Membership, Conflict and Discipline

This past Lord’s Day I preached on the body of Christ, what it means to join it and what its life ought to look like. Three related matters didn’t make the cut for inclusion into the sermon, so here they as tasters:

Church Membership

When we place our faith in Christ we are in Him, meaning we share in His benefits. At the moment of justification we are then adopted into His body, the Church. This is what is often referred to as the invisible or holy catholic (universal) Church. How is this tangibly manifested, through the visible local church. We see this throughout the NT, believers engaging in the life of local churches. In Acts 2:42 it even says they devoted themselves to the fellowship. Sadly, too few Christians in these post-modern anti-institution days think we are required to become members of a local Gospel church but Church Membershiphere at the Chapel we believe this is how we formally identify with the body of Christ and its mission. A great resource for the membership sceptic, enquirer or already member is Church Membership: How the world knows who belongs to Jesus by Jonathan Leeman. I have a copy and it is worth you getting your own. It is the only book in the 9 Marks series I have read but if the rest are as sound and as helpful as this one I heartily recommend them all. If you can’t pick up the book check out their blog. I am convinced of the necessity of the principle of local church membership. Don’t remain aloof with some abstract I’m a member of the invisible church only club idea—join a church!

Conflict

No one likes dealing with conflict, which is why most people run from it. That, however, is not the wisdom we find in Scripture. That got David into big trouble when he failed to address Amnon’s sin (2 Sam 13). He went against this proverb from Ecclesiastes 8:11: Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. Whilst the conflicts we face may not be so severe, the consequences of not dealing with them will be just as painful. So, don’t let the sun go down on your anger (Eph 4:26). If you have an issue with someone in the body, deal with it. This is the process Jesus gave:

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 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 collector. (Matthew 18:15–17).

In other words try to solve the issue at the lowest common denominator. Don’t escalate it by taking it to the top right away (any good church leader should challenge you to first deal with the situation yourself [unless there is a safety issue]). Remember that one of the fruits of the Spirit is to be “open to reason” (James 3:17). Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ (Eph 5:21) and trust the Lord will be faithful to your attempt to bring peace to the body (Ro 12:18).

*If this involves an Elder, not because they are perfect but because Christ’s image is at stake, the Bible requires two or three witnesses for any such charge (1 Tim 5:19).

Discipline

One of hardest things a local church will have to do is discipline one of its members. Just as the Lord disciplines us for our benefit so too the church is to discipline members as medicine for their souls (and the local body, purging it of “poison”). Yes this has been abused but double YES it is still biblical. The best example is from the Corinthian church. In 1 Cor 5:2 Paul demands a man be removed from the church for incest. This story happens to have a positive ending for in 2 Cor 2:5–11 it appears he repented and was restored. 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14–15 and also Titus 3:10—to reject a “divisive person”—are also passages to keep in mind on this subject.

Discipline lets the member know they have sinned or erred in doctrine and gives them the opportunity to repent and be welcomed back into fellowship (always the goal). To the watching world discipline says that we do not associate that kind of belief or behaviour with following Jesus and so long as they persist in it we do not recognize them as part of it.

Here again you may want to check out the 9 Marks series, Church Discipline: Medicine for the Body by Jonathan Leeman.

May a robust commitment to what the Scriptures teach on these matters for the body be used to build up healthy churches.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

 

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God-confidence

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I the LORD your God, am with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

Whilst it is good to believe in yourself to the extent of not being falsely modest of the natural gifts you have (remembering with gratitude these are from God!), and whilst it is good to challenge oneself to sharpen and hone those gifts, ultimately the self-confidence promoted in society today is misguided because it roots its confidence, strength, trust and hope in SELF—Just do it! (Nike slogan). It teaches that believing in your own actual or potential strengths will save you. It doesn’t recognise that we are finite and limited beings who can’t do everything and anything, nor does it take into consideration the effects of sin on our lives which impairs what we could do. Ultimately, it fails to use those God given gifts for God’s own glory and instead risks self-glorification.

