This past Sunday the Adult Sunday School class looked at Christian Spiritual Disciplines. In class we watched the first 22 minutes of a video message delivered by Don Whitney at the 2015 Southern Baptist Founders Conference Midwest. What follows is Don's full conference message and a link to his widely respected book entitled: "Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life".
Pastor Ron sent me a link to this article first published on the Banner of Truth web site on January 11, 2012 in which the author, Al Backer, suggested that many churches in the Reformed world have a truncated gospel which serves as a clear and present danger in our churches. The concerns expressed by the author are not peculiar to the Reformed world and the danger is worth examination by all Christians and Christian churches. I recommend it to you for your reading and comment. The Clear and Present Danger of a Truncated Gospel There is a second related post referenced in the article that is also well worth the read entitled "The Grace Boys" on The Aquila Report website.
This week in Sunday School I mentioned a response by Ravi Zacharias to a question regarding gender preference and God. Here is a link to that video response: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MD3CsFfLxlo
Most of our time in class was spent in a lively discussion of the currently ongoing Elders review of our church constitution and specifically about our church covenant. I hope I succeeded in facilitating an open discussion where all feedback on the topic and process was welcome. My own views on the topic of membership are well summarized in a blog post last August. You can click this link to read that post by David Mathis entitled "Why Join a Church?" Please feel free to respond here to any of these issues. Thanks to all for a lively, honest discussion in class Sunday.
This past Sunday the Adult Sunday School class continued our discussion from the week before regarding how to reconcile scripture passages that tell us we are to love even our enemies and other verses like Psalm 139:21-22 where David expresses his hating those who hate the Lord. The two links below are to the articles Pastor Ron handed out for further explanation of the topic in class.
Commentary on the Imprecatory Psalms
Do I Not Hat Those Who Hate You, O Lord? The Verses We Skipped - Article by John Piper
This past Sunday morning in the Adult Sunday School Class Pastor Ron made mention of an interesting article that Steve sent him a link to. The article addresses a challenging topic that came up the week before in the class discussion. The challenging topic has to do with how Christians reconcile passages of scripture that call us to love our enemies with other verses that support "hating the haters of the Lord". Although this topic was not the focus of our current study, several members of the class asked for a copy of the article. Click the following link to the original article "Hating the Haters of the Lord" by Professor David Engelsma on the Covenant Reformed Protestant Church's web site.
Trading One Dramatic Resolution for 10,000 Little Ones
I’ve told the story many times of talking impatiently with my wife one Sunday morning and having my nine-year-old son interject, “Daddy, is this the way a Christian man should be talking to his wife?”
Rather sarcastically I said, “What do you think?” He replied, “It doesn't make any difference what I think — what does God think?”
I went to my bedroom, and two thoughts immediately hit me. First, my pride reared up. I want to be a hero to my son, and I was embarrassed that he had been troubled by my attitude and words. But that didn't last very long. I soon thought, “How could it be that God could love me so much that he would give a twit of care about this mundane little moment in the Tripp bathroom?”
That’s love at a level of magnificence that I am unable to capture with words. This was but one moment in one room in one house of one family, on one block on one street in one neighborhood, in one city in one state in one country on one continent, in one hemisphere on one globe in the universe. Yet God was in that moment, working to continue his moment-by-moment work of transforming the heart of this man.
Rethinking the Annual Ritual
Why am I telling you this story? Well, it’s that time once again. It’s the fodder for blogs, magazine articles, TV shows, and way too many tweets. It is the time for the annual ritual of dramatic New Year’s resolutions fueled by the hope of immediate and significant personal life change.
But the reality is that few smokers actually quit because of a single moment of resolve, few obese people have become slim and healthy because of one dramatic moment of commitment, few people who were deeply in debt have changed their financial lifestyle because they resolved to do so as the old year gave way to the new, and few marriages have been changed by the means of one dramatic resolution
Is change important? Yes, it is for all of us in some way. Is commitment essential? Of course! There is a way in which all of our lives are shaped by the commitments we make. But biblical Christianity — which has the gospel of Jesus Christ at its heart — simply doesn’t rest its hope in big, dramatic moments of change.
