Monday, July 26, 2010

Leaving a Local Church

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us (1 John 2:19)

Jason Helopoulos
provides some good counsel for the oft-pondered issue of when it is acceptable to break fellowship with a local church. He helpfully divides the reasons between good, potential, and bad. It is unfortunate, and to the shame of our generation, that we encounter people leaving churches for the bad reasons more than any other.

Good Reasons for Leaving a Church ("The Four P's")

1. Providential moving—It is right and good to belong to a local church and covenant with brothers and sisters in my own “backyard.”

2. Planting another church— I am being sent out by my church, not leaving with a group of people because I am disgruntled or think it is a good idea.

3. Purity has been lost— ]It could be that heresy is being taught, the Bible is never read or preached, or a much more prominent manifestation these days is that the Word is no longer seen as sufficient; it is used as a seasoning for the message of the week rather than the diet by which the congregation is fed and nourished upon.

4. Peace of the church is in jeopardy due to my presence— There are cases where an individual/family can personally become a hindrance to the ministry of the local church and it is best for that person/family to move-on.

Possible Reasons Leaving a Church ("The Three S’s")

1. Spouse—An unbelieving or non-church will attend another church with you.

2. Special Needs— A possible example may be that my family has a disabled child and another faithful church in the area has a wonderful ministry to disabled people which can help us.

3. Special Gifts—Another faithful church in the area may have asked for you to use your special gifts in their midst for the building up of the body.

Insufficient Reasons for Leaving a Church

1. Children’s Ministry— This cannot be a reason for changing churches. It is rather an opportunity for you to get involved in the children’s ministry of your church.

2. Buzz— Many people will flow to whatever church in town has the current “buzz.” But buzzes come and go. And so do the people that follow them.

3. Youth Group— The unhappiness of our teenage children in the current Youth Group, because of activities, other youth, etc. is not a reason for leaving the church we have covenanted with. They should not be choosing the church we attend based upon their social status and network.

4. Church has changed—Churches always change. Unless the changes are unbiblical than we don’t have a reason to move on. We don’t move on when our wife or husband changes!

5. New Pastor—A new pastor is not a sufficient reason to change churches. You haven’t covenanted with a man, but with this body.

6. I’m Not Being Ministered to— Start ministering to others and you will find that you are being ministered to.

7. Music— Not a reason—whether it is slow, fast, traditional, contemporary, Psalms, hymns, or gospel choruses. Stop using it as an excuse!

8. There are others…we haven’t even mentioned the service is too early, the coffee is terrible, the pastor doesn’t know how to shuck corn (Yep…those are all true ones I have heard).

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Revolutionary Theology

"In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matt 7:12)

One of our favorite heroes of the faith, perhaps even pre-eminent, is Jonathan Edwards. And we were reminded again by Marsden's shorter biography that we love to learn from Jonathan Edwards because his robust grasp of God's Word gave him convictions with which he stood against the innate corruptions of his own culture.

Perhaps this is most clearly seen during his ministry at Stockbridge and his dealings with the Mahicans and Mohawks. Edwards was having none of the abuse of the Native Americans in which many English settlers indulged for personal profit. Marsden describes one such encounter:
During Edwards's first summer in Stockbridge, some of New England's leaders met with an assembly of Mohawk chiefs to discuss the matter [of building a school for Mohawk children]. Edwards preached to the Indians, presenting the gospel in simple terms. What he said revealed his view of the Indians. Although he believed the Indians to be religiously deprived and hence culturally inferior, he did not see them as naturally or intrinsically inferior to Europeans. Alluding to the time during the Roman Empire when the ancestors of the English had been 'barbarians' prior to the arrival of Christian missionaries, Edwards assured the Indians, 'It was once with our forefathers as 'tis with you.' They had been in great darkness, but then they received the light of the gospel. 'We are no better than you in no respect,' he continued, 'only as God has made us to differ and has been pleased to give us more light. And now we are willing to give it to you.' Edwards believed that any nation might include true believers who, however humble their circumstances, might be spiritually superior to the greatest men anywhere. He also expected that one day there would be notable Indian theologians. First, though, Mohawks needed to asccept the simple rudiments of the gospel of God's love, and for that they needed God's revelation in the Bible. The French Catholics, said Edwards, kept Indians in the dark by withholding the Bible from them. Even many English failed to support missions because 'they choose to keep you in the dark for the sake of making a gain of you.'

