Archive for the ‘ecclesiology’ Category

Kevin Wilkening, my good friend and former pastor, offers some penetrating analysis of Kevin T. Bauder’s Baptist Distinctives and New Testament Church Order in his book review for the most recent 9MarksJournal.  Despite highlighting many strengths, Wilkening points to a few notable weaknesses:

Bauder claims that this book will offer an answer to the question, “What is a Baptist?” for those unfamiliar with technical, theological language. Yet as a Baptist reading this book, at times I found myself thinking, “According to Bauder, am I really a Baptist?” …

In light of Baptist history, it would seem that Bauder is too narrow in regard to this specific Baptist distinctive [what baptism symbolizes]. …

Another place where I’d differ with Bauder’s take on church order is his contention in chapter 5 that a church can have a plurality of elders, but that this form of church government is not a binding norm. … I would argue that a plurality of elders is not merely permitted by the New Testament, but mandated, except for where providential circumstantial [sic] inhibit.

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I find myself appreciative of N.T. Wright’s rebuke and in agreement with Doug Wilson’s exegesis.  Andrew Wilson sums things up wonderfully when he writes,

The church should not take its marching orders from the contemporary zeitgeist, or David Cameron, or the outraged twitterati, but from King Jesus, who has spoken. The fact that Wilson (and I) disagree with Wright about what God has said [about women’s ordination] does not mean we are on different teams; we are all insisting on the authority of divine revelation, rather than human preferences, as the standard to which we appeal when we make decisions. One day, Doug Wilson, Tom Wright, Justin Welby, Paul, Phoebe and Junia will be sitting at the same table, sharing war stories and comparing notes.

Christians on both sides of the divide would do well to remember this fact, rejoicing in our shared commitment to Scripture and the Gospel without diminishing the importance of the debate.

The biblical preacher is a herald, a steward.  He has been entrusted to declare something that would have been true if he had never been born.  He is to preach it with a strong view of his own ultimate irrelevance.  He is to get into the pulpit and say, “Thus says the Lord ….”  And to the modern world, this is insufferable arrogance.

In stark contrast with this, a modern pretty boy preacher – excuse me, a pretty boy communicator – gets up front and can talk about himself the entire time he is there.  He is open, transparent, honest, and emotionally approachable.  He is humble, or so it is thought.  The evidence?  He is humble because he talked about himself a lot.  And the other one, the insufferable one, he must think he has a personal pipeline to God.  He must think that God wrote a book or something … wait.

– Doug Wilson, A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking, p. 23

Christianity Today recently posted an excellent article regarding the importance of encouraging the integration of youth and adults within the church’s corporate life.  The article quotes Scott Brown, director of the National Center for Family Integrated Churches, who writes in his new book, A Weed in the Church, that modern youth ministry constitutes a “50-year-old failed experiment” (not sure I’d go that far).

The article also cites Sticky Faith, a new book by Kara Powell and Chap Clark (Fuller Theological Seminary), which notes a six year study demonstrating a strong correlation between intergenerational worship/discipleship and mature faith among students in high school and college.  This correlation has been confirmed in my own experience living and working with college students: the vast majority of those who had a mature faith were intimately discipled by an older Christian(s) throughout their teen years.

The American church’s near-exclusive focus on developing youth-only ministries, complete with cool (masquerading as relevant) conferences that hand out cool t-shirts emblazoned with cool words like “ignite”, “fusion”, and “edge”, is not a lasting solution to the serious decline of Christian commitment among young people in America.

In their book Total Church, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis ask a good question:

Providing fun activities for young people may do some social good.  Many parents like it because they fear the alternative.  They would rather have their children in a church than wandering the streets.  But does it mature young people through the gospel, and does it build Christ’s church?  Where it is successful, most of the fruit is borne from activity around the fringes – the relationships that develop and the ad hoc conversations that ensue.  Is there an alternative? (183)

They go on to write:

It is often assumed that peer groups are key to youth ministry. … But our experience suggests that more significant than peer relationships are relationships with Christians who are older than the teenagers but not as old as their parents – adults who may not be “youth workers” but who are committed to young people just as they are committed to other people in the church and who model gospel living and make young people feel part of the Christian community.

