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Things to remember from Timothy Keller’s book Center Church

1. “Moralistic behavior change bends a person into a different pattern through fear of consequences rather than melting a person into a new shape. But this does not work. If you try to bend a piece of metal without the softening effect of heat, it is likely to snap back to its former position. This is why we see people try to change through moralistic behaviorism find themselves repeatedly lapsing into sin… But the gospel of God’s grace doesn’t try to bend a heart into a new pattern; it melts it and re-forms it into a new shape. The gospel can produce a new joy, love, and gratitude—new inclinations of the heart that eat away at deadly self-regard and self-concentration” (Timothy Keller, Center Church [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012], p. 67).
 
2. “It is quite easy to assume that if we understand the gospel accurately and preach it faithfully, our ministry will necessarily be shaped by it—but this is not true. Many churches subscribe to gospel doctrines but do not have a ministry that is shaped by, centered on, and empowered through the gospel. Its implications have not yet worked their way into the fabric of how the church actually does ministry” (Timothy Keller, Center Church, p. 28).

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Church Liturgy

We will worship so we must worship wisely. Intentional liturgy is vital. As the gathered church we purport to worship the Lord, we must do so in an intentionally biblical and wise way.

By my calculations, most Christians probably spend around half a year of their life participating in the gathered worship of the church. It’s important that we make the best use of that time! Especially when it’s time that’s intentionally set aside to worship the LORD. Further, the Sunday gathering is one of the primary ways that the church gathered can be equipped to be the church scattered.

It is of utmost importance that the liturgy of the gathered church be very deliberate.[1] Even simple, seemingly insignificant, things in worship communicate doctrine and teach people. This is true of terminology (e.g. “priest” or “pastor”), architecture (simple or elaborate; God’s people are the temple or the building is the temple), positioning (where the person stands when doing the Lord’s Supper or the prominence of the pulpit), and furniture (altar or table). These are all important things to consider and have implications because they communicate certain things even if not explicitly.

The Meaning of Liturgy

Liturgies have been in use in Christian worship from the earliest of times[2] so it’s important that we consider what liturgy means and its place in the life of the church. Allen P. Ross says “liturgy is a perfectly good biblical word and need not be avoided as something foreign to historic Christianity. The noun is leitourgia, literally ‘the work of the people’; it means a service or a ministry.”[3] The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms says, “Liturgy came to designate the church’s official (or unofficial) public and corporate ritual of worship, including the Eucharist (or Communion), baptism and other sacred acts. Certain ecclesiastical traditions (such as Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican) follow a set pattern of worship (the liturgy), whereas many Protestant churches prefer a less structured style. This gives rise to the distinction sometimes made between ‘liturgical’ and ‘nonliturgical’ churches.”[4]

Spectrum of Liturgy

All churches have a liturgy but some churches seem to be less intentional about their liturgy. It seems some churches operate on a default liturgy. A pastor may inherit a liturgy from the previous pastor and it remains essentially unchanged for a few generations. That, however, is problematic for a few reasons. As Timothy C.J. Quill has said, “Worship practice reflects and communicates the beliefs of the church. Liturgy articulates doctrine.”[5]

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What is Expository Preaching?

What is expository preaching? What are the duties of the pastor and the role of the congregation? 

Expositional preaching has three main characteristics. First, the passaged that is preached on is a single passage rather than various passages put together. Second, the main point or theme of the sermon is derived from the theme or main point of the passage. That is, expositional preaching seeks to exposit the text that is preached. Third, expositional preaching is typically lectio continua—that is, it is preaching that consecutively works through passages of Scripture in their biblical context.[1]

Here are two of my favorite definitions: 

“Expository preaching is that mode of Christian preaching that takes as its central purpose the presentation and application of the text of the Bible. All other concerns are subordinated to the central task of presenting the biblical text. As the Word of God, the text of Scripture has the right to establish both the substance and the structure of the sermon. Genuine exposition takes place when the preacher sets forth the meaning and message of the biblical text and makes clear how the Word of God establishes the identity and worldview of the church as the people of God”   (R. Albert Mohler Jr., He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Post-Modern World, 65).