Living in the Utterly Mundane
The fact of the matter is that the transforming work of grace is more of a mundane process than it is a series of a few dramatic events. Personal heart-and-life change is always a process. And where does that process take place? It takes place where you and I live everyday. And where do we live? Well, we all have the same address. Our lives don’t careen from big moment to big moment. No, we all live in the utterly mundane.
Most of us won’t be written up in history books. Most of us only make three or four momentous decisions in our lives, and several decades after we die, the people we leave behind will struggle to remember our lives at all. You and I live in little moments, and if God doesn’t rule our little moments and doesn’t work to recreate us in the middle of them, then there is no hope for us, because that is where you and I live.
The little moments of life are profoundly important precisely because they are the little moments that we live in and that form us. This is where I think “Big Drama Christianity” gets us into trouble. It can cause us to devalue the significance of the little moments of life and the “small-change” grace that meets us there. And because we devalue the little moments where we live, we don’t tend to notice the sin that gets exposed there. We fail to seek the grace that is offered to us.
The 10,000 Little Moments
You see, the character of a life is not set in two or three dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments. The character that was formed in those little moments is what shapes how you respond to the big moments of life.
What leads to significant personal change?
His Work to Rescue and Transform
And what is he doing? In these small moments, he is delivering every redemptive promise he has made to you. In these unremarkable moments, he is working to rescue you from you and transform you into his likeness. By sovereign grace, he places you in daily, little moments that are designed to take you beyond your character, wisdom, and grace so that you will seek the help and hope that can only be found in him. In a lifelong process of change, he is undoing you and rebuilding you again — exactly what each one of us needs.
Yes, you and I need to be committed to change, but not in a way that hopes for a big event of transformation, but in a way that finds joy in and is faithful to a day-by-day, step-by-step process of insight, confession, repentance and faith. And in those little moments, we commit ourselves to remember the words of Paul in Romans 8:32:
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us,
how will he not also with him freely give us all things.
So, we wake up each day, committed to live in the small moments of our daily lives with open eyes and humbly expectant hearts.
Paul David Tripp is a pastor, author, and international conference speaker. He is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries and works to connect the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life.
The Adult Sunday School class looked at a small excerpt from the full video below. This is the same video Pastor Ron recommended to us in this morning's Worship Service.
Please share your comments.
The link below is to another article by David Mathis originally published March 12, 2014 on the Desiring God web site. It looks at Fellowship as a "means of grace" and is the source of some quotes that Pastor Ron shared with us in last Sunday's message. Read the post and continue to meditate on Sunday's message. Ask yourself what would God have me do in response to what He is revealing about this means of grace 'Fellowship'.
This article from the Desiring God web site is a very helpful look at church membership. Over many of the years of my Christian life I have had struggles with questions regarding the need to join a church. Many years later now my views on the topic have changed thanks to God's grace and mature brothers in the Lord. This article is the best word I have seen on the topic in recent years especially as an Elder in Christ's church here in Cato.
One of the most counter-cultural things you can do is become an engaged member of a faithful local church.
In our flighty and noncommittal age, neither non-Christians nor Christians are naturally inclined to find a place to put down roots and make longstanding, objective commitments for the good of others. We want to keep our options open and, above all, preserve our own freedom of choice, rather than make a covenant for the long haul and embrace a framework for real life in all its ups and downs.
But what if you went against the grain and became part of the solution to the modern problem of being so noncommittal? What if you joined the rebellion, and pledged your loyalty and engagement to a Bible-believing, gospel-cherishing local church?
Does the Bible Even Mention Membership?
Most of us have raised eyebrows at some point about the concept of church membership. “Membership” — where do we see that in the New Testament? Is it really essential to join a church? Can’t I get everything I need as a Christian from being a regular attender?
It’s true that the New Testament makes no direct argument for our modern concept of membership. The gospel’s initial advance into a pagan and pre-Christian world was a different situation than we find today in our increasingly post-Christian society. The complexities of life two millennia later make church-belonging as difficult, and as important, as ever. Not only are we less inclined to make firm commitments, but our cities and towns are much bigger, and church options more diverse.
But whether you call it “membership,” “partnership,” or something else, the New Testament assumes some form of committed, accountable belonging as a reality for every true follower of Jesus. Each Christian has a definite place of local belonging. To be baptized is to become part of a particular local body.
“In the New Testament,” John Piper observes, “to be excluded from the local church was to be excluded from Christ.”
