The Church

the-church

What is the Church’s identity?

Who are Christians?

What is the Church all about?

Why is the Church important?

Maybe you have wondered what in the Sam Hill this church thing is all about, or what it is supposed to be about.  It could be that you have abandoned the notion of “church” altogether, opting for a more private spirituality free from the machinations of power people in a broken system.  Let’s face it: there just may likely be more unhealthy churches in America than healthy ones.  After all, in a chaotic topsy-turvy world, folks end up making church in whatever image they’d like.  It seems to me this points to a great need to recover a more historic and robust understanding of this practice of “church.”  So, let’s explore how church ought to be and seek to live into it’s distinct vision for believers in Jesus everywhere.

The Church’s identity:

            The Church is made up of people who have been reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and brought to new life in the Spirit.  This special relationship that followers of Jesus enjoy with their God is a covenantal relationship, and, so, the Church is a covenantal community.  That is, believers in Jesus are receiving the blessings first promised by God’s covenant relationship with Abraham in the Old Testament that all nations would be blessed by grace through faith.  God’s covenant with his people means that God has graciously committed himself to acting on their behalf through election, predestination, adoption, and redemption.  The new covenant community, the Church, receives the promises of God and exists to follow Jesus Christ in all things.  The Church is not a voluntary society, like every other human institution, but is the divinely called community of the redeemed whom God has joined together through his Spirit to Christ.  Therefore, an individual, theologically speaking, does not join a church; instead, God joins the Church to Jesus.

BeChurch

The Nicene Creed* describes the Church with four identifying marks:

  1. The Church is one. The unity of the Church comes from God’s covenant people being in fellowship with him through Jesus in the Spirit.  This unity is expressed through the bond of love and a common worship that includes the spiritually forming practices of preaching, liturgy, and sacraments.  Since believers serve a triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit who exists in unity, so Christians are to work toward maintaining their unity through the bond of peace.
  2. The Church is The Church is holy by virtue of Christ’s finished work.  Therefore, the members of the Church are saints, called by God to live in holiness and participate with him in carrying out his purposes on earth.  As God is holy, so believers are to be holy in all they do.  Since Christians are holy through God’s justification in Christ, so the Church as saints must uphold justice in the world.
  3. The Church is This means that God’s people are found in all parts of the world throughout all times in history, including every race, class, gender, and ethnicity.  Since the Church includes all kinds of people from different cultures, these believers must work together.  The Church, across all kinds of denominations, ought to minister together to the total life of all people through gospel proclamation and good works done in the Spirit.
  4. The Church is Apostolic means “to be sent.”  The Church is not only a people who are gathered for worship and teaching; they are also sent into the world as salt and light to those who remain in darkness.  Where the Church goes, the rule and reign of Jesus goes with them so that the gospel is spread to all nations.

The Church’s mission:

  1. The Church is called to love God. The Church is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the house where God dwells.  The Church exists to glorify God and enjoy him forever.  Christians are to develop intimacy with Jesus through the Spirit.
  2. The Church is called to love one another. The Church is the Body of Christ and is to be a haven for saints.  The Church exists for community and is the place where believers are strengthened in faith through the proclamation of the Word in preaching and sacrament.
  3. The Church is called to love its neighbors. The Church is the people of God, being a hospital for sinners.  The Church exists to serve the kingdom of God so that God’s benevolent and gracious rule might extend to all creation.

These three dimensions define the Church as being a “missional” community of redeemed persons who are concerned and focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ.  That is, the forward direction of the Church is to come ever closer to Christ through faith, be strengthened in that faith together through the Word of God, confidently stepping into the world to engage it with the love and grace of God so that others may come to faith in Jesus Christ.

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The Church’s importance:

  1. The Church is a Trinitarian community, birthed as a free expression of God’s love through Word and Spirit. As people created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed for his purposes, believers reflect the image of the triune God.  The Church was important enough for Christ to die for.
  2. What the Church “does” flows from its identity as a redeemed community, being the people of God. So, then, the Church’s mission is not so much about establishing evangelistic programs so much as it is to listen to the Spirit of God and live in the power of the Spirit as it rubs shoulders with unbelievers.
  3. Just as the Father sent the Son, and the Son sent the Spirit, so the Church is sent into the world armed with the grace and love of God as if believers were ambassadors for Christ in a ministry of reconciliation.
  4. God has moved in a “downwardly mobile” way in order to bring reconciliation to all of creation. God has gathered the Church on earth to be sent as witnesses of Christ’s person and work through humility, meekness, and gentleness so that God’s mercy and peace might become realities in this world.

