A recent sermon as part of our church’s series, “Come Live the Church’s Vision.”
Chester and Timmis offer another insightful, Biblical, and helpful book on “church.” Their previous book Total Church is one of my ecclesiological “must-reads.” This book is helpful because it applies the foundations of “gospel and mission” (discussed extensively in Total Church) in the current Western situation.
They open with a provocative observation on the decline of Christianity in the Western World. Rather than spend too much time bemoaning its fall, they quickly look for the gospel opportunity. I would argue that their underlying question (laid out on pp. 13-21) is this: Do we want to hold on to Christendom or Christ?
It is likely that for all Christendom’s good you can’t have both. And that’s not to mention its many demonstrated ills. Christendom cannot exist in a pluralistic society because it requires political and/or military power. Following Christ requires radical love and service. Conversion cannot be coerced by power but must be won by love.
It is a losing battle to only focus on rechurching the dechurched (see p. 26). Reintroducing Christian culture without Christ is a painfully misguided attempt at returning to the glory days. What is needed is a radical commitment to reaching the unchurched with the gospel. To do this requires that Christ and his message be the central principal of our lives EVERY DAY.
We need to do church and mission in the context of everyday life. We can no longer think of church as a meeting on a Sunday morning. We must think of church as a community of people who share life, ordinary life. And we cannot think of mission as an event that takes place in an ecclesiastical building (p. 28).
The church is about the “people of God” not some sort of “building of God.”
One of the central contentions of this book is that our marginal status as Christians in the West requires us to think differently about mission. One way is by dropping our preoccupation with church [defined as a building] (p. 85).
The foundation of Gospel community is the word of God (1 Peter 1:23). Nothing can supplant that foundation. If the word is first and final, then the way it says “to do” mission is important. Mission in the Bible is not primarily “attractional” (e.g., “come and see”) but “go and tell.” Even when crowds came to Jesus, he was “among them.”
Much of the message of this book is broken down into four basic truths about God. These liberating truths are for those we pastor and those who pastor (p. 76).
- God is great, so we do not have to be in control.
- God is glorious, so we do not have to fear others.
- God is good, so we do not have to look elsewhere.
- God is gracious, so we do not have to prove ourselves.
The discussion of pastoring based on the greatness, glory, goodness, and grace of God (pp. 82-83) was the most helpful and convicting part of the book for me. It helped me identify some latent sin in my heart toward God and the church. As a result, I could identify with various levels of “over-pastoring” (e.g., self-importance, domination, micro-managing, proving myself) and “under-pastoring” (e.g., fear of others, conflict avoidance, seeing people as burdens.”The same truths that inform pastoring are truths to be proclaimed to those we are seeking to reach with the gospel. This book is wonderful in its biblical depth, theological acumen, and cultural analysis. However, it is also very practical. The chapter on “everyday evangelism” recognizes the necessity of sharing the “good news” on which our faith is built but also the difficulty that many of us have. Not everyone is a natural evangelist! How do you develop the ability to share the gospel in everyday life?
- Make your everyday conversations with other believers about the gospel! By talking about Jesus more with your Christian friends you will find it easier to talk about Jesus with your non-Christian friends (pp. 111-112). “If you find it hard to talk about Jesus with Christians, then how do you expect to talk about him with unbelievers?”
- Let your unbelieving friends in on your everyday Christian community. If your unbelieving and believing friends are sharing a meal at your house, your unbelieving friends are bound to overhear your conversations about Christ (p. 112).
- Don’t assume that people have a Christian background. As a result, your gospel presentations must be more holistic, more big-picture, and more patient (p. 112).
- “Sometimes less is more” (p. 113). Silence is okay. Give people time to think. Give the Holy Spirit some space to work. Don’t expect that everyone can make the journey that has taken you a lifetime in a few minutes.
- Allow the people you are sharing the gospel with to ask their questions. Don’t just answer the “popular” objections to Christianity.
Chester and Timmis suggest that “story” is the primary way that people in the modern world interpret life. As such, everyone has a “story” that includes their version of salvation. Look for points of intersection between the “true” gospel story and the functional gospel story that most people have.
