Thursday, May 29, 2008

The New Testament Church

In order to have an understanding of one's place in the church it might be good to take a look at what the early church looked like. The book of Acts gives us some insights into the development of the church: what people did administratively, and then what God did to keep His purposes in place. Paul also wrote in three epistles about the gifts that God employs in His people for the encouragement and building up of His church.

What the People Did:

  • They prayed until they were endued with the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1 and 2)
  • They devoted themselves to: the apostles' teaching, to breaking bread together, to fellowship, and to prayer (Acts 2:42)
  • They met from house to house
  • They appointed deacons to deal with practical and administrative needs (Acts 6)
What God Did:
  • He allowed the first church split - not because of differences and hurts! (Acts 8) Did the church become too comfortable? The result was people spreading the gospel beyond Jerusalem.
  • He told the prophets and teachers in Antioch to set apart Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13) for evangelism & missions, expanding to the Gentiles. They also were led to encourage the disciples in different places.
  • Paul worked for two years daily in the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19).
  • They also established elders in the churches (Acts 19, 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1).
All of this happened against the backdrop of the apostles, deacons, prophets and teachers, etc. sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Gifts in the Body
God's Gifts. In Roman's 12 Paul mentions gifts that God gives and their accordant faith levels: Prophecy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, Leading and Mercy.

Christ's Gifts. In Ephesians 4 Paul mentions gifts that Christ gave in order to equip the saints for the work of the ministry: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.

The Holy Spirit's Gifts. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12 about the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives for the common good: words of wisdom, words of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, the effecting of miracles, prophecy, the distinguishing of spirits, various kinds of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.

In each member of the church there is overlap from these three groupings of gifts that Paul writes about. And God's design is to use these gifts in us for "the work of the ministry" and for the building up of the body of Christ. And Paul says He distributes these as He wills.

An interesting note to me is that many people will readily agree that the gifts in Romans 12 exist in the church today, while they might pick and choose gifts they think exist today from Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12. However, I have never seen any scriptural grounds that suggest that some of these gifts are not for His church today.

Church Expectations

In the first post in this category, "The Church", I postulated that there are three different ship allegories for how we view the church. The first is where members are all on individual boats sailing the same direction. The second is a cruise ship where the Captain and the officers/staff do all the work while the rest are along for the ride and for their enjoyment. The third, and most biblically accurate, is a ship like a clipper, where individuals in the church are on the same ship, each functioning with their specific giftings, responsibilities, and tasks so that Jesus' ship can be directed to His desired port of call.

With this in mind, what are appropriate expectations people should have for church? People have left churches because of music, because of hurts and difficulties in relationships, because the church fell short in keeping someone's child on the right track, because the children and youth programming weren't to a parent's liking, because a pastor didn't visit them when they were sick, etc. These motivations for leaving a church point to expectations people often have but are maybe unspoken.

But are these expectations realistic and right? If not, what expectations are correct in the church context?

Appropriate Expectations
To stay consistent with our ship analogy, when a sailor signed on for duty on a ship, there were certain expectations he would have: food, a place to sleep, and payment. Of course there was also the real possibility that he could die at sea. In actuality, the sailor would NOT expect there to be any real level of comfort.

And there would be expectations on him by the Captain. He would be expected to work. He would be expected to help the other sailors with their work as the need might arise. He would be assigned a "watch", and he would be on call rain or shine if there was any emergency. He would be expected to obey all the Captain's orders, even if there wasn't any explanation given.

Jesus is the Captain
If Jesus is the "head" of His body, then the individual members of the body must comply with what "orders" are received from Him. If He is the Christ and the Son of the Living God, then those who follow Him must obey Him as their authority. If He is the Captain of His ship, then we do not come to His ship with expectations of comfort and ease, but rather of basic necessities.

And the real and right expectations come from Jesus to us, rather than from us to the church. Are we in a place where we have yielded to the Captain's right of command for our lives within the church context?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Upon this Rock

In the recent post "Which Ship Are You On?" I mentioned three different ship analogies of how we can perceive the church. One is a bunch of individual sailboats, perhaps all headed the same direction. The second is a cruise ship where the church leadership does the "work of the ministry" and everyone else is along for the ride. But perhaps the analogy most consistent with scripture is the clipper ship, where everyone is on board, doing individual functions, but all working together under one Captain's command.