“To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and it expose it to view. The expositor pries open what appears to be closed, makes plain what is obscure, unravels what is knotted and unfolds what is tightly packed. The opposite of exposition is ‘imposition,’ which is to impose on the text what is not there. But the ‘text’ in question could be a verse, or a sentence, or even a single word. It could equally be a paragraph, or a chapter, or even a whole book. The size of the text is immaterial, so long as it is biblical. What matters is what we do with it. Whether long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly, without addition, subtraction or falsification” (John Stott, Between Two World, 125-26).

Thus, pastors have the duty to communicate God’s transforming truth, exalt Jesus Christ, teach the Bible so that people understand and apply what God has said, and encourage conformity to Christ (see e.g. Neh. 8:7-8; 1 Tim. 3:2).

The duty of the congregation is to attentively and prayerfully listen to and seek to apply the word taught with reverence and humility realizing that the pastor is seeking their welfare (Heb. 13:17) yet always being discerning to ensure that what is said is in accord with the word of God (Acts 17:11). 

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[1] Cf. Gospel Centered Youth Ministry, 55.

Is Numerical Church Growth a Biblical Mandate?

Churches don’t necessarily have the mandate to grow but they do have a mandate to deploy all their resources to advance the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. Churches must utilize all that God has given them to make disciples, it’s why they exist. It’s a matter of stewardship. 

Churches are not unfaithful if the chairs are not filled but they are unfaithful if those who fill the chairs are not working at telling the broken world about Jesus in word and deed. So what churches must evaluate is not merely if they are reaching the lost community around them but if they are even intentionally thinking in that way. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost and He has called us to carry out His mission of making disciples. 

Winston Churchhill used to give out commands labeled “Action This Day.” These tasks were to be done with urgency and intentionality. How much more our Lord’s command?! It is labeled “Action This Day!” It is high priority.

So, is numerical church growth a biblical mandate? Not exactly. After all, it’s the Spirit who gives life. Yet, intentional discipleship and ministry of the Word very often leads to numerical church growth. So, we must work to intentionally love and reach people with the good news of Jesus but not merely for numerical church growth. 

The question churches must ask is not simply “how can we grow this church?” but “how can we best deploy all our resources for the furtherance of the gospel and the growth of God’s Kingdom?”[1] So, as we strategize about our church we must not forget about the Church

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[1] I have found Jeff Christopherson’s book Kingdom First: Starting Churches that Shape Movements very helpful on this subject. 

Theology of Public Worship

Worship must be carried out according to God’s revealed will. We want to worship God in the way that He has prescribed as best as we possibly can.[1] So, we want our worship to be drenched in Bible. We want every aspect to pour out biblical truth.

Public worship must succeed as much as possible in carrying out what God has given us in His word to do. We should acknowledge, however, that “The New Testament does not provide us with officially sanctioned public ‘services’ so much as with examples of crucial elements.”[2] Even though it is true that the New Testament does not give us “a complete manual of liturgics,”[3] it does gives us clear things that we are to do.[4]

The Great Commission in Matthew 28 tells us a few things that are essential for disciples of Jesus. Matthew 28:19-20 says: “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.” We will look at implications from the Great Commission first and then turn to other crucial aspects of what it means to be the called out ones of God.

First, the church is given a command. Something we must collectively work at carrying out. We must make disciples and that includes sharing the good news of Jesus with others (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Public worship then is to facilitate discipleship (which includes encouraging evangelism).

Second, after those that we share Jesus with trust Him and repent of their sin then they are to be baptized (Matt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15-16). Thus, the church is to celebrate baptisms. 

Third, we see the church must teach disciples to do all that Jesus the Lord commanded and so we see the importance of teaching, preaching, and reading Scripture within the church (Matt. 28:19-20). Why is preaching such a big deal? Preaching is essential because it teaches God’s truth so as to exalt Christ, encourage and build up, and exhort the gathered church.

Thus, we see the preaching of the Scriptures have a central place in the gathered services of the church. Sermons communicate God’s transforming truth, they exalt Jesus Christ, they teach the Bible so that people understand and apply what God has said, and they encourage conformity to Christ.

Fourth, gathering together on a regular basis is vital (Heb. 10:24-25). It was the practice of the early church to gather together on Sunday, the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7-11; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10). Thus, we see the vital importance of community

Fifth, celebrating the Lord’s Supper together is essential because that’s what Jesus told us to do (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Jesus said “…do this…” so it’s not an option. We must gather together and celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. 

