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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?

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Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit? A Book Review

February 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Who's Afraid of the Holy Spirit?

Daniel B. Wallace and M. James Sawyer, eds. Who’s Afraid of  the Holy Spirit? Dallas: Biblical Studies Press, 2005. ix+319 pp.

Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit? is a series of essays about the Holy Spirit’s ministry today. Many authors build their cases from Scripture, although others come from either a historical or modern ministry perspective. These essays are important because they are written from a cessationist perspective, for cessationist believers. Cessationists believe that certain gifts of the Spirit ceased with the end of the apostolic period of writing the New Testament (ca. AD 95), and a relevant question for cessationists,  then, is “What is the Holy Spirit’s ministry today, since his sign gifts have ceased?” That is what the contributors to this book seek to answer. Below are the essays and their respective authors. My following review will focus on three of the essays.

  • “The Holy Spirit in the Hebrew Bible and Its Connections to the New Testament,” Richard E. Averbeck
  • “The Witness of the Spirit in Romans 8:16: Interpretations and Implications,” Daniel B. Wallace
  • “The Spirit and Community: A Historical Perspective,” Gerald Bray
  • “The Witness of the Spirit in the Protestant Tradition,” M. James Sawyer
  • “The Ministry of the Spirit in Discerning the Will of God,” J. I. Packer
  • “The Spirit’s Role in Corporate Worship,” Timothy J. Ralston
  • “God, People, and the Bible: The Relationship Between Illumination and Biblical Scholarship,” Richard E. Averbeck
  • “The Holy Spirit and the Arts,” Reg Grant
  • “The Spirit in the Black Church,” Willie O. Peterson
  • “The Holy Spirit and Our Emotions,”David Eckman
  • “The Holy Spirit and the Local Church,” Jeff Louie
  • “The Holy Spirit in Missions,” Donald K. Smith
  • “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Scriptures?” M. James Sawyer

The first two essays I will focus on in this review are the two that most positively affected me. This first is Dr. Wallace’s contribution, “The Witness of the Spirit in Romans 8:16.” My preferred translation is the ESV, and like many other translation, the ESV Romans 8:16 reads, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Wallace counters arguments for translating the verse as “with our spirit” as well as providing direct arguments for translating the verse as reading “to our spirit.” His arguments are very persuasive, and I believe they unlock Paul’s original intended meaning for this verse. This contribution is important to the work as a whole because it effectively argues that an important aspect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry today is assuring believers of their salvation.

The other essay that most affected me personally was Dr. Averbeck’s second essay, “God, People, and the Bible,” which I quoted in my last blog post. The thesis of his essay is that another aspect of the Holy Spirit’s current ministry is to illumine biblical truths to Christians so that their lives are transformed to be more loving both of God and of other people. He applied this general truth to biblical scholars, such as seminarians and pastors by arguing that they should not merely seek to unpack the grammatical, historical, and literary meaning of a given Bible passage, but biblical scholars should also seek to unpack the application of that passage to their audience. As Averbeck writes,

Love is of primary importance in our lives as Christians, even as biblical scholars. In fact, it seems to me that one of the most important goals we could set for our scholarship is to bring the word of God to bear upon the people of God in such a way that they go forth and love God and people better. … Not only “do we get it?” but are we keeping others focused on “getting it” by the way we do our scholarship and our teaching? (154)

While Wallace’s article on Romans 8:16 was probably the most exegetically exciting of the essays, Averbeck’s essay on the importance of “God, People, and the Bible,” to biblical scholarship, whether written or taught, was the most convicting and challenging to me personally. If Wallace’s essay most stirred my mind, Averbeck’s essay most stirred my heart.

Again, most of the essays in this book were like the ones I above reviewed in greater detail. Some, however, were more akin to the essay I review in this paragraph, Jeff Louie’s “The Holy Spirit and the Local Church.” Louie’s topic seemed somewhat repetitive of Ralston’s article (“The Spirit’s Role in Corporate Worship”), and where Wayne Grudem in his “Response” appended to the book was more critical of Ralston’s essay, I am more critical of Louie’s. Don’t get me wrong: Louie had some valid insights and a rather needed encouragement for prayer to be a greater part of a congregation’s corporate worship. He was spot-on that prayer should have an important place in corporate worship, but I believe he went too far in writing:

