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Ministry / Leadership Archives ~ Aletheia Baptist Ministries Skip to main content

J. Oswald Sanders

J. Oswald Sanders

by Rick Shrader

“It is true that subtle dangers lie in overmuch organization, for it can be a very unsatisfactory substitute for the presence and working of the Holy Spirit.  But this is not necessarily so.  Lack of method and organization has its dangers too, and has spelled failure for many a promising venture for God.”

J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, p. 68-69

 

We Who Are Slaves

We Who Are Slaves

by Rick Shrader

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Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).  To deny oneself in today’s culture might simply mean to practice a little self-control, perhaps to eat a little less, or to be more diligent with one’s personal devotions.  But this word (arneomai) carries a much heavier responsibility than doing a little exercise.  It means to renounce oneself (Tit. 2:12), to refuse oneself (Heb. 11:24), to disown, disclaim, and to even ignore oneself.  This is a striking invitation by our Lord and one, I am sure, that the disciples were not expecting.  A man didn’t pick up a cross with a little self-control.  No, he gave up his own life and walked to his death.  And the disciples of the Lord are invited to take this cross daily and follow Jesus to the same place where He might go.

We have learned that Jesus is our Lord, God in the flesh now exalted  at the right hand of God.  But have we learned that we are His slaves?  Have we found out that the Christian life is one of complete surrender to Him and one of bearing a cross?  This is not to discount all the joy and peace that comes from following Jesus.  We talk about that all the time and it is true!  But the reason we don’t talk about this other part of the Christian life is because it is not as pleasant.  Yet Jesus Himself said that if we are to follow Him at all, this service, this slavery of cross-bearing must be ours too.

Some years ago British author and pastor, Handley Moule, in writing about our walk with God, gave three introductory facts that should be considered as we begin this difficult path.1  The first he called Aims.  Since we are bought with a price and have surrendered completely to His will, we aim, or determine, to walk in complete obedience to Him.  This must be our desire for Jesus commands it.  He doesn’t ask us to give Him 50% of the day.  We are to be perfect, as God in heaven is perfect!

The second he called Limits.  I will let Moule speak for himself:

I mean, of course, not limits on our aims, for there must be none, nor limits in divine grace itself, for there are none, but limits, however caused, in the actual attainment by us of Christian holiness.  Here I hold, with absolute conviction, alike from the experience of the Church and from the infallible Word, that, in the mystery of things, there will be limits to the last, and very humbling limits, very real fallings short.  To the last, it will be a Sinner that walks with God.2

The third is Possibilities.  Though admitting that we are sinners and will sometimes fail, it is possible that we will not.  We didn’t have to commit that sin.  It was not beyond our ability as a Christian to avoid it.  We have an Advocate Who forgives but forgiveness always comes “if” we sin.  “My little children, these things write I unto you that ye sin not.  And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

So with those reminders, let us go on to the plain truth, Jesus Christ is our absolute Lord and we are His absolute servants.  We know that following Jesus brings joy and satisfaction to our already difficult lives.  That joy comes out of obedience because He is sovereign over us and omniscient about our needs and true desires.  To follow Him, then, whether we understand or not, is the best way for us to go.  Yes, we know that.  But, the “easiness” still comes from a yoke, and the “lightness” still comes from a burden.  It is His yoke and His burden that we share being servants that are inseparably tied to Him.  Where He goes we go.  What He suffers we suffer.  His cross is our cross.  Paul still yearned for this identification in his later years, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Phil. 3:10).

Therefore, let us reflect again on His right to be Lord over us and on our privilege to be His servants.  We don’t submit to this position because it will bring us glory.  That is not what Jesus meant when He said, “Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister” (Mark 10:43), as if we submit to this servanthood so that He is obligated to exalt us.  The servanthood itself is the greatness.  The submission is the exaltation when Jesus is our Lord.

Jesus is our Lord

Richard Baxter is often credited with saying that we should take ten looks at the Savior for every one at ourselves.  It is because Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up that he testified, “Woe is me! for I am undone” (Isa. 6:5).  John fell on his face as dead when he saw the Lord in His resurrected glory that Sunday morning on the Isle of Patmos (Rev. 1:17).  We of course see Him through eyes of faith rather than sight, believing all that the Scripture pictures of Him.  Here are seven titles given to Jesus as our Lord.

Lord (kurios).  This is the most common term for Jesus in the New Testament appearing hundreds of times.  The primary meaning is that He is supreme above all else.  First, to claim to be Lord in the New Testament meant that He was Jehovah, the I AM, of the Old Testament.  “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty” (Rev. 4:8).  This is a prerequisite for salvation under the gospel, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus” (Rom. 10:9).  “No man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 12:3).  Second to that is that Jesus is the Lord of our lives as believers, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord” (Eph. 4:1).

Because Jesus is Lord, He has sovereign right over any part of His creation.  He can create and He can destroy.  He can relinquish the sinner to eternal fire, He can welcome the saint to eternal rest.  He can say to His servant, go, and he will go, or come, and he will come.  The only choice is to obey or disobey.

Master (epistatēs).  The root of this word (ephistēmi) means to stand by or, more specifically, to stand over.  It appears only six times and each time in the book of Luke.  Two times it is in the context of fishing.  When the seas were raging they cried, “Master, Master, we perish,” yet when Jesus commanded the wind and waves to stop, they confessed, “what manner of man is this! For he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him” (Luke 8:24-25).  On the mount of transfiguration Peter had to confess, “Master, it is good for us to be here” (Luke 9:33).  What person who calls himself a servant could disobey One Who has such power in life and in death and in creation itself?

Potentate (dunastēs).  Dunamis is “dynamite” power and the dunastēs is the One with the power.  It is used only once of the Lord, “Which in his times he will show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15).  In other uses, Mary said, “He hath put down the mighty from their seats” (Luke 1:52).  The Ethiopian eunuch was said to be “of great authority” (Acts 8:27).  Our Lord is the Authority, the Mighty Power in our lives, the Potentate above all other masters.

King (basileus).  The title of king appears often in the New Testament because of the various kings who appear there.  Jesus was proclaimed by Herod and Pilate to be “The King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2; 27:37).  Paul called Jesus the “King eternal” (1 Tim. 1:17).  John recorded that He is “King of saints” (Rev. 15:3) and King of kings (17:14).  Jesus will be King of His kingdom when it comes to earth, but He is our King even now individually as we are His realm in which He rules.

Despot (despotēs).  We include this word though it is not so translated in English.  It connotes a master especially of slaves.  It is used ten times in the New Testament, five times translated “Lord” and five times translated as “Master.”  It can be used of human masters over slaves (1 Tim. 6:1-2) but is also used of Christ as Lord (Rev. 6:10) and Master.  So in 2 Tim. 2:21 we can read, we should be “sanctified and meet for the Despot’s use.”  English dictionaries equate Despot with Autocrat, someone with absolute power and authority.  No wonder Paul instructed young Timothy, “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s (despot’s) use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21).  We are clay vessels in His hand to be used in whatever way He pleases.

Teacher (didaskalos).  This is a common word used in various forms for teaching and instructing, and the noun form is often “Master” or “Teacher.”  When Mary Magdalene saw Jesus after His resurrection she called Him, “Rabboni, which is to say, Master” (John 20:6).  John keeps the Aramaic equivalent but translates didaskalos for us as “Master.”  Rabboni is also Rabbi, a term used often by the disciples for Jesus.

Jesus said to the disciples, and yet to all of us, “Ye call me Master (didaskalos) and Lord, and ye say well; for so I am” (John 13:13).  Paul said, “But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught (the verb didaskō) by him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:20-21).  We call Jesus our Teacher because we sit at His feet  as pupils and servants and learn.

Owner (“A Son over His own house” Heb. 3:6).  In the previous verse Moses is described as a servant (therapōn, a resident servant) in the house but the house itself belongs to Jesus.  We will see in the next section that we are both household and resident servants to Christ Who owns us and the whole house besides.  In fact, “Whose house we are” verse six continues.  That is, all believers are resident servants as members of His body, the church.  “For every house is built by some man; but he that built all things is God” (Heb. 3:4).  Jesus said that He would “build” His church (Matt. 16:18) and we have become part of it by faith in Him.  As we gather together in our local churches, we therefore ought to know how to behave ourselves “in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:16).

