiritual fullness of his temple, and the safety and intimacy and shared identity of his family.
7) It’s how to serve other Christians. Membership helps you to know which Christians on Planet Earth you are specifically responsible to love, serve, warn, and encourage. It enables you to fulfill your biblical responsibilities to Christ’s body (for example, see Eph. 4:11-16; 25-32).
8) It’s how to follow Christian leaders. Membership helps you to know which Christian leaders on Planet Earth you are called to obey and follow. Again, it allows you to fulfill your biblical responsibility to them (seeHeb. 13:7; 17).
10) It enables church discipline. It gives you the biblically prescribed place to participate in the work of church discipline responsibly, wisely, and lovingly (1 Cor. 5).
11) It gives structure to the Christian life. It places an individual Christian’s claim to “obey” and “follow” Jesus into a real-life setting where authority is actually exercised over us (see John 14:15; 1 John 2:19; 4:20-21).
12) It builds a witness and invites the nations. Membership puts the alternative rule of Christ on display for the watching universe (see Matt. 5:13; John 13:34-35; Eph. 3:10; 1 Peter 2:9-12). The very boundaries which are drawn around the membership of a church yields a society of people which invites the nations to something better.
Like most pastors, I occasionally have conversations with people who are dissatisfied with their church and are considering leaving to find another. This isn’t terribly uncommon, and I imagine that over the course of their lifetime many (most?) Christians will struggle with this.
Sometimes the reason for this struggle stems back to the pastor of the church. In the last few months I’ve talked with people who are struggling with aspects of their pastor’s ministry, ranging in seriousness from his friendliness to regularly plagiarizing sermons. They wonder what they should do? I imagine that in most cases, Christians should err on the side of sticking it out, working through misunderstandings, and enduring a leader’s mistakes, foibles, and sometimes even sins.
And yet there are most definitely times that for the sake of their families and the cause of Christ, they should leave the church. The question becomes, how do you know when you should stay or when you should go? How do you know if your pastor is characterized by abusive leadership or if you’re just making a mountain out of a mole hill?
Yesterday I read Jonathan Leeman’s new book on church membership and he tackles this question well. If you find yourself in a situation like this, consider Leeman’s list of characteristics of abusive church leadership. He writes:
“How do you recognize abusive leadership? Paul requires two witnesses for a charge to be leveled against an elder (1 Tim. 5:19), probably because he knows that leaders will be charged with infelicities more than others, often unfairly. That said, abusive churches and Christian leaders characteristically
- Make dogmatic prescriptions in places where Scripture is silent.
- Rely on intelligence, humor, charm, guilt, emotions, or threats rather than on God’s Word and prayer (see Acts 6:4).
- Play favorites.
- Punish those who disagree.
- Employ extreme forms of communication (tempers, silent treatment).
- Recommend courses of action that always, somehow, improve the leader’s own situation, even at the expense of others.
- Speak often and quickly.
- Seldom do good deeds in secret.
- Seldom encourage.
- Seldom give the benefit of the doubt.
- Emphasize outward conformity, rather than repentance of heart.
- Preach, counsel, disciple, and oversee the church with lips that fail to ground everything in what Christ has done in the gospel and to give glory to God.”
Several months ago, Stephanie and I read and immensely benefitted from the book “Give Them Grace” by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson. Since that time we’ve recommend or given away this book to many parents.
In the latest edition of The Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, our friends Andy and Jenni Naselli reviewed “Give them Grace.” The review is really helpful and if you want a guide through the layout, organization, strengths, and weakness of the book, then be sure to check it out.
But the highlight of the review is Jenni’s testimony of God’s grace exposing the idolatry of her heart through parenting. Honestly, this section is a must read for parents! Jenni mentions four themes from the book that have been ministered to her by means of experience:
(1) We cannot ever hope to raise good children (only God can make us truly, inwardly good).
(2) Both little Pharisees and little prodigals needs God’s grace.
(3) Parenting involves specifically applying the gospel to everyday situations.
(4) Parents need God’s grace too.
If you’re a parent, read the whole thing. I guarantee you’ll resonate with Jenni’s testimony of struggle and grace, and that you’ll benefit from what she’s learned.
Note: Jenni’s testimony starts on the third page under “A Mom’s Perspective.”