- A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, p. 120.
Edwards'scriptural vision of God's glory and enabled him to see beyond the selfish prejudices of his own people and call it for what it was... sin. Edwards' theology made him a revolutionary, a gentle, humble, and loving one (see 2 Tim 2:24-26), but a revolutionary nonetheless. Risking his own political protection and economic provision, Edwards confronted those English settlers who took advantage of the Indians with unjust dealings. He would go on to create no small stir during his ministry at Stockbridge, and created some influential enemies, by taking the side of the Indians in land-brokering, insisting that the settlers deal honestly and pay fairly.

Edwards' heritage continued in his son, Jonathan Jr., who played frequently with the Indian children as a boy and became an accomplished linguist in many of their languages. As an adult, Jonathan Jr. became a significant leader in the early abolition movement in the U.S. (see his sermon on Matt 7:12, "The Injustice and Impolity of the Slave Trade and the Slavery of Africans")

We are instructed by Edwards that our studies in the ivory story are for the purpose of pounding the asphalt with the glorious truths of the Gospel and confronting our own culture with its corruption... even to our personal loss. The most revolutionary act in the world is to see ourselves and our communities through "the Law and the Prophets."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Death of the Book?

Yesterday was significant in the history of literature and publishing as Amazon sells more Kindle e-books than hardbacks. While it is hopefully not the death of literacy, it is certainly changing and at a rapid rate. This is not insignificant for Christians and the mission of Christ:

It is amazing, when you stop and think about it, that God has ordained, first, to reveal himself in history, in the great acts of the Old Testament, and then in his Son—"In these last days he has spoken to us by a Son." And then to ordain that there be prophets and apostles who would put it in a book, and this then, because it's their word, would become the foundation on which we build churches and we build life. That's amazing!

It has unbelievable implications.

Everywhere the Christian church has spread in the history of the world, it takes with it schools. Why? Mainly because you have to learn how to read, not to succeed in life, but to know this book.

Update: Do not panic, yet... What Amazon Didn't Say about E-Books.
The long and short of it is there are many ways to present numbers. Yes, the odds seem stacked against hardcovers these days (disclaimer: I have one out now and it's a lot easier to sell a $3.99 e-book than a $16.47 hardcover). And while the The New York Times and the American Publishers Association say that industrywide sales of hardcovers are up 22 percent this year that seems hard to believe, especially since e-book sales have allegedly quadrupled since last year.

But just remember who's trying to control the narrative here. Amazon has an agenda. It wants to sell e-books. And lots of them.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Don't Waste Your Life Sentence

We are grateful for the creative faithfulness of Desiring God. Count us "in line" for this upcoming Desiring God film:


For more on John Piper's visit to Angola Prison in Louisiana, the largest maximum-security prison in the U.S., please see:
And, if you have not already, check-out the new Desiring God website and join the DG Network.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pastors: Trustworthy Stewards

Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy (1 Cor 4:1-2).

Two excellent posts this week from about the true nature of pastoral ministry in the local church. Enjoy!

First, by Ed Stetzer, The Problem with Pastor as Rock Star. The concluding appeal is spot-on:
The decline in the church, perhaps, is caused by our satisfaction with earthly appeal. We should endeavor to present the glory of God instead of the cleverness of our abilities to edit movie clips, mimic the local CCM station, or engage social issues. People can walk away from all of that unchanged. But nobody can encounter the glory of God and live the same as they did before.