There are many other descriptions of Jesus that portray Him as our Friend, High Priest, Author and Finisher, and more, as I listed in the last article.  I have listed these seven because they uniquely describe Jesus as One Who has absolute authority over servants.  We may have come to Him first as Savior but then we found that we owe Him our souls, our lives, our all.  It is a grateful obligation.    “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be! Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.”

We are His Slaves

Jesus our Lord, Master, and King has told us to deny ourselves.  We may desire such obedience but how is it accomplished in this sinful person that I am?  To “deny,” as we have seen, means to ignore oneself, to give up our rights and acquiesce to His commands.  To do this we must understand our position as mere servants.  Here are seven titles the New Testament gives us as His followers in this regard.

Bond slave  (doulos).  This is the most common word for slave, usually translated “servant,” appearing over 150 times in the New Testament.  Of all the words for slave, this denotes the lowest kind, one who gives up all rights to the will of another.  “For when you were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. . . But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” (Rom. 6:20, 22).  In this sense even the creation itself is “in bondage” (douleias) of corruption (Rom. 8:21), unable to be delivered until the curse is lifted.  In these verses Paul makes it clear that we are either a servant to the flesh or to Christ.  If to Christ, He has sovereign right over us.

Prisoner (desmos).  This description, though used far fewer times, is very graphic.  It means one who is literally in bonds.  The root deō means a band or chain.  After Paul was captured in Jerusalem and delivered to the Roman guards, the centurion said to the chief captain, “Paul the prisoner (desmos) called me unto him” (Acts 23:18).  Paul had become a “custodia militaris,” one in military custody.  He was chained to a centurion who took him all the way to Rome.  While there, he wrote an epistle to the Ephesians as, “Paul the prisoner (desmos) of Jesus Christ” (Eph. 3:1).  Later, in the prison, he asked Timothy not to be ashamed of Jesus Christ, “nor of me his prisoner” (2 Tim. 1:8).  The writer of Hebrews asked that the church pray for “them that are in bonds” (Heb. 13:3).  Thousands, if not millions, of Christians have found themselves chained prisoners for Jesus’ sake.  In any case, the believer should see himself captured and chained to the Lord Jesus and under His custody for life.

Under-rower (hupēretēs).  A fairly common word appearing over 20 times is this word usually translated “minister.”  It originally meant a ship’s slave who rowed from under the deck but later was used generally for an attendant or minister.  In a few places it is translated “officer” for the one who kept the prison (Acts 5:22).  Jesus said, “if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight” (John 18:36).  Luke describes young John Mark as Paul’s and Barnabas’ minister (Acts 13:5).

In the beginning of the Scottish Reformation John Knox was taken prisoner at St. Andrews and was forced to row on a French galley ship for 18 months.  He too knew what it meant to be Christ’s under-rower.  Paul said to the Corinthians, “Let a man so account of us, as the ministers of Christ” (1 Cor. 4:1).

House servant (oiketēs).  This word for servant is only used four times in the New Testament and means a household servant.  Cornelius “called two of his household servants” (Acts 10:7).  Peter used this word to admonish some servants to be “subject to their own masters” (1 Pet. 2:18).  But Jesus most graphically declared, “No servant can serve two masters” (Luke 16:13).  The believer is one who lives in the Lord’s house and waits on Him continually.

Resident servant  (therapōn).  Coming from the root word for healing, this is an attendant or nurse who lives in the residence.  As was noted, Moses is described with this word in Hebrews 3:5.  Jesus said, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?” (Matt. 24:45).

Child servant (pais).  This is usually translated “servant” but carries the idea of a younger and inferior servant.  This is the root for pedia and pediatrics.  David is described with this term (Luke 1:54, 69; Acts 4:25) and Matthew uses this term to describe Jesus from Isaiah’s prophecy (Matt. 12:18).  We are often described as “children” of our heavenly Father.

Deacon servant (diakonos).  We usually identify this word with the office of deacon and rightfully so for he is a servant of the church.  This word is often used to describe believers in general who are servants of Jesus Christ.  Pheobe was a servant of the church (Rom. 16:1); Paul was “made a minister” (Col. 1:23); Timothy was “a minister of God” (1 Thes. 3:2); and “who then is Paul and who is Apollos but ministers” (1 Cor. 3:5).  Jesus said, “whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister (diakonos)” (Matt. 20:26).  In this sense we are all “deacons” in that we serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

And So . . .

When we realize that Jesus “Who, being in the form of God . . . made himself of no reputation [i.e., He emptied Himself] and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6, 7), how can we do less who are described in so many ways as His servants?  As believers in Him we have given up our personal rights to His will.  According to these descriptions we are His slaves.

This cannot sound very inviting to a lost person who has no personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  But once a person has entered into that relationship and knows the Lord in a personal way, yielding to His will becomes not only easy but delightful.

As Handley Moule wrote years ago,

It is no unconditional thing.  Right or left, the highway of holiness has its edge, its limit, its sine qua non.  On the one hand, the Lord, and childlike trust in Him and in His words.  On the other hand, among other things, but supreme among them, self-denial and the daily cross.3

Yet Jesus said, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

Notes:

  1. Handley Moule, The Surrendered Life (London: Christian Literature Crusade, nd) 11-15.
  2. Moule, 13.
  3. Moule, 17.

 

 

Biblical Leadership

Biblical Leadership

by Rick Shrader

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Not the number of one’s servants, but the number whom one serves, is the heavenly criterion of greatness and the real preparation for leadership.                Oswald Sanders

 

What is Biblical leadership?  Everyone seems to know these days and yet no one seems to know.  All of us who must occupy a place of leadership know that our feet are of clay and our heart can be deceitful.  We can teach others about leadership but, like teaching on prayer and God’s will, it is the easiest thing to speak about and the hardest thing to do.  We find ourselves in the conundrum of being an example to others yet desiring to be but a servant only to God.  How can we keep our heads about us in a world of ambition, strife, and selfishness?

The pressure around us

The church leader today has truly caught the spirit of the age.  Ministry has become a business whose success is measured by one’s ability to build a church, to double a budget, to attract a crowd.  Happiness matters more than truth, relationship more than discipleship, entertainment more than atonement, and invitation to speak more than necessity to preach.

Every day brings the pressure to be great, to measure up to what the world around us expects.  Even our peers in ministry evaluate us on the basis of what we can produce, not on our walk with God.  Sometimes even  parents, siblings, and children, can project unspoken expectations of success.  If that is not enough, each one of us has an ego large enough to fill an auditorium, and we often do just that.  Even our own people can be discouraged at the lack of success and become discouraged in the work.

Yet we are not ignorant of Satan’s devices.  He would sift us as wheat, devour us as a roaring lion, take us captive at his will.  He would have us build a legacy to ourselves in this life, a trophy case that others will see after we’re gone, rather than to desire a crown in heaven that fades not away.

The Biblical admonition

The pressures from the Scripture are great and rightly weigh upon us.  We are called of God to this leadership not of our own will for we might have chosen another occupation; we are given the gifts of pastor, teacher, preacher, evangelist with little natural ability in either; we are evaluated with a list of qualifications that begin with the word “must” and yet we are warned not to be lords over God’s heritage; we are called angels, or messengers, who must herald God’s message and yet we know we are as Moses in ability, hardly able to speak.

At the same time the Word thrusts us into leadership, it also casts us into servitude.  We must decrease if He is to increase; we must be spilled out as an evening sacrifice; we must make ourselves of no reputation; we must have this treasure in earthen vessels; and we must not strive, but be gentle unto all men.  We must let the mind be in us which was in the meekness and gentleness Christ.

The personal conviction

It should be the office that seeks the man, and not the man the office.  We have responded to a calling without knowing what price we would need to pay.  We have a commission that expands to the whole world; we have made ourselves debtor, ready, and unashamed of the gospel we preach; we are working for a crown of glory that fades away in this life but not in the next; we persuade men because of the fear of God and yet must be unmoved by their refusal; we will fight a good fight, finish our course, and keep the faith, and know that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty only through God.  We will continue to fight to bring every thought into obedience to Christ.

The only foundation

The only foundation for our ministry, the only source of our belief, the only authority for our message, is the written Word of God.  We know that in the end we have no other basis for what we do.  We may unwisely appeal to personal vision, prophetic unction, or even apostolic authority, but all of these are merely human supposition.  When we stand before our Lord, we will have no other reason for our actions, no other authority for our ministry than what was once delivered to the saints, a more sure Word than that of prophecy.  Sure, we may see it differently than another man who has the same book, but the Word is unchanging and has been for two thousand years.  We may change, but Scripture never!  In the end it will judge us, not us it.