Wayne Grudem has some helpful thoughts on how Christian churches and organizations can know when they should add, take away, or reshape their doctrinal statements. In other words, when should Christians draw new boundaries? He asks four questions:
WHY DRAW BOUNDARIES AT ALL?
1. False Teaching Harms the Church
False teaching harms the church. In a day marked by much pluralism and subjectivism, the destructiveness of false teaching needs to be remembered. In the epistles of the New Testament, sound doctrine is taught again and again, and error is corrected (Gal 1:12; Acts 20:29-30; 1 Tim. 6:4-5). Do any of us have the same sober apprehension of the destructiveness of false doctrine that the New Testament apostles had?
2. False Teaching Spreads
If false teaching is not stopped, it spreads and does more damage. In 2 Timothy 2:17-18, Paul pictures false teachers quietly working their influence among unsuspecting church members, spreading silently and invisibly like “gangrene.” Once a church or Christian organization allows some vocal advocate of a false teaching to have a position of influence, those people become precedents by which others can be allowed in.
3. False Teaching Causes Controversy and Distracts
If false teaching is not stopped, we will waste time and energy in endless controversies rather than doing valuable kingdom work. When Paul urged his readers to “avoid controversies,” he meant the fruitless, endless controversies that hinder us from doing more productive ministry. There comes a point when it is no longer wise for a church to continue arguing over certain controversies. They should come to a decision and go on to productive kingdom work.
4. Jesus Holds Us Responsible
Jesus and the New Testament authors hold church leaders responsible for silencing false teaching within the church, and they expect that those in authority will remove the platform that these false teachers have (See Tit. 1:10-11; 2 Pet. 2:1-3). Most sobering are Jesus’ rebukes against churches that tolerated the presence of false teachers. He rebuked the church at Pergamum merely for having among them people who held to certain false teachings. (Rev 2.14)
WHY DRAW NEW BOUNDARIES?
Why should evangelical organizations draw new boundaries? When I speak of “new boundaries,” I do not mean boundaries that would make an organization fundamentally different from what it was from its beginning. Rather, I mean boundaries that for the first time state explicitly what was already believed by the vast majority of the members for many years. “New boundaries” are put into place to keep the organization from becoming something significantly different from what it has been.
This process may be summarized in the following principle: False teaching changes, so old boundaries do not protect against new problems.
In every age, the church has faced new challenges which it was forced to address. In recent years within the evangelical world, several new problems of false doctrine have arisen, and therefore old doctrinal formulations that do not address these questions are inadequate. I am convinced that Christian organizations and denominations will soon need to add new boundaries to protect against these new forms of false teaching.
WHEN SHOULD WE DRAW NEW BOUNDARIES?
When should evangelical organizations draw new boundaries? Evangelical organizations should draw new boundaries after a false teaching has become a significant problem, but before the false teaching does great harm, and before it has a large following entrenched in the organization.
It is impractical and impossible to rule out doctrinal errors before they appear. Problems must be dealt with after they arise, and after they have become a significant problem for the church. Yet we cannot wait too long to exclude a false teaching, for if we do, it will gain influence and may soon become entrenched in the church or organization.
HOW DO WE DISCERN WHEN NEW BOUNDARIES ARE NEEDED?
How do churches and evangelical organizations discern when new boundaries are needed in doctrinal and ethical matters? This question requires wisdom, judgment, prayer, and discussion on the part of leaders and members in churches and organizations. Here are some questions each church or organization should ask when considering whether to draw a new boundary:
How sure are we that the teaching is wrong? Have the advocates of this teaching been given a fair hearing? Has there been enough time to reflect on the matter carefully? And is there a growing consensus among God’s people generally that this new teaching cannot be right? I believe God gives to His people a generally reliable “spiritual instinct” about when a particular teaching simply cannot be consistent with Scripture.
2. Effect on Other Doctrines
Will this teaching likely lead to significant erosion in other doctrines? Some doctrines are absolutely important to maintain because of their effect on other doctrines. If we abandon the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, or the deity and humanity of Christ in one person, or the inerrancy of Scripture, or justification by faith alone, many other doctrines will be lost as well.
3. Effect on Personal and Church Life
Will this false teaching bring significant harm to people’s Christian lives, or to the work of the church? The advocacy of homosexuality, for instance, brings significant destructive consequences to people’s lives. Or, to take another example, inclusivism tends quickly to destroy the motivation for evangelism and missions.
