Tri-Lakes Baptist Church has invited our church, among others, to attend a marriage conference this coming February 15 and 16. The idea is to give some extra attention to strengthening our marriages. Tri-Lakes wants to be a blessing to our married couples by hosting the conference. The main speaker will be Dr. Greg Mazak of Trinity Bible Church in Greer, SC. Dr. Mazak is a noted speaker and teacher around the country, especially in the area of the family and counseling.
For more information, please visit www.trilakesbaptist.org, or call the church at 810-229-9402. Special hotel pricing will be available if you are coming from a distance and need accommodations.
I'm doing a series on the Great Commission and church planting in our Adult Bible Fellowship class. During the first session, I asked some diagnostic questions of our members and attenders.
Here's one: How many of you have been in a church that has carefully planned and executed a church plant in a neighboring community? I clarified that what I meant was not whether you were personally involved in a plant, but were in a church that did a plant, no matter what your role was.
The answer was a show of a few hands.
The follow-up question: How many of you have been involved in a church that has split into two or more churches?
The answer was a show of many hands—far outnumbering those who have been in a church that did a plant.
I know my study was totally unscientific, but it does represent the reality of the saints in our church. I suspect it represents the situation of many believers in many churches across our land.
Now a question for you: why are things like this?
Thomas E. Bergler writes a helpful article entitled "When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity" in Christianity Today. Here's a sampling:
What happened? Beginning in the 1930s and '40s, Christian teenagers and youth leaders staged a quiet revolution in American church life that led to what can properly be called the juvenilization of American Christianity. Juvenilization is the process by which the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for adults.
In preparation for my sermon on 1 Timothy 1:18-20, I ran across this good paragraph by Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, p. 69.
The concluding clause 'that they may learn not to blaspheme' shows clearly that the purpose [of the disciplinary process] was remedial and not punitive. However stringent the process the motive was mercy, and whenever ecclesiastical discpline has departed from this purpose of restoration, its harshness has proved a barrier to progress. But this is no reason for dispensing with discipline entirely, a failing which frequently characterizes our modern churches.
I noted this paragraph from F. F. Bruce when I was studying Hebrews 13:17:
There would always be a tendency throughout the churches for visitors who came purveying new and esoteric doctrines to be regarded as much more attractive and interesting personalities than the rather humdrum local leaders, who never taught anything new, but were content with the conservative line of aposolitic tradition. Nevertheless it was those local leaders, and not the purveyors of strange teaching, who had a real concern for the welfare of the church and a sense of their accountability to God in this respect. If the discharge of their responsibility and the ultimate rendering of their account were made a burden to them, the resultant disadvantage would fall on those who were led as well as on the leaders.
F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Revised in NICNT. Eerdmans, 1990, pp. 385-6.
Sometimes when I run into a topic for the third time or so, I have to write a post to "get it out of my system." Here's one such post.
Should a church member give on a credit card? The Wall Street Journal Sunday edition (May 6, 2012) has a story entitled "Trust in the Lord...But Check Out the Church" by Veronica Dagher. A portion of it was: "While the couple was very committed to their church, they were also putting themselves in financial jeopardy by racking up debt by tithing on a credit card they weren't able to pay in full every month..."
I would advise this couple to immediately stop giving on their credit card. In fact, I would discourage anyone from giving to their church on a credit card. I might be persuaded about giving on a debit card because that draws from money the couple already has, but the transaction fees are an unnecessary waste of donated funds for the minor increase in convenience. A better method is to give using personal check, cash, or an automated bill-pay through your bank.
Some object to credit-card giving because it feels impersonal or the church gets charged a transaction fee (see Is it OK to Tithe With a Credit Card?). I object because giving on borrowed funds is not Biblical.
The principle that underlies my advice is this: "For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have" (2 Corinthians 8:12 NKJ).
In other words, giving should come from money that you already have. God happily accepts giving of that sort. Verse 11 reiterates the encouragement to give according to the means that you have. Giving should not come from prospective money that you have not yet earned, because you have no way of knowing if you will actually earn it. James 4:15 reminds us that the future is in the hands of God and we have to conduct ourselves accordingly.