The bottom line

Servant leadership!  A leader but yet a servant.  “O man of God,” was Paul’s address to young Timothy.  God has counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.  But I am His servant and that is all.  I have no rights of my own when it comes to the stewardship of His house.  I am not a man of the world, I am a man of God, His bonded slave, His sole property.  It is only required in stewards that a man be found faithful.  And praise the Lord for that!

 

 

Borders, Language, and Culture

Borders, Language, and Culture

by Rick Shrader

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           41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.  42And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.  43And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.  44And all that believed were together, and had all things common;  45And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.  46And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,  47Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.                                                                  (Acts 2:41-47)

“Borders, Language, and Culture” are terms that we hear repeated a lot during a national election year.  I very much agree with the intended meaning in the triple description of the nation’s needs.  All nations have borders.  That is the normal way of saying where the territory starts and stops and also of declaring who is allowed in and who is not.  It is like the property line of your home or the title on your car or the lock on your front door.  As individuals have a natural right to property, so a nation has also.

All nations have a language.  It doesn’t mean that there aren’t also other languages spoken there, or that the citizens don’t work hard at learning other languages.  I found this out by marrying into an immigrant family of Russian/Ukrainians who had immigrated to Brazil and Argentina before immigrating to the United States.  But even then, when they came to the U.S. they gladly learned the native tongue one more time because English would be necessary to communicate with their new neighbors.

All nations have a culture.  This is one of the fun and educational experiences of travel to foreign countries.  We never totally lose our native culture even though we work hard at adapting to a new one.  We’ve all had the enjoyable experience of eating at a Mexican or Italian restaurant, or at the myriad of other cultural “islands” within our own country.  But to be a real country even immigrants blend into their new homeland and become one with many others who add and contribute to the unity of the country.

The more insecure the world becomes the more these three things are important.  If every country would do right by these, all countries would benefit.  When a country ignores these, the rogue countries of the world flood in to take control and conquer.

The local church of the New Testament also has borders, language, and culture.  Every individual church ought to feel that they are the best church and that the environment which they have created is the best place for any other person to be.  They ought to believe that the border they have, the language they speak, and the culture they create are all as Biblical as can be.

The New Testament is full of passages that speak about the borders, language, and culture of the church.  Acts 2:41-47 is the first picture we have of a church and it is plain enough to see these principles displayed from the very first days of the gospel era.

Borders:  the need for membership in the church.

Just as an immigrant desires to become a citizen of a country, so a believer ought to desire to become a member of a local church.  A country has a line defined by its constitution which are requirements that must be met.  Borders aren’t meant to enslave a nation’s citizens but act as a protection against dangerous intruders and give definition to the procedure for entrance.  Church membership can’t forbid a person to leave but it can prohibit a person from coming in who does not agree with the language and culture of the church.

Salvation.  “Then they that gladly received his word” (Acts 2:41).  The first part of the border of the church is that a person knows Jesus Christ as Savior.  Here that is described as “receiving the word.”  The book of Acts has many other descriptions of the same thing:  repent (38), believe (44), be saved (47), be converted (3:19), hear (3:22), turn (3:26), be obedient (6:7), follow (13:23), and attend to (16:14).  The local church is commissioned to take the gospel to the whole world and persuade people to believe, to put their trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Then we direct them to the church.  In other words, we are ambassadors who are recruiting members to come within our borders by these qualifications.

The New Testament doesn’t take this lightly and neither should we.  It is a tragedy when a local church is filled with unconverted members.  How can they walk in the Spirit?  How can they pray?  How can they seek God’s will?  How can they vote on spiritual matters?  How can they evangelize others?  We cannot be more interested in the quantity of our membership than in the specific quality of it.  Let visitors be visitors and welcome them gladly, just as a country welcomes visitors, but a citizen must have a change of status.  The sinner must be converted.  “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47).

Baptism.  “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41).  Every convert in the book of Acts was baptized.  In fact, as  F.F. Bruce wrote, “The idea of an unbaptized Christian is simply not entertained in the NT.”1  Baptism is not part of salvation, that is, the forgiveness of sins, but “the answer of a good conscience toward God” (1 Peter 3:21).  In the initial commission to the church, they were to baptize the disciples which were made (Matt. 28:19-20).  These instructions have never been rescinded.

Baptism has both a proper motive and mode.  It is a public profession of the person’s salvation experience.  It boldly proclaims and pictures the person’s faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The text says, “THEN they that gladly received his word were baptized.”  When the eunuch asked to be baptized Philip replied, “If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest” (Acts 8:37).  When Peter saw many converted in Caesarea he asked, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost?” (Acts 10:47).

The mode of baptism must be immersion as the Greek word baptizō only means.  This is the only valid picture of death, burial, and resurrection.  Philip and the eunuch “went down both into the water” and came “up out of the water” (Acts 8:38-39).  The ancient meaning of the word has been well established throughout the history of the church.

Whether a local church makes baptism “the door of the church” or makes it “stand at the door” of the church,2 the principle is that it is part of the border, or port of entry, into the church.  To skip this requirement, or to lessen its inconvenience, would be both unbiblical and detrimental to the strength of the church.  It is a person’s personal testimony that he has been saved and is qualified to enter.

Agreement.  “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42).  No one should become an American citizen who does not believe in its Constitution and who does not intend to uphold it.  Not every saved and baptized person should join a particular church but only those who are also in agreement with its beliefs and practices.

Though it would be a great thing if all local churches in the world believed the same thing about the New Testament, but they don’t.  We can’t change that on this side of glory.  Denominational distinctions have been a good thing for this reason.  A believer should desire to practice his/her faith with like-minded believers.  Just as a country is glad for other countries, churches do not forbid other churches that differ, but rather are glad for the freedom to practice as they feel they must. It is a wonderful fellowship of believers who share salvation, baptism, and agreement as the basis for their common worship.

Language:  the understanding of like-minded faith in the church.

“And all that believed were together, and had all things common”  (Acts 2:44).  Just as a common language allows the citizens of a country to communicate with one another, so like-minded faith allows the members of a local church to fellowship with one another.  Common language is the ability to hear, speak, and nuance specific communication.  Like-minded faith is the ability to talk, listen, and comprehend in a common biblical terminology.

Church documents.  All churches have official founding documents.  Though we have the Bible as our basis for faith and practice, we also have learned the need to specify how we understand the Bible, both for those who want to join with us and for those who want to know about us.  Usually these are divided into the doctrinal statement (a statement of what we believe) and by-laws (a description of how we practice).  Many churches also have a church covenant which is a statement of agreed intentions of how we will live as members together in the church.  In addition, the church documents will include Articles of Incorporation, which are legal statements that satisfy the state of residence for specific things, especially if the church is a registered non-profit organization.

Above, when I pointed out “agreement” as a border to the church, I mentioned all of these as a “Constitution.”  These documents are not just ancillary paperwork but are the very language that the members of a particular church speak.  We will carry on the business of the church by this language.  We will show proper recognition for our leadership by this language.  We will vote and abide by the majority of Spirit-filled people because we know the syntax and speak the language of the church.

Church worship.  “And they, continuing daily with one accord” (Acts 2:46).  “They lifted up their voice to God with one accord” (Acts 4:24).  Worship in the local church has become a “style.”  We have this worship style and that worship style.  It is true that churches behave differently during their services, but why and how we do this is more important than a mere style.  The clothes I wear may be a style, or the car I drive to church may show a style, but how we fellowship, sing, pray, and preach are what we believe about worship.

“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28-29).  “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name.  But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well-pleased” (Heb. 13:15-16).

Douglas Groothuis wrote, “Most of the skills we learn in order to get along successfully in this life will be of no use in heaven…But when we invest ourselves in learning to worship, we are making an investment in a skill that will be essential throughout eternity.”3  Worship is an essential language both in this life and in the life to come.

Jesus said, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).  John Flavel, a fifteenth century Puritan, said, “Carnal men rejoice carnally, and spiritual men rejoice spiritually.”4  A believer cannot forsake the assembling together with other believers (Heb. 10:25) and when he assembles he must be able to approach God in a clear conscience with his heart and mind in a humble and reverent attitude.  We want to do this with other believers who are speaking this same language.

