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Thoughts for This Sunday

I have been recuperating for the last few days after a stay in the hospital.  The specifics are not important, those who know, know and those who don’t know, don’t need to know.  But today is Sunday, it is almost 9 am and I am preparing to dress and leave for my church.

Not “mine” in the sense that I own it or created it of course, but in the sense that it is the local manifestation of Christ’s body which I have oversight.  No blood of mine redeemed her.  Even if I were to shed the fulness of the blood within, it would change nothing.  But it is still mine as an under shepherd knows that the sheep of his master are his to care and to protect.

So what is this bit of rambling about?  Who knows.  I have many emotions flowing around going to church.  I am actually nervous, and I don’t get nervous.  I have a desire to draw away and use the excuse of the hospital to not go.  The basis for this thinking is nothing more than the sound of crickets.  It is just emotion and not my affections.

Affections are deeper.  They are borne out of conviction and covenant; where a person has made certain decisions and has also decided that he shall be firm in those decisions.  Affections are beautiful and glorious because they remind us of Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross.  Who came never to do his will but the will of his Father.  See, those are affections driving him forward and upward to the calling of his Father.  Emotions exist, but they are then left behind in the garden among the sweat and agony.

My affections drive me to church.  They drive me to go and smile to those I love and have given my heart to.  They prompt me to hug a couple of the older ladies and to kiss them on their forehead. My calling is to follow my Lord.  Not really a hard thing in many ways.  I ask, “What am I to be doing?” The Word supplies my answer and then it is merely an issue of faithfulness and obedience.

I am called to bring and to preach the Word, but today it will be preached to me.  So I will submit myself to it and the teacher.  I am called to shepherd the flock, but I suspect that mostly I will just be shepherded by the sheep.  And I will submit to it.  I am call to be an example to follow and that I can still do.  I can show all the love for the Body.  I can show how to come with a heart to serve and and desire to bless.  I can still pray with my brothers and sisters, and fully intend to.  I can still sing my heart out to my Triune God and hear my friends around me sing as well.  And that is what my affections, not my emotions, drive me to do.

So if you will excuse me, I have to figure out what clothes I am going to wear and do a bit of shaving.  I am going to church in a bit.

Being “Under” Christ

One of the books I am reading is Understanding Christ: An Enquiry into the Theology of Prepositions by John Stott.  It is out of print but you can still obtain used ones for a very good price.  One of the things you quickly learn when studying theology and preparing sermons is that it is the little words that usually are key to understanding a passage.  Prepositions are hugely important and yet are often passed by too quickly.  Dr. Stott does not make that mistake.  Instead, in this very readable book he considers the many prepositions connected to us and Jesus.  “Through Christ our mediator.” “In Christ our foundation.” “Under Christ our Lord.”

It is this last one that I am currently reading and came across this statement.

I keep returning to this simple question: is Jesus Christ the Lord of the church, so that it submits to his teaching however unpalatable, or is the church the lord of Jesus Christ so that it manipulates his teaching in order to make it palatable?  Will the church listen humbly and obediently to Jesus Christ, or will it behave like the brash adolescent it often seems to be, contradicting its master and putting him right  where he has gone wrong?  Is the church ‘over’ or ‘under Christ?

Good words to consider today.  It certainly fits in with my studying through 2 Timothy in my sermon preparations.

Stop Being An Amputated Ear

The subject of fellowship and church attendance is something that comes around regularly in my world as a pastor.  It shows itself in a multitude of ways.

The most obvious is the person who stays at home listening to church on the radio or on a CD.  They claim that Jesus is with them and that they are able to worship anywhere and anytime. They know almost no one at a church but they find it easy to render judgments regarding news they hear about one church or another.  They are usually perceived (often by themselves) as very biblical and knowledgeable.

Then there is the not so obvious type.  The person who loves some sort of activity but finds that it is easiest to do on a Sunday.  That can be fishing, softball, camping, or just bird watching.  They have five weeks of vacation and choose to use it in a way that stretches out weekends to three or four days to allow maximum resting time.  So come summer (at least here in Wisconsin) you may see them but once or twice.  Add to this the simple realities of humanity and they get sick or sent on business at times they are lucky to be at their church much more than half the Sundays.

