Who needs Church History? YOU DO!

Church History is a fascinating subject. From the rapid growth of the first century to the prevalent darkness in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and the contrasts of liberalism and fundamentalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Church has experienced God’s grace with varying degrees of visibility.  Always the object of God’s mercy and kindness, the Church has appeared to both love and hate the world, to both love and hate the unregenerate, and to both love and hate the very God who bought her from the enslavement of adulterous idolatry.

The Church is an invisible formation of sinful humans; which God uses as living stones in His miraculous construction. The Church is imperfect in her mortal and visible state, but one day She will be arrayed in a glory that was not Her own. The Church shall be presented before Christ as His holy and blemish-free Bride, and such an end is marvelous indeed.  All of Church history is moving Her from one measure of glory to another, and thanks be to God that He is the provider and sustainer of His Church.

The nitty-gritty of Church history has exposed me to some extraordinarily high highs and some shamefully low lows.  The first moment in Church history that captured my attention was a mixture of both.  The Council of Nicaea met in 325 AD in order to discuss the triune Godhead[1] and particularly the hypostatic union[2] of God and man in the person of Jesus Christ.  The council meeting itself was an odd concept. Those men who led the assembly were the objects of great persecution only a short time before. In fact, the very same governing officials who were calling for the convention were the ones who had led the charge against them. This new arrangement (not new to human history, but new to these Church fathers), combining the Church inseparably with the state, was all-too-well embraced by these Christian leaders.  Noll said,

“Nicaea was a turning point that set Christianity on a course that it has only begun to relinquish, and that only reluctantly, over the past two or three centuries.  That course was the addition of concerns for worldly power to its birthright concern for the worship of God.”[3]

While Nicaea certainly did produce some high quality theology, this point in Church history also marked the beginning of a struggle for worldly power and shameful exploitation of such authority by many of the mortal leaders of the most holy terrestrial institution – the Church.

There were perennial moments of both wonder and embarrassment from Nicaea onward, but it seems that one period rises above the rest on the skyline of Church history when it comes to a recapturing of the essence of Christianity.  The Protestant Reformation occurred during a time of deeply rooted corruption and far-reaching opposition.  This reformation of the visible Church had many contributing factors and countless men and women as its champions, but it is nearly undisputed that a single monk with a single mallet swung the first significant blows in the event that would come to be known as the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther grew up in Germany under the tutelage of the Roman Catholic Church as well as his stern mother and father.  Like any good Roman Catholic of his day, he exhibited both a diligent effort and a healthy distaste for various aspects of religious life.  This lawyer who had become an Augustinian monk finally traveled to Rome in anticipation of gleefully absorbing what he thought would be a hallowed city with devout men serving the holy God and His consecrated Church.  Instead, and to his extreme dismay, what Luther found was a debased city with corrupt men serving themselves in the name of God, and that at the expense of His Church.  Luther was heart-broken and furious at the sight of such a mockery, but his grand protest was actually intended to be something altogether different than what it turned out to be.

Luther composed ninety-five arguments against Papal indulgences, which was a corrupt use of Church authority to raise money for selfish gain.  Luther could not have known the impact he would make by nailing that text to the chapel’s wooden door at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.  None of the most astute theologians, sociologists, politicians, psychologists or historians could have possibly understood how great the impact of this event would be.  It essentially marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

The arguments contained in Luther’s 95 theses were symptoms of a viral incompatibility, and Luther could not have known how the technology of his day would be harnessed to spread these ideas so far and wide.  Luther wrote to one publisher of his theses, “They are printed and circulated far beyond my expectation.”[4]  While Martin Luther may have intended a theological debate among learned church clergy, what he got was a firestorm that recalibrated the visible Church and set Her on a new trajectory for the future.