Church doctrine.  “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42).  Paul admonished Timothy, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16).  As with our agreement about like-minded faith, and the language of our documents, our doctrine becomes everyday language at church and at home.  We will hear it from the pulpit and in Bible study. We will teach it to our children and to our new converts.  We will use this language in the fellowship halls and homes of our members.  We agreed to speak this language when we joined the church.

Our day has also seen a certain downplaying of doctrine when it comes to church fellowship.  We think we can remain in fellowship though we believe differently in major areas of doctrine.  In America we are witnessing vastly opposing points of view, almost as if we have two countries within a country.  It is obvious that this cannot last for long.  Neither can it last within a church.  Like a nation’s Constitution, a church’s doctrinal statement is its lowest common denominator.  A church’s doctrine is both broad and narrow:  it is broad enough that there is room for difference on minor things, and it is narrow enough that it at least says something specific.  This makes church fellowship and worship comfortable and safe.  We all know what we have in common.

There should be no stealth applications for membership in a nation or in a church.  No one should come in who plans to fundamentally change the nation or church.  Rather, find a nation or church with which you agree and live there happily.  Nor should a pastor seek to be called to a church who plans from the beginning to change the church into something contrary to its constitution.  This would be dishonest.  Agreement in faith and practice is vital to citizenship and membership.

Culture:  the life-style of Christians living within the church.

“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart” (Acts 2:46).  Our country is facing the problem of becoming a hobo stew rather than a melting pot.  Immigrants should come into a country and blend with its culture and become one of them.  My in-laws, though bringing multiple cultures with them, were anxious to become Americans.  Sure, they retained many cultural things, things that one cannot discard very quickly such as an accent, or a facial look, or a taste for certain foods.  But these are harmless when the great desire is to be a part of the new culture.

Life-style convictions.   I doubt that cannibalism would fit very well into American society.  Polygamy has also been banned except in rare places.  It was a better day when bootlegging, gangs, prostitution, homosexuality, abortion, and the like were also unacceptable in a civilized society.  God’s people who join local churches know that the Bible describes the life-style of a believer.  There have always been and there will always be differences as to how we apply these teachings to our own time.  But a believer must live by his conscience in the culture in which he lives.  There are certain things he cannot do.  That may be some language, or matters of modesty, or certain beverages, or various places of entertainment.  His attitude toward these is a Biblical thing to him, and his church is a big part of his life within that culture.

Just as a citizen of a country will choose to live or not live in certain localities, or will choose to work or not work in certain occupations, or will choose to participate or not participate in various cultural mores, so the Christian will choose a church that fits his Christian cultural convictions.  A Christian cannot live contrary to those convictions.  Carl Trueman wrote, “The frothy entertainment culture in which we live is a narcotic: not only is it addictive, so that we always want more; it also eats away at us, skewing our priorities, rotting our values as surely as too much sugar rots our teeth.”5 The local church is the most important culture a Christian has.

John wrote, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.  They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.  We are of God”  (1 John 4:4-6).  It doesn’t affect us what the world does outside the church, but it greatly affects us what the culture is inside the church.

Loving the brethren.  Immediately upon receiving Christ we become brothers or sisters to other believers.  We are part of the family, we are joint heirs together with Christ and all Christians.  Just as a legal immigrant is pronounced a citizen at a legal ceremony and is immediately given all rights as a citizen, so the believer in Christ receives all the rights of a child of God.

We are obligated as believers to “love the brethren.”  We now see all believers as God sees them, special objects of His grace.  In fact, we now see all people as potential objects of His grace.  We can no longer curse someone who we understand bears the image of God in his/her very makeup (Jas. 3:8-10).  It is a terrible thing to see believers with hatred toward other believers.  We might as well have hatred toward Christ our brother.

Mortals join this happy chorus

Which the morning stars began;

Father love is reigning o’er us,

Brother love binds man to man.

Thou our Father, Christ our Brother,

All who live in love are Thine;

Teach us how to love each other,

Lift us to the Joy divine.6

In a country we can become very partial in our loves and likes, and even bigoted or racist.  But in the church all human distinctions are removed—the only place on earth where these distinctions are truly removed.  The biggest struggle that I observe is the difficulty in loving and respecting our elders.  We live in a youth-oriented time.  As a pastor of wonderful older people I can truly say that they possess the wisdom, the servant attitude, the toughness, the faithfulness, the humor, and the love that is characteristic of Christians.  “Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; the elder women as mothers; the younger women as sisters, with all purity.  Honor widows that are widows indeed” (1 Tim. 5:1-3).

Local church life.  “And all that believed had all things common. . . And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:44, 47).  Multi-Culturalism is tearing our country apart.  It seems like a good thing but in reality it divides rather than unifies.  It is the American culture that has made America great.  George Washington said, “The nation which indulges toward another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave.”7   The local church should be one culture.  Yes, we bring our earthly baggage with us, but we check it at the door as best we can.

Besides the borders, the language, and various elements of culture, the point of most of this article has been the life of the local church.  Among the myriad other things we must do in life, nothing is more precious to the believer than the local church.  We are pilgrims and strangers on this earth and the local church is the rest area for travelers.  It is made up of homeless people.  Peter writes to us as,  “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims” (1 Pet. 2:11).  “Stranger” literally means “without a house,” and “pilgrim” literally means “without kin.”  Yet we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people: that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

If we would love the church more than the world, the church would again have power in the world.  It is that power we need to be witnesses in a dark world.  “Save yourselves from this ontoward generation” Peter preached at the beginning of our text (Acts 2:40).  We do that through sustained life in the body of Christ, through a Christian culture.

And So . . .

A nation needs definite borders, one language, and a unifying culture.  So does a church.  A church should have a high wall of salvation, baptism, and agreement.  It should speak the same language of by-laws, worship, and doctrine.  It should also live a common life-style of conviction, love, and church life.

“Now unto him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.  Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21).

Notes:

  1. F.F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979) 77.
  2. Edward Hiscox, The New Directory for Baptist Churches (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1894 to 1970) describes both methods for Baptist churches. Pages 77 & 121.
  3. Douglas Groothuis, Christianity That Counts (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994) 75.
  4. John Flavel, “From A Coronation Sermon,” A Collection of Orations from Homer to McKinley, vol. 4 (New York: Collier and Son, 1902) 1599.
  5. Carl Trueman, Reformation: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow, Kindle, 1416, p. 111.
  6. Henry Van Dyke, Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee. A mixture of verses 3 and 4.
  7. George Washington, “Farewell Address,” Orations, 2526.

 

 

 

 

 

 

God’s Strength In Our Weakness

God’s Strength In Our Weakness

by Rick Shrader

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“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”   (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

The last four chapters of 2 Corinthians is a roller-coaster ride of emotions from the apostle Paul. In chapter 10 he is proving his apostleship to the doubters in Corinth; in chapter 11 he is contrasting his own testimony with the false apostles (who really were ministers of Satan) by listing his own perils suffered for Christ’s sake; in chapter 12 he takes the reader to the heavenlies where he was raptured to see the glory of God, and then explains that God also gave him a thorn in the flesh so that he wouldn’t glory in himself; then in chapter 13 he concludes that just as Christ was crucified in weakness but raised in power, so we, though weak in our sufferings, can live by the power of God.

Though we may not suffer as many have throughout our history, every believer suffers in some fashion under the mighty hand of God. If we be without this chastisement of God we are illegitimate and not real sons. We learn nothing without effort and struggle and so it is with our knowledge of the love and grace of God. It is part of our nature to resist, to take the easier path of avoiding hardship, but softness comes by inactivity as well as lethargy and laziness.

John Bunyan was a man acquainted with suffering, spending twelve years in prison simply for preaching the gospel. He said,

“I count therefore, that such things are necessary for the health of our souls, as bodily pains and labour are for [the health of] the body. People that live high, and in idleness, bring diseases upon the body: and they that live in all fullness of Gospel-ordinances, and are not exercised with trials, grow gross, are diseased and full of bad humours in their souls.”1

Most of us would admit that our suffering for Christ has been of the more inward type, that is, we may have been wounded in spirit, gossiped about, slandered, or simply have been forced to go through a time of heart ache for someone else. I am not necessarily talking about those things we suffer because we live in a sinful world such as accidents, disease, or simply the pains of growing older. Those things are brought upon us by the introduction of our own sin into God’s originally perfect creation, and are allowed by God that we might see ourselves as we really are. No doubt, God will faithfully help us through these also. But there are sufferings that are specifically for Christ’s sake, as Peter wrote, “if ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye” (1 Peter 4:14). And why should we be happy about this? “for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you.” Or, as Paul wrote, “when I am weak, then am I strong.”

