Whitney and I just returned from a nice vacation. The whole experience was relaxing. I genuinely love spending time with Whitney. Hours in the car are simply fun as we talk about life. There were a lot of important questions asked, as well as a lot of laughter. I hope to share more pictures of our time in Savannah, GA and Orlando, FL over the next couple of days.
Either way, it is good to be home. I am particularly excited about worship with our church family here in VA. As is our habit, while out of town we visited another church unannounced. We just dropped in to study the Bible and meet some new brothers and sisters. Our time of worship was a little disheartening.
We walked into a gorgeous building in the heart of downtown last Sunday, a beautiful fall day. A nice gentleman greeted us at the door. When we stepped inside the foyer the building was eerily quiet. As we walked into the “sanctuary” I noticed an ornate, traditional room with finely crafted columns and embellished windows. I imagine it could hold 1,000 or so people. Sadly, as I looked at the room in front of me, most of the pews were roped off and I saw maybe 50 people spread out around the massive chamber. I know numbers are of little significance but in the middle of a bustling southern city, the one place I expected to find life, was filled with a listless and deteriorating faith community.
The service was standard fare: a few songs, a mediocre performance sermon and we left. There was no community. There was no life.
There are lessons to be learned about stewardship, resources, buildings, property, and institutions. I think the central thing I was challenged by was the need for a church to be a center for missionary activity. The church must go into the community. In the case of this church, they had built impressive resources and a massive institution but the community which they were called to impact with the gospel was left unaffected.
I have been reminded of late about the massive misunderstanding that most Christians have regarding the nature of the church. One common fallacy of which I have recently encountered has massive implications for the way one lives and behaves. It is routinely propagated that one must behave in a particularly pious way “at church.” “Put on your Sunday best,” someone might say. Others balk at a pastor’s knowledge of popular media or his reference to popular culture while teaching. They say that it has no place “at church.” The manifestations of this Biblical mistake are never ending.
Ultimately some would have you believe that certain physical space is sacred and other physical space is secular. Like Moses and the burning bush, when you step onto the church’s property you are “on holy ground.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality of the New Testament is that believers are the ones who are holy, by means of the blood of Christ (1 Cor 3:16–17; 1 Cor 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16). The church is not a building (Eph 2:11–22) but a people.
On the one hand, what you do and say with the church should not be disconnected from what you do and say by yourself. Granted, the purpose of a church meeting together is different than when you are alone—mutual edification can only occur with others. However, there should be little difference in the manner of my living when I am with other believers and when I am by myself. If what I wear throughout the week is not appropriate for “church” then it is not appropriate for the grocery store. You might not want to wear a baseball uniform or pajamas to church (different purpose) but neither must you wear a specific “church uniform.” If God does not require a suit to go the baseball game then he does not require one when I gather with other believers. This thinking should extend to what I watch on television and the content of my conversation. As far as I can tell, the Biblical definition of sacred and secular is purely an inward category. Holiness is a function of our calling from God, not our location (Eph 1:4; Col 3:12; 1 Pet 1:15).
I recently came across this post at Desiring God about one of the benefits of a local church. I was really interested in the benefits of “righteous judgment” and the need for accountability espoused in this brief article. I hear the oft-repeated mantra “not to judge” based ostensibly on Luke 6:37. This verse (“judge not, lest you be judged”) is often the only Scripture some people have memorized and almost exclusively used out of context. I think the passage in question might is more concerned with humility and genuine faith than some prohibition against pointing out sin or inconsistency in another believer’s life.
I have reproduced the entire Desiring God post below for your consideration.
“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (1 Corinthians 5:11-12)”
It is dangerous not to be judged. We need other people to judge us, with righteous judgment (John 7:24). We need accountability. If we don’t have Christian friends that are close enough to confront us when our lifestyle doesn’t match our confession, then we ought to tremble.
The type of judgment I am referring to is not generated by a desire to look down on others for the sake of feeling superior—a condescending disposition. Rather, it comes from a tender disposition of love. It comes from a Nathan who is willing to tell David to repent and turn to God (2 Samuel 12).
We should fear God in light of the sin that can deceive and destroy us. We should not fear the judgment that comes from friends in the church which helps us to fight sin. This is grace!