This is a far cry from what Jesus taught in the Gospel, to abide in Him…for apart from Him you can do nothing (John 15:5b). It is the complete opposite of the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5–8 that tells us to trust in God rather than in a reliance on self. It is far better to trust in God and find our confidence in His promises, including His promise to be with us always when we trust in and follow Jesus. We must remember that whilst we have value as persons created in God’s image, in the grand scheme of things we are a mere vapour as Ecclesiastes tells us. When we use our gifts to honour God there is meaning. When we seek his help he blesses and multiplies our gifts. When we trust Him we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil 4:13). We can do the impossible with God (Lk 18:27). Salvation, meaning, bounty, infinite power, peace; trust in self cannot produce these things. It is no wonder that our society that champions self-confidence is still chasing after the wind, leaving only despair in its wake.

God-confidence over self-confidence is the essence of what Joshua learned. God told him before he assumed his duties as Moses successor, “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I the LORD your God, am with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9). Insofar as he trusted the Lord the Israelites were victorious (like at Jericho), but when they trusted in themselves they were defeated (like at Ai). In light of this may we have God-confidence as we trust in the One who is unfailing and in His promises which are ever true. You may want to learn this song, which the Lord inspired and which I taught to the village school to help us learn about God-confidence as we focused on our termly Christian value of courage. May it draw to mind this promise and may the Spirit enable you to remember it when you are facing discouragement. To listen click here. Jos 1.9

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

 

 

Us vs. Them

This year our theme verse is Romans 12:2a and our motto is “Don’t conform! Be transformed!”

This focus on being apart from the world could logically lead, quite dangerously, to some very harmful and unbiblical positions (superiority, seclusion, hate and a lack of evangelism to name a few). There is an “us vs.” them mentality in the Bible, but lest the existence of this lead us into any hazard allow me to offer some ballast that should keep the ship stable and on course (lest we end up embracing aspects of the Amish or the Exclusive Brethren who pervert John 17:16 to be in but not of the world).

The Church is to be an inclusive yet exclusive community.

The Church is an Exclusive Community:

A constant drum beat throughout the Old and New Testaments is that the people of God (the elect) form an exclusive community, special to Him, with certain blessings and responsibilities unique to them in their relationship with the Lord.

Consider verses on the special nature of His people, both Old Covenant and in the New:

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

The Bible also speaks about two ways: the wicked and the righteous (Ps 1); the wise and the foolish (Prov 9); those who are spiritually dead and those made alive in Christ (Eph 2); and those destined for hell or heaven (Mt 25:46).

The Bible also places restrictions such as limiting baptism and communion to believer’s, and likewise “marrying in the Lord.”

All of this centres around one’s response to Jesus and His Gospel: 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12).

These are just the tip of the iceberg for as one scans the pages of Scripture one will find these sorts of texts at every turn. The Bible does not just teach this exclusivity, it shouts it!

The Church is exclusively made up of the redeemed in Christ. If you are not in Christ you are outside the benefits of His body, the Church. In this sense the Church is exclusive.

The Church is an Inclusive Community:

HOWEVER, the Church is also inclusive! There are plenty verses to demonstrate this too!

First of all for the truly regenerate grace is humbling and never encourages pride: But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Eph 2:4–5). Grace is of a humbling nature.

God’s general will is that: all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:4) and He calls Christians to extend the Gospel call to all nations (Great Commission Mt 28). If the Lord has had compassion on Christians (Mt 9:36) then we ought also willingly be obedient and extend that same offer to others, treating them not with disdain but remembering such were we (1 Cor 6: 11a) and loving our enemies as Christ loved us (Mt 5:44).

Therefore, whilst the benefits of the Gospel are limited to believers its invitation is universal (or inclusive, meaning open to any who would believe).

Whilst we journey under this year’s theme bearing this healthy tension between exclusivity and inclusivity—the us & them— in mind, we will not go astray.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

DV and the New Year

Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15)

There was once a farmer who was herding his flock through a rustic village. The shopkeeper asked the farmer what he was doing. The farmer said, “taking my sheep to market, they’re going to fetch a handsome sum!” The shopkeeper, a Christian man, replied, “God willing!” Not long after the shopkeeper was surprised when the farmer passed back through the village. He wondered at his dress, he was all dirty, bruised and his clothes were all torn. The shopkeeper asked the farmer what had happened. The farmer muttered under his breathe, “I was robbed by sheep rustlers.” The shopkeeper inquired further, “what are you going to do now?” To this the farmer snarked, “go home!” The shopkeeper replied, “…God willing…!”