Sixth, qualified leaders (elders/pastors) are very important so that they can ensure the health of the church. Titus 1:5-9 tells us that Paul put elders in Crete because things were out of order until qualified elders were leading. Leaders are also given to the church to teach and equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-14 see also Col. 1:28-29). Thus, it is important that qualified leaders have oversight of the public worship of the church.

Seventh, the Bible also tells us that it is important for churches to sing songs together. Ephesians 5 says, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (vv. 18-20; cf. Acts 16:25; 1 Cor. 14:26; Col. 3:16). Notice too that it’s not just a person singing by their self but rather we address one another as we sing. 

Eighth, it is also very important that churches be a holy witness and so church discipline is vital. See, for example, Matthew 18:15-20 (and also Phil. 2:15; 1 Cor. 5:9-12). Matthew 18:17 says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” When the church gathers for public worship it is, as much as possible, to be a gathering of saints; or course, seekers are welcome to! But, false converts who will spread heresy like gangrene (2 Tim. 2:17) are not.  

Ninth, another foundation of healthy public worship is the practice of spiritual gifts for the upbuilding of the body, the church (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 14:26). This is important because “each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). It’s good to be “eager for manifestations of the Spirit” but we see from Scripture (and especially 1 Corinthians) that it’s more important that we “strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Cor. 14:12).

Tenth, from reading the New Testament we also see that prayer is an important part of the gathered church. Jesus taught on the importance of prayer and we can see from reading Acts that prayer was vital to the early church (e.g. Acts 1:14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:23-31). 

Eleventh, almsgiving and charity are also important aspects of a Christian church because Christians are called to care for and help people, as they are able. We see this seems to be the regular practice of the early church (e.g. Acts 6; 1 Cor. 16:1-4). 

With all this being said, I agree with Michael A. Farley, we should not “read the NT in an inappropriately narrow and legalistic fashion as if the NT as a whole is to function as a collective new covenant version of Leviticus. If none of the individual NT books were written to be an exhaustive liturgical manual, then it is wrong to read and apply the NT as a whole in this restrictive fashion.”[6]

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[1] I appreciate what Michael A. Farley says: “Evangelical scholars employ a range of very different hermeneutical strategies in applying the Bible to worship. This is not surprising, of course, since evangelicals are divided over the theory and practice of biblical hermeneutics in many areas of theology. The first step toward progress in reconciling divergent views is a clear recognition and accurate characterization of the diversity of hermeneutical approaches to constructing a biblical theology of worship. If discussion can take place at this level, evangelicals can avoid the frustrating experience of talking past one another without comprehending why one’s arguments are not persuasive to one’s interlocutors” (“What Is “Biblical’ Worship? Biblical Hermeneutics and Evangelical Theologies of Worship,” JETS 51/3 [2008]: 610).

[2] Worship by the Book, 52.

[3] Farley, “What Is “Biblical’ Worship?,” 610. “There is no single passage in the New Testament that establishes a paradigm for corporate worship” (Worship by the Book, 55).

[4] For example, I really appreciate this summary by Edmond Clowney: “The New Testament indicates, by precept and example, what elements of [corporate] worship are. As in the synagogue, corporate prayer is offered (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 2:1; 1 Cor. 14:16); Scripture is read (1 Tim. 4:13; 1 Th. 5:27; 2 Th. 3:14; Col. 4:15, 16; 2 Pet. 3:15, 16) and expounded in preaching (1 Tim. 4:13; cf. Lk. 4:20; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 4:2). There is a direct shift from the synagogue to the gathering of the church (Acts 18:7, 11; cf. 19:8-10). The teaching of the word is also linked with table fellowship (Acts 2:42; 20:7, cf. vv. 20, 25, 28). The songs of the new covenant people both praise God and encourage one another (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:15; 1 Cor. 14:15, 26; cf. 1 Tim. 3:16; Rev. 5:9-13; 11:17f; 15:3, 4). Giving to the poor is recognized as a spiritual service to God and a Christian form of ‘sacrifice’ (2 Cor. 9:11-15; Phil. 4:18; Heb. 13:16). The reception and distribution of gifts is related to the office of the deacon (Acts 6:1-6; Rom. 12:8, 13; cf. Rom. 16:1, 2; 2 Cor. 8:19-21; Acts 20:4; 1 Cor. 16:1-4) and to the gathering of believers (Acts 2:42; 5:2; 1 Cor. 16:2). The faith is also publically confessed (1 Tim. 6:12; 1 Pet. 3:21; Heb. 13:15; cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-3). The people receive God’s blessing (2 Cor. 13:14; Lk. 24:50; cf. Num. 6:22-27). The holy kiss of salutation is also commanded (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Th. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14). The people respond to praise and prayer with the saying of ‘Amen’ (1 Cor. 14:16; Rev. 5:14; cf. Rom. 1:25; 9:5; Eph. 3:21 etc.). The sacrament of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are explicitly provided for. Confession is linked with baptism (1 Pet. 3:21); and a prayer of thanksgiving with the breaking of bread (1 Cor. 11:24)” (Clowney, “Presbyterian Worship,” Worship: Adoration and Action, ed. D.A. Carson, 117 as quoted in Worship by the Book, 48).