The Church continued on this persistently reforming path of orthodox growth for more than a few centuries, and then came liberalism in 1865.  Liberal theology, that is soft and/or hetero-orthodox positions on core Christian doctrines, began to dominate pastoral training institutions as well as pulpits, and the Church has suffered great loss because of it.  “J. Gresham Machen called it a new creedless faith with no relation to biblical Christianity in his popular Christianity and Liberalism (1923).”[5]  Where once the character and nature of God was disputed vehemently among theologians and the cost for error was death, there now stands a plethora of theological leaders unwilling to acknowledge that such things even warrant a discussion at all.  The God who has revealed Himself in special and particular terms has been relegated to the realm of the wholly unknowable. Mankind is left with a god of his own invention who bears no resemblance at all to the God of Scripture, except that it occasionally is labeled with His name.

Before looking more deeply at these points in Church history, and the many others that string along to connect them, I knew that theology was important.  I knew that ecclesiology, soteriology, Christology, missiology, and the relationship between Church and state were significant matters deserving thoughtful investigation.  However, I have seen the fleshing out of what can be the result of erroneous views in one or more of these areas.  The Church today is in dire need of an ongoing reformation – not a single event, but a continual discussion about what it looks like to live out the Faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints.

Such a reforming posture seems already to be the stance of many in the visible Church today, but many more are presumably asleep at the wheel.  This generation of pastors, teachers, elders, professors, and leaders (and all those who come after them) would do well to equip Christians to find their place in Church history.

By God’s grace, when Christians recognize their place in God’s plan of redemption they become commendable for eternal glory. But, in God’s providence, when Christians recognize their moment in God’s plan of human history they may become men and women of whom the sinful world is not worthy.

 

 

Footnotes

[1] Godhead is a theological term used to refer to the unity of Father, Son, and Spirit in one ontological being.

[2] Hypostatic Union is a theological label used to refer to the joining together of divinity and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. He was and is both God and man; one person with two natures.

[3] Noll, Mark A. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. doi:WorldCat database. (p. 55).

[4] “How Luther Went Viral. (Martin Luther).” The Economist (US) 401 (2011): 8764. Accessed April 9, 2014. Academic OneFile.

[5] Cairns, Earle Edwin. Christianity through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub., 1996. (p. 459).

Coalescing Churches and Missionaries

The Church – the universal body of Christ – is a unique institution made up of people rather than materials or mechanisms. Established and sustained by God Himself, the Church acts most like she should when she fulfills the role for which she has been created. The oft-quoted passage at the end of Matthew’s gospel contains the commission of the Church – her purposeful assignment and the promise of her providential Lord. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus says to His disciples,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Mark Dever (commenting on this very passage) says, “Jesus’ command to go ‘to the ends of the earth’ [or ‘all nations’] reminds believers that Christ is Lord over all, that he loves all, and that he will call all to account on the great day. Therefore, Christians today have a responsibility to take the gospel around the world.” Dever also understands that congregations (local expressions of the universal Church) are bearers of this same responsibility, because congregations are made up of individual Christians. “Christians together can pool wisdom, experience, financial support, prayers, and callings and direct them all to the common purpose of making God’s name great among the nations…” Dever leaves no room for individual Christians or assembled groups of the same to remain unengaged from this Great Commission when he says, “Witnessing the glory of God proclaimed around the globe in the hearts of all his people should be an end and purpose for every local church.”[1]

Involvement in this intentional activity is no peripheral matter for any local church, and many congregations have been purposefully working at it for a long time. However, recent research and contemporary conversations are revealing that a disconnect may have developed over time between the two prongs that have formed the spearhead of this Christian commission. Local churches in America seem to have been allowed to understand missions as something that is done over there – anywhere but here – by someone called a missionary. Many local churches support “missions efforts” with their financial backing, giving a portion of their budget to some kind of cooperative program that distributes funds to local and international missionaries. Sometimes local churches may even call a special prayer meetings with a “missions” emphasis, but taking ownership of particular missional efforts appears to be lacking at best. In addition, the perceived distance between missions and local church ministry has permitted most American Christians to remain personally unengaged from the Great Commission. This is a tragedy.