Then there is the person who simply finds that gathering with the church is optional.  By this I mean, as Sunday approaches they see if there are other options available as well.  Perhaps there is a singer at some fair that they love to hear.  Or maybe Grandma is having a birthday party on Sunday.  The Brewers are in a pennant race and this is a key game (yeah, right).  Or someone gave them tickets to a Packers game, and you don’t just throw those away!  Finally, it might be that you stayed out too late on Saturday and now you are just too tired.  And since church is optional, you roll over and go to sleep after first affirming you will read the text of the sermon or listen to it later online.

There are others, but this is sufficient for my post.  The bible is clear that we are part of the Body of Christ as Christians.  Each of us is uniquely gifted for the good of the Church and none of us can separate from the Body with harm to us and the rest of the believers.  You ask for a passage?  I give you the entire New Testament, especially the epistles.  Want a specific book?  I give you 1 Corinthians.  You want a specific verse, tough.  If you think you know the bible so well that you know Jesus doesn’t care what you do when His Body gathers, then you show me your verses first (Here I am acting a bit like James in 2:14ff).

All of this is to introduce a nice little post by David Murray on why the Puritans (champions of private study and devotions) valued the corporate gathering over the private devotion.  Give it a read, it is shorter than this post.

A Primer on Church Discipline, Pt 5

This will be my final installment on a short series on church discipline.This is a task that is never enjoyable but nonetheless is good and right to do in the sight of God.  We have seen already that it is not optional; rather it is necessary because Jesus commands it.  To refuse to do it is simply sin.  But it is also says that you do not care for the soul of he who sins nor the purity of the church.  Both are serious issues that demand careful rethinking by those who reject discipline within the church.

Today I will give two final points regarding why we should practice church discipline:  The first is that it protects doctrinal purity and the second is that it protects the office of elder.

Two passages come to mind regarding doctrinal purity:

This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)

If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness,he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions,and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. (1 Timothy 6:3-5)

In the first passage Paul speaks of these two men whom he delivered over to Satan so that they learn not to blaspheme.  What exactly is involved in this is not stated, but it is clear that it was not fun, safe, or minor.  Speaking false things within the church is devastating.  Young believers are easily led astray and non-Christians can be quickly confused.  The church is to be a place where truth is expounded and loved.  It is not to be a place where confusion and lies twist the hearts of those for whom Christ died. As the second passage makes clear, Paul has no time for a person advocating new doctrines that go counter to the Apostolic teaching.  If he doesn’t nor should we.

The final reason for proper, biblical discipline is that it protects the office of elder.  This protection works in two separate ways, both is keeping the office itself pure and in removing an elder who is holding  on to sin and thus harming the church.

Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. (1 Timothy 5:19-20)

Elders are almost always on the front lines when problems arise.  They are the shepherds of God’s flock.  They are the ones who stick their neck on the line whenever a trouble-maker makes trouble.  And this makes them very vulnerable to unfounded attacks.  It is a grievous thing to readily accept accusations when there are no witnesses.  This is why a church is to take great precautions to protect their elders.  There must be witnesses and if there are not then the accusation is to be discarded.

However, when an elder is found to be in sin, if they do not repent then they are to be rebuked in the presence of the church.  That is a painful reality that is seldom practiced.  Too often they are quietly removed and no one ever really understands what happened.  This leaves open the opportunity for gossip and slander.  It is not an act of grace to be vague about an elder’s on-going sin.  Notice that the purpose for rebuking him publicly is to have the rest of the church fearful of sinning as well.

If churches will take these words to heart they will find perhaps a smaller church, but one that is more serious about pursuing Christ in holiness and a place where purity is valued and one’s spiritual well-being is desirable.


A Primer on Church Discipline, Pt. 3

This is my third installment of a biblical examination of church discipline. A practice that is rapidly not a visible part of the Church today.  I have pastored now for fifteen years and every time our church brings a person to 3rd or 4th stage people comment on how they have never seen it done before.  Sad but not surprising.

I am giving reasons for church discipline and so far we have two.  The first is simply because Jesus commands it.  Don’t let your eyes pass over that sentence too fast.  It is a command and it is not negotiable.  That alone is enough for many churches to stop and give thought to why they can have 75-1000 people in attendance and yet somehow no one is ever brought forward for discipline.  The second reason is that it teaches the people to fear sin and hate it.  That is rather self-explanatory so on to the third reason.

Third, it promotes the health and holiness of the local church body. Yep, discipline makes the church healthy.  It should not be shocking to any who read this blog to realize that if you are playing loose with a holy walk and then a fellow believer is named in front of the church in third stage discipline for doing the very same things that you will see the wisdom of rejecting that sin in your life and fight it as only a gospel-believing person can fight sin.