4. Historical Precedent
Is this teaching contrary to what the vast majority of the Bible-believing church has held throughout history? Those who denied the inerrancy of Scripture were in the difficult position of saying that the vast majority of God’s people throughout the history of the church were wrong. Open theists have a similarly huge burden, for probably 99.9% of Christian believers throughout history have believed that God knows all future events.
5. Perception of Importance Among God’s People
Is there increasing consensus that this matter is important enough that the false teaching should be explicitly denied in a doctrinal statement? This consideration takes into account the deep spiritual instincts of God’s people, not just regarding the rightness or wrongness of a doctrine, but regarding its importance. Often God’s people will say, “Something fundamental is at stake here. The God this teaching describes is simply not the God of the Bible.”
6. Purposes of the Organization
Is the teaching a significant threat to the nature and purposes of the organization? Here I am attempting to take into account the fact that God raises up different organizations for different purposes. Each evangelical organization must ask itself, what things are fundamental to preserving our purpose and identity?
7. Motivations of Advocates
Does it seem that the advocates of this teaching hold it because of a fundamental refusal to be subject to the authority of God’s Word, rather than because of sincerely-held differences of interpretation based on accepted hermeneutical standards? With regard to some specific type of false teaching, after some interaction with one of its responsible advocates, we might ask ourselves, “Deep down inside, is he (or she) just embarrassed by the offense of the cross?” Or we might ask, “Deep down inside, is he embarrassed by the exclusive claims of Christ to be the only way to God?”
On the other hand, to take an example where I think the motivations are good on both sides, we could think about differences among evangelicals over the length of the days of creation in Genesis 1. I do not think that people on either side of this question have any deep refusal in their hearts to be subject to Scripture. Rather, I think people are just weighing various factors and coming to different conclusions on a complex question.
8. Methods of Advocates
Do the advocates of this teaching frequently manifest arrogance, deception, unrighteous anger, slander, and falsehood rather than humility, openness to correction and reason, kindness, and absolute truthfulness? If so, then we have a further indication that what they teach is not the “wisdom from above” that James speaks about (James 3:17-18).
SOME WRONG QUESTIONS TO ASK
There are some questions that should not be part of our consideration in deciding which doctrinal matters to exclude with new boundaries. For example:
“Are the advocates my friends?”
“Are they nice people?”
“Will we lose money or members if we exclude them?”
Such questions are grounded in a wrongful fear of man, not in a fear of God and trust in God.
We look back with admiration and thanksgiving on those from previous generations who defended many important doctrines of our faith, but with disappointment and shame on those who failed to take a clear stand. Now God has entrusted us with a stewardship in this generation. Now the choice of whether to do something or nothing about false doctrine is up to us.
Multisite, the Poker Tell and the Importance of Presence. This is an excellent article by Carl Trueman critiquing the idea of multi-site churches. Important article for pastors and church leaders especially.
God Is Not My Fall Guy and God’s Wisdom…but Mine. Mark Snoeberger has written two helpful articles over at the DBTS blog on the will of God and God’s leading. These articles (and the two books he references) are worth reading.
T4G Breakout Sessions: In addition to the main sessions at T4G, ten workshops were offered. The audio for these breakout sessions is available. I attended Carl Trueman’s on “Why the Reformation Isn’t Over.”
Sovereign Grace Ministries Relocation Announcement. Sovereign Grace Ministries is relocating to the buckle of the Reformed Bible Belt and C.J. Mahaney (and Bob Kauflin) will be planting a church.
From Age to Age. Speaking of Sovereign Grace, they just released a new cd. If you’re not familiar with Sovereign Grace music, they typically record theologically rich songs across a spectrum of genres. They’ve been a key part of writing good new hymns for the modern church. Their music is always worth checking out!
A Purpose-Driven Cosmos. Russell Moore writes a fascinating article for Christianity Today on our future in heaven. Here’s a sample:
We tend either to ignore the future, because we are so consumed in the drama of the here and now, or to see it as simply a continuation of our present lives, with our loved ones there and sickness and death gone. But in Jesus we see a future that has continuity and discontinuity. In his resurrected life, Jesus has gone before us as a pioneer of the new creation.