The glory of God is a good place to end this article. Pastors (of churches of any size) need to worry less about their status and be concerned more with God’s mission and His glory. The glory of God should be your recurring song, and with that in mind, it’s okay for rock stardom to fade out and the Morning Star to rise in your place.
The second was by Frank Turk, cleverly titled,9 Minutes with Frank Turk. Turk's observations on the "big church" mentality are perceptive:
The problem is this: we are not marketing a product. We are not making widgets. Seriously: we are not really asking people to make some kind of commercial transaction where they give something and the church or God gives them something back. What we have is a situation in which everyone we want to tell about this Jesus who was crucified thinks they have much to give God - including advice about how to run and fix the world - when in fact we ought to point to the fact that they have nothing to give God, and that is their main problem. What we are here to put in the marketplace, as Paul did in Athens, is a declaration that for all our wealth and culture and religion, we are all now being told by God through Jesus Christ that we have no excuse of ignorance, and that when God comes to judge it will not be enough to say that we offered sacrifices and very solemn and earnest reflection to an unknown god.

...Think about that - because the last thing you want when you see Jesus is for him to tell your house is desolate. Who wants their life’s work to look like a cathedral on the outside, but in the end it gets burned up like a house made of straw and sticks?

Let me challenge you, folks, to make churches that are big churches - but not big as the world measures it, as if Jesus came to die so you could be a life coach, or have a famous podcast. Make your church big on Jesus’ death for sin, and big on mortifying our human accomplishments, and big on giving this message and everything else it takes in order that many people will be saved, and many people will hear Jesus say to them, “well done, you good and faithful servant”.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Calvinist Crossing

  • Some Thoughts on Pulpit Methodology. Helpfully provocative reminders for all preaching, and especially those committed to consecutive expositional preaching: 1) Each message must stand on its own and 2) Each message must exalt Christ and His Gospel. Lord, save expositors from the rambling commentary!
    For one thing, unless it is done well, consecutive exposition can dull the appetite of God's people for the Word by continuing next Lord's Day simply from where we left off last week. is possible that by being determined to preach through a whole book we actually end up not preaching at all, but giving an extended commentary on Bible passages. If all Scripture is inspired - including the very word choices and grammatical constructions - are we doing it justice by preaching on successive blocks of material, rather than concentrating on texts-in-context?
  • A Matter of Emphasis Amen and amen! The curse of Microsoft Word has been the increasingly gratuitous use of bold and italics in writing. May the tribe of "old-fashioned cranks" increase:
    Call me an old-fashioned crank, but I hope writers and publishers will not give in to the pressure to make all their prose a bouncing ball of bold print and italics. Emphases are like exclamations: save them for when you really need them. And for the 99% of our sentences that don’t, let’s rely on good writing and clear thinking to keep the reader’s attention and make our main points obvious.
  • There's No Escaping Doctrine, but Handle it with Care Always pertinent counsel from the Doctor:
    For myself, as long as I am charged by certain people with being nothing but a Pentecostalist and on the other hand charged by others with being an intellectual, a man who is always preaching doctrine, as long as the two criticisms come, I am very happy. But if one or the other of the two criticisms should ever cease, then, I say, is the time to be careful and to begin to examine the very foundations.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Church! So Now What?

...being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).