This is the main reason that I do not support the "faith-promise" method of missionary support. I suppose the "if" clause that is inherent in the faith-promise is the escape hatch, but we simply do not know what we will earn. Instead, we encourage people to work, earn a living, and from what they take in each pay period, carefully think through what they should give. Planning ahead is fine, as is planning a certain percentage of your income to give.
One more thing, while I'm on the subject of giving. The tithe may be an appropriate level of giving. However, the tithe is not mandated for the New Testament Christian. For those that are destitute, 10% may be too much to give if they cannot meet their basic needs. That doesn't let anyone off the hook, because just about everyone can give something (maybe money, maybe time, or something else). But for those who are wealthy, giving a tithe would be sinfully stingy.
Whether a lot or a little, just don't give on a credit card!
Back on April 6 I wrote about our mass mailing to homes in our neighborhood. Here's a bit of an update.
As far as positive response, we had several visitors come out to the Easter worship service. One came back over the next couple of weeks for the teaching series on the resurrection that began on Easter. We also had someone from a neighboring community who saw our website and who was interested in the content of the series.
We have had almost as much negative response as we've had positive response. Our negative respondents consist mainly of atheists who do not want to receive our mailing, or who want to tell us how foolish we are to believe in the resurrection. We have corresponded with them to challenge their presuppositions, but that usually doesn't go very far.
Overall we have had better success with this mailing than with our previous two iterations.
Does anyone have a list of best practices for church mailings?
We normally have a Good Friday service at Fellowship Bible Church. Traditionally, we had it at noon. But work schedules are not as friendly to Good Friday as perhaps they used to be, so we shifted last year to a 7pm service. It seems to work well.
What I noticed this year (not that it was new, just new to me) is that there are lots of people who regard Good Friday (or Easter, or Christmas) as far more important than "normal days." I try to give latitude to those who esteem one day more highly than another (Romans 14:5-6). Personally, I bias toward the opposite end of the spectrum, like the one who considers every day alike.
But what we cannot do is to elevate Good Friday to a place higher than the ordinance of the Lord's Table. I made that point in the opening remarks of the Good Friday service, and I know it took at least one person off guard. The Good Friday service has become for some people a way, if not the most important way of remembering our Lord's death. Do you think things like "I really have to be at church on Good Friday." Do you think the same way about the first Sunday night of every month when your church gathers for the Lord's Table? Which is more important--the ordinance or the special day?
I simply reminded our church that there are only two ordinances--water baptism by immersion and the Lord's Table. The second one of those is the Lord's appointed way for us to remember His death until He comes. Holidays do not rise to the level of an ordinance!
We tried again--our third iteration. This time, we wanted to try a 8.5 x 11 size on glossy card stock, color printed on both sides. We had an idea for a design that a man in our church turned into a beautiful layout in a high resolution PDF file:
Our intended target was the Ann Arbor community. Instead of targeting families with children (our first mailing), or new movers (our second mailing), we elected to send to every residential address on certain routes. Our budget allowed us to mail almost 17,000 pieces to homes in two zip codes that are near the church building. We will have to do three more mailings to reach all of Ann Arbor. We hope to do that eventually.
The design is a basic invitation to our Resurrection Sunday services, but adds a twist--an invitation to a short series on the topic of the resurrection that we hope will be attractive for some people to come and hear our take on it from the Bible, to hear about objections to the resurrection and answers to those objections, and to be able to participate by asking questions.
The back of the card also includes a brief statement of "where we are coming from" in our approach to the question, which effectively presents the core gospel truths in a succinct format. By this means, we intend to put a basic gospel message (a 'tract' if you will) into every home. At least they will have that even if they do not elect to come to the church meetings.
We had a few extra prints that the mail service company sent to us. These we posted around town and handed out as individual invitations.
What was surprising to us was that even with the larger size (8.5x11 versus 9x6 inch), the printing and postage was cheaper than the last time by about 4 cents per piece. The total price for everything (other than our volunteered in-house graphics work) was 18.4 cents per piece. We did not have to purchase a mailing list for this mail because we used the Post Office's Every Door Direct Mail program which delivers mail to every residence on selected postal routes. We also did not have to pay the separate non-profit application and permit fee because we had previously been authorized as a non-profit mailer with the post office. The mailing service company is allowed to use their own permit with our non-profit status to get the non-profit rate of about 7 cents per piece (as opposed to around 14 cents otherwise). Postal people sometimes call this a "ghost" permit. I don't believe in ghosts, but I like what they did for us this time :-).
