Posted tagged ‘Ecclesiology’

Structuring the Church for Maximum Edification

February 6, 2012

Along with the resurgence of Reformed theology and gospel centrality, I believe there is a resurgence of biblical ecclesiology taking place as well. I’m grateful for the influences of organizations like IX Marks, and even more churchmen and practitioners who are bringing reformation to local churches according to the Word of God.

One of the practical benefits of examining our ecclesiology is being more deliberate and intentional in what we do as a body of believers. What is the nature of the church? How should a preacher handle a text? What should covenantal membership entail? These are questions reflecting a pursuit of a healthy, robust ecclesiology.

Being intentional not only means that we consider the practices or marks of a healthy church, but we also need to examine structures and systems to best accomplish the purposes as well as honor the marks of a healthy church.  In this post, I want to consider the need for structure for maximum edification.  Let me explain.

When Paul addressed the church in Corinth, there apparently was confusion and selfishness when it came to the exercise of spiritual gifts.  Some were given special recognition while others were devalued. The improper exercise led to further division instead of unity. Some were used for self-promotion instead of building up the church.  So what Paul does is lay out five overarching principles for the church to understand and implement:


Our Churches Are the Proof of the Gospel

June 17, 2011

Mark Dever:

“Many Protestants have begun to think that because the church is not essential to the gospel, it is not important to the gospel.  This is an unbiblical, false, and dangerous conclusion.  Our churches are the proof of the gospel.  In the gatherings of the church, the Christian Scriptures are read.  In the ordinances of the church, the work of Christ is depicted.  In the life of the church, the character of God himself should be evident.  A church seriously compromised in character would seem to make the gospel itself irrelevant.

The doctrine of the church is important because it is tied to the good news itself.  The church is to be the appearance of the gospel.  It is what the gospel looks like when played out in the lives of people.  Take away the church and you take away the visible manifestation of the gospel in the world.  Christians in churches, then, are called to practice ‘display evangelism,’ and the world will witness the reign of God begun in a community of people made in his image and reborn by his Spirit.  Christians, not just as individuals but as God’s people bound together in churches, are the clearest picture that the world sees of the invisible God and what his will is for them.”

Mark E. Dever, ‘The Church” in A Theology for the Church, edited by Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2007), 836.

The gospel is absolutely essential to the church.
The church is incredibly important to the gospel.

Therefore, the recovery of the gospel is essential to the health of the church, and the importance of the local church is crucial to the advance of the gospel.  May God gives us a passion for churches to be driven by the gospel, and may God grant churches an unrelenting ambition to make it unmistakably visible in our world for the glory of Jesus’ name.

Jared Wilson on Under-Programming Church

April 28, 2010

10 excellent reasons to under-program your church from Jared Wilson. Check them out:

1. You can do a lot of things in a mediocre (or poor) way, or you can do a few things extremely well.
2. Over-programming creates an illusion of fruitfulness that may just be busy-ness.
3. Over-programming is a detriment to single-mindedness in a community.
4. Over-programming runs the risk of turning a church into a host of extracurricular activities, mirroring the “Type-A family” mode of suburban achievers.
5. Over-programming dilutes actual ministry effectiveness.
6. Over-programming leads to segmentation among ages, life stages, and affinities, which can create divisions in a church body.
7. Over-programming creates satisfaction in an illusion of success; meanwhile mission suffers.
8. Over-programming reduces margin in the lives of church members.
9. Over-programming gets a church further away from the New Testament vision of the local church.
10. Over-programming is usually the result of un-self-reflective reflex reactions to perceived needs and and an inability to kill sacred cows that are actually already dead.

Be sure to read his additional commentary on the points as well.  These points are so important to consider that I cannot recommend them highly enough. Seriously, one of the most basic ways of undergoing local church reformation is considering the ministry design and labor to “under-program” your church.

Where Extraordinary Grace and Celestial Joy Meet

June 28, 2009

Tonight, I participated in something that I have never been a part of in the 22 years that I have known Jesus Christ.  The reason for this is twofold: I have never been in a church before that took seriously the biblical practice of church discipline, and I have never been in a church where the pastor has faithful discharged his duties of gospel preaching and pastoral ministry for over two decades.  So what happened, you might ask?

