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What Does Church Membership Mean?

May 16, 2013 Leave a comment

IAmAChurchMember_R2.inddChurch membership is a subject I’m passionate about, but all too often I’m not as passionate about the church itself as I should be. I Am a Church Member by Thom S. Rainer has reminded me both how important loving the church is and what this love looks like. Rainer’s book is short (less than 100 pages) and divided into six short chapters, but I Am a Church Member edifies the reader more in this short space than most books do in three times as many pages.

The six chapters comprise six statements in a church membership covenant. The new church member makes these promises upon joining a local church:

  1. I will be a functioning church member.
  2. I will be a unifying church member.
  3. I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires.
  4. I will pray for my church leaders.
  5. I will lead my family to be healthy church members.
  6. I will treasure church membership as a gift.

In these chapters, Rainer draws six significant conclusions about church membership from the Bible:

  1. Each church member should lovingly serve the church to which he/she belongs. “One of the ongoing questions you should ask yourself and God in prayer is: ‘How can I best serve my church?’ You should never ask yourself if you should be serving your church” (16).
  2. Each church member should lovingly promote unity in the church.”You have a responsibility as a church member. You are to be a source of unity. You are never to be a divisive force” (24). Promoting unity in the church means eschewing gossip and being forgiving.
  3. Each church member should love other church members sacrificially by putting his/her preferences aside for others’. “As you are overwhelmed by Jesus’ undeserved love for you that caused him to sacrifice everything–including his preferences–you will be able to do the same for others” (40).
  4. Each church member should pray for the pastor’s preaching, family, protection, and health because a pastor’s “day is filled with mountaintops and valleys. He is adulated by some and castigated by others. He needs our prayers” (46).
  5. Each church member should model sacrificial, loving service to his/her family. Even if you’re single, “you can be assured that others are watching you. How you love your church could have a significant spiritual impact on their lives” (63).
  6. Each church member should view his/her membership in the church as a gift from God. “Church membership is a gift. We respond to gifts with gratitude. And one key way we express our gratitude is to serve like Jesus did and like He told us to do” (74).

I found myself agreeing with everything Rainer was saying in this book. I was reveling in this book’s biblical messages in chapters one through three. I have emphasized in numerous sermons that every Christian has a role to play in the church to which he/she belongs. I have recently preached on the danger of gossip, and I have also preached about the importance of unity in the local church. But chapter four began to prick my own conscience. I began to feel the logs in my own eyes and was no longer so focused on recalling others’ specks. I don’t pray near as often as I should (1 Thess. 5:17). I don’t pray for my pastor as much as I should, even though I myself am–to a much smaller degree than he is–aware of the hardships and challenges of Christian ministry. This is to my shame, and I felt my failure keenly as I read this chapter. May God break my spirit to pray “without ceasing” for my pastor as I ought!

Chapter five was similarly convicting, particularly Rainer’s conclusion: “As a church member, I am not merely to like my church or serve my church well. I am to fall deeply in love with my church. Christ is the bridegroom, and the church is the bride. My commitment is to love that bride with an unwavering and unconditional love” (62). I realize that my love for the church sometimes wavers because Rainer is absolutely right: “Unconditional love is not always easy,” but I should nevertheless love the church unconditionally, which “means I will continue to fall more deeply in love regardless of the response. It means my love for the church will grow even as I may disagree with something or encounter disagreeable people” (62). O God, make my love for your church unconditional! Give me the grace to love your people even when it’s hard! You have loved me, unlovable though I am, and how often have your people loved me despite my many imperfections! Help me to see more often the logs in my own eyes than the specks in others’.

I Am a Church Member rouses me to closer examination of my own life because it is Bible-saturated. Rainer quotes Scripture on nearly every page and consistently draws his conclusions and applications from the Bible. I cannot more highly recommend this book to every church member, whether young or old. By God’s grace, I Am a Church Member will convict us and lead us to repentance. What more can we ask for in a book?

My Thoughts on “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”

June 5, 2012 1 comment

On May 30, 2012, several Southern Baptist leaders issued online “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” Tom Ascol is currently writing a thorough response to this Statement at the Founders’ blog, so I will not go through the Statement article by article; rather, I will respond to this Statement briefly and focus on the continued need for unity among Southern Baptists.

A Brief Response

“A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” is rife with falsehoods, contradictions, and slanders.