[5] Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 1

[6] Farley, “What Is “Biblical’ Worship? Biblical Hermeneutics and Evangelical Theologies of Worship,” JETS 51/3 (2008): 610-11. “Liturgical theology ought to be a matter of wisdom that results from reflection upon all that God has revealed in Scripture about corporate worship in light of the person and work of Christ. Thus Christians need to employ a more theologically oriented regulative principle rather than one that would limit legitimate liturgical practices solely to those explicitly attested in the NT” (Farley, “What Is “Biblical’ Worship?,” 611). In a similar way, John Piper says, “In the Old Testament, there is an extremely detailed set of guidelines for how everything should be done in relationship to the tabernacle and the sacrifices and the way people come to God. In the New Testament, those details are almost completely lacking. I am tempted to say completely lacking. There is no way anybody could construct a normative worship service from what we have in the New Testament. Lots of people think they can, but I don’t think so. There is more tradition going on there than they realize.” “Do We Really Need Musical Worship?” https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/do-we-really-need-musical-worship. John Piper goes on to say, “I don’t think you look for prescribed patterns in the New Testament. You look for emphases, trajectories, implications, the nature of God, the nature of man, the nature of his mind, the nature of his emotions, the nature of salvation, the nature of gifts. And what you find is that there is an extraordinary centrality and emphasis to the word of God in the Christian life” (Ibid.).

Church Discipline

Introduction

The subject of church discipline is a difficult but important one. Many things must be understood regarding church discipline if we are going to faithfully carry out the task that Jesus has given to His Church.

Is church discipline culturally acceptable? Many people may say that church discipline is not acceptable now; however, that is not the question. There are many things that are not acceptable to our cultural but that does not make them right or wrong. The cross is not acceptable, it is foolishness! Yet we must never deny it. The question is rather: “Is it biblical?”

So, is church discipline biblical? 

Yes. Although, if you search for “church discipline” in your Bible it won’t return any results. But the teaching is there. It is found in both Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5. 

Church Discipline in Matthew 18

In Matthew 18, we see the fourfold process of church discipline. It has been said that this passage is “severely practical as well as ruthlessly idealistic,” and so it is. So, this process, though used in formal church discipline, has practical insight for more common issues within the church as well.

If there is unrepentant sin, we are to first go to the offending party one on one and try to work things out on that level (Matt. 18:15-16). If we have not resolved the problem at that point, second, we are to go with one or two others (v. 16). Third, we see if the person does not listen, we are to tell it to the church (v. 17a) but if he or she is still impenitent then, fourth, he or she is to be treated like those outside of the church, i.e. excluded from communion (v. 17b). The next couple of verses talk about the authority that God has entrusted to the church, His representatives on earth.

Church Discipline in 1 Corinthians 5

Paul is adamant that he does not want the “so-called brother” to have community with the church (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5, 11, 13). Perhaps the three other steps of the church discipline process happened or perhaps they did not for whatever reason, that we cannot tell, but we do know that there certainly are times when it is appropriate to exclude people from church fellowship. The case in Corinth was clearly one of those times. Thus we see that the passage is not necessarilyprescriptive, unlike the principals laid down in Matthew 18, but descriptive. That is, Paul is writing a letter to tell the Corinthians what to do in that context at that time.

Putting Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 Together

I conclude from the two passages briefly looked at that pastor/shepherds and the church as a whole are to use biblical loving wisdom in each church discipline case. There is in fact no “cookie cutter mold” for each case but simply overarching principals to be applied to each different situation.