In 1988, God saved a man named Steve who soon became a baptized member of Grace Baptist Church (where I serve).  A few years after his conversion, Steve fell into sin and came under the discipline of the church which he refused to accept.  As a result, the most severe decision a church body could ever make was practiced as Steve was excommunicated from the membership of Grace. For the next 14 years, Steve spent his life committing immoral acts, including drugs and alcohol.  At one point in his life, Steve said he spent an entire month in seclusion drinking alcohol with the jaded hopes that he could die in his own misery and insanity.

It was during this time that he found an old Bible as he was reminded of what Tom had told him when he first came to Christ, “Read the Gospel of John.”  After six months of prayer, Bible reading, and personal repentance, Steve emailed Tom because he struggled to believe that there would be a church who would accept him.  The first person he knew he could to turn to, the person whom he said he trusted the most, was the very person who 14 years ago committed the most severe act of discipline–his former pastor, Tom Ascol.


Planting Church

December 17, 2008

Church Growth, Church Planting, Church Leadership, Church ____________ (fill in the blank)

In all of these titles, there is a common word which fits them in the same arena: church.  Yet the church in all these titles is descriptive or attributive. Church is penultimate. Growth is ultimate. Planting is ultimate. Leadership is ultimate.

I don’t swim in the sea of literature pertaining to church growth or church leadership that much, but I have committed myself to learning as much as I can to be useful in the work of planting churches.  And while I know that people are not always conscious of what they are meaning when they use the words “church planting,” I have recently come under conviction that the church is often treated as an assumption to planting.  What concerns me in particular is how so often the planting (process) and the planter (leader) are the foci rather than the thing planted (the church).  To phrase it in a question, are the planters and the planting serving the church or vice-versa?

Regarding the planting, I often hear talk about methodologies, best practices, strategies and field-tested pragmatism.  These are not necessarily bad, but it seems that the church becomes a laboratory for mad scientists such that fail-proof planting can be almost guaranteed with or without God.  I know that sounds harsh, but how much literature, how many conferences, and how many conversations around church planting center more on “planting” than “church”?  Could the same be said regarding the planter? I recognize the huge importance of assessment, qualifications, experience, etc, but among the fraternity of church planters, there is culture created that could unintentionally focus on personality, charisma, and being cultured (or cool). The church planting experience can easily glorify the process and glamorize the personality so that it is who is leading and what they are doing that gets the attention, not what is being created.

Perhaps my concerns are unwarranted (and if they are, then will readily own them as such), but I cannot help but think that there is a real temptation for the church to take a back seat to planting.  After all, it is church planting. We have phrased the practice to emphasis us, our practice, and not the church.  Yet, in the mind of God, the church is ultimate, not us.  The planter and the planting are instrumental and dispensable; the planted is ontological and eternal.   It is for the church that Christ gave Himself (Eph. 5:25) and the primary theater where His glory is to be seen (Eph. 3:21).  According to the eternal purposes of God, the church unveils the manifold wisdom of God to rulers and authorities in heavenly places (Eph. 3:10-11).  And what we know about the church is that Jesus Christ is the supreme planter who, by His Word and through His Spirit, begets kingdom communities where His reign will have no end.

I love church planters.  I am loving the process of planting churches.  My concerns lay around the danger church planters face in relation to where we find themselves regarding Christ and His church.  We can be investing our lives into church planting which, apart from Christ’s supremacy, would be idolatry.  We should continually remind one another that we exist to serve Christ’s eternal purposes through His church that He is committed to building.  We labor as servants with the good seed of the gospel because He will bring the increase.  In essence, we are joining Jesus in planting church, not church planting.  With that in mind, we will continually remind ourselves that it is not about personalities, programming but a people Christ is forming together who God will use to make Himself known to those on earth as well as those in heaven.