When Jesus chased the moneychangers out of the temple in Mat 21, he said, “My house will be called a house of prayer.” Though our churches cannot be equated with temple worship, the principle of prayer being at the center of corporate worship can be applied. If we are to have churches that have the spiritual vitality of Christ, prayer must be one of the focal points of our ministries, if not the main focus. (225)

Prayer is not “at the center of corporate worship”; from the human end, the preaching of God’s Word should be the center of public worship. Paul charges Timothy, one of the first post-apostolic church leaders, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). In his final letter, Paul charges Timothy similarly: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). Paul instructs Titus likewise: “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Finally, Hebrews 13:7 describes church leaders as “those who spoke to you the word of God,” and Paul in 1 Tim. 5:17 identifies church leaders as those who “labor in preaching and teaching.” There is no mention in these verses of prayer being “at the center of public worship.” No! These verses rather indicate that preaching is the central role of pastors leading in public worship and thus the center of public worship.

Don’t get me wrong; prayer is vital to public worship! Prayer is vital in preparing our hearts for public worship. Prayer is vital for admitting our need of the Holy Spirit to apply the sermon to our hearts. Prayer is vital going from corporate worship so that we would “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (Jas. 1:22). BUT prayer is not “the center of public worship.” Preaching is the center of public worship. And I feel like Louie also unnecessarily degrades the preaching of God’s word by saying,

I used to enjoy preaching the most. I still look forward to proclaiming the word of God, but now I deem it a greater honor to lead the people in prayer. I have come to the conclusion that I would much rather have the people talk to God than listen to me. Who am I compared to God? (229)

The humility of these words is encouraging. Humility is a virtue, and I applaud the evidence of it in Louie’s life! However, I believe he went too far. Preaching that is from God’s word and communicates the point of a biblical passage to a congregation is not a man merely spouting his opinions; it is God speaking his word through that man! Notice the importance that Paul puts not only on a preacher’s personal holiness but also on the content of his sermons: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). As Paul furthermore says in Romans 10:17, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

I heartily agree with Louie that we are nothing compared to God, but I disagree with him that prayer is more important than preaching. Further, I believe that it is wrong to say, “Either prayer is most important, or preaching is most important.” I believe it would be better to say, “Although preaching is the most important aspect of public worship, prayer is a vital aspect of public worship in preparing for worship, participating in worship, and living life in a stance of worship even when apart from other believers.” I don’t think we should pit prayer against preaching. Each has their own important place within public worship. We certainly don’t have to demean preaching in order to properly uphold and affirm the value of prayer in public worship. And don’t get me wrong; Louie made some excellent practical suggestions for how to better include prayer in public worship. I found his example of allowing time for silent prayer in response to the sermon very appealing and even preferable to some other options. I just think he went a little too far in somewhat demeaning preaching in order to uphold and affirm the importance of prayer.

That disagreement with Dr. Louie’s essay aside, this book was a wonderful read. For any of you who are interested in learning about the Holy Spirit’s ministry to believers today, this is a great book. If you struggle with the Holy Spirit’s relationship to the application of Scripture in our lives, this is a great book. But what these writers said best, they said from Scripture. Whether or not you read this book, John 14-17, Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 2, Galatians 5, Ephesians 1-2, and Revelation 2-3 are examples of Bible passages that you should read to get a better picture of how the Holy Spirit works in our lives today. Because ultimately, the Bible’s record of the Spirit’s work is what the Holy Spirit himself inspired (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21).

Thoughts About Boys State

June 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Good afternoon, everyone. Yes, I am still at Alabama Boys State, and yes, I look forward to coming home tomorrow morning. Before I resume my Great Commission Living blog series (hopefully tomorrow), I would like to share just a few of my thoughts about Boys State with ya’ll.

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My Favorite T4G Moment

May 17, 2010 2 comments

A full month ago, I guaranteed ya’ll that I would later provide reminisces about my time at Together for the Gospel (T4G). In a more recent post, I assured you that I had such a post in mind, and that it was forthcoming. The time for my T4G stories—or at least one of them—is now. Justin Taylor posted a black and white picture from T4G at the end of last month that reminded me of my single favorite moment at T4G: the unified prayer for Matt Chandler and many other ailed Christians.

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Developing a Worldview for Great Commission Living

May 8, 2010 1 comment
  • Determine to develop (and then develop) a well-rounded Christian worldview that allows you to clearly articulate both what you believe and why you believe.