What is worse is that missionaries, having such a strong commitment to go and tell, are continuing to do so without an essential and healthy attachment to a local church or churches. “The problem is that there are now missionaries all over the world with virtually no connection to local churches to love and care for them, shepherd them, and join them on mission.” To compound the loss, “there are also local churches full of laypeople talking about being ‘missional’ without the benefit of learning from those who are actively crossing cultures with the Gospel. They are talking about mission without the input of missionaries (emphasis added).”[2] If one is to understand what it is to be missional, it is imperative that one understands what it is to be a missionary.

Ed Stetzer helpfully defines the term “missional” in his standard-setting work on the subject of “missional churches.” He says, “Missional means actually doing mission… adopting the posture of a missionary, learning and adapting to the culture around you while remaining biblically sound.”[3] With this definition in mind, it is helpful to consider that missional living may only realized in the local church context as missionaries and their efforts are appropriately known and celebrated in the local church.

The bringing together of missionaries and the local church is a combination that regains the benefits of the multi-membered body of Christ. If the missionary is the extended arm of the local church, then the local church is the core, which lends stability, resources, and strength to the missionary. Just as the arm needs the core to function properly, so the core needs the exercise, reach, and functionality of the arm in order to remain healthy. There are many more aspects of local church ministry that may not include a direct relationship to missionary efforts, but all of what the local church is and does should center around the idea of living missionally in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – both in the context of its own community and in the world at large. These two distinct branches of missional engagement (missionaries and the local church) are so intertwined that each compliments the other in multiple ways, particularly when they are both functioning healthily.

The pervading goal of the missionary is the same as the local church, namely the Great Commission – make disciples, baptize them, and teach submission to Christ to the glory of His great name. If this directive is embraced and acted upon, the result will inevitably be a plurality of baptized disciples who will be life-long learners who grow in their submission to Christ. This plurality of Christians, if the missionary is properly focused on the task, will be formed into a local church themselves. “The result of [the missionary’s] work should be biblical, local, independent churches that reflect the soil in which they are planted.”[4]  Therefore, the missionary is most effective when he is planting local churches with those baptized disciples who have benefitted from his proclamation of the Gospel.

These locally planted churches will be better churches if they resemble the same kind of local church(es) that have cultivated a quality relationship with the missionary who facilitated their own rooting and grounding. If missionaries and local churches work in tandem (as it seems they were designed to do), then the cycle will simply continue. Aubrey Malphurs says of church planting and its ultimate goal,

“We are not to start just any kind of church; they should be Great Commission churches. These are churches that take most seriously Jesus’s command to make disciples! Making disciples begins with evangelism and continues with edification or the building up of the saints in the faith with the ultimate goal of their attaining spiritual maturity (Col. 1:28–29; Heb. 5:11–6:1).”[5]

Malphurs’ statement brings us back to the beginning; the Church acts most like she should when she fulfills the role for which she has been created. The goal of newly planted church is the same as the missionary, and it is the same as the established local church congregation. When the established local church is healthy, she will serve her role well as a support structure for the missionary and a model for the church plants that (by God’s grace) result from his efforts. When the missionary is healthy, he will serve his role well as an evangelist and facilitator for the eventual indigenous church plant(s) as well as a motivation and inspiration for the congregants who support him. When the indigenous church plant is healthy, she will repeat the cycle with new missionaries and fresh groups of newly converted Christians.

There are so many benefits to this relationship that a brief work such as this cannot explore them all. Suffice it to say that the coalescing of churches and missionaries is a recipe for enjoying vibrant, Great Commission assemblies of vigorous, missional disciples of Christ – both locally and globally.

 

[1]Dever, Mark. The Church: The Gospel Made Visible. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2012.

[2]Crider, Caleb, Larry McCrary, Rodney Calfee, and Wade Stephens. Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. Portland, OR: Urban Loft Publishers, 2013.

[3]Stetzer, Ed. Planting Missional Churches. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2006.