This last example obviously requires more commitment. In an individual sailboat, one could decide not to go along any more and turn back. One might decide to sail a different direction, of have a different agenda. But on the clipper ship, one must be committed to the good of the whole, and committed to the purpose of the Captain. One couldn't on the spur of the moment decide they don't want to participate. Everyone is needed for the proper function of the ship. People couldn't avoid others with personality conflicts. In this ship people have to learn to work together.

The Gates of Hades
Jesus had an interesting response when Peter acknowledged that Jesus was "the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus said to Peter in response, "You are Peter (Petros - a stone), and on this rock (petra - a large rock) I will build My church..." Jesus wasn't saying that He would build His church on Peter, a stone, but "upon this rock", this principle that Peter referred to.

Jesus' Place as Authority
Christ means Messiah, the Anointed One, anointed as King, Priest, and Prophet. The fact that He is the Son of the Living God connotes ultimate Authority. Jesus would build His church upon this principle. He is the Captain of the ship called His Church.

His place as King, Priest, Prophet and Ultimate Authority is fundamental in our understanding of His church. He is in charge, and He has the right to command His ship, and everyone on it. And for those who participate in His church in this way, have certain privileges.

One of the privileges is that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against His church. Do you feel overwhelmed by the gates of Hell? Are you on His ship or your own ship? Are you submitted to the Captain's authority? If so, then Hell will not prevail against you. Additionally, you will walk in authority: "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Bible Says So???

This post is adapted from two messages given at Titusville Branch Fellowship in May 2008. Click to listen to Part One or Part Two.

One thing I've found frustrating over the years is hearing people give a defense for their faith saying, "because the Bible says". This kind of defense in our culture simply does not work. And it leaves the impression that the only evidence for a Christian belief is some kind of "blind faith". It suggests (as Josh McDowell states) that Christians have checked their brains at the door.

I can't imagine, when Paul was sharing his newly found revelation of Christ with the non-Jewish people, that he said, "Well, the Torah says so!" The Jews believed in the Torah, but the Gentiles didn't. What was his approach with the Gentiles?

Paul gave a clue when he wrote his letter to the Roman church. Romans 1:18-20 give some interesting insight into his perspective. Three things of note:

  1. People suppress the truth by unrighteousness.
  2. There are things evident within all people (God made them evident).
  3. There are things clearly seen about God through His creation.

Suppressing the Truth
It has been said that "people don't choose a belief system to live toward nobler ends, but to justify a lifestyle". In other words, people don't seek truth for truth's sake. They seek a sort of value system that will still let them get away with certain things they want to indulge in. By rationalizing certain decisions, we suppress truth. And the fact that we have to convince ourselves it's okay this time, tells us that we are actually suppressing truth. "Other people do it." "It's not that bad." "It's only a white lie." "We choose our own truth." The only reason we have to make up these excuses is because there is something inside us telling us the decision is wrong. And what we are really saying is we will suppress truth, we will do what is wrong, whenever it is convenient for us.

The bottom line here is that many people have a belief system, not because they are convinced it is true. Their belief system is necessary to justify their lifestyle. Until this particular issue is uncovered, there probably isn't much you can share about the reality of Jesus Christ.

Evident Within
Paul says there are certain things that God has made evident within all people. If this is true, then it we must let it affect the way we "defend" our faith. We need to find and point to the things which are "evident within". Do you believe that God made what is known about Him evident to the world? Apart from Scripture? That is what Paul is saying. If we believe this, it should affect how we share with others.

One thing that is NOT evident within everyone is the truth of the Bible! We shouldn't be appealing to the Bible to help a person believe in the Bible. We should be appealing to what is already evident within them.

What are the things that are evident within?
  • Conscience -- It is clear that we all have a conscience. We can rationalize it away. And the fact that we have tried only reinforces the point.
  • Morality -- Our culture has for years endeavored to suppress the idea of Right and Wrong. In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis points out simply that we all appeal to this knowledge of right and wrong on a regular basis. Basically, his point is that we all at one time or another appeal to a standard of conduct we expect others to be fully aware of. You can read a short excerpt here.
  • Value -- It's interesting how most of us have a sense of our own worth. And for those who don't seem to, society tries to tell them how much worth they have. But some people who say they don't believe they are worth anything, are constantly exposing their true convictions through their choices of self-preservation. Even people who contemplate suicide are often trying to attract attention to themselves, or their own perceived worth.
These things are evident within, and with a little forethought, can be appealed to in contrast to a person's excuses for not believing the truth.