Now, how about results? Well, the invitation was for Easter services, so I cannot tell you yet. What I can tell you is that we have gotten several positive responses already, and we expect to be seeing at least a few new people on Sunday. We are thankful for that. I hope to report back later on what ends up happening.
Tri-Lakes Baptist Church is hosting a Church Ministry Seminar on Saturday February 25 from 9am to 3pm. They have graciously invited our church, and a number of others as well. It is geared toward local church workers, such as Sunday school teachers, not just pastors. Please find more information on it by clicking the flyer below.
Direct mailings are not a panacea marketing solution for churches. They lack a personal connection with the recipient, but they can serve well to introduce a church to a large part of the population in a city. That is what we wanted to do late last year.
We did one mailing a couple of summers back that did not turn out very well, as far as cost and response. So we did a bit more research and made a better attempt the second time. This is far from a "best practices" document, but here are some things we found.
Step 1. Decide on what size piece you will use in your mailing. We decided on a 9x6 inch card, with color printing on both sides. There is such a dizzying array of possibilities as far as size of the piece and postage costs that it is helpful to just pick a size and run with it. This reduces the universe of possibilities to a manageable size.
Step 2. You need to get a sample card layout that will help you know how much space you actually have. You can contact me for a PDF file sample, or obtain one from your mailing service provider.
Step 3. It is important to think about your target audience in your crafting of the mailing to them. We decided that we wanted to let new movers know about the church. This told our mailing list provider how to extract data from their databases, and it guided us as to what to write on the mailing. If we were mailing to new college students, the mailing would look different. Of it it was a saturation mailing, to every address on many routes in the city, that would look different as well.
Step 4. Once the size and layout is settled, along with the target audience, you can begin to figure out what will go on the card. We designed the text and features of the mailing with all of the above things in mind.
Step 5. We decided to have the design of the card done "in house" because we have some talented people in that area. You might not. Likely your mailing service provider can provide help, or recommend someone who can. After several iterations using Photoshop, and going back and forth on the exact dimensions of where the address and stamp and so forth would go, we had a complete design.
Step 6. Decide how many you can print/mail. Our mailing service provider could tell us the cost to print X number of cards, and how much the mailing and postage fees would be. We went back and forth with them before settling on printing and mailing 10,000 cards. This number fit our budget. The total per piece price (print, mailing list, and postage) was 22.4 cents per card.
We thought that was a very reasonable cost given the number of homes we would be able to reach. We could not walk to that many homes in a reasonable amount of time using the volunteers in our small church. Beside the problem of limited resources, door-to-door work in our area (and in much of our American situation) has been ruined by the cults. We believe that we have to be more creative about reaching folks and the mailing was one way to do it.
The mailing was sent in November of 2011. Did we see any results? Frankly, not many. Some folks contacted us with address information that was bad. This was itself an opportunity to have an interaction with those folks. One person on an anti-junk-mail crusade contacted us, so we had an opportunity to minister to that person through correspondence. We are not aware of anyone who has come to the church through the mailing. But then again, this was the first attempt. Mailing has to be done consistently and regularly for it to have an impact in a community.
We plan to use mailings again in the future to keep our community aware of our ministry and to get the gospel into many homes. We have a Great Commission responsibility to do what we can with the resources God has given us, and this is one way among others for us to discharge that responsibility. Lots of personal invitations and flyers in common gathering places in Ann Arbor are other ways we use to reach the community.
Now, here comes a tough question. What about a common-law member who is errant in doctrine or practice? Can you exercise church discipline on such a person? The common answer I have heard is, "no" because they are not members, have not agreed to be bound by the "terms and conditions," and thus they can sue you if you publicize their sin to the church.