[4]Crider, Caleb, Larry McCrary, Rodney Calfee, and Wade Stephens. Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. Portland, OR: Urban Loft Publishers, 2013.

[5]Malphurs, Aubrey. The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting: A Guide for Starting Any Kind of Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011.

A Theology of Church Growth & Outreach

Church growth and church outreach have been topics of interest among church leaders for a long time.  These subjects are not new.  In fact, the biblical record can give us some incredible insight into these concentrated areas.

Far from being a field through which we may walk, seeking to ‘cherry pick’ verses to fit our agenda, the Bible is the storehouse of harvested wisdom and the place that one ought to begin his or her investigation of what it means for a church to be involved in outreach and experience real growth.  There are at least several things of which we may be certain as we study the biblical text with a keen eye towards the areas outreach and church growth.

The first thing we may clearly understand about outreach from the scriptures is that God intends His people to reach out.  There are many things that one might consider the ‘outreach efforts’ of a church, so it seems that defining biblical and effective outreach would be a good starting point.  Outreach may be defined as sharing in the ministry of proclaiming the message of Christ – the ministry of reconciliation – and living in (Gal. 5:25), walking in (Gal. 5:16, 25), keeping in step (Gal. 2:14) with that message and its implications.

One of the most famous passages in the Bible is the one found at the very end of Matthew’s gospel.  Jesus says to His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).  There is much more that could be said of these verses, but we can at least see that there is indeed a great commission given here.

Jesus tells His followers that they are to be the ones who will now take the content of the message that Jesus Himself came to proclaim – namely the declaration of God’s grace upon sinful humanity (Luke 4:16-21, cf. Isaiah 61:1-2) – to the ends of the earth.  With the commission comes the promise that Jesus Christ, by His Spirit, will be with them in their outreach endeavor.

Discipleship seems to be defined, at least in overarching terms, by Jesus in the words that describe the activity of “discipling all nations.”  Baptize and teach are the two imperatives, and these are under the lead imperative of “make disciples.”  Therefore, outreach and church growth are closely linked, and outreach is every Christian disciple’s commission as well as privilege.

The effectiveness of a church’s outreach may be entirely based on its depth of its spiritual growth and understanding of the Gospel message.  Those who have received the message of hope, and trust in the Object of that message, will seemingly have an expected inclination to share that same hope-filled message with others.  A close consideration of what has actually transpired in order for a sinner to be redeemed will be helpful here.

The Apostle Paul says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.  More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:10-11).  Once we sinners were enemies of God and under His judgment.  Now, because of the death and life of Christ, we currently enjoy and look forward to the day when we will ultimately enjoy complete reconciliation with the God of our salvation.

As a Christian comes to understand more profoundly the reality of his or her new position before God, especially when contrasted with their previous position, he or she will likely become a more enthusiastic participant in the ministry of reconciliation – or outreach.  Turning again to the Apostle Paul, he says elsewhere, “All this is from God [the passing from death and judgment to life and new creation], who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).  In other words, we who have been reconciled have received not only our own reconciliation from God, but we have also received the commission from God to play a role in His ministry of declaring reconciliation upon others.

This is a marvelous and humbling reality for all Christians – we have been reconciled and we have been given the ministry of reconciliation, or we who are the beneficiaries have become the heralds of the same Gospel that we received.  Therefore, God intends His people to be actively reaching out with this message of hope.

The second thing that we discover clearly presented in the scriptures concerning outreach is that Christians are expected to stir one another up towards such efforts.  In addition to finding our motivation for outreach efforts in our own reconciliation, we may also find further encouragement towards this ministry in the camaraderie of our fellow Christian community.  The author of Hebrews writes, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Two things seem to jump out from this text immediately.