Before the numerous theological falsehoods of the ten articles, the Statement’s Preamble includes numerous factual errors. The authors define Calvinism in terms of “the doctrines of grace,” TULIP. Calvinists, then, (according to this Statement) are those who believe these things. Calvinism is NOT, as this Statement claims, anti-missional. Both John Piper and David Platt are two prime examples of people who believe “the doctrines of grace” and who are also very missional. As Platt writes in Radical,

God gave his people his image for a reason–so that they might multiply his image throughout the world. He created human beings, not only to enjoy his grace in a relationship with him, but also to extend his glory to the ends of the earth.

Simple enough. Enjoy his grace and extend his glory. This is the twofold purpose behind the creation of the human race in Genesis 1, and it sets the stage for an entire Book that revolves around the same purpose. In every genre of biblical literature and every stage of biblical history, God is seen pouring out his grace on his people for the sake of his glory among all peoples. (65)

How could Platt there be more “Calvinistic”? How could Platt there be more missional? God’s meticulous sovereignty doesn’t undermine missions: it gives missions its ultimate purpose–to glorify Him! This being said, how can it possibly be true “Without ascribing to Calvinism, Southern Baptists have reached around the world with the Gospel message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone”? Adoniram Judson, the first Southern Baptist missionary to Burma (modern Myanmar), believed in God’s meticulous sovereignty. Earlier in church history, before “Southern Baptists” existed, Paul of Tarsus was so engrossed by God’s glorious grace that he spread the gospel all over the Roman Empire!

In addition to those factual falsehoods in the Preamble and too many theological falsehoods for me to list here, contradictions redound in this Statement. The most glaring contradiction is in the Preamble:

We propose that what most Southern Baptists believe about salvation can rightly be called “Traditional” Southern Baptist soteriology, which should be understood in distinction to “Calvinist” soteriology. Traditional Southern Baptist soteriology is articulated in a general way in the Baptist Faith and Message, “Article IV.”

The beauty of Article IV of The Baptist Faith and Message (2000) is that whether or not one believes the Bible’s declarations of God’s meticulous sovereignty, one can accept it. Article IV in its entirety reads thus:

Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

A. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.

Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour.

B. Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God.

C. Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God’s purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person’s life.

D. Glorification is the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed.

This Statement in its Preamble affirms that this Article articulates “in a general way” their “‘Traditional’ Southern Baptist soteriology.” But they later contradict the BF&M Article IV in their own Article Five: The Regeneration of the Sinner:

We affirm that any person who responds to the Gospel with repentance and faith is born again through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is a new creation in Christ and enters, at the moment he believes, into eternal life.

We deny that any person is regenerated prior to or apart from hearing and responding to the Gospel.

Did you catch the contradiction? Article IV, BF&M, says that regeneration “is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (emphasis added). According to the Baptist Faith and Message, regeneration comes before (prior to) repentance and faith (responding to the Gospel). But what does this new Statement, which claims to affirm the BF&M, deny? “We deny that any person is regenerated prior to … responding to the Gospel” in repentance and faith. This is a logical contradiction. Regeneration cannot come both before and after repentance and faith. It must come either before or after since regeneration is an event that occurs at a single moment in time. Although the writers of this Statement accuse “Calvinists” of departing from traditional Southern Baptist soteriology, it is the authors of this Statement who are departing from established Southern Baptist (and more importantly, biblical) belief concerning regeneration, which is the first aspect of salvation “in its broadest sense.”

Finally and saddest of all, slanders crop up at various points in the Statement. Not only is the statement, “Without ascribing to Calvinism, Southern Baptists have reached around the world with the Gospel message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone,” factually false, but it is also a slanderous blow to genuine Southern Baptist believers who affirm God’s sovereignty in addition to human responsibility because it implies that they are anti-missional and uninvolved in missions. And as Tom Aschol has noted, the Statement’s insistence that “The Southern Baptist majority has fellowshipped happily with its Calvinist brethren while kindly resisting Calvinism itself” is demeaning toward those whom the authors identify as Calvinist, almost relegating them to a second-class status as Southern Baptists. These slanderous labels and statements are divisive, and it saddens my heart to see such a display of divisiveness by fellow Southern Baptists, brothers whom I and every other Southern Baptist have partnered with in order to fulfill the Great Commission to spread the gospel to all the nations.

The Need for Unity

The Southern Baptist Convention has always included “Calvinists” and “Arminians.” Southern Baptists have always differed as to how many points of TULIP to believe, but Southern Baptists have always unified despite these differences in order to cooperate together to spread the gospel to all nations. I want to see this cooperation continue. I want to see this unity continue. Surely heaven will be composed of both “Calvinists” and “Arminians,” so I want to see these different groups of believers cooperate on earth! And they have in the Southern Baptist Convention for nearly two hundred years. I would hate to see this cooperation stop.