For instance, there are many passages that seem to reference church discipline besides Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 but some of them look quite different (Acts 8:17-24; Gal. 6:1; Eph. 5:11; Titus 3:10; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; 2 Jn. 9-10). Many of Paul’s letters deal with discipline and correction yet they look very different depending on the situation. Paul was always pastoral and wise in the way that he handled each situation (cf. Rom. 15:1; 1 Cor. 13:4-7; 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Tim. 4:2).

Look, for example, at 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15: “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter… have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” Paul says, “Have nothing to do with him” yet “warn him as a brother.” It is unclear what exactly this looked like in practice but it seems to me that it is a different approach to that in 1 Corinthians 5.

What I conclude then, is that church discipline is an important and clear teaching from Scripture. It, however, is not always as clear exactly how it should look in the local body in each specific case. So after we boil down all we have seen in these passages what are some overarching principals to keep in mind? (1) Keep the matter as private as you can. (2) Church discipline is done as an act of love to keep the individual from damning sin. (3) Church discipline should always be done with gentleness and love though that is not to say without boldly calling the erring person to repentance. (4) If unrepentance continues the person must be removed from the church. (5) Church discipline is ultimately done for the glory of God. We desire that Jesus’ bride be pure and holy (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-27).

I believe we see from the collective passages that reference church discipline, that there is no exact formal that most always be followed. There are, however, principals laid down and a clear call to practice church discipline whatever each individual case might entail. Thus, in evaluating church discipline cases we do not simply have a list of sins, some warranting discipline and others not. Rather, we look at the witness that the person has before a lost world. We ask, Are they defacing the name of Jesus?

Jonathan Leeman talks about “A Gospel Framework for Understanding Discipline.” I think he gives a very helpful approach. The Church, as God’s representatives on earth, have been given the “keys to the kingdom.” The local church and the leaders within that church have been given the serious task of administering baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These things give credibility to the genuineness of one’s faith. In the same token, church discipline is the church removing that affirmation. It is the church formally denouncing the person’s faith. Thus, as Jonathan Leeman rightly says, church discipline is “driven by a single question: does the church still believe an erring member is really a Christian, such that it’s willing to continue declaring so publicly?”

The Manner and Motivation of Church Discipline

How should we approach church discipline? We must do so with much gentleness and humility (1 Thess. 2:6-7; 2 Cor. 10:1; Col. 3:12-14; 2 Tim. 2:24-25; Phil. 4:5). We must remember that we too are sinners, we are not above the very same sin they are being disciplined for. That is why Paul says, “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” And then he says, “Keep watch on yourself.” Why Paul? (we ask), “Lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). We, you and I, are not above sin, any sin, and we should not act as if we are. As Paul says elsewhere, let the person that thinks they stand take heed lest they fall (1 Cor. 10:12).

We must remember that the goal in church discipline is restoration. We want those living in sin to repent and once again join the fellowship. If they do repent then we, as the church, must cheerfully welcome them back (I think of the prodigal son here). Notice, that after Jesus teaches on church discipline in Matthew’s Gospel he teaches on forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-35).

Conclusion

We may not have an exhaustive how-to-book on church discipline but we are given principals that can and indeed need to be applied in each individual case. We, as the church, are God’s representatives on earth and so we must seek to have His church be holy and filled with true followers of Christ. Therefore, as is warranted by the situation, we must practice the steps outlined in Matthew 18, though of course with appropriate Christian sensitivity.

Suggested Resources

  • Jay E. Adams, Handbook of Church Discipline: A Right and Privilege of Every Church Member (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974).

  • Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 153-179 ( access free at: http://www.sbts.edu/media/publications/sbjt/sbjt_2000winter4.pdf).

  • Jonathan Leeman,Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

  • Jonathan Leeman,The Church and the Surprising Offensive of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010).

  • Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 894-900.

  • See also: http://www.9marks.org/answers-for-pastors/discipline

The Regulative and Normative Principles of Worship

Brief History of the Principles 

Humans have been worshiping and thinking about worship since the beginning. We see this, for instance, by looking at the narrative of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Further, all of life is about worship.[1] The question we are considering here, however, is how are we to formally worship God as the gathered church?

The two classic Protestant views of worship are the normative principle of worship and regulative principle of worship. There is a lot of confusion as to what these principals mean and how they are worked out in the life of the church. For example, an article online said that those who hold to the regulative view do not use instruments in their church services.[2]

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