One, love and good works are to be the theme of Christian life and activity.  Throughout the letter to the Hebrews, the author has been laboring the point that Jesus is the all-sufficient Savior.  Significantly, Christ has performed all that is necessary for sinners to be redeemed and glorified, and He has performed this task in exemplary fashion.  Jesus is the perfect example of all that He is and does – and this is particularly of interest to us because Jesus is both God and man.  Therefore, He is the perfect example for humanity in all that He did and does.  No one can be compared with Christ when it comes to love and good works.  His love was unconditional and His good works were (and are) the evidence of such love.  From self-sacrifice to enriching others in notably personal ways, Jesus is the quintessential picture of what a Christian life ought to look like.

Two, love and good works are clearly encouraged by other believers in the context of time and life spent together.  Love and good works are not meant to be done in passing at a weekly church meeting or merely articulated through some media outlet.  This may get more to the heart of what discipleship actually looks like, but doing life together is where love and good works are actually manifested.  Whether by living out a life of love and good works, or by lacking these in one way or another, only in regular close proximity are Christians able to stir one another to such love and good works.  It simply is not possible for real discipleship to take place without the deep relationship of Christian life upon Christian life.

Both love and good works are two sides of the same coin; good works evidences love, and one will not be present without the other.  These are to be enjoyed by all those who interact with Christians.  Believers and non-believers alike may benefit from the operation of love and good works in and through the life of a Christian.  Non-believers can especially profit from these in the area of outreach.

There may be much more consideration given to the form that love and good works takes on in each local context, but that Christians should impact their community with love and good works is evident.  God has instituted a community of faith wherein all believers are to stir one another towards love and good works as they live in step with the Gospel together.

The third and overarching characteristic of outreach that one might find in the biblical text is that it may be performed with confidence.  Christians may have the full confidence that the Gospel message they proclaim is true, and the One who promises to save will not prove to be unfaithful.  The author of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

“Hope,” translated here from the Greek word elpidos, does not mean wishful thinking.  The term loses a bit of its original intent if we hear it with our contemporary ears.  Hope, in the biblical sense of the word, is much more akin to a confident expectation than to a mere possibility.  This has big implications for the confidence of every Christian – both for personal assurance and for public declaration.

Every Christian may indeed hold fast to their confident expectation of ultimate glory.  Why?  Because He who promised has demonstrated that He is faithful!  God has actually and surely saved sinners through the substitutionary obedience and sacrifice of Christ!  We can proclaim this truth with supreme confidence and more than sufficient evidence.

Christians may also proclaim the Gospel message in different ways and in diverse relationships with full confidence that sinners will be saved.  The Apostle Paul says, “If you confess with you mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’” (Romans 10:9-11).

The imperative here is to believe and confess, but the indicative (that which will be the subsequent result) is that salvation will accompany such belief and confession.  Christians may declare to their unbelieving friends that they not only might be saved upon placing full trust in the risen Lord, but that they most certainly will be saved.

Not everyone who hears the Gospel message will believe.  In fact, many will reject the claims of Christ and the claims of those who have trusted Him.  Conversion may be the result of evangelism, but it is not the ultimate goal; God’s glory is the ultimate goal of evangelism.  Christians glorify God in an accurate presentation of the character and nature of God, particularly as He has demonstrated and revealed Himself in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We play the role of ‘planting and watering’ the seeds of truth, and it is God who causes the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5).  Additionally, we may endure the rejection and assault of as many as will not receive the Gospel message in order that we may continue to proclaim it for the sake of those who will (2 Timothy 2:10).  We proclaim this beautiful message of reconciliation and do so with total confidence in the God of salvation; He will do what He said He would do.

Outreach is the individual and collective participation of Christians in the ministry of reconciliation.  The particular application of what outreach looks like may vary greatly from one church to another and from one situation to another within each church.  The Bible is full of examples of outreach.  They are so numerous and distinctive that it seems foolish to attempt to construct a rigid theological framework around the method(s) of outreach and evangelism.

Of two things we can be sure; (1) the content of the Gospel message is essential to biblical outreach, and (2) that message may be communicated through all sorts of mediums.  Christians may, therefore participate in the ministry of reconciliation, live in step with that message as the Spirit of God empowers such life, and do so with tremendous confidence in the God of all salvation.