Clearly Seen
Some things God has made evident within and some things He has made clearly visible without. Paul says God's invisible attributes (His eternal power and divine nature) are clearly seen through what has been made. Again, if this is true, then we can appeal to things that are clearly seen. In conversing with people, we must operate from this vantage point.

What is clearly seen?

All of life attests to the Law of Cause and Effect. For everything we see there is some explanatory cause. And each cause is an effect of another cause. And you can keep going back through the causes of causes until you come to a First Cause.

One important aspect of the Law of Cause and Effect is that an effect or result cannot be greater than its cause. How does this relate? Dr. Henry Morris explains that the first cause in a universe of infinite space must at least be infinite in size. The first cause of boundless energy and power (seen through nuclear energy, stars, hurricanes and tornadoes, etc.) must have infinite power (at least in respect to our understanding). Additional examples include:
  • The First Cause of endless Time must be eternal in duration.
  • The First Cause of infinite Complexity must be infinite in intelligence.
  • The First Cause of Consciousness must be personal.
  • The First Cause of Life must be living.
  • Click here for further reading.

They are Without Excuse?
The end of Romans 1:20 says that "they are without excuse." Yet people are continually making excuses to deny the truth. Here are some I've heard over the years:
  • We all worship God in our own way.
  • Whatever the majority says is right is ethically right.
  • There is no absolute truth.
  • There is no right or wrong.
  • God wants us to be happy. This is what makes me happy.
  • Jesus' disciples made up the story of his resurrection.
  • A loving God wouldn't send people to Hell.
  • How can a loving God allow all the suffering in the world?

Asking the Right Questions
1 Peter 3:15 says we need to always be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in us. Sometimes the best defense, is a good ... question. "The Bible says" or "you have to take it by faith" is never a good response for the unbeliever who doesn't believe in the Bible. We must learn to ask questions that appeal to fundamental truths that are evident and clear to people -- questions that will point to the inconsistency of their excuse.

For example, a friend of mine used the familiar, "We all worship God in our own way." After a short pause, asking the Holy Spirit for a response, I asked him, "What way do you worship God?" In fact, this man didn't worship God at all.

When people say "there is no absolute truth", why not ask them "is that true?" Or to "whatever the majority says is right is morally right", ask something like, "what if ten guys decide it's right to rape one girl, is that right?" What about this one, "there is no right or wrong"? "So it wasn't wrong for Hitler to kill six million Jews?"

These types of responses point to the truth that is clearly seen. They expose the ridiculousness of coined excuses learned from a society that has suppressed truth. Why not begin listing excuses you hear from people today? Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind appropriate questions to ask people that will point them to the truth that God has made evident within them.

Friday, May 16, 2008

What Can One Person Do?

Johnson County DA Phill Kline makes an interesting point regarding moral relativism (and what just one person can do about it) in this interview with You can see the original video by clicking on the title above.

To hear the short audio blurb from this interview click here.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Which Ship Are You On?

The recent analogy came to me that many times the people in our churches look like this picture: individuals independently sailing along, maybe sailing in the same direction. But sailing independently none-the-less.

But I wonder if the better picture of what Christ wants His church to look like is this one: individuals in the church on the same ship, each functioning with their specific giftings and responsibilities, so that Jesus' ship can be directed to His desired port of call.

This seems consistent with Philippians 2:1,2: If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.

Paul was saying that maybe the church is a very encouraging, loving church, full of the fellowship of the Spirit, and affection and compassion. But there is more. We can do all that but miss the next part: being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Is the church today full of people independently serving their gifts, rather than serving Christ's church with their gifts?

I recently saw a book whose last chapter was entitled: "Your Pastor is not a Five-Fold Pastor". There is no way the pastor can do it all. Additionally, the church leadership is NOT called to do the work of the ministry. If the pastor and the elders were to do it all, then the rest of the body would be passengers, and the boat would look like this:

A cruise ship! That is not Jesus' design for His church. Ephesians 4:11,12 says that Jesus gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, "for the equipping of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." It is every member of the church who is called to the work of the ministry, for the whole body's sake.

Sometimes we use our gifts the way WE want, rather than for the edifying of Christ's body. He gave the gift, and He has the right to define how we use the gifts He's given. Sometimes we set our own parameters based on our preferences, feelings, or attitudes. But this hinders Christ and His work in His church.

In order for the church to meet the purpose Jesus has for it, individuals must surrender their right to their own vessel, and climb aboard His. And then they must use their gifts and abilities primarily for the service of Christ's vessel.

Which ship are you on?

Template by - Abdul Munir | Daya Earth Blogger Template