I originally planned to begin unpacking the challenges listed in yesterday’s post with our need to repent. But I later realized that before we can repent, we need a proper view of repentance, for which we need a proper “worldview.” A worldview is “a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Specifically, we as Christians should have a Christian or Gospel worldview. The Christian/Gospel worldview is a conception of the world that is from the specific standpoint of the Bible and the gospel. The Christian worldview is both Bible-based and gospel-centered.

In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul proclaimed the universality of the Gospel worldview: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” In other words, everything we believe—and consequently act on—as Christians should glorify God. Our worldview should bestow honor, praise, and admiration to God. God has made very clear in the Bible what things honor, praise, and admire Him. Therefore, our worldview must base its views on everything from justice to civil rights to humanity to education to politics to ethics (etc.) on the Bible’s teachings. Does the Bible afford Christian liberty in some areas of life? Yes, but on most things—on many more things than we would probably suspect—the Bible is paints a very clear black-white this-is-wrong-this-is-right picture.

The Christian worldview is also gospel-centered. Earlier in 1 Corinthians (2:2), Paul reveals the centrality of the gospel in his Christian worldview: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” In 9:16 of 1 Corinthians, Paul reveals the utter importance of the gospel by saying, “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” So important is the gospel that Paul pronounces “woe,” a curse, on himself if he does not “preach the gospel!” Indeed, the gospel is at the very heart of the Christian worldview because the gospel gives us a proper understanding of God, ourselves, Jesus Christ, and the necessary response for salvation! Christianity by definition is the faith of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Christians, our Christian worldview must not only be Bible-based, but it must also be gospel-centered.

How, though, are we to develop a truly Christian worldview?

First, we must have an increasing knowledge of the Bible. To know the Bible, we should read it, study it, and hear it preached. To be gospel-centered, we need to meditate specifically on the gospel by meditating appropriately to each aspect of the gospel. When we pray to God:

  • We should praise Him for his holiness. (Matt 6:9)
  • We should continually repent and confess our known sins to God in brokenness over sin and humility. (1 John 1:9)
  • We should thank God for Jesus Christ’s sinless life and atoning death and continuing intercession. (2 Cor 5:21)
  • We should thank God for giving us the faith and repentance necessary for justification. We should also thank God for working in us so that we continue to progress in sanctification. (Rom 4:16 and Phil 2:12-13)

We also develop a Christian worldview by being members of Bible-confessing and Bible-preaching churches.

There are also many Internet resources that can help you develop and then defend your Christian worldview. Dr. Albert Mohler’s blog and podcast is a wonderful resource for developing and defending a Christian worldview. Dr. Russell Moore also has a helpful website that is helpful in developing and defending a Christian worldview. He has even begun to feature occasional “ethics question” posts on his website. John Piper’s network of websites also feature different media resources that will help your Christian worldview. Lastly, Focus on the Family has an excellent website for helping your Christian worldview particularly as it relates to family. These resources will all help you develop and equip you do to defend your Christian worldview.

We, however, don’t just have a Christian worldview so we can boast about accumulated knowledge. The Christian worldview is meant to be defended; we are to “clearly articulate both what we believe and why we believe.” This notion is biblical; Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:15 to “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

When we evangelize people and actually fulfill the Great Commission, the person(s) we evangelize may ask us “for a reason for the hope that is in” us. More than that, people—even those we aren’t evangelizing—may actually oppose our faith and attack it. In those cases, too, we must be “prepared to make a defense” to those who ask us for a reason for our hope.

In living a Great Commission (Christian) life—yes, to be Christian is to be a disciple, and disciples are disciple-makers—we must have a Christian worldview on which we base our lives. This Christian worldview is Bible-based and gospel-centered. Let us, then, develop a “well-rounded Christian worldview” that will enable us to “make a defense to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us].”

Let us, then, develop this Christian worldview and defend that Christian worldview as we fulfill the Great Commission!

Reflections on T4G 2010

April 15, 2010 Leave a comment

T4G 2010 was amazing. The preaching and speaking really moved me. I have learned much and will continue to learn from this conference. They gave away 20 books (I got 2 others from Southern Seminary) which more than covered the price of admission. The messages and talks were all wonderful and so timely, and the books are all wonderful, but none of this was my favorite part. My favorite part wasn’t even seeing a dear cousin of mine or spending a good bit of time with friends who are in the ministry and whose family is involved in ministry, though all of this and so much more was so wonderful. No, my favorite part of T4G was the worship, the singing and crying out to God (even in prayer). All of the songs were by nature worshipful. And all 7000 people in the conference sang their hearts out to God, myself included. Nearly every song brought tears to my eyes as we truly worshipped God “in spirit and in truth.” I have so much I can share with you, my blog readers, from this trip, and I will once I finish the Being Filled with the Holy Spirit series (which will hopefully wrap up this Sunday, Lord willing). But tonight I will focus and reflect on my favorite aspect of T4G: the worship in singing and praying.