This takes church seriously.  Integrating young people into the vibrant and diverse life of the gospel community is a key objective. (185-186)

What is needed today is what the Bible has always taught regarding true discipleship: one-on-one, personal attention from more mature Christians (cf. 2 Tim. 2:1-2; Tit. 2:3-6).  As Jonathan Parnell writes in an article entitled, “A Concise Theology of Role Models,”

A role model like Paul is not an optional Add-on to our Firefox browser. Following men and women like Paul is not like a scarf that accessorizes our Christian outfit. This is life or death. This is servant or enemy. Having a role model like Paul is indispensable to following Jesus. As Paul imitates Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1), so do we by following Paul’s example and keeping our eyes on those who walk like him.

But to truly follow Paul’s example, we need more than simply one trained “professional” role model (aka, the youth pastor).  The church is a community of believers in which the growth and maturation of all is the responsibility of all.

Robert Coleman’s words, from his ever-important book entitled The Master Plan of Evangelism (which is a bit of a misnomer, as today the book’s focus would be termed “discipleship”), regarding people in general are perhaps even more applicable to America’s youth today:

The world is desperately seeking someone to follow.  That they will follow someone is certain, but will that person be one who knows the way of Christ, or will he or she be one like themselves leading them only on into greater darkness?  This is the decisive question of our plan of life.  The relevance of all that we do waits on its verdict, and in turn, the destiny of the multitudes hangs in the balance. (121)

RC Sproul Jr. has posted a short critique of the increasing prevalence of multi-site churches that stream one message to multiple venues:

Here’s a brief and partial list of the ways this is bad:

1. It cultivates and encourages the cult of personality…
2. It cultivates and encourages a form of preaching that is anything but pastoral…
3. It cultivates and encourages a broader failure to watch out for the souls entrusted to the shepherds (Hebrews 13:17)…
4. It cultivates and encourages a consumerist mentality among the sheep…
5. It cultivates and encourages a lack of dependence on the gospel itself. The power is in the Word, not the one delivering it. Our strategies are foolishly built around the messenger rather than the message.

While I think Sproul sets up a few straw men and unnecessary dichotomies, his comments highlight a more fundamental issue than simply the proper use of technology in the context of the corporate gathering.  I think the conversation needs to begin with the nature of the “church” and the role that preaching plays in pastoral (or better, elder) ministry.  If the sermon is viewed as the primary means through which the Word is administered and the congregation shepherded, it seems that a multi-site model would be more acceptable, with it’s emphasis on the preached Word.

That being said, one of the most vocal opponents of the multi-site model is also a strong advocate for the centrality of preaching: Mark Dever.  You can hear his arguments in this discussion with Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald.  The Resurgence has also posted a biblical defense of the multi-site model.

Interesting story from a few days back about a new “drive-in church” in Texas:

Fast food joints have them. Banks and pharmacies have them.

So why not churches, too?

Drive-thrus may not be the most traditional route to get folks in church, but it’s working in the town of Lucas, in southeast Collin County.

On Sunday, for the first time ever, under the glaring Texas sun, in near triple-digit heat, churchgoers like Gene Schulle grabbed a worship bulletin, tuned their car radios, and focused on the view in front of them.

Now, before we rush into a full-out bombing campaign against what we would rightly decry as totally missing it, let us slip on our learning caps and see if God might want to teach us something through this…hyperbolic illustration.  It seems to me that the attitude embodied in this type of “church” (this word really needs careful defining) is exactly the same attitude that often (although perhaps less brazenly) grows rampant in our own “traditional” (for lack of a better word) meetings.  How often do we (I) walk into “church” ready to watch a show, hear a lecture, study a Scripture, sing a song, or whatever, rather than meet with God and with His people, celebrating the joyous fellowship we have in Christ as we worship and serve Him together as a community of saints?