That is a practical answer, but it is not Biblical. I do not see in Matthew 18:15-17 where official membership is part of the equation. "And if he refuses to hear them, and if he has signed a membership application, tell it to the church..." is not what the text says. The text is talking about a brother. If I could be allowed to make a distinction between a member and a believer, I would make it here. Practically there are situations where you have to be able to treat the errant brother as a believer even if he is not a member. Indeed, we share more in common with members of our church than generic believers, but we do share some things with believers, especially those who are attending our church. And one of those things we share is a responsibility to carry out the Biblical command of accountability through discipline, whether the person "signed on the dotted line" or not.
All this was a factor in the origination of my "common-law" concept because I do not think it is appropriate for a person to be loosely joined to a church, not a member, and think that they can walk away any time things get a little sticky. Such situations are all too frequent. For example, person A is a member, and has abandoned any attendance at the meetings of the church. Person B is a non-member, but was attending all along as well, and then stopped. In the church meeting, we "discipline" person A by dropping him/her from the membership roll. Another member asks, "What about person B?" Good question. Person B is guilty of the same behavior, but B is treated differently just because his/her name was not on the list.
But if common-law members are warned ahead of time that they will be treated as members on the discipline side of the equation, that might encourage them to consider the whole package of membership so they can partake of the benefits as well as the accountability aspect of it.
Our local church membership process is quite simple. We essentially ask the candidate to publicly answer four questions: Are you saved? Have you been baptized by immersion since you believed? Do you agree to subscribe to the doctrine and constitution of the church? And are you conducting yourself generally as a Christian? If a credible "yes" is given to all four questions, the church votes to receive the person into membership. Actually, our membership class explains all of this in great detail in four sessions, followed by a time of sharing testimonies with the church board.
To those common-law members who may object to this simple process of membership, here are some thoughts: Isn't checking up on a person's salvation testimony a wise thing to do? Shouldn't we safeguard the gospel and the local church by asking a few select questions? Church discipline is a safeguard for the church after a member has entered; the membership questions form a safeguard for the church on the incoming side. Both are fallible processes, but shouldn't we make some attempt through a formal process? If the church membership is asked to vote in order to add a member, shouldn't they be assured that the person applying for membership is in agreement with them on the basics? Such agreement would have to be publicly testified for the church to accept it.
So, what should we do about those who are not willing to publicly give a positive response to these four questions? Some people languish in that state so long that a third category like a common-law member seems practical, even if not ideal. Christians are not supposed to somehow float along with no connection to a church family. The fact is that these people share in many things of the church--worshiping, hearing the preaching of the Word, giving, sharing meals, doing mundane tasks around the church, their names are in the church directory, etc. Some things they cannot do, of course. The kicker for me is that as a pastor I feel some responsibility toward them, and I actually exercise shepherd oversight and care for them as much as possible. So, they are kind-of-members but not full members. Maybe they are being silly, or even sinful, in their refusal to commit to membership, but then again there are a lot of other ways our official members can be silly or sinful and the pastor still shepherds them.
In my experience, people have a few reasons (excuses?) for refusing church membership: 1) A desire not to commit or not to be subjected to certain restrictions or conditions in the church; 2) A bad experience with a previous church; 3) An objection to membership on grounds of principle.
Examples for each case, written from the first person perspective:
1) A church carries a heavy load of debt and I do not want to tie myself into that debt load and ethical responsibility to care for the debt. Or, I feel that certain conditions of membership are too restrictive or legalistic.
2) A previous church in my life burned me when the church went down a wrong path. The church lacked integrity in its selection of a pastor or other business matters. I do not want to be officially associated with or involved in that kind of situation again.
3) I do not believe the New Testament gives explicit instructions about how local church membership is to be done or even that there is such a concept. Or, Once I become a believer, I am automatically a member of the church through which I was saved.
I am not justifying any of these reasons; I'm just saying they are thoughts in people's minds. Maybe the non-member wants the best of both worlds by basically being a member but not committing to membership; or the leadership wants the best of both worlds by counting the person as a member most of the time but when things get difficult they can simply write off the person without any public mention of it. Some of my Baptist readers may be flummoxed by this line of thought, but it is real. If you are a person who grew up in churches that do not have a substantive membership, or do not promote it (ahem, some Bible churches), or if you are very strongly opposed to extra-Biblical structures, you know what I am talking about.