Perhaps we dread death less from fear than from boredom, thinking the life to come will be an endless postlude to where the action really happens. This is betrayed in how we speak about the “afterlife”: it happens after we’ve lived our lives. The kingdom, then, is like a high-school reunion in which middle-aged people stand around and remember the “good old days.” But Jesus doesn’t promise an “afterlife.” He promises us life—and that everlasting. Your eternity is no more about looking back to this span of time than your life now is about reflecting on kindergarten. The moment you burst through the mud above your grave, you will begin an exciting new mission—one you couldn’t comprehend if someone told you. And those things that seem so important now—whether you’re attractive or wealthy or famous or cancer-free—will be utterly irrelevant.
Jesus expects us to be busy about the work of His kingdom, but often we’re just not sure what that is supposed to mean for us. In his book “Gospel: Recovering the Power That Made Christianity Revolutionary,” J.D. Greear gives a few helpful thoughts for how we can think through what it means for us to work for God:
1. Start with the needs right in front of you.
The book of James says that if someone is standing at your door with a need, then it is God’s intention for you to fill it. The idea that “God doesn’t need us” should never be used as an excuse to not meet the needs that are right in front of us. So, start by helping those in need “right outside of your gates.” If there is a need that you see you can fulfill, do it.
2. Carefully evaluate how your vocational talents can be leveraged for God’s kingdom.
How can your job be leveraged to bless others? One of the most underutilized tools in discerning what God wants you to do is the local church. Just as God used Nathan, who was part of David’s spiritual community, to direct David, so God will use His local church to help direct you.
3. Ask what your local church is doing that you can be involved in.
God has given us our local churches to help direct us in effectively meeting the spiritual and physical needs of our community.
4. Consider whether there is some area of of passion or interest growing in you.
What stirs your heart? Is there a people group, or a country, you think about all the time? Do you have a dream of doing something particularly great for God? Commit that to God, and ask Him to send you. Wait on Him to open the door (Ps. 37:4-5). Don’t be afraid to “expect great things of God, and attempt great things for God.” God can tell you “no” if He needs to, but often the dream itself is from Him. A lot of times the way we discover our spiritual gift is by sensing a deep desire in our hearts to do something for others for Christ’s sake.
5. Listen to what other believers say about your giftedness.
Often, God reveals areas of spiritual-giftedness in us by having someone from the church point it out to us. Other people see an area where we are particularly strong, or where God has used us in their lives.
6. Be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Just as God, got a message to Nathan, he can get one to you. It might be the counsel of a wise friend, a closed door, or anything else God chooses to use. He can get His message to you. You can trust Him.
Worldliness is something that is frequently misunderstood in evangelical churches. While some churches act as if there is no such thing, others view it as residing only in external forms of clothing, music, etc. It’s clear that Scripture condemns worldliness, but it’s not at all quite clear what exactly is “worldly.”
Drew Conley is the pastor of Hampton Park Baptist Church in Greenville, SC (he’s also my parent’s pastor). A few years ago he preached a series of messages seeking to Scripturally define worldliness that is easily the most helpful resource on worldliness I’ve seen. You can listen to the sermons here. If you don’t have time to listen to four sermons, they are outlined and summarized in a PDF which you can find here. This is an immensely helpful resource.
Here’s Conley’s introduction to the series:
Need for this study
- Some professing believers live as if worldliness were no problem.
- Some professing believers define worldliness however they like, binding consciences and slandering other believers who don’t conform to their manmade definitions.
- The Scriptures give full treatment of this theme, tying it to the gospel itself.
If we’re committed to genuine Christianity, then the Bible gets to define the terms, explain the ramifications, and give the cure. Refusal to submit to the Scriptures on this matter—either by disregard or displacement—is fundamentally worldly.
T4G Made Me Look Like a Girlyman. Carl Trueman’s thought on T4G. Favorite line, “Some are born hypocrites; I have found hypocrisy thrust upon me.”
Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? Owen Strachan highlights a fascinating article from the Atlantic. Both the article and Owen’s thoughts are worth reading.
Length of Days In The Creation Week. My former Old Testament professor, Bob McCabe, has a helpful post on why he believes the days of the creation week are literal, 24-hour days.
The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness. Last week I highlighted Kevin DeYoung’s sermon on holiness as one that was particularly helpful. A number of people have told me they listened to it and I simply wanted to note that he has a book coming out this summer on the topic. You can pre-order the book at the link above.