Perhaps if we suffered for Christ more in our very flesh we could see the work of God in us more directly. Yet when we suffer in our spirit, which is by far the more common form of suffering for the average Christian, the work of His grace in us is more difficult to grasp and therefore the more difficult to grow thereby. If we could really see how much we can learn from such circumstances, we would desire the fellowship of His sufferings even more. Not for revenge, nor for self-reward, but because, though some unknowing person did us harm, we know it was more Satan who desired the ruin of our spirit than the human instrument of his use, and also because we will grow by it if we learn to let Him increase as we decrease.

The abuse of prejudice

Those who fight against Christianity don’t always do it by brute physical aggression. Paul himself suffered from the prejudice about his physical appearance. “For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor. 10:10). To be prejudiced is to make a judgment about someone based on one’s previous ideas before obtaining any first-hand knowledge of the person. Samuel had this prejudice when he went to the house of Jesse expecting to find a king for Israel. When he saw Eliab he thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him. But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:6-7).

Many men and women in God’s service have not measured up to the physical standards of what society thinks or wants in a leader. Fanny Crosby said of herself, “I’m four feet three inches tall. I was four feet five, but I’ve shrunk up some. I weigh eighty-four and a half pounds. My grandmother used to call me ‘Fanny Flewit,’ because I flew around the house so.”2 But her physical size and appearance did not stop God from using her in a marvelous way. George Whitefield was evidently a very short man and probably cross-eyed, and perhaps even spoke with an impediment, but neither England nor America has produced a more powerful preacher of the gospel.3

The list of God’s servants with physical “shortcomings” could go on and on. My professor, Dr. Harju, in Life of Paul class, used to call the apostle Paul “a hook-nosed, runny-eyed, little Jew.” And maybe he was. Paul said he prayed three times for God to change him but God does not deal in divine eugenics. He had a greater blessing for Paul. “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” And so Paul answered, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9).

By Paul’s testimony, therefore, we ought rather to thank those who persecute us because they have brought an opportunity for us to learn the greater blessing of God’s grace. We are the winner and they are the loser. Even though any person, Christian or not, will answer to God for slander and railing, the Christian will be greatly rewarded if he does not fall into retaliation himself.

God is not a respecter of persons (Rom. 2:11) and neither should the Christian be (Jas. 2:1). How can we bless God with our tongue, and then with the same tongue curse another human being made in God’s image (Jas. 2:9)? But we have seen it often. A pastoral candidate may not look like the perfect pastor; a youth pastor may not be “cool;” a singer may not be the prettiest girl in the church; or worse yet, a visitor may not measure up to the cultural expectations of the neighborhood (Jas. 2:2-3). To display this kind of persecution toward a brother or sister is a sin and displays a woeful lack of spiritual perception. But to receive this kind of persecution, or any other kind, is a hidden blessing.

The abuse of unforgiveness

People without Christ really don’t know how to forgive. Forgiveness to them usually means overlooking transgressions. Politicians, athletes, actors, performers and even ministers can commit the most immoral things and are excused with the false piety of “I just forgive.” Of course, this only happens if the person in question is politically correct. Then all can be forgiven. Sometimes such misplaced forgiveness comes by comparing this sin with another’s. “Well, many people throughout history have done the same thing.”

The fact is, until a person has been forgiven much by God, he/she cannot know to forgive even a little with another person. In the parable of the two debtors, the master said, “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?” (Matt. 18:23-35).

The few times as a pastor that I have had to deal with public discipline, I always begin my remarks by saying, “There are a few things we believe. Sin is real, repentance is real, and forgiveness is real.” If the first two have truly taken place, then the third should also. Paul had to scold the Corinthian church in his first epistle for not even dealing with the sin. But in his second epistle, when they had dealt with it in a proper way and had forgiven the man, he urged them, “So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow” (2 Cor. 2:7). In a similar way Paul admonished the believers in Galatia, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1-2).

In a recent message, Dr. Kevin Bauder listed the sins of many prominent Christian leaders and rightly pointed out the usual lack of accountability. Then he said, “But we also need to establish real protections against slander and destructive accusations—for they, too, are a form of abuse, and those who engage in such activities are themselves abusers.”4 If you have ever seen a person either repent or apologize (whichever is appropriate for the offense) and then are taken back by brothers or sisters who refuse to restore such a one, or want a pound of flesh (so to speak), it is a discouraging and distasteful display of (the lack of) Christian love. It is disobeying the law of Christ, rather than fulfilling it. These forms of persecution come from the flesh, whether saved flesh or lost flesh, and they are destructive to individuals who are then overcome with much sorrow, and also to churches in sowing seeds of discord which God hates (Prov. 6:16-19).

But at this point let me also repeat that trials are growing times for the Christian. The truth about all our sin is that we deserve much more than the pain our sin brings; yes, we deserve hell itself for eternity! It is by the grace of our Lord that He paid that debt for us and forgave us. We are left on this earth, in this faulty flesh, for a variety of reasons, one of which is that we may continue to grow and be more like Christ, and solid growth comes of pain. Do not be bitter toward those whom Satan has duped into using. Bless God for His mercy and grace in that hour and use it to your eternal benefit.

The abuse of self-revelation

It is a dangerous thing to claim to receive a message from God. There is a fine line between saying that God has “led” me to do something, and saying that He “told” me specifically what to do. One is to say that the Holy Spirit works in me and leads me according to His will, while the other is to say that God has revealed something to me clearly and plainly. Current religious culture has created a panoply of confusing propositions with the words dream, vision, whisper, voices, revelation, prophecy, and so on. Bible believing people are properly cautious, not wanting to say in any way that God has not made Himself known to us, but also not wanting to wish “God speed” to someone who is changing the Word of God.

Albert Mohler rightfully insists that, “If you do not believe that God now speaks from His Word—the Bible—then what are you doing every Sunday morning? If you are not confident that God speaks as you rightly read and explain the Word of God, then you should quit.”5 But Mohler is not saying that every Christian will hear his/her own special revelation from God. Rather he is saying that God now speaks through His Word because it IS His Word. If you hear the Bible being read, you are hearing God speak—today! But if you seek other verbal communication from God, you are not hearing God’s Word but some human wisdom about God.

The examples of this are myriad. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, a Vineyard minister, Rev. Ken Wilson, claimed he received a “strong nudge from Jesus” to change his view on homosexuality and to support homosexuals in the church.6 Did he really? Of course not! But when someone claims that his view came directly from God, it becomes difficult to refute without a semester course on theology. Eliphaz the Temanite used this trick to lecture Job, “Now a thing was secretly brought to me, and mine ear received a little thereof. In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men, fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones to shake. Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair on my flesh stood up” (Job 4:12-15).

Recently, congregations have been pressured into drastic changes by pastors who have had such “visions” from God. What can be said in opposition to that? Can you fight against God? But, again, the fine line is, talking as though “vision” only means a leading of the Lord, and yet practicing as though “vision” means a revelation. Too many times their orthodoxy may explain it one way but their orthopraxy results in a stronger way. The fact is that God has spoken the same thing to all churches and it is our job to apply that revelation in the best way we can. But let us not pressure people into something by claiming divine revelation about it.

This has been a fact of our generation. Men want so much to be seen as great leaders, and this is a way to accomplish that. But God has not asked that of us. He has asked us to preach and practice His Word. If we do other, verily we have our reward! But, again, how should we respond in such an environment? Be faithful to God’s Word. Don’t strive to be a Warren or an Osteen or a Hybels or a Hinn, who would want to be? God has not asked us to work for the applause of men or churches. God, who sees in secret, will reward us openly at His Bema Seat. And that is enough.

 

And So . . . .

I could go on. There is an abuse of silence. This is when you find you have offended someone but they never let you know. If it really didn’t matter, that would be one thing. But you find that they have been hurt by it and have even left the church, or some such thing. To find that a brother or sister has done this without coming to you is disheartening. I call this hide-and-seek Christianity. All you can do at that point is take the initiative yourself (there is wisdom in the Lord’s directive) and pick up what pieces you can.

There is the abuse of gossip which is much more well known. The terrible thing about gossip is that someone is harmed by it, and harmed in a way that can never be undone or recovered in this life. We can make it right by repenting and going to the offended person, but the words are like fire that continue to burn around the world. Surely this kind of persecution against the spirit will be severely judged by God.