What is a common-law member? When I came up with the term, the idea that I had was this: a common-law member is a person who regularly attends our church, who does not have another church, who supports the church financially, who is not disgruntled with the church, but for whatever reason refuses to submit to a simple process of church membership.
It is akin to a common law marriage, which Princeton's WordNet defines as "a marriage relationship created by agreement and cohabitation rather than by ceremony." There is no official ceremony, but the people agree to live together as married. With a common-law member, there is a level of agreement to participate in church together, even if there is not full agreement on the part of the membership or church leadership in the sense that they are not the happiest with the arrangement, but are content to "live with it."
For those thinking about children's programs in the church, the following by Ken Ham is a helpful reminder:
Sadly, many churches today make the mistake that we disciple adults but only entertain children; they don't teach our young people the "deep" things of the Christian faith because they believe children cannot understand much of it. But we are failing our children when we don't teach them the Word of God and give them answers in today's modern scientific world. Children in our churches are largely biblically illiterate, and they don't see Scripture as relevant in their lives. We shouldn't be surprised that two thirds of the young people growing up in the church will leave the church in their 20s (as we examine in our book Already Gone).
Our church sent out a small crew to the Ann Arbor Art Fair last month to do some evangelistic work. The reports I received back were encouraging to me, and so I thought I would share them with you. Some minor edits have been made, including omitting of personal names.
I just wanted to get going on reporting about our time out on Saturday at the Art Fair, as we mentioned we would do...
As we set out for the Diag, we were somewhat surprised to find it less populated in the grassy areas than expected during Art Fair. We first approached a young woman who was on her lunch break from work/school. She was super friendly and when we asked her if she'd like to talk about faith she quickly reassured us that she's a Christian and attends a Lutheran church regularly and she and her parents do Awana, etc. She shared more about her devotion to the church, but it was soon apparent to us that her understanding was that she has always been a Christian. I tried to ask her if she knew at what point she understood her sin and need of a savior as I conveyed a bit about my upbringing of being raised in the church, but not believing. She didn't really answer directly and J_______ tried to drive home our inability to save ourselves and how it's not about what we do, but what God has done in Christ, but she took that in a wrong direction saying something to the effect of "yes, it's about caring for each other and encouraging one another and doing what you can" (or something similar). I think her name is D*. We can pray that since she is exposed to Scripture that God would open her eyes to the truth of the gospel. This conversation got us talking about how difficult it can be to share with people who profess faith in Christ. On the one hand you don't want to condescendingly doubt whether their faith is genuine, but on the other hand, there are many who will profess faith who are in great danger (Matthew 7:21-23). Any ideas and gentle questions you all might have asked these types would be greatly appreciated! :)
After that encounter, we were flatly rejected by a family of three who would not take a tract and were fairly objectionable to our presence, though kind enough to wish us a good day (they said they'd just been talking about religion, or perhaps proselytizing or the like - something tells me they were united against these things). Rejoice! - Luke 6:22-23
We walked and approached several more folks and though they did not seem open to talking, several took tracts. We can pray that they would read them, repent and believe.
We spoke with a Hindu fellow briefly who quickly reassured us he is not Christian and I told him we aren't out looking for Christians. I asked him if he had a faith and he said "yes, I'm Hindu, I'm on your side" - we shared that what we believe is very different but he did not seem to want to talk as per his dismissive, yet kind enough remarks, but he took a tract.