Therefore, the Church is to glorify the triune God by embracing its missional identity and mandate by making disciples of Jesus Christ through worship, community, and outreach.  The Church is to aim its love toward God, one another, and neighbor through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.

ibelieve

*The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,

            the Father, the Almighty,

            maker of heaven and earth,

            of all that is, seen and unseen.

 

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

            the only Son of God,

            eternally begotten of the Father,

            God from God, Light from Light,

            true God from true God,

            begotten, not made,

            of one being with the Father;

            through him all things were made.

            For us and for our salvation

                        he came down from heaven:

                        was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,

                        and became truly human.

            For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

                        he suffered death and was buried.

                        On the third day he rose again

                                    In accordance with the Scriptures;

                        he ascended into heaven

                                    and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

                        He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,

                                    and his kingdom will have no end.

 

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

            who proceeds from the Father and the Son,

            who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,

            who has spoken through the prophets.

            We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

            We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

            We look for the resurrection of the dead,

                        and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

Titus 1:1-9

            Paul wrote his letter to Titus so that some solid competent virtuous leaders might be appointed to guide the church on the island of Crete (located in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Greece).  There was no ambiguity with Paul about this.  He laid it out clearly:  “Church officials are in charge of God’s work, and so they must also have a good reputation.  They must not be bossy, quick-tempered, heavy drinkers, bullies, or dishonest in business.  Instead, they must be friendly to strangers and enjoy doing good things.  They must also be sensible, fair, pure, and self-controlled.  They must stick to the true message they were taught, so that their good teaching can help others and correct everyone who opposes it.”
 
            There is no reason to think that Paul thought of this as the ideal leader, as if no one could really be this way.  Paul also did not think about this instruction as a strategy for getting apathetic people off their butts and into some form of service.  No, Paul meant what he said.  He knew that compromising on the character of leadership would erode and destroy the church.
 
            The selection of church leaders is important because just one bad belly-aching non-virtuous apple can upset the entire apple cart.  Good people provide good teaching.  People with a selfish agenda find ways to subvert sound instruction to get what they want.  All of us in the Body of Christ are to be wise to it all through the knowledge and understanding of God’s Word.  This is yet another reason to immerse ourselves in the Bible so that we will lead with the confidence of knowing God.
 

 

            Holy God, you insist on holiness in your people, especially in leadership.  Help all your churches everywhere to raise competent leaders with character so that the work of making disciples will responsibly go forward with joy and effectiveness.  In Jesus’ Name I pray.  Amen.

The Politics of Fear

 
 
            We all have personal fears.  They may be different, all the way from snakes and creepy clowns to public speaking and talking on the phone.  Whatever the fear, being afraid can multiply exponentially when a group of people collectively fear something.  When that happens, the politics of fear takes over and faith is replaced by what a church thinks might happen.  Most church problems and conflicts do not arise out of doctrinal differences, but out of a clash of fears. 
 
Consider just a few scenarios.  One group of people think women should serve in leadership capacities the same as men, and another group believes that women can only serve in limited leadership roles.  The former group fears that if women are not allowed leadership status that the church will wither for lack of fully utilizing the giftedness of half or more of the congregation; they fear the church will not grow.  The latter group is afraid that if women attain leadership roles that the men of the church will become lazy and not serve; it is only, they fear, a slippery slope to an all-female run congregation with no men leading.
 
A more obvious scenario is the so-called “worship wars.”  One group holds to a more traditional and liturgical form of worship with hymns and responsive readings.  They fear that if this form changes it will dilute the true worship of God and degenerate into an unfamiliar form that they will not like; they are afraid of change.  Another group believes that “contemporary” worship (usually understood as praise songs and choruses with a simple sing and speak liturgical model) is the way to go because they fear people will leave the church for another if things do not change.  One group fears change, the other fears not changing.
 
Fear is a reality that all pastors and church leaders must navigate.  And God himself knows it.  This is why the command to not be afraid is common throughout Holy Scripture. We find, as well, that the command to not be afraid is given often to leaders.  The patriarch Isaac was told to not be afraid because God was with him (Genesis 26:24).  The prophet Jeremiah was told to not be afraid because God was with (Jeremiah 1:8).  Jesus was pointed with the synagogue ruler concerning his dead daughter:  “Don’t be afraid; just believe” (Mark 5:36).
 
Non-anxious leaders help congregations deal with fear because their calm presence in the face of competing anxieties creates the environment that everything is going to be okay, that engaging in faith will work out, and that God’s promises and presence trumps all realities.  Before facing the conquest of the Promised Land, the Lord commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous and boldly engage the enemy, with the result that the people acted in faith and took Jericho.  David courageously and confidently faced down Goliath, and later led the people of Israel and Judah as king because he understood that the Lord was his strength, and, so, fear could melt away.  David’s best friend, Jonathan, acted in faith while all his fellow Israelites were hiding in fear from their Philistine enemies.  His courageous stepping out emboldened everyone else to win the battle.
 