It is immeasurably more safe to be a part of a local church that watches for our souls. Praise God for the safety that is in the righteous judgment of his people. It is grace from heaven!
Our church, led by our Jeff Walton (our Children’s Pastor and one of our elders), has been partnering with Creekside Elementary School for the past year. At the beginning of the year the small groups at NRBC provided 60 bags full of school supplies to children in need. Throughout the year the church has provided one-on-one mentors and helped with various school activities. At the recent Creekside Carnival our church provided volunteers as well as various equipment (e.g., snow cone machine, popcorn machine, etc.).
I am so excited that the community sees the value of partnering with our church and I am even more excited that the members of NRBC are intentionally investing in the community. The relationships that have been built in Suffolk, VA will provide meaningful opportunities to demonstrate and explain the good news of the love of Jesus.
How well do you have to know someone to ask them to help you move? I mean, do you really want some casual acquaintance carrying your underwear drawer or helping you sort through your comic book collection?
At what point is it appropriate to ask someone when they plan on having kids? This is a question that my wife and I are asked often. I usually respond by asking the inquirer when they are planning on having kids. If they have the Duggar-syndrome, I ask them when they are going to stop having kids or just inform them that they have enough children for the both of us.
Social conventions are just weird. For example, when you randomly talk to someone that you’ve never met before (maybe at a restaurant or in an elevator) and you say, “How’s it going?” What do you do when they start unloading all of their baggage? It seems appropriate to be kind and gracious but it’s still awkward.
My only solution is to find people that you can really get to know well. Share your life with those people. Then it won’t feel awkward when they ask you to help them move, share their problems with you, or question you about your reproductive plans!
Here are two of the most helpful exegetical exercises that have informed me about the church and its purposes. I would suggest you take the time to engage in these activities.
1. Look up every instance of the word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia, church, gathering, assembly, congregation, etc.) in the New Testament. Read the context of each use. The result will be a more healthy understanding of the Bible’s use of church. To understand what a church must do you must understand what a church is. In my mind being precedes doing.
2. In regard to the “community of faith,” each Christian should look up, read, and meditate on the “one another” passages of the New Testament.
Some of the more important preliminary conclusions at which I arrived when I first did this activity?
1. The overwhelming emphasis in the New Testament is on the physical, visible, local church. To say it another way, every Christian is a member of the “body of Christ,” but that body is manifested in a particular place and time.
2. Christians need each other to become more like Christ. There is no place in the Bible for “Lone-Ranger” Christianity. The community of believers is essential for sanctification and edification.
3. The church is the place not only to proclaim the gospel, but (more importantly), to demonstrate the effects of a gospel-changed life. In today’s culture, especially, an authentic demonstration of the gospel is often more important than a precise articulation of the gospel.
As a lifelong resident of Hampton Roads, VA, I have always preferred the scenery of the water (e.g., beaches, rivers, creeks, bays, etc.). Recently I was going through some pictures of my summer in Denver, CO (2004) and was feeling nostalgic for the ice-covered mountains. Denver was such a great city. Some of my friends are planning a move to Denver to plant a church (check out their awesome website). I really enjoyed my time in Denver. It was a very progressive city that had all the accoutrements of a metropolis with the community and charm of a small town. The people were friendly, interesting, and active. While downtown, our team worked with at-risk children, Hispanic immigrants, and the surprisingly large homeless population.
One of the highlights from that summer was a camping trip we took to Rocky Mountain National Park (led by the illustrious and uber-talented James Tealy). During that time I tried my hand at the National Geographic videographer thing… below is a video compiled from that camping trip.
In the most recent issue of Relevant Magazine (a preeminently cool magazine that blends culture and Christianity into a beautiful, artistic, and thoughtful format) they have feature on Zachary Levi, star of the NBC series “Chuck.” Read the feature as Levi discusses how he lives as a Christian in Hollywood. He also discusses the role of Christian community in balancing his new-found fame. An interesting article about a funny and talented actor. Levi comes across as sincere, fun-loving, and down-to-earth (a breath of fresh air).
I just finished reading the most recent DeYoung/Kluck collaboration (they previously teamed up on Why We’re Not Emergent). My only previous experience with either writer was through DeYoung’s blog and hilarious book on finding the will of God (“without dreams, visions, fleeces, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc.). I was excited by the subject matter (as evidenced in the title) and the praise from theological heavyweights such as J. I. Packer, Al Mohler, and Mark Dever. This book is well-informed, balanced, readable, funny, and God-glorifying.