The key passage for this point is 1 Corinthians 5.  I won’t post the chapter here due to space so open your bible and read through it right now. [insert Jeopardy music here while I wait] Notice how vss 1-2 describe the situation.  They were openly tolerating sexual sin that even the unbeliever would be shocked over and were proud rather than ashamed. A Church should be mourning when sin is winked at or approved of rather than confronted. They were proud that they were “open-minded” but Paul was sickened.

I point you to verse 3 if you are one to say that we aren’t allowed to judge another person.  He will then task the whole church with judging each other in verse 12.  The last thing a church member does is ‘mind his own business’ but this is often the very idea that is pushed in many churches.

Notice also the means by which it is accomplished in verses 3 and following: The whole church involved in the name of Jesus Christ.  It is a total Body experience and it is not hidden from sight. I make this point simply because it is common for churches to quietly make bad situations go away.  Things like pedophilia and adultery.  Here is a sad example: A church I candidated at to be pastor had hired one man three years earlier to be their pastor.  A former Bible college president and a pastor for over twenty-five years. Shortly after he took the positions charges were made that he had sexually touched a young child. In the course of the investigation it was discovered that he has been dismissed from the Bible college and each of his former churches for this very thing.  None of the groups did anything else and they kept it quiet.  Paul would have choices words for each of them.

Finally, note the goals–it is save his soul (vs. 5) and the church is purified (6-8). This teaches that your sin is not private, it becomes a cancer to the body of Christ. This sin is not your run of the mill sins.  It is scandalous in nature and Paul is quick to act.

There is no indication here that they needed to take a lengthy process of examination and witnesses. The sin was known therefore judgment is simple and fast. An example would be a man in a homosexual relationship, or adultery, or abandonment. When they are gross and obvious they require no head scratching, and wondering if all the facts are in.  Rather a fast and certain judgment is proper and expected.

One side note, when we read about the man’s soul being saved in verse 5 there are two ways you can take that.  The first is that the man was never actually in Christ.  The second option would see this in the sense of the doctrine of perseverance, where only those who persevere show themselves to have truly believed.  I choose the second.

A Primer on Church Discipline, Pt. 2

This is the next installment on the issue of church discipline. I am seeking to give reasons why the Church is expected to actually carry this out. The primary passage is Matthew 18:15-17 which establishes the basic process on discipline. But it was also my first reason for the practice of discipline–our Lord commands it.

The second reason is simple but important seeing it practiced is a lesson to all others in the church. Sin is serious and how one is handling who is practicing sin is serious as well. It helps force people who might be flirting with sin to become serious and sober-minded again. It reminds them that they belong to a community of believers and they are not mere individuals with no accountability.

There are two examples I can point to in Scripture that help make this point. The first is in Acts 5 with Ananias and Sapphira. Here is the brand new church, just starting out. The practice at that point was to bring your offerings and lay them at the feet of the Apostles who would then oversee the dispersing of the funds as needed. Ananias had committed to give all the money from the sale of some land, but he decided, with his wife’s full knowledge, to keep some back. Apparently when he brought the money it was with the idea that he was giving all of it to the Lord. End result for both him and his wife was that they were struck dead by the Lord. Now that is discipline!

If this situation followed the advice that I have been often given by some over the years, it would have been, “don’t rock the boat.” You can hear it now, “it was just a small lie, who hasn’t done that. God is the God of love and forgiveness and we need to overlook these things.”

But the very opposite was the action of the Spirit. This is key to note because it was not the work of man to kill them. This is not some mad fundamentalist who got out of control. It was the Holy Spirit who did this. Discipline was swift and fierce, and the result in found in verse 11, “and great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.” That is one of those understatements that pop up all over the bible.

The second passage is in relation to elders. In 1 Timothy 5:20 an elder who continues to sin is to be publicly rebuked so that the rest of the congregation may be fearful of sinning. We actually have done this in our church and that was exactly the result we saw. Several men realized that they were taking their following of Jesus way to casually and it caused a bit of a season of repentance within the Body. It was not fun, but it was a good and necessary event commanded by our Lord.

When An Ordinary Pastor Dies

I finished reading Memoirs of An Ordinary Pastor a week ago and decided to give one more post to it.  In our celebrity pastor-crazed church society this is the kind of little book that comes as a wonderful glass of cold water on a hot, summer’s day. Well, Tom Carson went the way of every man, he died and he did it alone, sort of.  Here is how Dr. Carson relates his final thoughts on his father’s passing:

When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation.  In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside.  There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.