Now, of course we (us biblical folk) would never actually say that we view “church” (there’s that fuzzy word again) as merely a “show,” but I think that our actions often betray our real attitude.  Just read a little more and judge whether or not you sometimes fall into the mindset this story so exquisitely embodies:

Without ever getting outside of their cars, parishioners drive to their favorite spot and sit behind the wheel for a worship service that includes all the familiar music, prayers and a full sermon…

Dotty Claybrook said the direct contact with nature appeals to her. She’s turned off by mega-churches and open groups, and prefers a more intimate setting — alone in her car.

Alone in her car.  She is doing “church” alone in her car.  It’s completely oxymoronic, and yet we so often fall into the same kind of thinking.

Father, help us to think biblically about our calling as a redeemed community of saints, united with one another and partaking of true fellowship through our shared union with Jesus.  Then let our careful thinking lead us to loving action in how we choose to relate to one another as your church.  Amen.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has to be one of my favorite series of books of all time.  The exciting tale revolves around the “Fellowship of the Ring,” a group of courageous individuals, from many different walks of life, all united in a single quest to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mt. Doom.

The story of this group of friends is truly epic, engaging, and beautiful.  However, perhaps one of the best things about The Lord of the Rings is that it gives us a wonderful picture of a more epic, more engaging, more beautiful story, involving an infinitely more important group of friends: the church.

The Fellowship described in the The Lord of the Rings is a wonderful picture of the “fellowship” described in the Scriptures.  Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, and Legolas (and the others) all had a common task: to deliver Frodo safely to Mordor for the destruction of the Ring.  They were on this difficult mission together, and their common calling was what united them!  To boil the Fellowship down to that one important meeting in Rivendell near the beginning of the story would be absurd.  You would miss the fundamental reality and goal of the Fellowship itself – destroying the Ring!

Likewise, when Christians degrade Christian “fellowship” to simply refer to a meeting that we attend once (or twice) a week, we neglect the larger, more foundational reality and goal of our “fellowship.”  Just as it would be silly to talk about the “community” of the “Fellowship of the Ring” without focusing on their common mission to destroy the Ring of Power, so too it is equally silly to talk about the “community” of the Gospel without focusing on our common mission to make disciples.  Fellowship entails community and mission, not one or the other.  And if we neglect either of these two elements (Gospel community and Gospel mission), we are missing the true meaning of fellowship.

Sadly, the reality that Christ’s church, although commanded to gather together regularly, has first and foremost been “sent out” into the world to make disciples of Jesus for Jesus, is often neglected in how we “do church.”  It’s relatively easy meet together with other Christians once a week; living everyday life “on mission” for Christ is hard and painful, often requiring severe sacrifice.

However, since the very beginning, Christians have consistently understood the importance of partnership (perhaps a more helpful translation of the Greek word koinonia) in advancing the Gospel (Acts 2:42-47; Galatians 2:9; Philippians 1:5, 27-28; 4:14).  As the author of Hebrews makes clear, our meeting together in community is supposed to serve our mission together in the world.  We need the encouragement, accountability, correction, and example that other followers of Christ provide in order to, by God’s grace, truly live lives that are pleasing to Him:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12-13)

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Striving side by side with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is the biblical model for the church on mission.  As the authors of Total Church write,

What will commend the gospel are lives lived in obedience to the gospel and community life that reflects God’s triune community of love.  People will not believe until they are genuinely open to exploring the truth about God.  They become open as they see that it is good to know God.  And they see that it is good to know God as they see the love of the Christian community. As Francis Schaeffer said, “Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether our message is truthful.  Christian community is the ultimate apologetic.” (175-176, emphasis mine)

We must remember that the church is commanded to live in community (meeting together regularly) and on mission (working together to make disciples and do justice).  Both elements are vital to our calling as the redeemed people of God, sent out into the world to proclaim His excellencies until Jesus returns.

Welcome to the Fellowship of the Cross.