The basic premise of this book is that there is no such thing as a “churchless Christianity.” The authors are clear that they are trying to correct the common notion that Christians do not need “organized churches.” In fact, the Scriptures indicate that organization (i.e., structure in corporate worship, leadership, etc.) is essential to the health of a church.
“Community” is a buzzword among modern evangelicals, but many “emergent” (whatever that means) types are unwilling to be shaped by a community of believers that does not mimic their particular hipster style. It is essential that each believer be a part of a church that is full of imperfect Christians. The result of old and young coming together to worship despite differences of opinion regarding musical style and church architecture is mutual edification and personal sanctification.
DeYoung and Kluck are particularly critical of modern Christian “revolutionaries.” Christianity, they argue, needs more “plodding visionaries,” that is, people who are concerned with obedience to the gospel and faithfulness to the commands of Christ. Giving up on local church because it does nothing for you or because you can find a deeper spirituality somewhere else is, frankly, narcissistic and contrary to the commands of Scripture.
I was thankful for the historical perspective the authors provided in two areas: (1) They clarified the oft repeated maxim that “Christians have done terrible things throughout there history.” While this statement, they say, is true it is not absolutely true without qualification. For example, while race-based slavery was condoned by some Christians it was also abolished largely because of Christian abolitionists. (2) The authors also busted the myth of the early Christian utopia. You and I have both heard the call to be a “New Testament church.” There are few problems with this statement. On the one hand the Bible is full of terrible churches rife with division, heresy, and immorality. On the other hand, just because something is not mentioned in the Bible does not mean that is impure (e.g., buildings, pews, etc.).
The authors argue that the most important reasons to love the church are because it is the God-ordained means for the proclamation of the gospel and the sanctification of believers. Good reasons that stand in stark contrast to the modern Christian’s “what’s-in-it-for-me” mentality.
This book is an admirable attempt to correct many problems in modern evangelicalism. Despite claiming a robust ecclesiology, this book is far from comprehensive. It has barely a mention of issues such as covenant membership and ordinances.
The authors demonstrate a great balance in their personal understanding of the church’s relationship to God and culture. However, they set up a false dichotomy between “emergent-types” and “traditional-types.” The authors unfortunately caricature “emergents” as a modern incarnation of the liberal social gospel. This dichotomy is unnecessary. One can be concerned with a true gospel and a culturally appropriate presentation of that gospel.
Though I understand the intention to defend the “traditional” church, I am still uncomfortable with the language of church as “institution” and the authors consistently assume that particular incarnations of modern church are Biblical and healthy.
On the whole this book provides balance to contemporary tendency to “church-hate.” While neither comprehensive or without fault, the authors are clearly attempting to glorify God and obey the Scriptures. Love Jesus and love his bride.
Many of our North American churches seem to have everything — culturally relevant outreach, attractive facilities, and a broad range of programs to match any and every lifestyle. Add to this the experience of dynamic speakers, professional-quality music, and inviting small groups. How could those who are most active in these churches be stagnant and dissatisfied?
There’s nothing wrong with top-quality facilities, creative programs, and a genuine sense of community. But the fundamental question is, “What message are we sharing in our community and within our walls through our programs?” I believe its our substance, not our structure, that is leaving so many stagnant and dissatisfied. A church may have polished programs, well-trained staff, and dynamic speakers.
But content is what people walk away with.
(Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel)
As you may or may not know, my wife loves weddings. She loves making someone’s wedding day beautiful and memorable. Recently she told me about a trick some people use to save money on the wedding cake. For those particularly concerned with a beautiful and ornate cake sometimes decorate Styrofoam or cardboard with fondant and decorative sugar flowers. This is all well and good because during the serving of the cake the wait staff takes the cake in the kitchen and swaps it with a pre-cut bargain priced cake. No one ever has to know.
Not a big deal when it comes to wedding cake but a very big deal when it comes to a church! My concern is that many Christians and churches have become more concerned with the look of the church rather than the substance. When someone goes to cut into our proverbial cake, all they find is a piece of cardboard.