But on the other side all the trumpets sounded.  Dad won entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man–he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor–but because he was a forgiven man.  And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, “We done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.”

There is the ever present threat to think more highly of myself than I ought, those two paragraphs help ground me yet again in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ alone.

Does Your Church Need Fixin’?

Ray Ortlund has a great little post on his site on how to rescue your church in only three weeks. A must read for any church leader or member. Here is a short quote:

Week One:

Walk into church this Sunday and think about how long you’ve been a member, how much you’ve sacrificed, how under-appreciated you are.  Take note of every way you’re dissatisfied with your church now.  Take note of every person who displeases you.  Take note of all the new people whose presence is changing your church.

Meet for coffee next week with another member and “share your heart.”  Discuss how much your church is changing, how you and others are being left out.  Ask your friend who else in the church has “concerns.”  Agree together that you must “pray about it.”

Week Two:

Send an email to a few other “concerned” members.  Inform them that a groundswell of grievance is surfacing in your church.  Problems have gone unaddressed for too long.  Ask them to keep the matter to themselves “for the sake of the body.”

Read the rest here.

What Does It Mean to Worship God?

My Sunday sermon is preached, people through Kenosha from our church are gathering throughout the day to discuss the sermon, encourage and pray for one another, and just relax. But in all of this did worship occur?  John Owen, an old divine from the 1600’s (and also way smart) wrote a treatise entitled Brief Instruction in the Worship of God.  Question 17 (the work is done in a catechism style) is which institutions of the gospel are to be observed in the worship of God?  Here is his answer:

The calling, gathering, and settling of churches, with their officers, as the seat and subject of all other solemn instituted worship; prayer, with thanksgiving; singing of psalms; preaching the word; administration of the sacraments of baptism and the supper of the Lord; discipline and rule of the church collected and settled; most of which have also sundry particular duties relating unto them, and subservient unto their due observation.

Simple, straightforward and easy to follow.  If you go to this link you can read this for yourself and then see all of the bible passages that he connects to this answer to ground it in the Word.  In a word though, yes, we worshiped.

“Old” Israel versus “New” Israel

Acts 28:16-20  And when we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.   And it happened that after three days he called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they had come together, he began saying to them, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people, or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. “And when they had examined me, they were willing to release me because there was no ground for putting me to death. “But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar; not that I had any accusation against my nation. “For this reason therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel.”

I came across this passage while reading a book on evangelism.  Although I have read Acts many times I never noticed a small but important detail that relates back to the entire theological debate over the identity of Israel.  For those who do not know about this issue, I will give you a very basic sense of it.

Simply put, there are two main views related to Israel and the Church (with all sorts of wrinkles and combinations within each).  One view sees that the Church is Israel in a spiritual sense and that the Church has replaced physical Israel in one way or another.  A common perspective related to this is that the Church has existed from the beginning of Man and that the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament are to be fulfilled spiritually in the “True Israel”—the Church.  The other view, which I hold to, is that there is a distinction made between these two entities.  The Church is unique to the New Testament.  Therefore I hold that God’s work with the nation of Israel (not merely individuals in that nation) is not finished.

This passage is a good support for my position.  Please note that when Paul is imprisoned in Rome he does not gather the leaders of the church in Rome, though it certainly existed (remember, he wrote a letter to them).  Instead he gathers the leaders of the Jews, which would be the leaders of the synagogues in the city.  Note the very Jewishness of his approach, calling them brethren (not in the salvific sense, but the national sense), “our people” and “customs of our fathers.”  Then he makes a very key appeal in verse 20, that the chain he is wearing is for the “hope of Israel.”  In Ephesians 6:19-20 he refers to his chains as due to the gospel.  Which is, in fact, the same thing as “hope of Israel.”  The hope of Israel, that the book of Acts makes so very clear, is the coming of the Messiah—promised by the prophets.  All of this is rather obvious.

My point in this is simply to show that if the term “Israel” is a term that belongs to the Church and not national Israel, then this passage makes no sense.  Why would Paul call unbelieving Jews to hear about something that is not for them, as Israelites?  Why not instead call the church elders in Rome and say all of this.  The only reasonable conclusion is that Paul (contrary to the opinion of many) did not see the Church as replacing Israel.  Rather, the hope of Israel was inextricably bound up in the Christ.

Bored yet?

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