Church growth will positively impact outreach and will be positively impacted by outreach.  As was mentioned before, the two are closely linked.  While it is not true that every local community of believers must needs increase in number or that God promises to provide such inflation, God does indeed glorify Himself in the inevitable growth of His universal Church.  We may benefit from turning to the Scriptures once more, this time for wisdom and clarity on the subject of church growth.

First, any growth that a church enjoys is from God and according to His providential and gracious activity.  For the sake of clarity, church growth (at least in the sense it will be used in this essay) is not tantamount to numerical increase in any particular local church.  Instead, church growth is the deepening of spiritual maturity and the numerical proliferation of the universal body of Christ.  Church growth then will have a varying impact on all local churches, possibly even a negative effect on local churches who have become less than Gospel-centered or so liberal that they have lost the Gospel altogether.  Again, God providentially and graciously moves to grow His kingdom, the body of Christ, as He sees fit.

The Apostle Paul says, “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God” (Colossians 2:18-19).  Paul’s letter to the Christians at Colossae includes this section of encouragement, which is that his readers hold fast to God/Christ – who is the Head of the body – as they understand their own operation as members of that body.  Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul goes into greater explanation of the relationship of one member to another.  Here we may at least understand his point that Christ is the head of the Church and He is the one that grows the Church with a growth that is ‘from God.’  Far from being attributable to man in any way, genuine church growth is from God.

Laboring this point further, and turning now to the book mentioned previously, Paul charges the Corinthian Christians to keep from forming factions around any particular man or group.  He says, “What is Apollos?  What is Paul?  Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers.  You are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).  It seems Paul is not willing that anyone misunderstand his idea here.

There are at least three things of important note in this passage.

One, Paul says that he and Apollos are “servants through whom you [those Corinthian Christians] believed as the Lord assigned to each.”  The Lord’s assignment may be the ‘servant’ to the ‘believer’ or the ‘believer’ to the ‘servant,’ but either way this has profound implications concerning the numerical result of any Gospel ministry.  This statement clearly presents God as an ‘assigner’ of ministerial charge and reception.  Deeper study may demonstrate that both are surely assigned by God.  God distributes the one who spends incredible time and effort in Gospel ministry to the field in which he toils; and God consigns the believers who are regenerated by the Holy Spirit through the use of such ordinary means of grace – the preaching of God’s word – to the undershepherd in whose care they have been placed.

Two, Paul says emphatically, “Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything.”  Now, most ministers would not likely consider their efforts “nothing;” and it does not seem that Paul intends to describe Gospel ministry as nothing here.  Yet, it does seem that he intends to make perfectly clear that all the effort in Gospel ministry that can be conjured by all humanity will amount to ‘nothing’ on its own or without something or someone else.  Unless or until God moves in such a way as to provide or generate growth, it will at best remain potential rather than actual.

Three, “God gives the growth.”  This statement needs no lengthy explanation.  God alone, only, and singularly is responsible and due glory for any growth of His Church.  When His good pleasure is to generate growth, His body will indeed grow.  All genuine, Gospel-centered growth that any local church enjoys is due to the sovereign work of God in and through the means of grace and by the power of His Spirit.

Because church growth is from God, we may secondly understand that church growth is inevitable.  Christ, God the Son, has stated in no uncertain terms that He is about the work of growing His church.  “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16-18).  Whatever else Jesus Christ is saying here about Peter or the ‘rock’ upon which He will build His Church, He is at the very least declaring that He will definitely build His Church, and His Church growth production will actually be successful.  This clear pronouncement from the lips of Christ cannot be overstated. Coupled with the declaration of Christ (already cited in the previous section on the ministry or outreach of the Church) in the Great Commission, which seems to be the method by which He will do such a thing, Christians may be fully confident that Christ/God is successfully building His Church and will continue to be thus.