Six Reasons to Put Down Roots
Here, then, are six reasons, among many, to go against the noncommittal grain, put down roots, join a particular local church, and be as involved as possible in the life of that church.
1. Your Own Assurance
Being accepted into membership in a Bible-believing, responsibly-led church rightly gives affirmation and reinforces confidence that your faith is real, that it’s not your own private, self-made religion, but part of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
Jesus gives his church “the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” and according to Matthew 16:19, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” It is no small thing for a solid local church to find your profession of faith to be credible, and your lifestyle and conduct not disqualifying, and to accept you into membership.
There is more grace to be experienced in this, for our assurance, than most of us know.
2. The Good of Others
This is perhaps the most often overlooked reason for joining a church. In our proclivity to self-focus, we consider the reasons relating directly to us, but overlook how our membership relates to others.
Our belonging somewhere establishes a base from which we can reliably care for others. There are two sides to church membership, and we can’t keep others accountable for their good to a covenant we ourselves haven’t taken.
True love is not only manifest in affection and action, but also allegiance. We do not fully love our brothers and sisters in Christ if we withhold pledging our allegiance to them by covenanting with them in local-church life. Love doesn’t say, “I love these people and don’t need to covenant with them.” Rather, it says, “I love these people enough to covenant with them.”
Living the Christian life in community is more than just loose associations, but committing to each other to be there for each other when life is hard, in sickness and in sorrow.
3. Your Own Good
On the flip side, it is for your own good to have others committed to genuinely caring for you in Christ. And the people who will care for you best in the long run are those who are willing to commit to it.
Joining the church also formally identifies you as part of “the flock” which the church’s pastors and elders should “shepherd” (1 Peter 5:2) and to which they should “pay careful attention” (Acts 20:28). It is for your own good in being intentionally thought of and cared for by the leadership.
4. The Good of Your Leaders
Connected, then, is the clarity it brings the leadership about who is in their “lot,” who is “in their charge” (1 Peter 5:3), who in particular are they called to serve and shepherd.
In other words, your formally joining the church helps the pastors and elders do their job. How are they to shepherd the flock if they don’t know who is in that flock and who is not?
It is difficult, if not impossible, to respect and esteem your leaders (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13), and honor them (1 Timothy 5:17), and obey and submit to them (Hebrews 13:17) without identifying yourself to them and submitting to the membership structure that allows them to know and care best for those in their charge.
5. The Good of Unbelievers
Another good reason for joining a church is the good of those who are not there yet — even those who don’t yet know Jesus. Because we reach out and show Christ better as part of a committed, stable community. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
A lone-ranger Christian doesn’t make the best witness for Christ. Rather, someone who is grounded, has a home, and is part of a solid covenant community of support is best prepared to draw others into the kingdom.
Community is increasingly important in out witness today. As Christians who are truly faithful to the voice of Christ find themselves more and more in the minority of society, we need other believers to point to, that we’re not alone in our seemingly strange views, both in history and today. And the whole community together serves to put Christ on display better than individual Christians alone.
This happens best not in fly-by-night, uncommitted associations, but in deep, committed, long-standing, life-together relationships in this time-tested arrangement called “the local church,” established and upheld in the wisdom and power of Jesus himself.
6. Your Own Perseverance
Finally, covenanting with others now not to let you wander from the gospel, without pressing hard to bring you back, may one day prove priceless for your perseverance in the faith — and your eternity with Christ. It is, after all, as Jesus said, the one who endures to the end who will be saved (Matthew 24:13).
In a good church covenant, we yoke ourselves to accountability while we’re in our right minds, in case someday sin gets a foothold in our hearts and blinds us to the truth. Church discipline is hard, but so good. The purpose is always restoration, and God often has been pleased to use this difficult means to pour out his striking grace.
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19–20)
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org, pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, and adjunct professor for Bethlehem College & Seminary. He has edited several books, including Finish the Mission, Acting the Miracle, and most recently Cross, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.
This past Sunday Pastor Ron quoted from an article posted on the Desiring God website by David Mathis entitled "Community Conquers Culture". Follow this link to read the full article and feel free to comment: "Community Conquers Culture".
Blog posts may be authored by a variety of individuals including but not limited to Pastor Ron, Church Elders, Sunday School Teachers, Small Group Leaders and Ministry Leaders.