I could add the abuse of hypocrisy, whereby a false believer takes advantage of an unknowing brother or sister and then goes out from us because they are not of us. Many times destruction and hurt are left in the wake.

James’ cure is the best: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (James 3:17-18).

 

Notes:

1. John Bunyan, Advice To Sufferers (Louisville: Vintage Puritan Series, nd) Kindle, 91.

2. “Recollections of Fanny Crosby.” The Christian Herald, March 17, 1915.

3. Harry Stout, The Divine Dramatist (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994) 41.

4. “A Story Worth Repeating,” preached at Trinity Baptist Church, March 28, 2014.

5. Albert Mohler, He Is Not Silent (Chicago: Moody, 2008) Kindle, 764.

6. “Minister claims he received ‘strong nudge from Jesus to announce support for homosexuality,” The Beacon, May, 2014, p. 2.

 

 

The Pastor: A Guide For God’s Faithful

The Pastor: A Guide For God’s Faithful Servant

by Rick Shrader

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This is a 2012 RBP book that is a compilation of 30 short articles from 30 different authors having to do with various aspects of the pastor and his ministry. Each man writes on a topic with which he is deeply involved, so each writes with a passion for his subject. If one had to read 30 books by these men on these topics it would be difficult, so here you have the same points of view in an easier to handle form. The four divisions are personal priorities, core responsibilities, primary competencies, and special situations.

The topics and information are not necessarily new except for the fact that each author is writing from the view of his own personal experience. Some topics are typical, such as personal fidelity, missions, and basic church administration. Other topics push the envelope of conservative church polity more. I would even say that some language is coded to mean more than is actually said, if you are in the know and can read a little between the lines. In a broad movement, there is a time in which this is the way more controversial topics are addressed, waiting for a time when they can be championed more openly. Regardless, because of its format, this book will probably be used in classrooms to easily cover a number of topics in one easy-to-read volume. Many of the articles offer valuable and insightful help for today’s pastor.

 

 

The Small Church in Today’s Culture

The Small Church in Today’s Culture

by Rick Shrader

This isn’t an easy time for small churches.  In today’s culture, small often means inadequate, unsuccessful, non-visionary, and unexciting.  By today’s cultural standards those descriptions may be right.  Our culture sees bigness and excitement as marks of success.  By God’s standards, however, any size church may be successful or unsuccessful and may seem boring or exciting.

I grew up in the large fundamental Baptist churches of the 50s and 60s.  My home church had around 8,000 in attendance with 100 buses running every Sunday.  I liked the church and was drawn into it in my teenage years by a loving youth group (they didn’t even have a youth pastor in the early days) and by an abundance of activities.  I later served as youth pastor there in the mid 70s.  By then the attendance was half of what it had been in the 60s and churches of other stripes were becoming large with newer and more innovative methods than we were using.  When I visited the church again in the mid 80s it was just an average church struggling to keep around a thousand people in attendance.

The church I attended during my Bible College days (1968-1972) had an attendance of 2000 and more with a live, weekly television broadcast.  It was not until I went to seminary that I experienced small church life.  During those three years of schooling in Minneapolis I served in a church of about 50 people on the west side of St. Paul.  It was a new experience for me but I was in ministry and enjoyed it.

I could easily make a list of good things and not so good things about that little church.  I could also make a long list of good things and not so good things about the larger churches I had known.  I have found that most fundamental Baptist churches will be somewhere in between those extremes in attendance.  I have also found that small churches will be limited in some areas where larger churches are not, and that large churches will be limited in some areas where smaller churches are not.  Most of us, however, will live and serve the Lord in smaller churches.  These churches receive many criticisms that I have found to be somewhat unfair, and also, the many good things about small churches are often overlooked.

Criticisms of the small church

I have heard dozens of criticisms of small churches in the last thirty to forty years.  I must admit I have heard many criticisms of the larger churches also.  Having experienced (and worked in) both, however, my heart is with the smaller churches.  Though some of the criticisms of large churches are unfair also, I want to use this space responding to the criticisms of the small churches.

The small church can’t offer enough.

I think this is perhaps the most valid complaint about small churches.  This is just the way it is.  If the small church is a new church and just getting started, it may be in a rented facility with limited space, limited manpower and limited funds.    A large family with small children has a need for nursery, classes, a youth group, or junior church.  A small church, especially a new church, may not be able to provide all of those.

However, when we think this way we are thinking as moderns, not necessarily as New Testament believers. Charles Ryrie wrote, “Indeed, one receives the impression from the New Testament that the Lord preferred to have many smaller congregations rather than one large group in any given place.  And there seemed to be no lack of power that stemmed from lack of bigness.”1  Our desire to have more things offered for our family stems more from our convenience-based society than from what we read in the New Testament.    After all, there are those who argue for doing away with children’s ministries all together but I think that is an over-reaction.  We ought rather to be willing to put up with these inconveniences and make up the difference in our own family time if our convictions tell us we need to be in such a church.  When people are looking for a school for their kids, they are happy that the ratio of teacher to student is small and that their child will receive more one-on-one attention from the teacher.

The small church is boring.

This argument may hold weight with our entertainment-based culture today but I doubt that it holds much weight with God.  By today’s standards reading is boring, conversation is boring, listening is boring, and certainly preaching is boring.  But this is mostly the fault of the one who is bored, not the one who seems boring.  C.S. Lewis, as a young atheist, described his attitude toward church as, “Oriental imagery and style largely repelled me; and for the rest, Christianity was mainly associated for me with ugly architecture, ugly music, and bad poetry.”2  But after his conversion Lewis described Christianity as “delightfully humdrum.”3

Being bored is not a sin.  Eutychus (Acts 20:9) was certainly bored enough to fall asleep in church but I doubt it was the preaching of the apostle Paul that was at fault.  This is not to say that we should purposely be boring or not strive to interest our hearers.  But most things that are worth learning start out to be boring and gain in interest as one gets more familiar and skilled.  G.K. Chesterton once quipped that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.4  Where the Spirit and the Word are central, the believer should not be bored.

The small church is afraid of change.

This charge has been a charge against traditional churches and a defense of contemporary Christianity all my life.  It usually means that Christians who resist the newer fads are fearful of losing power, or influence, or some such thing.  But small churches may have decided not to change things out of conviction, while larger churches may have changed something out of mere pragmatism.  To say that those who have not changed a particular thing were afraid to, however, is judging beyond what one really knows.  Change for change’s sake is not a virtue either.

The greatest change a person makes is to leave the world and come to Christ.  When that happens old things are truly passed away and all things become new (2 Cor. 5:17).  I have found that older people are saying that they went through this change long ago when they were converted.  They do not understand why a younger generation does not change in the same way.  To them (the older saints), it is the younger generation that is afraid to change, afraid to leave the old life behind and be changed into the image of Christ.  Profession of faith without a changed life is at epidemic proportions today.

The small church doesn’t care for the lost.

The argument from this perspective is that if the small church really cared about people getting saved it would change its methods in order to attract more people to hear the gospel.  This goes hand-in-hand with the belief that methodology is always morally neutral and can, rather should, be changed if a better method comes along.  Small churches are more often conservative churches that usually retain things on purpose:  hymn singing, choirs, song books, expository messages, invitations, and so on.  I would argue that it is not our methods that draw people but the Spirit of God Who is pleased or displeased with our methods.

To be “relevant” is to be what God would want us to be in our place and time in history.  That is, our relevancy is to God, not to the world.  That is why McCune says, “Ultimately the Gospel is relevant to the true needs of men and for us to try to debase the good coinage of the Gospel by vitiating it so that we can make it more attractive to men is to lose the Gospel and make it irrelevant.”5  Myron Houghton says, “Traditional Bible-believing fundamentalists believe that what a church ought to be and how it should function must not be determined by unchurched people or by the prevailing culture.”6  Therefore, the church that really cares about the lost will be careful to please the Spirit of God in all things in order to be as effective as possible in preaching the gospel.

Advantages of the small church

Having experienced both the small and the large churches, I believe there are many great advantages that the small church has because of its smallness.  This is not to say that larger churches cannot have the same, but that it is easier and more natural for the small churches to offer these things.

The small church is vitally connected with our Baptist history.