Briefly recalling the powerful claim of Jesus in Matthew 28, He says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples… And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, abbreviated).  The King of heaven and earth says to ‘make disciples,’ and He will be with His disciple makers all along the way through the end of the task – He will build His Church!  Of this we may have no doubt – Church growth is inevitable.

Third and finally, Church growth is ultimately to the glory of God.  Because it is from Him and empowered by Him, it is to Him and to His glory that the task be done.  It is true that all things are created for the glory of God, chiefly God’s apex creation – man.  Everything of creation, because of the fall, has been marred by sin, but the purpose for which creation was brought into being has not changed.  In the current estate of creation, God is pleased to bring sinful rebels into His Kingdom – the Kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14).  This extension of His Kingdom is for His glory and for the benefit of sinners.

The Apostle Paul says, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were to first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.  In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11-14).  So much more is said here than what is of particular interest to the topic at hand, but there are at least a few things that apply.

Once again, as has already been presented at length, any who are beneficiaries of the ‘obtained inheritance’ have been ‘predestined’ thus ‘according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.’  God is the Giver of growth and the Appropriator of the same.  Additionally, the growth of each individual member of Christ’s body (to draw upon the analogy used previously) is ‘guaranteed’ to continue in growth until he or she is fully matured and takes complete possession of the promise in glory.  Lastly, and of great importance to the subject of church growth to the glory of God, both the obtaining of the inheritance and the delivery of such endowment is ‘to the praise of HIS glory’ (emphasis added).

God is about His glory!  He glorifies Himself in the conversion of sinners, the regeneration of dead men to life in Christ Jesus.  The growth of God’s Kingdom through the proclamation of the Gospel is to the praise of His glorious grace.  He also glorifies Himself in the sanctification of those He has redeemed.  The growth of love and good works (Heb. 10:23) enjoyed by the Church and by all those who are touched by her is to the praise of His glorious consecration.  God ultimately will, and now does, glorify Himself in the total salvation of all those who are found in Christ.  The steadfast God who is worthy of our confident hope above any other guarantees the growth to maturity, which every Christian will enjoy – sinners will be glorified to the praise of His glorious splendor!

We may at this point breathe in a restful sigh of worshipful serenity in the God of our salvation, for He does and will glorify Himself in our salvation and that of others.  However, as with seemingly every aspect of theology, there is a bit more that might take us over the superlative edge.  Just after the Apostle Paul speaks of the ‘mystery’ of the gospel, he closes the section of his letter to the Christians in Ephesus that consists of the basis for the unity and life of love, which is the thrust of the remainder of this letter, with a call to look to and trust God for that which only He can do.

He says, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Through all generations this same God who works within us to will and to do His good pleasure will do far more than we might ask or think.  The fullness of His redeeming work, sanctifying progress, and glorifying result is too high for us to comprehend!

He who is able to do far more than our minds may conceive, to Him be glory.  To Him be glory in the Church – in the salvation and loving good works of those who are compelled by the Spirit of Christ towards such activity of thought, word and deed.  To Him be glory in Christ Jesus – as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is spread abroad by participants in the ministry of reconciliation and glorifies God in the exaltation of His triune salvific work.  To Him be glory throughout all generations – every generation that passes one to the next will be to His glory as sinners of a new demographic come to understand their universal dependence upon God’s gracious grace.

To Him be glory forever and ever – for we who are the redeemed will be the venerating display of God’s saving work among a sinful creation in order that all eternity will know that God is both the just and the justifier of all those who have faith in Jesus Christ!  Amen.

Contentment in Christ

Contentment is Serenity, Gladness, Satisfaction, Pleasure, Happiness; It is defined as the state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind.

The essence or heart of all the commands of God is summed up by Jesus in the single greatest command to love God with all your heart, soul and mind (Matt. 22:37).  In other words, look to God alone for the true satisfaction, gladness, serenity and contentment of your heart, your soul and your mind.

All sinful expression may be boiled down to some pursuit of contentment – either of the heart, the soul or the mind – in some thing or place other than the God of the universe.  Look to the times when you and I sin… this is where we may find our desire to find our contentment in people, stuff, reputation or life experience – rather than in God.