Lastly, we spoke with three gentlemen who were cooling off in the shade of a building closer to the Union. This was our most encouraging conversation. I asked if they attended church and they said they can't right now b/c they are in a program where they cannot go to church or attend any services (some sort of intense AA program). We asked what they believe about God. J1* said he believes there is a God and that He's been looking out for him thus far. They shared a bit about the AA teaching of a "higher power" that they don't call God, but focus quite a lot on in the program. We shared the gospel and shared that this is what the Bible teaches. I was able to relate some of my own life experience, having lived much of my life in a similar direction as they had, caught up in the lies that the world tells you about what's "ok". J2* was raised nominally Catholic, it seemed, and had some great questions and Biblical knowledge that was interesting to talk with him about. He asked "what if you fall away or backslide?" and I shared John 10:27. We talked more in depth about the gospel and I shared that there isn't anything any of us can do to make ourselves right with God, but it's through faith alone in the risen Christ. I was mentioning how amazing it was the way God taught his people about atonement throughout the OT and J2* said "what about when Abraham had to offer his son" - which I thought was God's grace that he knew such a story and that I was able to share how that was pointing to the gospel and that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. J1* expressed that he would like to read the Bible if he could get his hands on one and we quickly offered ours if he would read it - he took it and said he would. We recommended to start with the book of John. J2* said he had a Bible and J3* was very quietly listening the whole time. Though he was not interested in talking, praise God he heard the gospel too and they all took a tract. J_______ gave J1* Pastor's phone number in case he wanted to call with any questions. Pray that these guys would repent and believe the gospel, that they would read their Bibles, and that when they're out of AA soon they would find a gospel preaching church (FBC perhaps) to grow in grace in. They said they may look up FBC's website and come join us one Sunday soon.
I was extremely encouraged by all of your hearts for evangelism and to labor with you out in the fields sowing seeds! Pray that others will water them and may the Lord of the harvest make them grow. I hope to read more soon regarding A_______, J4______, and B_______'s time out on Saturday. Though I heard a bit on the way back in the car, I look forward to reading your reports!
Your Sister in Christ,
Then B_______ writes two reports:
Thanks L_______ for the detailed report. It has helped me to pray.
On the outreach, I wandered from the non-profits section eastward on the north side of the art fair. Then I looped around through the Diag, into the Michigan union, and then back to meet you guys at the non-profits.
I talked to a guy at a booth for Coexist (www.coexistfoundation.net). They were fund-raising for a girls orphanage in Shri Lanka. I told him that Christ was the only way, but he refused to talk about religion other than to say we need to get along and the Muslim/Hindu war was partly responsible for the need for the girls dorm. Pray that he reads the tract I gave him, that he understands sin and atonement, and that the greatest love is found in God.
I talked to another guy who said that the Catholic church was the only true church, yet he condemned the church as corrupt and involved with dark conspiracies (like the Illuminati). He was very bitter and didn't want to talk at length. I told him that the Catholic church can't high-jack the truth and that he can go straight to the Bible, the original and authoritative source of the truth.
I talked to Z*, a Chinese Buddhist. He was very mocking at Christianity while at the same time praising the fact that it gave me happiness and wishing me success in my outreach. His children were listening and seemed to know more about Christ than he, though one began mocking to when he saw his dad's example. Z* (like most Buddhists) doesn't believe there is a God. He says he doesn't want to even consider whether or not there is a God. I told him about the evidences for God (the creation and the Bible) and that sin blinded his eyes from seeing that there is a God. Please pray that God would open his eyes.
I talked to T*, an old guy sitting on a bench and reading a thick book. He was a learned man who spent much time studying Buddhism and similar religions. When I asked him if he wanted a booklet that tells how to have eternal life, he laughed and said he wouldn't want to live that long. I then asked him if wanted a personal relationship with the Creator God who made all things. We then got into friendly discussion in which I managed to cover the main points of the Gospel. His view is that life would get tiresome if it lasted forever. Like most Buddhists, he believes that life has a beauty that is eternal even though it doesn't last forever. Buddhism has obviously mixed up his mind and made the illogical seem palatable to him. Like I told Z*, I told him of the evidence of creation and that I would pray for him that God would open his eyes.
Lastly, I had a really good conversation with an atheist named R* in front of Michigan Union. I'll tell more about him in a separate email.
Hi everyone again,
I wanted to tell about R*, but ran out of time yesterday.
I had a good conversation with R*.
I was able to tell him my personal testimony. He said no child would look at creation and think there is a God. I told him how, as a child, I thought there was a God and I was worried I would be good enough to go to heaven. R* asked "you weren't good enough were you?" R* looked a little surprised when I said that I wasn't good enough and that Jesus died on the cross to pay my penalty for sin. I also told R* about the difference Christ has made in my life.
R* said the Bible is no different than any other religious book. I told him it was inspired. He challenged me to show him a single verse from the Bible that says so. I showed him 2 Tim 3:16.
