Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Develop~Chapter 4

Develop ~

God’s Calling for His Church

Sovereign Grace believes we should commit to develop in love for God’s calling for his church.

Have you ever heard statements like, “I love Jesus, but I hate the church,” or, “I think highly of Jesus, but I can’t stand his followers,” or, “Jesus was a righteous man, but this church he left behind is just a bunch of hypocrites?” The Bible says that this church Jesus left behind is called his body, his bride, and his chosen and beloved.

Saying, “I love Jesus, but I hate his followers,” is kind of like having a friend who says to you, “I love you, but I can’t stand your wife. We can hang out but you have to keep your incredibly undesirable wife away from me!” It is like someone saying, “I really like your head, but you have to keep that hideous body out of sight.” This probably wouldn’t lead to an incredibly strong relationship.

The fact is that the idea of being a Christian disconnected from being a member of the local church is unheard of in the Bible. The concept of a Christian who isn’t a member of the body and part of a local church is about as useful as the crucifixion of Christ without the resurrection of Christ. This kind of Christian is not found anywhere in the Bible.[1]

Frankly, I am not surprised to hear this from unbelievers. Unbelievers don’t love the Jesus of the Bible and so I am not surprised they hate his followers. Jesus prophesied this would happen. Of course, Jesus meant that unbelievers would reject the church because it loved him and pursued holiness as he did. He did not predict it because he meant the church would be filled with a bunch of people who could care less about him and are disinterested in holiness. Inasmuch as our lack of love for Jesus and pursuit of holiness is the problem, the critique is fair.

What is amazing is that I am increasingly seeing this attitude of disdain and distance from the church among believers. Believers are either so taken with their individualism that they think they don’t need the church, or they are so smitten with their autonomy that they don’t like the thought of a religious organization (because that implies authority) and they think no one has any right over them. Or, they are so tired of being burned by the sin they see have seen and been affected by in the church that they would rather not put themselves in a place where they can be hurt again. They never seem to realize that they are sinners and are also capable of hurting others.

If the church is so important, then it might help to begin by defining what the Bible means by the church. What is the church? The church can be discussed as either the universal or the local church:

Universal: All people everywhere who have been born again to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are members of God’s universal church.

Local: “The local church is a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. In obedience to Scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and communion, are unified by the Spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scatter to fulfill the great commandment and the great commission as missionaries to the world for God's glory and their joy.”[2]

As you can see from the definition above, the local church is marked by preaching the Word, the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and qualified leadership. The local church’s function is to help its people delight in God through Jesus, develop in their delight in God, and declare God to the ends of the earth. In order to do so, God has called the local church to establish leaders who will preach the Word, administer the ordinances, and apply discipline when necessary. Further, the local church cannot delight in God, develop in delight, or declare our delight without its members fulfilling their God-given roles.

Leadership in the Local Church

God has established two offices for his church---Elders and Deacons. It is the belief of Sovereign Grace that we should be governed by a plurality of elders (more than one). The lead pastor serves as the first among equals among the elders. The lead pastor has the responsibility to humbly and diligently lead a team of men who are responsible for the spiritual oversight of the church. They are the pastors of the church. The Bible provides for the two types of elders---double-honor and single-honor (1 Tim. 5:17). Double-honor elders are those who are paid as full-time pastors over the church. Single-honor elders are those who serve the church as part-time, unpaid pastors. We believe elders should be trained and appointed by the current pastors / elders and confirmed by the members of the church.[3]

The office of deacon is an office that was established for the purpose of caring for the physical needs of the body. The word “deacon” literally means “servant.” We see the beginning of the role of deacons in Acts 6 when the apostles tell the church to appoint men to serve the widows. The apostles needed to be freed up to preach and pray. Likewise, elders are set apart for providing spiritual oversight and shepherding in the church and deacons are set apart to care for the physical needs of the church. Some men are exceptionally gifted in taking care of physical needs in the church and providing mercy ministries for those in need. These men will be trained and appointed by the elder team and will be confirmed by the congregation to lead areas of ministry specific to deacons.

As Pastor Mark Driscoll describes it, elders fight the air war of preaching and prayer and deacons fight the ground war of caring for physical needs. Certainly, deacons can preach and pray and elders can help with physical needs, however, these offices speak to their primary roles. Further, while it is true that deacons must submit to elders in the local church, Sovereign Grace does not see these offices as the “Varsity and JV” of church leadership but different roles on the same team.