Consider this short clip from Piper on the nature of church planting:

Kostenberger on the Church’s Mission in the 21st Century

October 8, 2008

Andreas Kostenberger, on his blog (which is also available in Spanish!), recently shared twelve theses for the church’s mission in the 21st century.  Often when we hear of the church’s mission, it is couched in a pragmatic discussion, focusing on methodology to the neglect of theological reflection.  Kostenberger’s excellent theses, I believe, should serve as contours in future missiological study and practice. Here are his theses:

(1)   The church’s mission-in both belief and practice-should be grounded in the biblical theology of mission.

(2)   Reflection on the church’s mission should be predicated upon the affirmation of the full and sole authority of Scripture.

(3)   The church’s mission should be conceived primarily in terms of the church’s faithfulness and responsiveness to the missionary mandate given by the Lord Jesus Christ as recorded in Scripture.

(4)   The church’s understanding of its mission should be hermeneutically sound.

(5)   The church’s mission is to be conceived ultimately in theocentric rather than anthropocentric terms.

(6)   The church’s mission, properly and biblically conceived, is to be trinitarian in its orientation, but not at the expense of neglecting the distinct roles of the three persons within the Godhead.

(7)   The contemporary context of the church’s mission, while important, ought not to override the church’s commitment to the authority of Scripture, its need to be grounded in the biblical theology of mission, and the understanding of its task in terms of faithfulness to the gospel.

(8)   The church is the God-ordained agent of his mission in this world today.

(9)   The way in which the kingdom of God is extended in this world today is through regenerate believers acting out their Christian faith in their God-assigned spheres of life: the church, their families, their workplace, the societies in which they live (Eph 5:18-6:9; 1 Pet 2:13-3:7).

(10)  There is no true lasting social transformation apart from personal conversion through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

(11)  Human organization does not necessarily entail a lack of acknowledgment of God and his initiative in mission.

(12)  The church’s task today is to nurture, renew, and plant churches composed of a spiritually regenerate membership and constituted in keeping with the biblical teaching regarding church leadership.

I would love to see a discussion started on these twelve theses.  Kostenberger has recently written some excellent works, including Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission and Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: The Trinity in John’s Gospel (which I am currently reading).  I encourage you to check out Kostenberger’s works.  My hope is that we could see a more robust commitment to ecclesiology wedded to an unrelenting resolve in missiology that is grounded in a theocentric vision where God’s glory is the goal.

Take a moment and read the entire article.  It will be well worth your time.

Meaningful Church Membership for the Members

May 8, 2008

I know that the issue of regenerate church membership has primarily been a discussion among ministers, seminarians, and the rest of academia, but I want to speak to the layperson for a moment. You. Yes, you out there who is not a minister but cares about the church and has a great desire to see churches become healthy and experiencing biblical church growth. While there are some excellent resources that are more academic and make great cases for meaningful or regenerate church membership, I want to highlight six books for your consideration as a layperson with the hope that maybe one (or more) of them worth reading yourself.

They are:

1. Life in the Body of Christ: Privileges and Responsibilities in the Local Church by Curtis C. Thomas.

2. Life in the Father’s House: A Member’s Guide to the Local Church by Wayne A. Mack and Dave Swavely.

3. Stop Dating the Church: Fall in Love with the Family of God by Joshua Harris.

4. What Is a Healthy Church? by Mark Dever.

5. Spiritual Disciplines within the Church: Participating Fully in the Body of Christ by Donald Whitney.

6. Membership Matters: Insights from Effective Churches on New Member Classes and Assimilation by Chuck Lawless.

All of these books are affordable (roughly around $10 per book), and all of them would be worth your time to read, especially if you are interested in more than a discussion on meaningful church membership but want to be the kind of member who knows, understands, and practices it in your own local congregation.

Each of these books have their strengths and weakness as well as unique style and format, but they all address the single issue of what it means to be committed to your church as a faithful, devoted follower of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, because membership is considered entry level in the process of discipleship, it is often overlooked or glossed over; yet, I am convinced that if we gain a better understanding of church membership and apply the covenant nature of our corporate identity as believers united to Christ and committed to one another, then the goal of developing healthy churches will have firm footing.

If there are other books, articles, or websites that you have found helpful that you would like to pass along to others, feel free to include them in the comments section. Let us work together that we might give ourselves to the health and well-being of our churches and the members who comprise them.