We sang some familiar hymns that had additional verses, and some hymns we sang were less familiar. Some were centuries old, some not even a handful of years old. All of the songs were worshipful, and each time I and the other attendees sang a song, it was a true act of worship. You can’t put thunder and lightning (of a sermon) on paper. Now as I’m typing I realize that I can’t capture the presence of God’s Spirit in the public worship of God through song on paper (or screen, in this case), either. Suffice it to say that the singing was truly worshipful. Indeed, this conference was the most worshipful worship I’ve ever partaken in. Among the songs we sang were “It Is Well with My Soul” (which I will go into more detail about in a later post) and “All I Have Is Christ” (which will also be more detailed in a future post). All the songs were sung with an attitude of worship. To apply this to us, let us all, when we sing a song of praise, let us truly worship God in that moment. Let us think about what we’re singing and mean it.

The times of public prayer were also worshipful. The conference’s opening prayer time really set the worshipful atmosphere of the whole conference. John Piper’s prayer both before and after his message also provoked me into worshipful prayer. (Don’t worry, Piper’s prayer and talk will be dealt with in a future post, Lord willing). The prayer over Matt Chandler (which Dr. Piper also led) was also so powerful and Spirit-filled. God’s presence was palpable in Louisville these past three days. I pray that whether His presence is so greatly felt in the coming days or not, that I will start to act in light of the truth that His presence is always with me—and all Christians. Let that be your prayer, too; that in our daily lives, we live in acknowledgement that we are God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3).

T4G was so timely. I hope to do a series on the gospel (and evangelism) after Being Filled with the Holy Spirit wraps up in the near future. This isn’t the last I have to share with you about T4G, but for now, this will have to suffice. Fellow Christian, be encouraged to “set your minds on things that are above.” Be encouraged to worship God in spirit and in truth, not merely singing words but meaning them in your heart to the point that you are overwhelmed with the glory and goodness and grace of God in Christ Jesus! Pray in all sincerity!

… and let us who are truly Christians be forever together for the (unadjusted) gospel.

Don’t Be a Fool

April 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Mr. T is famous for saying, “I pity the fool.” And I agree with him. I pity the fool, too. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God,’” (Psalm 53:1), and as a rebel against God, he has “hope in this life only” and is “of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Today is April Fools’ Day, but don’t be a fool. Be wise. Be wise by fearing the Lord in awe and reverence (Proverbs 1:7), and be wise by heeding the call of God’s Wisdom, which Solomon personifies in Proverbs 8:32-36. Wisdom says:

“And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.”

Notice what Wisdom says. She says that whoever finds her finds life and the favor of God! We as Christians have favor with God, and we have life everlasting (John 3:16). But notices what wisdom says must therefore mark us as believers: “Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates.” We “listen to” Wisdom by reading God’s Word, studying God’s Word, and hearing it preached. We hear God’s word preached regularly (usually once or twice a week), but we are to watch “daily” at wisdom’s gates; we should spend prayerful time in the Bible each day. Listening to Wisdom also involves applying God’s Word to our daily lives. As James writes in his epistle: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (1:22).

We also learn about how not to be a fool in Proverbs 13:1. “A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to a rebuke.” Prayerfully read your Bibles daily; read your Bibles and then pray to apply the truths you learn by the empowering of the Holy Spirit (Philippians 4:13). Let us listen to our heavenly Father’s instruction, let us not be a scoffer, fool, who “does not listen to a rebuke.” The writer of Hebrews reveals: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (12:7-8). Fellow Christian, be wise; act like you are God’s child, for you are God’s child if you are truly saved.

But what if you’re a new Christian who doesn’t really know a lot about the Bible? Read it, and pray for wisdom. What if you’re like me, an “older” Christian who still knows that there is room for growth in wisdom? Keep reading the Bible, and pray for wisdom. James writes in his epistle: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (1:5-8).

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