It has not been the norm for Baptists, who usually have been of the separatist persuasion, to be the large church in town.  It would be hard to argue that the churches of the New Testament were very large (especially by today’s standards), the early Jerusalem church notwithstanding.  Of course, Baptists have produced some of the most dynamic preachers in history and those men attracted large crowds, but they seem to be the exception not the rule.

When we travel to England we visit Spurgeon’s Tabernacle but we soon realize that most other Baptist churches in English history were quite smaller.  In the museums of John Bunyan (in Bedford) and William Carey (in Moulton) one may look at the rolls of the business meetings and see twenty or thirty names.  Yet what greater things could be accomplished for Christ than what these two men alone did?  It is not the size of the church which makes a man but the depth of his conviction.

The small church creates a good reality.

Not that reality amounts to largeness or smallness, but I mean this in the sense that our current culture is filled with artificial reality.  The television program, the video game, the commercial, the online “socializing,” all do more to separate us from reality than to create it.  Carl Trueman, in describing his search for reality, said he “saw the old opium of the people, religion, appropriating the new opium of the people, bland commercialized pop culture.”7  Arthur Hunt, describing how our culture is turning from a word-based society to an image-based society wrote, “Postmodernism is a turning from rationality, and at the same time an embracing of spectacle.”8

Having been in both, I believe the large church lends itself more toward the spectacle than the small church, sometimes very overtly.  The small congregation is forced to present a more “real” atmosphere simply because it cannot put on the spectacle.  The congregants must be the special music, live with the lack of professionalism, use their imagination, make more effort to speak to people.  In other words, they are forced to be what they ought to be.

The small church is family oriented.

This has been an age-old observation of families looking for churches. They want to be involved with other people and have their children involved, and, as with their search for a school, they want more one-on-one attention paid to their children.  The large church may have the advantage of providing more activities and programs, but the small church has the advantage of providing personal contact, concern, and participation.

In addition the small church offers the opportunity for children to learn what body life is all about.  Tozer wrote, “The church is called the household of God, and it is the ideal place to rear young Christians.”9  I have watched my two-year-old grandson stand among adults in the church lobby and wave good-by to the older folks as they leave.  He seems to think that is what you are supposed to do in church.  There is no better place on earth for children than in a church where everyone is in close contact and Christian fellowship.

The small church provides personal pastoral care.

When I was a youth pastor in a large church with well over one hundred in the youth group, those teens seldom had interaction with their pastor.  For all practical purposes I was their pastor but that is not how it should be.  To grow, however, this arrangement was important.  This problem of the “CEO” pastor vs. the “Shepherding” pastor has come to the fore in recent years.  For a generation now we have been told that the reason the small church doesn’t grow is because of its inherently poor administrative model.10  But though a more business-like model may cause growth, the question remains, which is the New Testament model?

If the pastor is instructed in the Scripture to personally care for the people of the flock as God’s undershepherd, then he must do that regardless of its positive or negative effects on growth.  This is not a head-in-the-sand mentality.  This is a personal stewardship issue.  As a pastor I must pastor the flock, which means caring for those who have placed their membership here.  A “hub and spoke” model may not be the best for growth but it is the best for the people who have placed their accountability under my accountability (Heb. 13:17).

The small church honors senior saints.

Honoring our elders is a Biblical imperative that easily becomes forgotten in our youth-oriented age.  Whether we desire it or not, our seniors tend to get lost in the large church or relegated to the senior saints group, or even to an early service where few others will attend.  But “honoring” elders is not just something on a to-do list, it means letting them give direction, have an important voice, be prominent, give advice.  This may be one of the greatest challenges to our age.  Samuel Rima wrote, “These older parishioners frequently become nothing more than irritating roadblocks to the great church we want to build, and subconsciously we may label them ‘traditionalists’ or ‘complainers,’ who threaten to block our dream.”11

But Zacharias is right when he says, “The older you get, the more it takes to fill your heart with wonder, and only God is big enough to do that.”12  In the small church one is almost forced to rub shoulders with these older saints, hear their prayers, shake their hands, be patient with their physical challenges, and appreciate their wisdom.  Paul knew that though the outward person is perishing, the inward person is being renewed daily (2 Cor. 4:16).  The closer one gets to this inward man, the closer one gets to Christian character first hand.

 

The small church is well-suited to reaching the average person.

The average man on the street and the average family living the average life have much in common with the life of the small church.  I think people can have unjust complaints about the large as well as the small church when it comes to friendliness or boldness in witnessing, but I think there can be no doubt that the plain atmosphere of the small church is more like the atmosphere of the normal family and that form is the form we really look for in this world of extravagant imitation and conformity.

We should remember also that the world is full of average people who need Christ.  We sometimes become myopic about the fashionable, avant-garde, culturally astute persons and direct our entire efforts at reaching them while ignoring the very ones who may be closest to accepting the message and life of the church.  The local fellowship of believers is divinely designed to do just that.

Conclusion

The Puritan John Flavel said, “Carnal men rejoice carnally, and spiritual men should rejoice spiritually.”13.  All churches, large and small, should be striving to worship God in Spirit and in truth.  I believe that the small church today is much like the average church of the New Testament and well equipped to do just that.  We should not be discouraged at our small size but rather encouraged at our fitness to be the pillar and ground of the truth.

 

Notes:

1. Charles Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1994), p. 20.

2. C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (New York:  HBJ, 1955), p. 172.

3. C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1994), p. 20.

4. G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With  the World (San Francisco:  Ignatius Press, 1994), p. 37.

5. Rolland McCune, Promise Unfulfilled (Greenville: Ambassador International, 2004), p. 310.

6. Ernest Pickering and Myron Houghton, Biblical Separation (Schaumburg: RBP, 2008), p. 177.

7. Carl Trueman, Reformation:  Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, Kindle version, 1528.

8. Arthur W. Hunt, III, The Vanishing Word (Wheaton:  Crossway Books, 2003), p. 188.

9. A.W. Tozer, Born After Midnight ( 113.

10. In 1993 Leith Anderson wrote the first four entries in Vital Church Issues, (one of Kregel’s Vital Issues Series, 1998, by editor Roy Zuck), in which he criticized the “hub and spoke” model of small churches as opposed to the “delegation” model (p. 36) of the larger churches.

11. Samuel Rima, Rethinking The Successful Church (Grand Rapids:  Baker Books, 2002), p. 16.

12. Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God? (Dallas:  Word Publishers, 1994), p. 89.

13. John Flavel, in Mayo Hazeltine, Ed., Orations from Homer to McKinley, vol. IV  (New York:  P.F. Collier & Son, 1902), p. 1599.

 

 

 

 

Worship and Culture

Worship and Culture

by Rick Shrader

In the twenty years that I have been writing Aletheia articles, perhaps nothing has been written about more than worship and culture.  Worship has become the description of how we “do church,” and culture has become what we are, not what we should strive to become.  Ravi Zacharias wrote, “Culture has become like a dress code, varying with the time of the day and presence or absence of the elite.”1  Os Guinness wrote, “Compared with the past, faith today influences culture less.  Compared with the past, culture today influences faith more.”2 A sad commentary on today’s faith and church life.

To this modern milieu  of cultural expression in our churches, Harold M. Best has written,  “Hence, in this culture in which experiential narrative has preempted concept and proposition, in which language has become circularly relativized, and in which a musico-visual matrix turns out to be the communal glue, the last thing any worship model should do is to modify the centrality of the Word simply because culture does.”3  But it seems that this is exactly what contemporary worship models often do.  Yet let me quickly add that the avant-garde churches of any generation no doubt have done the same thing.  A 60s church built on gospel quartet concerts  and ice cream cones may have been no different than a 2014 church built on CCM concerts and lattes.

The operative word here may be “built.”  Jesus used the word, of course, when announcing that He would build His church (Matt. 16:18), and though we probably don’t have a better word for the business of evangelism and church planting, we have to be a lot more careful how we use it.  Professionals of any age have built churches and so can professionals today.  There are ways to get people in the doors and ways to keep them there.  There are ways to raise the funds needed and ways to advertise for more.  There are ways to get oneself known around the world and ways to get a place at the associational table.  If a church (or school, or organization) grows in size and influence, especially if it can show numerous “ministry” opportunities, then it has been “built.”