Membership in the Local Church

When we were born again we became spiritually united to Jesus through faith. This unity we experience is brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit mysteriously incorporating us into Jesus’ church. We are the body and he is the head. We are united to him and to one another through the work of the Holy Spirit applying the grace of the gospel to us and adopting us as sons of God. Therefore, it is impossible to speak about being a Christian and not being a member of the body of Christ. The only option left to discuss is whether one is a member who is walking worthy of their calling, or not. What are the duties of members to one another and to the leaders?

The responsibility of members to the leaders

  • Respect and love the leaders because of their work among you. (1 Thess. 5:12-13)

  • Take care of the financial needs of the leaders who teach you. (Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17)

  • Follow and submit to the leaders whom God has placed over you. (Heb 13:7, 17; 1 Pet 5:5)

The responsibility of members to one another

  • Worship with one another on the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7; Rev. 1:10).
  • Encourage one another toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:23-25).
  • Help one another through habitual sin. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-14).
  • Be humble, patient, loving, and peace-pursuing with one another (Ephesians 4:1-6)
  • Speak the truth in love to another so we might grow into maturity. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
  • Discipline one another in sin and restore one another upon repentance (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5; Gal. 6:1-2).
  • Help one another with physical and emotional needs (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-37, 1 Cor. 12:26)
  • Pray for one another. (Matthew 6:9-13)
  • Love one another as a testimony to the world of the power of the Gospel (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 14:24-25.)

Sovereign Grace is striving to help equip each of our members to serve one another well without so filling our schedules that we don’t have time to attend to work, families, and reaching unbelievers well. This is a difficult balance to try and achieve. This is why we push so hard on small groups. We firmly believe these communities can help equip one another and support one another in such a manner that we don’t need multiple different programmatic avenues to equip you to minister to one another well.

However, no matter how much we strive it remains true that we must give up our time, talent, and treasure if we are going to help one another delight in God, develop in our delight, and declare our delight to others. Every believer must consider how God has equipped him or her to serve the needs of the whole body. You may respond that you are not sure you have a talent that is useful, that you may not have much time to give, or that you don’t have much treasure to contribute. Our response is that you have been given everything necessary to accomplish your role in God’s church. God has gifted every member of his body with the grace necessary for the work he wants accomplished in the church ((Romans 12:3ff., 1 Cor. 12-14, Ephesians 4:7-16, 1 Pet. 4:10-11). Further, God has given you the grace he considers necessary for the local church you are in. In other words, as members of Sovereign Grace you are not only helpful, but also necessary to the mission of our church. We cannot walk worthy of our calling as a church apart from you using whatever grace God has given you.

The problem for all of us is that we often do not sacrifice our time, talent, and treasure because we have a worship problem. We don’t sacrifice our time because we worship our freedom to do as we please, or because we want to please someone who does not want us to give up any of his or her time. We don’t sacrifice our talent because we worship accolades and appreciation and don’t believe we get enough when using our talents for the church, or because we fear we are not good at anything and don’t want others to think poorly of us. We don’t sacrifice our treasure because we worship our security in having money, or our comfort and pleasure. Sovereign Grace believes the solution to our idolatry problem is the Gospel. When we understand that God, who is infinitely rich, became poor in order to give those of us who were spiritually poor all the riches of his kingdom we can rejoice in sacrificing for others.

Sovereign Grace is a church that believes we need to be rich toward one another because God has been rich toward us. We ask our members to commit to care for one another in small groups, pray for the work of the ministry, serve in some manner on Sunday mornings, reach out to unbelieving friends and family, and give generously to support the ministry of the church.[4] We can’t achieve our mission of “bringing about the obedience of faith in all nations for the sake of his name” without our whole body fulfilling their God-given role as a member or leader in Sovereign Grace.

Recommended Reading:

Stop Dating the Church, by Joshua Harris

Why We Love The Church, by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

What is a Healthy Church?, by Mark Dever

The Treasure Principle, by Randy Alcorn

[1] For an extended article on why Sovereign Grace believes in church membership please see Appendix #5, entitled, Life at Sovereign Grace.

[2] Driscoll, Mark, Vintage Church, p. 40

[3] For a longer description of elders and their training process, please see Appendix #6.

[4] Randy Alcorn provides 6 helpful keys for informing our giving: 1). God owns everything. I’m His money manager. 2). My heart always goes where I put God’s money. 3). Heaven, not earth, is my home. 4). I should live not for this present life on earth but for my eternal life in heaven. 5). Giving is the only antidote to materialism. 6). God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving.

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