The authors bring the book “full circle.” They started explaining the marginal status of modern Christianity and end similarly “at the margins.” As such, the Biblical admonition to expect persecution and suffering should be taken seriously. The result is a paradoxical coexistence of joy and grief amidst suffering. But suffering is no threat to the will of God. Suffering has no power over the “hope of glory” (e.g., 1 Peter 1:6, 4:13).
In the end, the authors are challenging the church to take the mission of God seriously “every day.”
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.
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.
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.
I have been reading through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s short treatise on the subject of Christan community entitled “Life Together.” His words are clear and convicting. I often hear pastors talking about the necessity of “vision” in leading a church. This passage from Bonhoeffer may cause some to question the idolatry of their own “vision.”
God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.
How do I describe the impact of C. J. Mahaney’s message this weekend? I have yet to hear a teacher of the Bible who so accurately understands his own shortcomings yet so clearly magnifies God. Mahaney taught from 2 Timothy 4:1-5 and encouraged faithfulness to the gospel through the content and character of the preacher.
Mahaney made clear that the Word of God is essential to the church. Before being overwhelmed by the obvious he traced out the implications of such a thought. For example, the primacy of the Word of God should be reflected in the schedule of the preacher (i.e., I should set aside adequate time to unhurriedly exegete, applicate, and illustrate the text of Scripture). I cannot let lesser duties overwhelm this primary concern nor can I allow sinful procrastination to cripple my Bible Study.
I was also reminded during this time that a pastor/elder is most adequately equipped to teach the Bible at a particular church because preaching requires pastoral skill and discernment to teach and apply the Bible. A pastor should know the struggles and victories of his congregation and, therefore, know the appropriate use of admonition and exhortation. I would not want to admonish the weak and encourage the unruly! This requires an atmosphere of community that is conducive to openly sharing life.
Mahaney pierced my heart with his encouragement to preach “with all patience” (2 Tim. 4:2). It is sometimes easier to give a weekly monologue than be patient with people. I must always keep in the front of my mind God’s patience with me. Further, I cannot expect my listeners to immediately understand and apply everything I preach. God has been slowly working on my heart and I have been “living in the text” for weeks. How foolish of me to think that what took me weeks and years to understand will immediately be fully grasped by my audience. Further, it is the height of arrogance to think that I am such a good communicator as to condense years worth of Biblical study and personal sanctification into a single hour-long sermon.
All-in-all I must persevere in the careful and consistent teaching of the Word of God and “be grateful and surprised” that anyone shows up to hear me speak at all!
“Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
What a beautiful picture of the gospel! Paul, Silas, and Timothy came to the Thessalonians promising not to compromise on the gospel message that was entrusted to them (v. 4). They refused to fall into any doctrinal error (v. 3). Their speech was not obsequious or motivated by personal gain. However, in the midst of sharing their message the apostles made sure to share themselves.
In reflecting on this passage I have come to understand a few things about genuine Christian community:
1. Christian community is gospel-centered. Christian community involves more than just gospel information but it does not involve less. There are plenty of groups to join if you want friends. You can find people that have similar interests (e.g., scrapbooking, MOPS, fantasy football). Shared interests, however, do not reinforce gospel community. The gospel breaks down external barriers. A gospel community is not concerned with external uniformity, but internal unity (Phil. 2:12-13) centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Most people are concerned with finding persons that look, think, feel, and act like them. People with similar interests and values will tend to confirm what you already believe. A gospel community is not bound by age, race, or political preference. A gospel community will challenge you to become like Christ rather than validate your own preferences.
“We often surround ourselves with the people we most want to live with, thus forming a club or clique, not a community. Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community” (Philip Yancey)
2. Christian community is participatory. The information of the gospel was not enough; the apostles humbly participated in the lives of the Thessalonians. It was not enough to teach a few truths about Christ, their genuine affection motivated participation. Getting involved in someone’s life is messy. It is easier to show up on Sunday morning, sing a few songs, smile and shake hands. It is much more difficult to sit on someone’s couch and listen to their struggles. It is uncomfortable to go to the hospital when someone is sick. It is terribly inconvenient to give your money to someone who is in need.
And that brings us back to the gospel. Think about how messy it was for Christ to become flesh, to endure temptation, and to experience pain. Sharing your life with others provides the only context to genuinely articulate and, more importantly, demonstrate the gospel.