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.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Reforming the church starts with having the ears to hear

I have had the opportunity to speak with many Christians over the past 15 years that I have been a believer. And one of the most common topics of conversation has been the topic of free will. Most Christians, at least in America and especially the south, seem to think that they do have free will. When it comes to this topic they tell me something like this. They say that first people must hear the Word of God and then they can decide by their own free will whether they want to follow Him or not.

I have to admit that sounds really good at first. I could believe that if it weren't for the Word of God. Because when you really study the Bible you will find that the idea of free will is nowhere to be found.

Sure you may find a verse here or a verse there. Like Old MacDonald, "here a verse, there a verse, every where a verse, verse." Anyone can take a verse here or there and rip it out of its context and make it say whatever you want it to. But the truth is, those verses always end up explaining more about what God wills and what God has done than what we have done. And what we have done is only because He willed it to be done, not because we were free outside of His will.

James 4:13-15
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that."

Now back to the people who say that once we hear the Word of God preached then it is up to our free will to believe and follow Christ or not.

The problem with their reasoning is they are only partly right. People do need to hear the Word of God preached and people do need to choose Christ in order to know Him. In other words, they must display faith in Him at some point. I have no argument with them over that. All of that is biblical and true. You must hear and you must believe in order to be saved.

Romans 10:14 (NASB)
"How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him who they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?"

The question is this, is their hearing and is their believing by their own free will? No. That is simply not in the Bible. 
John 1:12-13
But as many as received Him, to them He had given the power (the ability) to become children of God, to those who believe in His name, (because) they were not born of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but they were born again by the will of God.

At the fall in the garden, mankind did not simply fall out of a tree and break their legs, they fell totally and completely and died. God said, that is Adam and Eve ate from the tree they would surely, "die." That is die spiritually. They would;d lose all ability to choose any spiritual good at all. And they did. Now all people are dead in sin.

Ephesians 2:1
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…

If we are going to be “conformed into the image of Christ” we need to start with understanding Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) and molding all of our thoughts to it and not how we feel.

A few verses down from Romans 10:14 is Romans 10:17, which says
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.

You see what this verse does? It is the summary verse of how our salvation works. You need faith and you need to hear and your need the Word of Christ. All of those elements together create salvation in the heart of a sinner.

Faith must come from hearing. So we know where faith comes from, but where does “hearing” come from?

Here is the key to the whole understanding of salvation. The Bible never talks about hearing the Word of God in the physical sense when it comes to salvation.  Anyone can show up at any given church on any given Sunday and be physically present with physical ears and listen to the Bible read and preached, but no one on their own can “hear” that what is actually being preached and read is the Word of God and respond to that word.

No one can “hear” Word of God as the Gospel call on their own and respond. Why? Because they don’t have the ears yet. They are dead. And dead people can’t hear and can’t respond and can’t produce the faith and repentance it takes to be saved!

Isaiah 43:8
They are blind, even though they have eyes, and they are deaf, even though they have ears.

In order to go from simply using physical ears to hear a physical Bible read, to using spiritual ears to hear the living Word of God, a person must be raised from the dead and given new eyes and new ears.

And do you know whose command accomplishes that? Do you know what sovereign general simply speaks and raises the dead? Simply gives the Word and blind men see and deaf men hear? Jesus Christ!

Romans 10:17
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.

Hearing comes from the Word of Christ. And when Christ gives the Word to a dead sinner’s heart they come alive and hear the Gospel and respond!

He gives them ears hear what they could never hear on their own! "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Matt.11:15).

Jesus also said, "Many are called but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14). Every time a preacher rises to the pulpit and pours out his heart to preach an accurate Gospel message he is in his own ability calling men to respond to that message. He is calling the people who are physically present to receive that Gospel and be changed by it, but unless those people are given ears to hear the Word of God, unless they are chosen by the Word of Christ, they will never come, they will never respond and they will never be changed.

But if they are changed, if they do respond, and again I don't mean physically coming to the altar, or physically talking to the preacher or praying a prayer or signing a card, I mean if they spiritually respond. If their hearts are actually changed by the Gospel message, then they will begin to believe in and follow Christ! They will begin to realize their sin and run after the one who can free them from it.

John Piper recently asked the question: "Christian, have you thanked God (like Paul) that you heard the words of man as the very words of God?"

1 Thessalonians 2:13
For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the Word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the Word of God, which also PERFORMS ITS WORK IN YOU, who believe.

In other words, when men accurately preach the Word of God, just because you are physically there and physically hear them, that does not necessarily mean that you can spiritually believe in it as the Word of God. You cannot create your own spiritual ears or your own spiritual heart to hear and believe! It must be created in you.

And these people…the people with ears to hear and eyes to see and new hearts follow with, they love the church. 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!

John 10:27
My sheep HEAR My voice and I know them, and they follow Me.

This is the heartbeat of the Gospel. So many people today think far too little of God and far too much of themselves. This understanding of the sovereignty of God in salvation reverses that. It thinks much of God and little of man (which is the view of Scripture), so that God is now in His rightful place...the highest and most exalted place possible, where He alone saves sinners according to His will and for His glory!
Isaiah 48:9-11
"For My own sake I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another."

This is the heartbeat of reforming the church. It does not matter how well the preacher preaches, if the church is not made up of sheep that long to hear their Savior so they can follow Him in every area of their lives. 

A word to pastors: So what part do we play? We make absolutely sure that the Gospel we are preaching is the Word of Christ and nothing less and then we feed it to our people over and over again. And as we do that we pray like crazy that our loving God will graciously grant our people the ears to hear. In other words we spend hours on our faces before the throne of grace on behalf of our people. Because before they are our people they are His people. And we must be completely dependent upon God to save Hs people and reform His church. He is our only hope and He wants it that way!