Whilst we may not say this in every breathe or include DV (Latin, Deo volente, for God willing) in every email, the wisdom of this verse is striking for a New Year. Are we entering this calendar year resolving that my WILL will be done, or rather praying, “Father…thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. —Psalm 143:8b

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

The Miracle of Christmas

The Virgin Birth is a fundamental belief of the Christian faith. Like the Resurrection, if it is true the Gospel is true and ought to be believed. If it is not true then Christians are to be pitied (1 Cor 15:19).

The Apostle’s Creed summarises the clear New Testament teaching on the Christmas story:

I believe in Jesus Christ, [God’s] only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

“Hail the incarnate deity,” the carol Hark the Herald Angels says; fancy words to say that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, was born of a virgin and conceived by the Holy Spirit and so both fully God and fully man, yet without sin. The Bible says “he tabernacled” [pitched His tent] or dwelt among us (John 1:14) enfleshing Himself, taking on human form to become one of us (Phil 2), so as to live the perfect life, die the perfect death, rise from the dead and bodily ascend into heaven, all to become the Saviour of those who’d call upon Him in faith for the forgiveness of their sins. The Incarnation was God’s rescue plan.

Most dismiss Jesus as simply a good moral teacher and not God’s Son and a saviour. As only ¼ of Brits[1] believe in the Virgin Birth[2] here are three answers to common objections and also three reasons to seriously consider the incarnation, Common objections include

  1. It’s unnatural (or biologically impossible)
    1. Objection: Because the virgin birth cannot occur according to the laws of nature it is impossible.
    2. Response: This naturalistic view is blind for it discounts that as part of creation there is a spiritual reality and also that Creation is a closed system unable to be interacted with by the Creator who is sovereign to engage with His creation. In fact it is deistic and thinks such a God could not engage with a world and laws He made, rather than seeing God as the personally involved and the sustainer of His creation (see my sermon on miracles in our Jonah series here from October 8, 2017).
  2. The simplistic view (the NT is simply a primitive religion)
    1. Objection: Primitive religions may have believed such things but they were naïve.
    2. Response (from C.S. Lewis): “A moment’s thought shows this to be foolish, with the story of the virgin birth as a particularly striking example. When Joseph discovered that his fiancée was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men.
    3. “No doubt the modern gynecologist knows several things about birth and begetting which Joseph did not know. But those things do not concern the main point—that a virgin birth is contrary to the course of nature. And Joseph obviously knew that” (Miracles, New York, Macmillan Pub. Co. Inc., p. 48).
  3. A personal God, come on!
    1. Objection: What kind of God, if there is a God, would stoop so low as to be born in a manger and die on a cross?
    2. Response: A personal God and God of love (again see Phil 2). Consider the evidence of the New Testament, the most trustworthy ancient document in the world!

The Virgin Birth is theologically necessary for a number of reasons (not limited to):

  1. It shows salvation is of God and not of man.
  2. It produced the full deity and humanity of Christ, necessary for Him to sympathise with us, relate to us, be an example to us of the perfect man, and live the perfect life we could never live. His deity was necessary that God the Son might die to save us (again so salvation would be of God), so Jesus would be the perfect sacrifice to atone for sin.
  3. It fulfilled Bible prophecies like the one to Abraham (i.e. “seed” or “offspring,” Gen 12), etc.

The Virgin birth is a mystery but a mystery need not be incoherent or illogical, it simply means we cannot know everything about it, but that does not make belief in it unreasonable. If we trust that God has spoken to us through the Bible we must believe in the Virgin Birth. In fact, belief in the Virgin Birth is a sort of test of belief (of orthodoxy), yet not the only one. Ultimately, have you bowed your knee in awe to the God-man Jesus Christ, recognizing Him for who He is, accepting Him as Saviour and submitting to Him as Lord?