R* asked why I was talking to him about the Gospel. I told him it was because the Bible commands me to do so.
R* said that the world came into existence by random chance. I told him about the evidence of creation and that I would pray that God would open his eyes to the truth.
R* looked sincerely at me and asked me if I would be open minded and at least consider other possibilities. I told him I was open minded to the truth, but the Bible is the authoritative source of truth.
Towards the end, R* said "you keep threatening to pray for me, why don't you do that?" So I prayed aloud for R* right there with him. He said "If something good happens from your prayer I will have you to credit ... and the Lord too".
I am thankful for how the Lord used each of us on the outreach and for the demonstration of the power of the Gospel.
Principle: No individual or sub-group of the church or outside the church can unilaterally change the membership roll of the church, either in or out.
In other words, it is not within an individual’s power to dictate to the corporate body what the church’s accepted membership roll is. Neither can a government force membership to include any person, especially one whose profession or behavior is not in accord with the Christian faith or our constitution.
The congregationally-governed church cannot absolve itself of the responsibility to maintain a list of members. This includes that the body is the authority over the list, and the individuals or groups above cannot force upon it a change that it does not agree to.
Principle: Once church discipline is initiated, it is only properly concluded by repentance and restoration. It cannot be concluded by resignation of membership.
We gather this principle from Matthew 18:15-17 and Luke 17:3-4. Once the brother "listens" and responds appropriately in light of the sin he has committed, then the process stops. This listening is the equivalent of the repentance in Luke 17.
Nowhere in the Bible does a membership resignation allow the wayward member to escape from the process. You will not find the term or idea of resignation in the passages on discipline. Nor was it even the case that a brother had to be an official church member for discipline to be initiated! Church discipline is a "Christian" thing, not a "members-only" thing even though we may shy away from exercising discipline on a non-member for fear of being sued for slander.
Dear Pastor Dever,
You said in your sermon that
"...you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular Millennial view."
Does this imply that I'm in sin if I am leading a congregation that presently has a particular millennial view in its statement of faith, even if I did not lead the charge to put the statement into its current configuration? What if I inherited that situation from a former era/pastor? Am I in sin if I do not move quickly to remove that part of the statement? What if as a condition of my calling to the ministry I agreed with and pledged to uphold the constitution and doctrinal statement of the church? Am I stuck in sin--whether I go back on my pledge to fix the statement, or I keep the sinful statement?
What about Baptist polity? Isn't it the congregation that ultimately sets the precise parameters and policies as to what kind of church it is? Why does the pastor get the blame in your sermon if the congregation is the authority? Is there no latitude within the boundaries of Christian soul liberty to specify certain non-salvation-essentials as part of the church's setup?
It seems that you are painting a wide swath of people across the world as sinners. This is concerning to me.
Dear Pastor Dever,
Again regarding your statement on millennial views...It seems that with the judgment you judge, you could well be judged. Capitol Hill Baptist's statement of faith includes a couple of things that don't seem essential for church membership. For instance, it looks like one has to believe in regeneration preceding repentance and faith. But there are lots of fine believers that don't go that route--some are even Calvinistic! Your members also have to affirm a belief in the Christian Sabbath. Many fine Christians wouldn't say they believe in a Christian Sabbath, and would also believe that they should not be judged on the basis of one day or another (Romans 14:6, Colossians 2:16).
Are you thus in sin by having your congregation include those beliefs and excluding believers who do not hold to precisely those same views? Is your whole congregation in sin for accepting such a statement?
Dear Pastor Dever,
Your statement on the sin of including millennial views seems to have an underlying assumption: that one holds views of eschatology in complete isolation from his other views. But no one is this way in practice. One's millennial view comes with other baggage necessarily attached.
Some of us believe that raising the millennial view to the level of the statement of faith is necessary precisely because it is closely intertwined with other doctrines that are essential--that certain baggage has to be avoided. For example, the amill view implies that we have to read the OT kingdom texts and Revelation 19-22 in a certain way. To a modified-traditional dispensationalist like myself, such a reading of the text is so forced and unnatural that it calls into question the perspicuity of Scripture. This in turn is connected to the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. If God did not mean a 1000 year period of history with the devil bound, after which the devil was loosed, why didn't he state that more clearly?