Another gem of wisdom from DeYoung's message, "The Church," which we previously noted in this post. Here is a list of suggestions from DeYoung on the practical matters of making an impact for Christ in our local church:
  • Find a good local church.
  • Get involved.
  • Become a member.
  • Stay there as long as you can.
  • Put away thoughts of a revolution for a while.
  • Join the plodding visionaries.
  • Go to church this Sunday and worship in Spirit and truth.
  • Be patient with your leaders.
  • Rejoice when the gospel is faithfully proclaimed.
  • Bear with those who hurt you.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt.
  • Say “hi” to the teenager that no one notices.
  • Welcome the old ladies with the blue hair and the young men with tattoos.
  • Volunteer for the nursery.
  • Attend the congregational meeting.
  • Bring your fried chicken to the potluck like everybody else.
  • Invite a friend.
  • Take a new couple out for coffee.
  • Give to the Christmas offering.
  • Sing like you mean it.
  • Be thankful someone vacuumed the carpet for you.
  • Enjoy the Sundays that “click.”
  • Pray extra hard on the Sundays that don’t.
  • And in all of this, do not despise the days and weeks and years of small things (Zech 4:8–10).
May Christ build His Church among us with such "plodding faithfulness"!


Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Phantom of Liberty

Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed' (John 8:34-36)

A highlight of the American summer, this weekend arrives with barbecues and children around the nation tempting dismemberment on driveways. The celebration of Independence Day will likewise include plenty of obligatory speeches and celebrations about "liberty."

We are well-served to be reminded of John Newton's words at the onset of the troubles that precipitated our nation's independence from Great Britain:
It grieves me to hear those who are slaves to sin and Satan, make such a stir about that phantom which they worship under the name of liberty, and especially to see not a few of the Lord’s people so much conformed to the world in this respect. Let us pray and watch, let us bear testimony against sin, and abound in the fruits of the gospel. The Lord help us to do thus, and then we may humbly hope He will preserve our liberty; if He does not I am sure we cannot preserve it ourselves.

- John Newton to John Ryland, Jr., on August 1, 1775 (reprint, Wise Counsel)
Even as you gather this weekend to celebrate this "phantom," pray, watch, and bear testimony that He might turn a nation of slaves into the freedom of His Son.

N.B. For more extracts from this letter, see Trading Political Measures for Earnest Prayer.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Teach Hell to Your Children, Part 2

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ (Luke 12:20)

We observed yesterday, Gospel-success may be helped by teaching our children about the biblical doctrine of Hell. I am reminded (and rebuked!) by the example of the Puritans in general and our "homeboy," Jonathan Edwards, in particular.
Much of Puritan upbringing was designed to teach children to recognize how insecure their lives were. Every child knew of brothers, sisters, cousins, or friends who had suddenly died… Parents nightly reminded their children that sleep was a type of death and taught them such prayers as 'This day is past; but tell me who can say / That I shall surely live another day.'

...One of the Edwards children’s surviving writing exercises reads, ‘Nothing is more certain than death. Take no delay in the great work of preparing for death’… ‘In Adam’s fall, we sinned all,’ was the first lesson in the New England Primer.

- George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, p. 27.
Flee the false security of the Western world that presumes your children will live to a ripe old age and that there will be plenty of time to teach them about the realities of sin, death, and hell. Teach them young and teach them plainly and teach them with love that they are sinners, they will die, and God judges sinners in hell.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Teach Hell to Your Children

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28).

One of the thought-provoking pieces from the previously-noted series on Hell at The Briefing is by Gordon Cheng, "Should We Tell Our Children About Hell?" Of course, the short answer is "Only if you actually love your children."

Though Cheng's post is worth reading in its entirety, I was especially helped by his observations on what might occur if we consistently instructed our children in the biblical teaching on hell:
Naturally, if we begin to preach about hell and judgement to little children, we could potentially land ourselves in enormous strife. Those who have the privilege to teach children the gospel in schools would, in many cases, find it swiftly removed—through popular outcry in the school community or, eventually, through government legislation. The church, still seen as a community pillar in some places, might speedily become a community pariah. Funding would be withdrawn, tax breaks called into question and lawsuits would ensue. The pastor's phone would ring hot. The children's worker's phone would go into meltdown. Jobs would be threatened, committee meetings would be held and nervous warnings would be issued. In other words, the gospel would be heard and God would be glorified.
What an awesome thing such ostracism would be for the cause of Christ in our churches, communities, and country!