We showed the following video, a modern parable on the Incarnation, at one of our Christmas carol services. It helps impress the key points of this blog post:

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] It is not simply modern atheists and liberals who don’t believe in the Virgin Birth, many people throughout history have denied it including the Greeks and the Gnostics.

[2] In 2008 it was 1/3 and I presume this has dipped since this time.

The Discipline of the Lord

It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. (Psalm 119:71)

We live in an age that views discipline of almost any form as a dirty word, as morally reprehensible.[1] As a result, whether it be corporal punishment,[2] holding children back a grade, remaining firm in our threats of punishment (and not continuing to say, “Don’t do that or…” and then doing nothing), all the way to the lax laws of many of our Western lands for all ages; is it any wonder that the fruit is not goodness for us but our distress?

I recently was told the distressing first hand story of a young child who half-jokingly threatened to urinate on his mother’s leg. She put him off three times saying, “don’t be silly.” Finally, he did it, and she did nothing about it! Complete liberty with no restraint is the perfect formula concocted by Satan for pride to ferment and flourish. How much of society’s woes result from a lack of restraint, a lack of discipline, an indulgence in the self?

But discipline, and its benefits, are not merely social but spiritual and God given. The Psalmist tells us discipline is a positive thing when the Lord disciplines us through various and challenging forms of His providence.

Hebrews 12:5–6 says:

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. (Heb 12:5–6, c.f. Prov 3:11–12).

This uses the language of t[3]he discipline of children (instruction, training and correction), in the context of spiritual perseverance, as an analogy to teach us to respect and to submit to the will of God in the adversities that we face. Such discipline is a precious mercy for through it we learn to hate sin and be instructed in His way, a way that leads to life and not death.

A friend of mine recently shared with me a quote:

Sin is never so bitter, and holiness is never so sweet, as when our troubles are greatest and our dangers highest.  By afflictions the Lord teaches his people to sit loose from this world, and to make sure the great things of that other world.  By affliction God shews his people the vanity, vexation, emptiness, weakness, and nothingness of the creatures, and the choiceness, preciousness, and sweetness of communion with himself, and of interest in himself.  – Thomas Brooks (Puritan author, 1608–80).

So if you are facing chastisement today in any way, do not reject it as the world does, but submit to it under the Lord’s strength and be blessed and be changed.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] This probably arose from abuses of discipline, namely divorcing it from being done lovingly and to a loving end.

[2] Only one tool for parenting, not in any way the tool (ex. Prov 13:24, 23:13-14).

[3] Prov 12:1, 13:18.

A Question from the Philippines

A friend of mine who is a pastor was contacted by a man in the Philippines who was seeking discipleship. As the two have developed a relationship the following question arose. This was my initial answer to assist my friend’s response.

If the Bible teaches that only men are to be pastors, why then do ministries under women often prosper?

Why do unorthodox churches seem to prosper from a worldly perspective?

Why does the church down the road that does preach the Gospel but whose form of church government is not Biblical become flooded with people?

How is it that someone is converted under an unregenerate minister who happens to state the Gospel?

How can it be that a Gospel-centred church that appears to abide by New Testament principles not grow, or even perhaps shrink under persecution?

Some of these questions relate to God’s providence, which can sometimes be mysterious.

Returning to the original question, I would say that because complementarianism[1] vs. egalitarianism[2] is a secondary matter and that above all else the Lord desires people to be saved (primary issue) the Lord at times works through unorthodox means. Complementarians must also remember that some female pastors are sisters in Christ (just like some female [and male!] pastors are not). I think the best example to answer this questions is found in Judges.