Blue Collar Theology 27: IX Marks e-Journal

May 5, 2008

One of the most valuable online resources dealing with contemporary issues in a topic manner is the IX Marks e-Journal. Every two months, IX Marks Ministries comes out with a great series of articles addressing a particular issue and includes very helpful book reviews on current popular works as well. In their latest issue (May/June 2008), the journal contains a series of Sunday school lessons on what it means to live together as a church. Jonathan Leeman writes,

There’s plenty of material out there on living the Christian life. But there’s not so much, from what we can tell, on living together as a church.

To help with that deficit, 9Marks is using this issue to present pastors and churches with what we believe is a useful tool, a short class on living together as a local church. If you’ve never provided your congregation with an opportunity to meditate together on what it means to live together as a church, we hope you’ll take a look at this material. Teach it yourself; let a young man you’re discipling teach it; or let it prompt you to write your own class.

Below are the lessons:

Also included in the journal are some good articles and reviews, including:

You can go check out the entire e-journal online or download it in a PDF format. Those of you embracing the vision of Blue Collar Theology in your church would be well served by subscribing and benefiting from the great resources provided by IX Marks Ministries.

Emergent and the Regulative Principle

December 17, 2007

PBS recently did a two-part series looking at Emergent–the more liberal wing of the emerging church movement.  As Driscoll came to see some merit to my question on the Regulative Principle, he mentioned some of what you will see below.  Take a look, and tell me what you think.

Together for the Church

October 3, 2007

Let me frame this post by beginning with a few quotes in recent years.

Danny Akin (April 2006):

“Act with personal integrity in your ministry when it comes to this issue. Put your theological cards on the table in plain view for all to see, and do not go into a church under a cloak of deception or dishonesty. If you do, you will more than likely split a church, wound the Body of Christ, damage the ministry God has given you, and leave a bad taste in the mouth of everyone.”

Frank Page (May 26, 2006):

“We must have honesty about this issue. There are churches splitting across the convention because pastors are coming in quietly trying to teach Calvinism or Reformed theology without telling the pastor search committees where they stand. The vast majority of Southern Baptist churches are not Calvinistic in their theology and it’s causing some serious controversy.”

Bill Harrell (October 26, 2006):

“I think the problem of Calvinism in the SBC could be solved if we establish one ground rule. If a man wants to start a Calvinistic church, let him have at it. If a man wants to answer a call to a Calvinistic church he should have the freedom to do that, but that man should not answer a call to a church that is not Calvinistic, neglect to tell them his leanings, and then surreptitiously lead them to become a Calvinistic church. That is not to suggest that all of our Calvinistic friends do that, but when it is done it is divisive and hurtful.”

Morris Chapman (First – June 13, 2006; Second – March 15, 2007)

“If you wish, debate Calvinism. We should not fear theological debate as long as the participants understand they are brothers debating one another in a friendly environment. While Calvinism is a fair debate in the halls of academia, we do not need to bring the debate into our churches at the cost of dividing our congregations.”

“One danger is that pastors are tempted to accept church pastorates in churches that are not Calvinistic, and then strive to drive them into the Calvinistic camp, thereby destroying an otherwise strong and healthy church.”

I think that’s enough quotes for now. Do you see a common thread here? Denominational executives have come out of the woodwork with warnings in the form of talking points telling young Calvinistic Baptists to stay out of non-Calvinistic churches. Young Calvinists like myself are told that we must “put all our theological cards on the table” with full disclosure of our soteriological and ecclesiological beliefs. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for that, but the problem comes when you talk to a pastor search committee who understands Calvinism through a book given them through their Baptist State Board of Missions by Fisher Humphreys who butchers the Bible and contorts the most fundamental understandings of Calvinistic doctrine. More and more non-Calvinistic churches are being given literature, sermons, and materials that is inaccurate, biased, and entirely unhelpful (if not Humphreys’ book, then Dave Hunt or Norm Geisler). The result is that it is impossible to talk about Calvinism to folks who have an altogether different definition from a different dictionary than Calvinists. To make matters more difficult, we are told, as aforementioned in Chapman’s quote that the issue of Calvinism is for academia, not the church.