The painful reality is that you and I are adulterous, thieving, lying and covetous people.

For now (and always), let us both rejoice in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  He is not adulterous, thieving, lying or covetous.  He is faithful, diligent, honest, and perfectly contented.

This is great news, not simply because of His example, but because He is our representative – the substitute for all those who trust in Him!  God the Father looked to Christ the Son and judged Him, the righteous and obedient servant, evil so that those of us who actually are evil would be given Jesus’ perfect righteousness.

What a beautiful scandal of grace!  Oh, that my heart and yours would behold this wonderful Gospel more clearly today…

My hope and yours is not that we might become faithful enough, diligent enough, or honest enough that we are acceptable before God.  Certainly we strive for a life of holiness, but… Our hope is that God has declared us perfectly faithful, diligent and honest – not because we practically are such, but because Christ has covered our rebellion and given us His righteous obedience!

Today, let us be content to behold (drink in with your mind’s eye) the King of Glory as we remember that He is our Redeemer (the one who bought us back from bondage at great personal cost) and not our Judge (the one who rightly condemns us for being the sinful rebels we are)!

Jesus Christ is the focal point of all true Worship in both the Old and New Testaments

Both the New and Old Testaments are acutely focused upon the basis and Object of worship.

Misconception #1:  The New Testament cares more about the heart of the worshiper than the Old Testament.

1) The OT is deeply concerned with the heart of the worshipers and the Object that they worshiped.  The list could be much longer, but these verses will do well to support the point.  Pay careful attention to the last citation here, for it has a direct reference to the issue at hand – namely the heart of worship is emphasized strongly in the OT.

  • God commands, “love and serve Me with all your heart and soul.” (Dt. 10:12)
  • “Circumcise the foreskin of your heart.” (Dt. 10:16)
  • Again, “love the LORD you God, and serve Him with all your heart…” (Dt. 11:13)
  • “Put away foreign gods and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.” (Joshua 24:23)
  • God rebukes His people for they, “said in [their] heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.’” (Is. 47:10)
  • God rejects the outward displays of worship, because the heart of the worshipers is wicked… “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? …I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts… When you came to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?… When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen.”  (Is 1:11-15)

Misconception #2: The Old Testament cares more about the practice of worship than the New Testament.

2) The NT is just as concerned with the manner of worshipers’ approach to God as the OT.  This list also could go on further, but it is likely that my point will not require much more than a few examples here.

  • Humans are still required to approach God through propitiating sacrifice and after their sin has been covered. (Romans 3:21-26)
  • The person and work of Christ justifies and only through Him does any human have access to the Father. (Romans 5:1-2)
  • Christians possess a righteousness, i.e. the ability to approach God, that has come from Christ (Phil. 3:9)

Misconception #3:  The worshipers’ approach to God in the Old Testament is different from or separate from the approach that New Testament worshippers must take.

3) The overwhelming point of the OT worship practices is to provide a type, shadow, or example of who and what Christ will be (from our future perspective – who and what Christ is).  Therefore, the OT does and should concentrate heavily on numerous specific practices and methods for approaching the one and only Holy God of all creation.  The NT also concentrates heavily on the single person and work, which has been displayed as the substance of these shadows, the antitype of these types, the real form of all these examples.

Both testaments point to the methods, modes and practices

Both testaments point to the heart of the worshipers. 

Both view each of these issues with great emphasis.

The OT emphasizes the shadows and the heart of the worshipers in relation to their trust in the promise…  The NT emphasizes the substance of the shadows and the heart of the worshipers in relation to their trust in the promise.

The promise in both testaments is that God will glorify, is now sanctifying, and has redeemed and justified sinful people through His own initiative and action.

Therefore, it is critical to lift up the continuity of the testaments concerning the basis (God-initiated mediation – ultimately Christ in both testaments) and Object (the one true God) of worship, while recognizing there is diversity in the outward practices of worship.