Formal positions of leadership in Israel were always male. The case of Deborah (Judges 4:4) appears to be an unusual exception.[3] It appears to be an exception until one sees that Old Covenant prophetess does not equal New Covenant pastor. It appears an exception until “to judge” (which literally means defend) is coupled with her role as prophetess (a woman, in this case, who spoke the word of God, often to people in formal positions of power). In summoning Barak she shows she is not indeed the formal leader in the sense that he is, otherwise she would not have told him to gather the troops (v. 6b). We further see their mutual-leadership in the song of Judges 5. Though Barak ultimately went out into battle he did not get the glory, not because he relied on a woman (the Lord spoke through her![4]) but because he did not assume the role of faith and leadership that he should have (v. 9). As a result the glory of the victory was given to Jael who the Lord used to kill the enemy leader Sisera. The Lord used two faithful women (in this case) who stepped up in the absence of a faithful man, instead of the faithless man, because the Lord’s ultimate aim was deliverance from Israel’s enemies.

This question and the story of Deborah and Barak reminds me of Ezk 20:30, “And I sought for a man among them, that should build up the wall, and stand in the gap [of the wall] before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none.” The Lord is using many sisters in Christ today to accomplish salvation because Christian men are not standing up to the positions of leadership in the home, church and society that God calls them to.

Correct gender roles are not about capability but faithfulness to design. When this is not heeded, it doesn’t mean the Lord won’t use a woman when she steps up into the role of a man, even if this is not the Lord’s ultimate design. Why? Ultimately men and women are called to be faithful to the Lord’s purposes in gender, but because salvation is His ultimate end, He will not stop at this even if this means using a woman and giving the glory to her instead of the man to whom (in this case) it would normally rightfully belong.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] That men and women are equal before God but created for complementary roles.

[2] That men and women are equal in ALL things.

[3] See: http://www.adfontes.ca/posts/post/article/deborah-and-the-defeater-verses/index.php. I believe Paul is spot on here.

[4] Godly men would do well to listen to the counsel of godly and respectful women. I have listened and am the wiser for it. They have spoken and have contributed to the work of the body (in my case part of the head).

Are Christians Bigots?

This is a common accusation of Christians, but is it warranted?

A bigot is: a person who is intolerant towards those holding different opinions. It also has the connotation of religious hypocrisy.[1]

There are 4 different points that are worth considering to paint a response to this question:

  • It all depends whether the person in question is an authentic Christian or a nominal Christian. This is a distinction many non-Christians often do not make because they do not understand the spiritual change that takes place when someone actually becomes a Christian. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 7:21a). All nominal Christians are by nature hypocrites and often can be bigoted.
  • It also needs to be remembered that whilst every true Christian is perfect in the Father’s sight because Jesus’ perfection has been applied to their account, they are not actually perfect but are being made perfect through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. As a result there is not a righteous man [or woman] on earth who does good and never sins. (Eccl 7:20).
  • The Bible calls true Christians to cloth yourself with humility and to think less of yourself than others and especially God (Phil 2:5–8). Similarly Christians are told to put away all…hypocrisy. (1 Pet 2:1). This doesn’t sound like bigotry!
  • If real Christians are bigots then it is because God is a bigot. Jesus himself said, I am the way, and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me. (Jn 14:6). Post-modernism (and the world through history past) despises the exclusive nature of Jesus, the Gospel, the Bible, Christianity and Christians because it is a constant reminder of the truth that they presently reject.

One might say that true bigots are those who are intolerant toward God himself.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/bigot

Remembrance Day 2017

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Today is Remembrance Day (I hope you bought a poppy and that you paused to remember!). This is a photograph of my grandfather, Jack W. Crocker, in 1943. My grandfather was a WWII veteran, many of his friends and countrymen paid an even greater sacrifice than his service by laying down their life for their friends, family and country. In serving as a chaplain in the Canadian Army Reserve for 6.5 year I had the privilege to meet many men and women who likewise sacrificed greatly, and knew of others who had—still today— paid the greatest sacrifice for our peace, their lives.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for their friends.

(John 15:13)

Whilst those who serve, served and have died deserve our respect and honour, and whilst the sacrifices ensured our freedom in the face of tyranny and still today protect and defend the peace we enjoy, it does not have any salvific quality spiritually speaking. Here, at best, these men and women are pointers and reminders of the one who was perfect and God and who gave His life to save us from our sin so we might have life and peace for eternity. Do you know this warrior, saviour and friend (Jesus)? If so, when was the last time you paused to remember and give thanks for Him?

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris