Friday, February 3, 2012

Reforming The Church is living our lives by the doctrines of grace Part 2

John 17:4
I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.

These are the Words of Christ just before He goes to the cross. This is a prayer from God the Son to God the Father.

This is my favorite verse in my favorite Gospel in the NT. 
These are, in my opinion, the most important Words spoken by Christ during His earthly ministry in all of Scripture.

And there are two reasons I have for believing this. 
1) First of all, the fact that He speaks these words to His Father just before He goes to the cross is amazing to me. It is amazing because He has not yet done the final work He was sent by the Father to do, to die on the cross.
2) And that is the second thing that amazes me about this text. He uses the past tense verb of "having accomplished" the work. Yet on the cross we know that He says, "It is finished!" (John 19:30).

Jesus had not even gone to the cross yet, and still He says to the Father, "I glorified You on the earth (during His earthly ministry) having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do."

The question I find myself asking here is how can Jesus say that He has accomplished the work that the Father sent Him to do and yet He has not even physically died on the cross yet?

The answer I come to sends me into a glory-filled song of praise. 

We cannot simply read isolated verses and have an accurate view of their meaning. We must read all Scripture in the context in which God placed it. Therefore John 17:4 is in a chapter of the Bible where Jesus is praying to His Father about the very specific work that He sent Jesus to do. And when Jesus does that work, God the Father is glorified.

The question is, what is the work which God the Father sent God the Son to accomplish? The answer allows us to see how He can say here that He has both accomplished the work and yet still says on the cross, "It is finished."

I believe that work is expressed best in John 17:12
While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.

Christ came to keep and guard those men which God the Father gave to Him. Look at how well He kept and guarded them.

"Not one of them perished."

And He only adds the "son of perdition" (the son of hell, Judas Iscariot) here because it was ordained for Christ to choose Judas to betray Him.

In other words, Christ kept all of those who were meant to be kept. He guarded all of those who were meant to be guarded. Not one person who God the Father elected for salvation perished under the watchful care of Jesus Christ. Not one.

In John 17:12 Jesus was only speaking about the eleven disciples, but those are not the only ones Christ was sent to keep and to guard and to pray for.

John 17:20 is proof of that fact:
I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their Word;

Let me make something very clear here, "their word" is referring to the Word of God itself. The disciples were the first men commissioned by Christ to preach the true Gospel and many of them even wrote Scripture itself. Their Words were the Words that began the process of bringing salvation to men who would believe on Christ and be joined to the church.

Acts 2:41-43 is the first and most powerful example of that fact
So then, those who had received his word (the Word of God through the mouth of the Apostle Peter) were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.

Added to what? Added to the first local church there in Jerusalem.

Back to John 17. Christ not only prayed for those eleven disciples before He went to the cross, but He also prayed for all the rest of those who would be saved and follow Him. He was praying at that moment for all of the elect children of God around the world who would ever come to faith in Him.

They will have the same care over them as the disciples had - the care of Christ. The result of that care will be the same as the disciples: "Not one of them will perish."

Here is where we come to the greatest truth in all of Scripture and why I love the Word of Jesus in John 17:4 so much.

None of the elect will perish because He was sent by God the Father to die for them, to substitute His life for theirs beneath the wrath of God, and He would send the Word of God to them.

When they hear the Word of God their hearts will be regenerated, they will believe in Christ, repent of their sins, and spend their entire life serving Him in their local church.

This is the beauty of the Doctrines of Grace. They hinge on one glorious fact - substitutionary atonement. All who God the Father sent Christ to die for, will come to Him and all who come to Him, He will not cast out and they will never perish!

John 6:37-39
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me, I will certainly not cast out...this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.

This is the foundation of the Doctrines of Grace...A completely victorious Savior...why would we not glory in Him? He will have victory as the one who accomplished everything the Father sent Him to accomplish...He already has.

All that is left now is for Him to return and claim His prize!

In my next post I will summarize what the rest of the Doctrines of Grace teach and how the church is reformed by them.

Reforming The Church is living our lives by the doctrines of grace, Part 1

A very wise pastor of over 30 years once told me, "There is a big difference between preaching reformed theology and actually reforming the church."

To that I gave a hardy amen. I have seen that difference up close and personal. People can live with their pastor preaching right doctrine. Many times they even invite it. They may question some of it or simply not understand all of it. 

But as long as their pastor is patient and willing to show his people that these doctrines are biblical, most of the time they will at least be willing to listen, even if they disagree.
2 Timothy 4:2
Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.

Most of the time people are willing to at least listen if all you ever do as a pastor is preach right doctrine; however the problem becomes when you try and take that right doctrine and place it in people's every day lives and challenge them to live by the Word of God.

That is when I find that most of the objections begin.

Some of you, who have been through splits and revolts in your own church due to doctrine (such as Calvinism) are questioning my sanity right now, thinking of all kinds of instances where people rose up in arms over doctrine they did not agree with. I understand that and it does happen. But I believe the doctrine itself is a small part of the issue for most people.

Most people only get upset when they start to understand what the doctrines demand of them personally.

But if you are listening to doctrine that does not demand anything of you personally then you are listening to there wrong doctrine!

Matthew 10:37-39 
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.

That is what the Christ does and so that is what any doctrine that promotes Christ does. It pin points the areas in your life where you have placed your family or your comfort or anything in this life before Him and calls you to repent and follow Him!

I will give you a perfect example I have experienced in my own pastoral ministry:

There was a woman in my congregation who called me after listening to one of my sermons and she asked me, "Pastor, are you a Calvinist?" As a man who does not like to be labeled by a term that could or could not describe me based on the definition of Calvinism, I quickly responded by saying, "Well, that depends on what you mean by 'Calvinist.'"

And she rattled off mostly untrue statements about what Calvinism meant, mainly that men were mere puppets and that we did not believe in evangelism or holding people accountable in their walk with Christ. 

So I went over to her house the next day and spoke for several hours on what I did believe as a Calvinist or someone who holds to the Doctrines of Grace. 

While I was there I came to find out that what she was really upset about was not the doctrine itself but what the doctrine meant to her pride and to her family.

At one point she stopped me and said, "So what you are saying is that even though I have been a Christian for 30 years, that I have been wrong about how God saves people the whole time." 

And I responded by challenging her and saying, "Well, if you were, wouldn't you want to know? Doesn't the Bible tell us to examine everything we believe by the Word of God and not simply by what we have always been taught?"

She responded with the fact that she could not handle that. And then the conversation quickly spiraled out of control as her emotions took over. 

I found out that one of her sons was currently lost and living in the world and she was afraid that by believing that God had elect people that He sent His Son to die for that her lost son would not be included and she could not handle that either.

Which, by the way, is not a Calvinistic problem at all but a faith problem. I would argue that the God that Calvinism presents would actually give her a greater reason to hope in her Son's eventual salvation than any other doctrine or God could she could believe in. Why?

Because there is absolutely no sin or no amount of disbelief that her son could currently be living in that would keep an elect child of God from the regeneration that Christ purchased for him on the cross.

She must continue to simply pray for him and be a loving witness of the Gospel to him in the meantime. 

She was placing more faith in what he could do for his own salvation than what God has already done on the cross. And that is not faith. That is a stubborn pride filled desire to see her family members saved in her own way.

I have talked with countless people who come to the same conclusions about what they will or will not believe based on what it means for the salvation of their living or dead relatives.

One pastor I know started preaching correct doctrine and then applying that to leaving behind cults and false teaching. None of his people had any really problems with that until they started to see that following this would mean having to reject the Masonic lodge. And then war broke out in this pastor's church. Many of his deacons and prominent leaders were Masons and would rather forsake the church than their precious but heretical lodge.

People are fine with doctrine that sits on the page of Scripture but does not have to touch them in their homes where they live, and in their businesses where they work, and in their marriages and  parenting. Why? 

Because that is where doctrine calls for change. That is where doctrine invades the wrong in our lives and seeks to correct and change it and kill it and create the new and the right.

The whole point of knowing right doctrine is to allow it to conform us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

If we are not first willing to change, if we are not first willing to see the wrong ways we live in our homes or work in our businesses, then we are not willing to turn from these things and repent.

If the pastor keeps preaching that doctrine must change these things, then they not only question the change, but they question the doctrine. They tell the preacher to stop preaching so much on the these things that they have heard over and over again. 

Why? Because they are not offended by the doctrine but by the God with whom the doctrine brings them face to face. 

They do not love Him and they want to avoid Him.  But they find that in the kind of preaching that brings the doctrine so close to their lives that they cannot avoid Him.

This what it means to reform a church: to take the right doctrine and place it in their living room where they cannot avoid the one true and living God who is absolutely sovereign over all things, most importantly the salvation of His church.

Psalms 115:3
Our God is in the heavens and He does whatever He pleases

When a pastor decides that He must preach the God of the Bible, the people who sit under his ministry must face the God who is, instead of living in a world where they make Him up based on their fears or preferences.

They will either face Him in a humble admission that their lives are full of sin and pride, repent and allow Him to change their lives, or they will face Him in a prideful arrogance that says "I will only believe in Him if He is the God I always wanted."

2 Timothy 4:2-4
preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

A WORD TO PASTORS: Pastors I encourage you to never stop preaching the God who is, because your people need a real God who deals with real sin in their lives. They may not like it, but not only were you not called to please them, but when God does open their eyes for the first time to see Him, they will run to Him and your church will quickly move from those who simply tolerate doctrine to those who love the God of Scripture.

My next post will be part 2 of what it means to "live our lives by the Doctrines of Grace" and I will lay out briefly what these doctrines mean and how they not only teach us who He is, but also how we might live in response to who He is.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Reforming the church is embracing God's gift of pastors part 2

2 Timothy 4:1-2
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.

Did you ever notice how strong Paul's language is here to young pastor Timothy?

This is no request or suggestion. This is a charge. Not just any charge, Paul adds extra emphasis with "solemn charge."

In Greek, this carries the idea of a "severe warning." A warning that carries a great cost to himself and his ministry if he fails to carry out this charge. Because this charge is not simply from the apostle Paul, it is from Christ Himself.

The charge is to preach Christ to His church and nothing less than Christ.
Earlier in this same letter the apostle Paul reminds Timothy where this charge originates:
2 Timothy 1:14
Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you...This treasure is a two fold treasure: the treasure of the Word of God itself and the calling to preach it. This is the treasure that Christ Himself has entrusted to Timothy.

2 Timothy 1:6
For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands...
First Christ gave Timothy the gift to preach the Word of God, which is the same as calling him as an elder and pastor and then He gave Timothy as a gift to the church, so that they could benefit from Word of God and the ministry that Christ called Timothy into.

Why did Christ charge Timothy to preach the Word to the church and to "guard this treasure, which has been entrusted to him?"

Why is the apostle Paul warning Timothy that everything depends on the preaching of the Word of God in the church? Why such a serious charge?
2 Timothy 4:3-4
For  the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and turn aside to myths.

Paul is so urgent with Timothy and calls the preaching of the Word a "trust" that must be guarded because the church needs the preaching of the Word, but the world around (and in) our local churches is constantly attacking that Word and seeking to pull believers away from it.
That is why the church never stops needing instruction. Remember Paul urged Timothy to preach the Word continually, "in season and out of season."

I think that is one of the biggest problems in the local church today. God gives a preacher, who rightly understand the urgency of his calling, to a local church, and yet most of those who sit under his teaching do not see how desperately they need the Word.

This is a huge reason why so many people in the local church do not embrace their elders and pastors as gifts from the hand of Christ Himself.

I think that is why the author of Hebrews pleaded with congregation members to obey their leaders and listen to them. Because even if they don't see the urgency of their need, their leaders do. That is what their leaders (their pastors and elders) have been gifted and called to see).
Hebrews 13:17
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

But rebellion is in the heart of every sinner. And sinners fill up the church. And that is why when God was commenting on the state of his people in Isaiah He called them rebels from birth:
Isaiah 48:8
You have not heard, you have not known. Even from long ago your ear has not been open, because I knew that you would deal very treacherously; and you have been a rebel from birth.

And that is why when Christ set up the church He set it up with structure in mind and authority. 

Authority always brings out some rebellion in sinners. Everyone is fine until someone tells them something they don't want to hear. Or tells them to change something that they don't want to change.

If you have been sitting in a church for even a few months and you never hear something that your flesh does not like, then you are in a bad church. A pastor that only preaches the parts of the Word of God that make you feel good is not preaching the Word. He is purposeful using the Word to gain followers, not to show sinners their need for Christ.

I'm not saying that your pastor should be a jerk either. But he is an authority. He is a steward of the Word of God. And as a steward, He must speak for Christ, not for himself. And the first thing Christ does with every sinner is expose the places in his life where he is still in rebellion to His Word. And then He takes the Word and slowly begins to cut out your will and replace it with His.

Rebellion comes from pride and the first place we see pride rear its ugly head in the local church is when its members decide to come up with every excuse in the world not to obey their leaders and not submit to their teaching.

If this wasn't a problem, the Lord would not have inspired these words. Hebrews 13:17
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.

And in the NT you see this kind opt language over and over again about the role of a pastor, "keep watch," "Guard," "lead," "be alert."

Why? Because rebellion is always at the door way of every local church and in order for the Gospel to thrive there, rebellion must be killed and the desire to submit and follow the Word where it is preached must live!

In 2 Timothy 1:14, Paul urges Timothy to "guard, that which has been entrusted to him."

He tells him to guard the Word because it will be attacked, and then in Hebrews 13:17 the writer is pleading with the congregation to see that is exactly what their elders have been called to do on their behalf, "for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account."

Christ sent elders into the local church to "guard the Word" as a precious treasure and only as they guard the Word from being attacked can they then effectively "keep watch over the souls" that Christ has given into their care.

Pastors are not simply preachers of the Word, they are also guardians of it and watchers over the souls of their people.

Most people who sit in local churches today have no clue of the heavy responsibility this is to their pastor. Which, again is one reason why they do not embrace him as a gift.

If you are a member of a local church please read this carefully.

The church never stops needing the instruction of the Word of God from their pastor and elders. Never. You can never know too much about how the Gospel applies to your marriage or to your parenting or to your work life or to your relationship to your parents. 

You always need instruction and your pastor is called by God to give you that instruction. And to protect you from following any other instruction but the Word of God. That is his calling.

So unless you have strong Scriptural evidence that his instruction to you is unbiblical...DO NOT REJECT IT!

Your pastor is called by Christ to, "be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction."

Why? Because you never stop needing to be "reproved, rebuked, exhorted and instructed" by the Word of God.

Because the moment you stop allowing your pastor to preach the message of the Gospel into your heart and life, the moment you start shutting off your ears and closing down your heart because you get your feelings hurt, is the moment that you are the most vulnerable to attacks and the lies of Satan.

The moment you stop listening to the Word is the moment you start listening to self. And Satan will start pulling on your heart strings. The pride within you will raise its ugly head and convince you that you deserve to be treated better and you don't need your pastor's wisdom and instruction anyway. And then you will start looking around for  a message that is more appealing to your flesh.

2 Timothy 4:3-4
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and turn aside to myths.

On one occasion, the apostle Paul was encouraging the Ephesian elders to continue faithfully instructing the Ephesian church because if they failed to do this the people would fall into the temptation of Satan. True teachers of the Word must remain faithful because false teachers (vessels of Satan) are always there to whisper in their ears and pull them away.

Your pastor is working hard guarding the Word of God from being twisted and watching over your soul so that you don't hurt yourself and your family and your testimony. And even more important, your pastor is trying to keep the church healthy so that it does not hurt the name of Christ.

Acts 20:28-29

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among whom the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.

You need to wake up. Your pastor was not given to you to appeal to your flesh and to make you feel good about yourself. He was given to you by Christ to preach the Word of God into your life so that you might repent of sin and be "conformed into the image of the Son."

The word of God is not a gentle pillow that you can rub your ego on at night and rest softly in your sin. The Word of God, according to Hebrews 4:12,
is sharper than  a double-edged sword, and is meant to pierce through your flesh and dive into your judges the very thoughts and intentions of the heart.

The Word of God, faithfully preached by your elders is meant to expose your sin and show it to you. Don't reject that. Because the moment you do, Satan is ready to destroy you.

1 Peter 5:8
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Christ gave you a pastor and elders because we not only need to constantly be instructed by the Word of God, but we need called and gifted men to protect protect us from following error.

So leave your pride that says that can never happen to you. If it couldn't, the Word of God wouldn't warn you so much about it and it certainly wouldn't urge pastors to watch out for it.

Your job is to remain humble and teachable toward him in that instruction. Because God has given him to you for that very purpose. God gave pastors to His people for their good. 

Embrace your pastor and your elders as the gift of a guardian and a watchman for your soul. When he accepted the call to pastor your church, he laid down his life for that purpose.

2 Corinthians 4:5
For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Reforming the church is embracing God's gift of pastors

What should the church want from their pastor-elders? What should they look for in a pastor or elders? What should the church expect their role to be?

The most important question that the church should ask when addressing issues like this is, "Who decides the role of the pastor?"

Where did the role of the pastor originate? Where did it come from?
Did it come from pastors?
Did it come from congregations? No.

The role of the pastor did not originate from any man. The role of the pastor did not even originate in the church. It originated from Scripture. And therefore Scripture alone must dictate what the role of the pastor should be in the church. 

Believers should want what the Bible wants. They should want a pastor that lines up with the Biblical qualifications not with their own feelings, thoughts and opinions. Our opinions really do not matter when it comes to deciding who our pastors should be and what his role is in the church.

Only God's truth matters when it comes to things that originate with Him and everything does! He chooses equips godly men for pastoring and shepherding the flock and then His Spirit alone calls them into the ministry.

Acts 20:28
...the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God.

Therefore when it comes to deciding who our pastors should be and what role they should carry out in the church we must start with Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), "conforming everything in our lives to the Word of God."

NOTE: Let me preface all that I am about to say with this quick note. I am going to write a separate blog at a later time about those men who call themselves pastors but who are not faithfully preaching the Word or shepherding the sheep. Because there are those men out there and they are a threat to the church rather than a blessing to it. Paul spends a lot of time in his letters to Timothy warning him about these false teachers and urging him to remove them from the body. But today I am only addressing how the church should treat men who are truly called to the position of elder and are faithfully carrying out that role.

So this is going to be my first series of posts on the same topic: how the church is called by Scripture to view their pastors and elders. I'm not sure how many of these posts I will do, so bear with me. I just know that if I try to shove everything into only one you will sit here for far too long.

I have one major issue to deal with in this first post on the role of the pastor and I will leave the rest to the following posts. And that is that Christ gave pastors to the local church and therefore the embers of the church are called by God to recognize them as a gift to them from His hand.

In my previous post on our view of the local church, I mentioned that because worldliness has crept into the church it has given many of its members (professing believers) a low view of the church.

The first place where that becomes the most visible is how the congregation treats their pastor or elders.

That is why we must correct our mistreatment of pastors and change our wrong expectations of their role by pointing out very clearly this biblical truth: God gave pastors to the church. God gave pastors to the bride of Christ!

Ephesians 4:11-13
And He gave some as apostles and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stare which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

Because God gave pastors and elders to the church to lead the church, it makes perfect sense that if you have a low view of the local church then you will have a low view of your God-given leaders. And you will develop wrong expectations as to why they are there.

In order to keep us from developing unbiblical expectations of the pastor's role, let's begin by looking at two biblical words from the text we just read: "He gave"...

Ephesians 4:11-12
And He gave pastors and teachers

Let's just think about those two words for one moment. "He gave."
Where else do we see those two words in Scripture? The first place that probably came to your mind was

John 3:16
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son...

And who did God give His Son to? The world? Yes, in a sense, but if you read that verse in context He actually gave Him specifically to the church that is presently in the world. He gave Him to the elect, who live in the world among every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

Revelation 5:9-10
...for you were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

When God gave His Son to the world, He was specifically giving Him to the church in the world, to purchase them out of the world.

It was a sacrificial giving. It was a giving of Christ to take on the punishment of the cross. Christ went to the cross not for a general purpose but for a very specific purpose: to purchase the salvation of His elect children around the world. Every one of them will one day come out of the world and live with Him eternally in heaven because He purchased them.

So God gave His Son to the church and He gave the church to His Son.

John 17:6
I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your Word.

As we discussed in my last post, there is nothing more precious to Christ than His bride. It is a gift to Him from His Father. He laid down His life to purchase her out of her sin and gave her new life. First the Father gave Christ to save the church, and now that Christ has saved His bride, now He wants to nourish her with the Word of God.

So Christ gave a special gift to His bride, to serve her like He does, to lay down their lives for her and preach His Word to her. Christ gave His church pastors.
Those same two words that are used to tell us that God the Father gave Christ to His church are now being used to tell us that God the Son gave pastors to His church.

Ephesians 4:11-13
And He gave some as apostles and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,

Why did Christ give pastors to His church, to His bride? How do they best serve the church?

Ephesians 4:11-13
And He gave pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;

He gave pastors to His bride to equip them and build them up in their salvation.

The church is called the body of Christ because it has His name on it - it has His blood on it. It bears His death marks, His seal.

Therefore there is nothing more important to Christ than to uphold the reputation of His name and His Father's name by strengthening and building up the body of Christ.

How does He do that? By giving to them pastors and elders who will faithfully and patiently preach and teach that Word to them, thus equipping them with a greater understanding of the Word of God.

2 Timothy 4:1-2
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.

Do you realize your great need for the Word? Are you hungry to understand it better and to apply it to your life?

Then be thankful! Be thankful that God gave you a pastor that is willing to study hard to teach it to you and your family.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.

1 Timothy 5:17
The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.

Is the Scripture not clear on this point? Christ is a gift to the church to save the church and to give it life, where there was only death. Pastors are a gift to the church as well, to work hard to continually point the church back to Christ!

If you love Christ, then you should love your local church. And if you love your local church, then you should love your pastor who serve you in that church in order to point you to Christ, the life and breath of the church.

Based on everything I have discussed in this post, I have three major challenges for you. And I am giving you these challenges with the presupposition that you actually have a biblically qualified pastor or elders in your church. Because if you don't you should honestly evaluate why you are still in that church.

1) So first of all, if you have elders that are faithfully pastoring you with the Word of God, then you only have one option: You must view them and their ministry as a gift from the hand of Christ to you and your church. 

2) Secondly, if he is a gift from the goodness of Christ to you, then do you treat Him like a gift? Do you encourage him? Do you faithfully pray for him? Do you go up to him from time to time and just tell him how much you appreciate the fact that he spends hours in his study preparing to preach the Word of God to you and your family every week.

3) Finally, if he is a gift from Christ to your church, and if he is spending hours preparing to preach the Word of God to you and your family every week, are you listening? Are you listening to the Word as intently and as passionately as he is preaching it? If you are sitting there during His sermons twiddling your thumbs and day dreaming, you are not receiving Him as the gift Christ intended Him to be! You should be preparing your heart throughout the week to hear the Word of God and learn from him. And then you should seek not only to hear it, but to apply it your life and be changed by it. If He is preaching the Word of God to you, then every week is an opportunity to grow or change something in your life so that you can move closer to Christ and further out of the world.

That is not only what every true pastor wants from his people, but more importantly that is what Christ wants from His people. Pastors and elders are simply called to lay down their lives to make sure that you know exactly who Christ is and what He is saying.

The more you start viewing your pastor as a gift, the more you will start really listening to Christ and being changed by His Word.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The progressive path of this blog: The Word of God driving The Church of God

I have been writing and working on this blog now for half of January and I just want to make sure everyone who is reading it or following it understands where I have been because then you will have a better understanding of where I am going.

First of all let me mention again the previous three blog entries:
  1. REFORMING THE CHURCH is conforming our lives to the Word of God
  2. REFORMING THE CHURCH starts with having the ears to hear the Word of God
  3. REFORMING THE CHURCH means teaching believers to love the church the way that Christ loves the church
So these three posts have simply laid the foundation for everything else I will be discussing through the life of this blog:
  • What reforming the church is
  • Where reforming the church starts
  • And what reforming the church means
Okay, so you obviously see the trend here: God has given me a passion to see the church as a whole in America go through a reformation. When I looked up the definition of reform one of the basic meanings was "change."

But here are some synonyms that were listed with it:
  • re-organize
  • re-structure
  • transform
So why do I feel the need to see the local church change? Be re-organized? re-structured? transformed?

Because we live in the world. A very dark and very wicked world. And the local church exists in this world of sin and wickedness. 

That is why Christ said this prayer before He went back to be with His Father:
John 17:15
I do not ask that You take them (believers) out of the world, but keep them from the evil one.

That is the key, "keep them from the evil one."

Now Christ is praying for true believers here and because of that true believers will be kept from the evil one, but that does not mean that the evil one will not tempt them and kick them and seek to drag them into the pit with him. I think the first way he seeks to do that is by surrounding believers with the world, inside the local church.

And that is why the local church struggles so much in this world. Because it is not the final bride of Christ. Local churches are filled with both true believers and false believers.

As long as we live in the world, the prince of this world, the evil one, will place "tares in amongst the wheat," weeds will be mixed in with the true crop (Matthew 13:25-30).

So every few years the church gets so filled with the world you can no longer recognize the church, at least true believers can't.

The Word of God for the most part has stopped being preached and stories and jokes have taken its place. But because this happens so slowly and so craftily by Satan, in Matthew 13:25, it says that Satan does this, "While the master's men are asleep," even true believers don't always recognize this is happening until it is too late.

But then the Lord awakens them and it is obvious to them what has happened while everyone else is either still sleeping or doesn't care. That's why most churches are filled with empty pews or sleeping parishioners. Because the true believers have left in search for the Word of God and the rest simply stay because they have developed a dead religious ritual that is comfortable for them and their family.
  • What happened to the living vibrant, local church that desperately longs for the preaching of the Word of God?
  • What happened to preachers who long to give that preaching to their people?
  • What happened to verse by verse expositions through books of the Bible? 
  • What happened to preachers being able to freely address the common sins of our day and our culture without being run out of town for it?
  • What happened to parishioners who long to learn the Word of God from their pastor and are willing to believe and live out that truth?
That is why Paul Washer recently made the comment, "There are very few churches in America." What he means is that there are very few, true, biblically minded, Christ exalting churches in America. There are a lot of church buildings, a lot of brick and stone and metal with steeples sitting on top of them, but there are very few churches scattered across this land who are willing to hear and live out the Word of God!

Most church buildings today are filled with people who do not love the Word and the preachers are no longer giving it to them. They barely show up for services and when they do it is only to complain or vote the preacher out. That is exactly what this day and age is still seeing in most of its churches. 


Is there some change happening? Absolutely! But God is not nearly finished yet. So back to my point, this blog is a progressive chain of entries that start with the most basic foundations of a true and biblical church and will extend into many different areas of our lives that need to be reformed in the process. 

And what will guide us in this reformation? What will be the magnifying glass through which we look at the errors in the church of today and then turn around and give us truth on how to change those errors and reform the church? THE LIVING WORD OF GOD!

I will most likely use the phrase Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) in every blog entry, because of how important that truth is to me and to the church as a whole.

The Protestant Reformers of the 1500s and 1600s used five phrases to explain the only way that the church will ever be vibrant and effective again. It must hold to these 5 non-negotiable truths:
  1. Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
  2. Sola Gratia (by Grace Alone)
  3. Sola Fide (through Faith Alone)
  4. Solus Christus (in Christ Alone)
  5. Soli Deo Glori (All for the glory of God Alone)
  1. There is only one book that we need to know and follow God and that is the Bible
  2. There is only one reason that God would choose any vile, dead sinner for salvation and that is because of His grace 
  3. There is only one necessary gift that God gives dead sinners when He saves them and grants them life and that is the gift of faith to believe in Him and follow Him.
  4. There is only one person who was able to extend God's grace to dead, wretched sinners and give them faith and that is Christ alone and His blood on the cross
  5. And finally The Bible alone leads us to understand the grace of God, grace that gives us the faith to believe in the only source of life and forgiveness, the person of Christ. And when we trust in Christ alone through faith alone by His grace alone, and not because of any thing that we are or we have done, God receives all the glory and all the praise for it!
We would know none of this without the Word of God! So that is primary.  I hope if this is the first blog entry you are reading from me about the reformation of the church that you will please stop right here and go back to the very first entry. Go back and read it first, then read the second and then the third. All of them build onto one another and will help you understand the context of everything I am writing.

A word to pastors: I hope if you are a pastor this blog both challenges you to preach the truth where you are and encourages you to stand firm in that truth when you are being persecuted for it.

A word to parishioners (lay people in the church): I hope that if your pastor is not leading your church in a biblically healthy way, that this blog will give you the courage to either speak with the pastor personally about your convictions and pray for change, or it will confirm that you need to leave that church and find a better place for your family to be nourished by the Word of God.

In the end, my heart longs to be as passionate for the bride of Christ as He is!
John 2:17
"Zeal for the church has consumed me."

And by the way, if it is going to be real zeal, the kind of Zeal Jesus has for His church, then it must be a zeal to see the church be everything Jesus wants it to be and not everything we want it to be.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Reforming the church means teaching believers to love the church the way Christ loves the Church

How should believers view the local church?

And of course as I have been saying over and over again, the church should want what the Bible wants. So again we must start with Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), "conforming everything in our lives to the Word of God."

This is a crucial idea for our Christian walk...because ONLY as we conform our lives to His word, does He then conform us into the image of His Son.

2 Corinthians 10:5
We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God (His Word), and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (to being His Word).

God has no greater desire for His children than to make them all look like Christ. That is what we were predestined for. (Romans 8:29).

So if we have an opinion about how we as believers should view the local church we should examine our opinions with Scripture. Let's ask what the Bible says our view of the local church should be.

So in asking this question it is best if we look at what Scripture says in light of what the world around us says or does. And because we as believers still live in the world, sometimes the world comes in and hurts the church by skewing our love for the Word.

If that was not a problem in the church then John would not have warned Christians to not love the world...
1 John 2:15
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him

So in light of this, one place where the church has allowed the world to creep in is that they have begun to share the world's view of the church. The world has a low view of the church but many Christians have begun to feel the same way without even realizing it. And I am not forgetting the great possibility that many people who are members of local churches are not Christians at all.

So let me clarify for you how the Bible describes the church. It is nothing less than the ransomed bride of Christ. The Father chose a bride for His Son. He chose the bride. He chose her arms and her eyes and her legs and her feet and her hands. He chose everything about her. And He was very specific how He chose her because He was choosing her for His Son. And then He sent His Son to get her and to die for her and to cleanse her from all unrighteousness. And then to bring her back to Himself.

And then the Son looked at this filthy, sin filled, broken bride that His Father had chosen for Him and He gladly laid down His life for Her...why? So that she would be beautiful for His Father! He wanted to go and get her in her filth, completely and radically change her by His righteous blood and then turn back around and present her to His Father...

Ephesians 5:26-27
Christ laid down His life for the bride...So that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she would be holy and blameless.

To have a low view of the church is to have a low view of what God the Father and God the Son considered priceless. And you don't have to do much to have a low view of what God considers priceless. All you have to do is be uninterested or unpassionate, in her. All you have to do to develop a low view of the precious bride of Christ is to view her as optional for your life.

To view what Christ views as worthy of dying for as optional or uninteresting, or unworthy of giving your entire life for, is to have a low view of the church.

During my last blog post I mentioned that those who "have ears to hear the Word of God" are true believers and true believers learn to love everything their Savior loves and hate everything He hates. And there is nothing that Christ loves more than His church.

And if you love the universal church then you will also love the local church because it is a localized gathering of worshippers who not only love Christ but they love each other and they learn from one another. And they know that when they gather they grow from the Word and from the fellowship they receive in the body.

And these people who love the local church express their love by longing to be with the church as often as possible.

"Pastors don’t have to call them and look for them and knock on their doors wondering why they aren’t worshipping regularly with the body. These people are running to the church building every time the doors are open because they can’t wait to hear what they now have ears to hear with - the voice of their Savior through the Word of God!"

The Apostle Paul commanded us to do good to all people but then He went out of His way to specify that the first people we need to serve and do good to are our brothers and sisters in Christ in the local church.

Galatians 6:10
So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the  household of the faith. 

Then in Hebrews God takes this idea even further and says that we should not only do good to those within our local churches and serve them as we have opportunity, but that we should look for opportunities to be with them and serve them and speak truth into their lives. 

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

So according to these verse of Scripture not only should we look for opportunities to serve them but we work to encourage them to start serving others. We should long for them to pour out their lives to serve the body along with us. According tot he word of God if our hearts don't long for that, if our hearts don't view the church in that way, then we have a low view of the church.

I you are involved in your community or in charity work or in sports activities or whatever it is, and those things begin to take precedence over attending and serving your local church, then you have an unbiblical view of the church. And because Scripture is our standard and not how we feel then it is a low view of the church to treat it any other way.

Ephesians 4:15-16
(In your local church) speak the truth in love, while you are growing up in all aspects into Him, who is the Head, Christ, from whom the whole body being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

The Bible often compares the local church to a body with different working parts, well just like in the human body, if the leg is hurting or not functioning properly it does not just hurt the leg, it hurts the whole body. If one member is not serving he body with the enthusiasm and love that the other members are serving with then it hurts the whole body.

Do you have a low view of the local church? Are you going above and beyond to serve the members of your church with the Word of God and with your regular support and attendance? Are you supporting your pastor or elders with your prayers and encouragement?

How does Christ view the church? As His bride that He stepped down from His throne to serve and die for. Do you view the church like Christ?

Ephesians 5:25-27
Husbands love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of the water with the Word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would holy and blameless.

Jono Simms compared loving the local church to loving your local wife!

You say, ‘Well now preacher, I’m a member of the universal church.’ I don't have to attend the local church or be active in it. No, you're lazy. You don’t want accountability. You want to do your own thing, how you want to do it, where you want to do it, and you don’t want to be accountable. I tell you what you can do, sir. You go home today and tell your wife, ‘Baby, I’m just gonna start loving all the women. I’m just gonna love all the women and I’m gonna love her just like I love you, and her just like I love you. I’m gong to spend Thursday with Sally and I’m going to spend Friday with Jessie…and on Sunday I’ll come home, honey, and I’ll spend time with you.' You go see how that works. And likewise you go up to the Lord Jesus Christ and say ‘Lord, I sure do love you, but I have no interest in your local church. I’m not going to tithe, I’m not going to be faithful, I’m not going to sing, I’m not going to give, I’m not going to serve, I’m not going to involved in the benevolence ministry, but boy, Jesus, I sure do love you. You’re the only one for me.’ I’ll tell you what you are brother. You’re as one that beateth the air. That’s just hot air. That’s just pontification. All you’re doing is just blowing steam, because your actions speak louder than your words.”

My our aim be to love the local church with the same passion that Jesus Christ had when He laid down His life for her.