Another example comes to mind. The post-millennial view suggests the improvement of society until the Lord returns. But this has proven (in some cases) to lead to false social gospel movements that undercut the real gospel of salvation. Furthermore, Scripture and experience tend to show that things are generally getting worse, not better. There is nothing wrong with codifying a certain distance between our church and the implications of the post-millennial approach.
Our church is premillennial and not apologetic about it. That does not mean, however, that we count premillennialism as an essential to be saved. Me genoito. But it is important as a distinctive or identity of our group of believers. Since we are not the "only game in town," if someone wants a church that is non-millennial or some other flavor, they are free to join that church.
I heard an interesting interview yesterday on News Radio 760, WJR in Detroit. Frank Beckmann was interviewing former Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly (mp3, between 08:26 and 9:16). The conversation turned to Dennis Rodman, a controversial player on the 1980's and early 1990's "Bad Boys" championship teams. I certainly cannot Christianize Rodman's antics, but the conversation was interesting in another aspect.
The team already had Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, and Vinnie Johnson. In 1986, the Pistons acquired John Salley and Dennis Rodman. Daly said that after some time had passed, a friend commented to him that those two acquisitions changed the whole makeup of the team. Both players, but particularly Rodman, would rebound, defend, and not worry about shots. Daly related that Rodman did not need to score and would be in it at the end of the game. He was also a very energetic player.
It seems that Daly was impressed with the fact that Rodman did not need to have his ego stroked by scoring lots of points. He added value in other ways. He specialized on the defensive side, and this made the team as a whole much better. I thought of members of a local church at this point. Hopefully they will carry out their specialty (their spiritual gift) and not need to have their ego stroked (get any glory) for it. They will thus make the local assembly more effective in its accomplishing of the Great Commission.
Refer to 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 12-27.
I wanted to add some more "interview questions" to my earlier entry on finding a pastor. Some of these should be asked before the candidate ever comes for preaching, particularly the first three questions below:
Be sure to explore these areas deeply so you know what the candidate means by what the says.
An alert reader of this page pointed out that my previous wording (now fixed) regarding the "baby brigade" post might mislead some folks to think that we had new babies added to the membership of the church, or that we had four new babies "saved" because of infant baptism or because they were born into Christian families. Far from it, of course! They were gifted by God to four of our church's families, but not until each one makes an individual, conscious decision to follow Jesus Christ are they converted. After that point, they may decide to join the membership of our particular local church, having already become "members" of the church of the truly redeemed at the time of their conversion. No baptism or any other ritual can wash away original sin or bring a baby into salvation. Only Jesus Christ's work on the cross can do that.
A church I know is searching for a new pastor after their former pastor was called to another ministry. I was considering what advice I might give to them. My first counsel is to "stick to your guns and get clear answers from the candidate." When I say "stick to your guns" I mean that the church should not compromise its beliefs to find a pastor. I will use the example of young-earth, 6-day creationism. If you believe in that doctrine, then do not offer the pastorate to a man who does not believe that.
Related to that is the "get clear answers from the candidate" advice. Theoretically, if you ask the candidate if they believe and teach 6-day creationism from a young-earth perspective, then there are several possible answers: No, Yes, or something more vague like "I don't make an issue of that" or "I don't know." Stick to your guns and do not call a man who says anything other than "Yes." If he says "No," you don't want him because he will change the church or make life very difficult at some point down the road. If he says "I don't know," you don't want him because he has not thought through some issues. We are not talking about some esoteric theological point here. This is basic doctrine. And if he says "I don't make an issue of that," he has not answered your question! This is perhaps the worst of all, because he probably does not believe what you are hoping, and he is being equivocal. Maybe he is doing so to appear to be reasonable or just to get the job. It will happen again in the future! The end result will be little different than if he just says "No."
Now the question probably arises in your mind, what issues should we treat this way? Here are some, in no particular order, with my answers in parentheses:
Of course, you should explore the candidate's views more deeply than this--what are the fundamentals and what do you believe about them? What does it mean to be Baptist? And so forth.