Jesus Christ has promised that he will build his church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.  We have the promised presence of the Holy Spirit as we engage in Christ’s mission to be witnesses.  God’s steadfast love is with us.  Therefore, we choose to live above the fray of naked fear and trust the kingdom values of humility, meekness, mercy, purity, and peace-making in facing down whatever issues are gripping the church.  God, in his sovereignty, has ordained certain persons to take the lead in recognizing the presence of the Spirit and moving forward in faith, not fear.  Faith and fear cannot co-exist.  “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23) is the Apostle Paul’s way of saying not to give in to the politics of fear within the church.
 
So, how will you live?  How will you lead?  In what ways can you bring a non-anxious presence to the people for whom you minister?  How does knowing that God is with us change how you face difficult problems and people?  Can you think the thought that courage is a spiritual discipline?  How will you stretch your faith muscle so that the weakness of fear can take a back seat to your decision making?
 

 

May the power and presence of God’s Spirit fill us all now and always with faith to accomplish God’s will.

Why Not Women?

Women are the greatest and largest untapped resource in the church today.  You might wonder why I would say such a thing, being that more women attend church than men.  But I stick to the statement because  the reality for many churches is that only men can hold positions of authority as elders and deacons.  The reasoning goes something like this:  “the Bible says women can’t serve over men, so women can’t hold those positions.”  Really?  So, a woman can serve as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, can be elected as governor of a state, and can manage men on a factory floor, but that same woman cannot serve as an elder in many evangelical churches?  I once asked a pastor that very question, and he answered with “yes, because the Bible says so.”

If you are of the belief that a church office is to based on gender instead of just good ol’ calling and gifting of the Spirit, then, methinks, it behooves us to ask these questions of the biblical text:

  • If women are not to exercise authority over men in the church, how do we account for actual women leaders in the Bible, such as Deborah, Huldah, Philip’s daughters, Priscilla’s role in Apollos’ life, not to mention the list of women leaders in Romans 16?  If our impulse is to say that these are exceptions because there were no men to “step up”, what does that say about our theology, that God isn’t big enough to find a man to put into a position of leadership?
  • If we insist that women ought not to teach and be silent based on Paul in the book of 1 Timothy, why do we ignore Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians that women are to publicly prophecy and pray?
  • Doesn’t the prominence of women in the ministry of Jesus and Paul suggest something different than just having women tag along to teach children?
  • Just when does a boy become too old for a woman to legitimately teach him?  If women can’t teach men, why in the world would we ever think that they are the best teachers for boys?
  • How can we apply Galatians 3:26-28 as everyone else besides women as free to serve?
  • Does the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers only apply to men?  Doesn’t the absence of women in church leadership go against this?
  • Isn’t it weird and confusing that women have an equal vote in congregational decisions, even when a male leader is being elected and/or disciplined when they aren’t supposed to exercise authority?
          I could go on, but I think you get the picture; the absence of women in leadership is problematic at best.  Its a problem because there are actually women leaders in the Bible.  So, here is my unabashed, dogmatic, and biblical belief:  All individuals are equally created in God’s image, and, therefore, have equal worth, privilege, and opportunity in Christ’s Church without any limitation, including gender.  There, I said it, and I’m sticking to it.
          In today’s evangelical church there are far too many wonderful Christian women who are exhausted and depressed because they are trying to live up to a certain expectation of being someone they are not.  They suppress their gifts and calling because they think it is delusional, and that they have to prop-up the fragile male egos around them.  They aren’t free to serve in leadership positions and it is eating them from the inside-out.  These women think there is something wrong with them, but the reality is that there is something wrong with the whole system of male-only authority.  What is more, if I’m right, we are missing out on the blessing of God.  It is high time we value all women, even those with gifts of leadership, by allowing them to serve without limitation.
          This is a passionate subject for me because I have a wife and three daughters.  And all of them are more intelligent, more gifted, and better leaders than me, the lone family male.  To have them using their superior talents in the church by leading and serving is the least threatening thing to me on this earth.  I love it that they can outdo me; it is my joy!  Even more than that, I believe it is Jesus’ joy, as well.  We must be proactive in cultivating and nurturing the gifts and calling we see in women.  They do not need to be put in their place; the good ol’ boy system of the church needs to be put in its place so that men are practicing a leadership that sacrifices on behalf of making women’s leadership a priority.