I will be 64 years old this year.  By now I have done more than I will do from here on.  I have made my decisions about what paths I will take in my ministry.  I have attended and worked in mega-churches and have attended and pastored in small churches.  I have been a youth pastor in a large church but now I pastor a small church which has a truly great group of senior saints.  Though I defended my youthful ways when I was young, now I understand the ways of senior saints.  I don’t believe senior saints in a smaller church want to “just sit and do nothing” any more than middle aged saints want to do that in a big church.  In fact, I find the seniors more involved, especially considering their physical limitations, and willing to work, than I see from many younger saints.

I do find that I have narrowed my focus of ministry as I grow older, not just because I am older, but because I think I see more clearly what is important.  At this point in my life I must worship.  I find that this is not optional.  I won’t short that for any other reason, nor do I need to.  First, I have become convinced that we do not come together to worship, we are worshipers who come together.  Jesus Christ is my High Priest Who ever lives to make intercession for me.  That worship service which He performs for me before the Father in that heavenly tabernacle never stops.  If it would, I would have no plea for my sins.  He is my Advocate, my Propitiation, my Shepherd.  I am not the active one in that worship, He is.  Therefore, I will live my life, private and public, with the full knowledge of what is going on.  I cannot acknowledge the culture when it contradicts that worship.

Second, I will come together with other believers to do what believers are supposed to be doing when they come together.  I have grown firm in the determination that I will be just as blessed with three, thirty, or three hundred other believers.  It makes no difference to me.  Jesus has promised to be in the midst of such gatherings by His Spirit regardless of size.  However, I must strive to do this without compulsion, show, hypocrisy, division, or worldliness.  That isn’t always accomplished, but it has to be the norm.

I cannot be a part of worship which copies the world.  It is false worship that speaks like the world so that the world hears (1 John 4:5).  That kind of worship does not draw people to the Savior though it may draw people into a room.  The Holy Spirit cannot be pleased with it since it is He Who wrote that to be a friend of the world is to be the enemy of God (James 4:4).  In the world the pop singer and the frowning athlete are the same—worldly.  And so is the Christian singer, minister, or performer who copies it trying to influence people.

I have been blessed in corporate worship in a congregation of 2000 voices singing the great hymns of the faith, and I have been blessed in the Wednesday prayer meeting of 10 people, hearing the weakened voice of a grandma blended with the untrained voice of a child.  “The cries of the lambs must mingle with the bleating of the sheep, or the flock will lack much of its natural music.”4

I want the documents of the church to define what the corporate worship ought to look like.  Sure, the New Testament defines it, but since different churches interpret it for themselves (a must in Baptist churches) it should be known to all what that interpretation is.  The narrower the better.  Why?  First of all, I have to live with myself.  That is the narrowest of all social circles.  Then I have to live with my family.  If I have been wise, I married a woman who wants to worship as I do, and we will try to raise our children to want the same.  But the next circle is the local church.  We want to join with other families who, as much as possible, want to worship the same way we want to worship.  The more alike that is, the better.  The documents of the church are the official declaration of what that worship will believe and how it will practice.  A mission church or a new church may take time to mold itself into that stature, but the growing period is always rewarded in adult life.

Brethren, we are the salt of the earth.  If we lose our saltiness we are good for nothing but to be thrown into the streets (Mark 9:50).  I fear we would rather become “old salts” who have learned to get along with the language of the world.  But salt is an irritant to its surroundings.  So is light.  Accept that or admit you are going a different way. If we are not willing to actually lose our lives, if we would rather keep our lives in this adulterous and sinful generation, then we will lose it in eternity (Mark 8:35).

 

What about evangelism?  Surely we all care about the lost soul and realize the danger of eternal fire.  I have always felt that those old evangelists whom I grew up hearing, who gave long invitations, who also reaped many tares among their wheat due to an easy believism, always loved the souls of men.  And I will accept the same about those who are performing more modern evangelistic gymnastics today.  But have we not also said that we are doxological before we are soteriological?  Have we not also committed ourselves to the holiness of God as an absolute which we must not offend even by our evangelistic techniques?   If we perform this bait-and-switch to draw the lost person, explaining later what Christianity really means—the loss of one’s life for the glory of God—are we not being dishonest?  The degree to which I bend this conviction is the degree of my non-commitment to the Word of God.

I am not a very good Calvinist.  I would rather be more than I am, I could easily let a lordship view of salvation explain away my poor evangelism, but I am not that either.  I believe in “means” for the gospel’s sake (as many of my more Calvinistic friends also do) mixed with a healthy dose of the free will of sinners to accept or reject.  But I do believe this, that the Holy Spirit has to draw and save every sinner who comes to Christ and, that though the gospel doesn’t make demands (as in works for salvation), grace does make demands for which a person has to count the cost.5 Will a person seek forgiveness without a burden of their own sin?  Will a person turn to God without turning from his idols (1 Thes. 1:9)?   Repentance is not a work for salvation, it is a sorrow and release from guilt when accepting joy and forgiveness in Christ.  My point is that evangelism is much more about me being in a place to be used of the Holy Spirit than it is about my headiness in the methodology of this world.  “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord” (Matt. 10:24).

 

There are real consequences for thinking like this, but at this time in my life I am beyond caring too much.  I won’t have a big ministry that will be viewed with approval by, well, whomever.  I won’t be invited to speak at the national pastors’ meeting where all must be positive and uplifting.  I won’t be given a place at the table of the movers and shakers of my movement.  I may even be considered narrow, legalistic, pietistic, in the box, unloving, uncaring, et.al. by family, friends, and fellow ministers.

Now before you think I’m having a pity party and enjoying a martyr’s complex, let me say that this is actually a great relief in my life.  It’s too bad it has come so late.  Young ministers of my generation have grown up with a tremendous burden of being a success or failure in the ministry.  Our schools have been busy teaching us how to be great men and do great things.  It’s taken me until now to see that great men never wanted to be great, they just wanted to be men of God, and God used them in great ways.  But also, the ministry has always been filled with men whom no one ever knew, who never had a place at the so-called “table” and never missed it.  To all of them I say I’m sorry I didn’t realize who and what you were.  We’ll never know the front line men of Normandy, we just know they were great men.

This is the great thing about being old, at least by comparison.  I don’t care about my “brand” in a world of branding.  I care little what the young people think of me now as much as I care what they will think of me in their old age when the time of thanks is gone.  “Time like an ever rolling stream bears all its sons away, they fly forgotten as a dream dies at the op-’ning day.”  I have learned from those older than I that the nearness of seeing the Lord, by death if not rapture, is a great motivation in life.  But we learn it when life’s physical struggles really begin, and when the inner strength is all that we have, when the years draw nigh and you have little pleasure in them.  What an irony!  The outward man is perishing but the inward man is being renewed day by day!

What if!  What if a generation of young men and women would love God more than the world?  What if young ministers would lead a movement to honor God and His Word above the applause of men?  What if there were churches that would live out their convictions at the cost of popularity or success?  What if our Bible colleges and seminaries would ask for those who wanted that more than they wanted a fun time, or a comfortable room, or even an accredited degree?  What if there is still a young William Carey somewhere who would say, “I go to mine for souls, you hold the ropes?”  And what if there were young Andrew Fullers and John Sutcliffs who would do it?  For the rest of their lives! We can always hope.

I heard such a young man preach this passage last Sunday night:

5 I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times.  6 I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.  7 Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more?  8 Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore?  9 Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah.  10 And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High.  11 I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.  12 I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.  13 Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God?  14 Thou art the God that doest wonders: thou hast declared thy strength among the people.  15 Thou hast with thine arm redeemed thy people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah.

(Psalm 77:5-15)

 

Notes:
1. Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil (Dallas:  Word Publishing, 1996) 5.
2. Os Guinness, Dining With The Devil (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993) 16.
3. Harold M. Best, “Traditional Hymn-Based Worship,” Paul Engle and Paul Basden, Editors, Exploring the worship Spectrum , 6 Views  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004) 236.
4. C.H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Prayers (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2002) 158.
5. See Myron Houghton, Law & Grace (Schaumburg: RBP, 2011) 120.
 

 

Payson’s Sermons

Payson’s Sermons

by Rick Shrader

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I was given this older book by a friend who is always looking for good used books.  This book was compiled by Mrs. Payson after her husband’s death.  Payson was a Congregational pastor and educator in Portland, Maine.  This book is rare because it was published in 1828, the first date any of his writings were ever published.  I enjoyed reading these sermons and putting myself in the setting of this kind of preaching, realizing that few churches today appreciate this older style of homily.  Even on the written page there is no theatric trick, just straight talk from a Scripture text.  Very enjoyable.