Yes, there was a decline for most of the 20th century among Southern Baptists, both individuals and churches, who taught both God’s meticulous sovereignty and man’s responsibility, but there was also a simultaneous decline in Southern Baptists who taught the inerrancy of Scripture and the exclusivity of Christ. Since the conservative resurgence in the SBC in the late 1980s, an increasing number of Southern Baptists, both individuals and churches, have found themselves believing anew not only in the inerrancy of Scripture and the exclusivity of Christ but also in God’s meticulous sovereignty. Why is this necessarily a bad thing, even to those Christians who do not believe in God’s meticulous sovereignty? The Southern Baptist Convention is just that: a convention. Its churches are autonomous. Let individual churches decide what to believe as a local body concerning God’s sovereignty. Since this Statement could unnecessarily divide the SBC, it is unwarranted, sad, and ultimately, I believe, unbiblical.

Never mind the fact that I disagree on biblical grounds with at least something in every Article of this Statement except Article Ten. This Statement is unbiblical because it seems to be fostering disunity and disharmony in Christ’s church as represented in the SBC. (One need only look at the comments on the Statement’s web page to discern this.) Such disunity directly defies God’s Word:

  • This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. – John 15:12
  • I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through your word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  – John 17:20-21
  • I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. – 1 Corinthians 1:10
  • Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel – Philippians 1:27
  • complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. – Philippians 2:2

These and other verses are commands from God that Christians love one another and unite around the gospel for the sake of spreading the gospel and making God’s name known throughout the whole world. The Baptist Faith and Message (2000) is helpful; “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” is not helpful. Fellow Christians who believe in God’s meticulous sovereignty, do not be consumed by anger at this incendiary Statement; rather, let us pray for our brothers and sisters who disagree with us on this matter, so that we may continue to join together in spreading the gospel around the world. Fellow Christians who do not believe in God’s meticulous sovereignty, do not sign this Statement and lend it your support; rather, continue to unite with us believers who disagree with you on this matter.

Doctrine is important. So is unity. May the Southern Baptist Convention continue to grow in both, to the glory of God.

Update: On June 6, Dr. Albert Mohler posted his thoughts on “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” I thoroughly recommend it to all of you.

Living the Christian Life by Exhibiting Christian Characteristics

January 17, 2010 1 comment

Today, I went to Tilden, MS, and preached the first sermon of three in a series on the characteristics of a Christian. Today, the sermon was on Christian unity and perseverance, with its text from Philippians 1:27-30. While these characteristics tie in with my regular “Living the Christian Life in 2010” posts on this website, I do realize that I still have yet to post the blog on public/private worship. I hope to have it up by the end of this week. My sermon series on Christian characteristics will last at least through the month of January, and I will post links to each sermon as I upload them to my account at podbean.com.

To explain the relationship between my current blog series and sermon series:

My blog series, “Living the Christian Life in 2010,” exhorts us Christians to do three things:

  1. Daily study God’s Word, the Bible,
  2. Pray, and
  3. Worship God both privately and publicly.

My sermon series, “Characteristics of the Christian Citizen of Heaven,” exhorts us Christians to

  1. Be unified in perseverance (Philippians 1:27-30),
  2. Be unified in humility (Philippians 2:1-11), and
  3. Shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:12-18).

My blog series presents elementary building blocks of what we as Christians should be doing; studying God’s Word, praying to God, and worshipping God are basic things we should all be doing. My sermon series presents what should result as we do those three things. As we study our Bibles, pray to God, and worship God, we should become more unified with other Christians, persevere in the faith, become more humble, and shine as lights in the world. In other words, the traits I am preaching about in Philippians are what should result from our studying the Bible, praying, and worshipping. That said, these Christian characteristics (listed in my sermons) are other ways we should live the Christian life not just in 2010 but in every year we live; but we cannot exhibit these Christian characteristics unless we are first living the Christian life by reading the Bible, praying to God, and worshipping Him.

You can listen to the audio of from my first sermon on Christian characteristics here. As I mentioned earlier, I hope to have the last post on “Living the Christian Life” up by the end of this week, and you can expect the rest of my sermon series on Christian characteristics at least through the end of this month.

I hope you are all having a worship-filled Sunday. God bless!

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