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Q&A: Many churches adopt confessions, why then do leaders and laypersons often stray from orthodoxy? What lessons can we learn from this?

Q. Many churches adopt confessions, why then do leaders and laypersons often stray from orthodoxy? What lessons can we learn from this?

A. Confessions are good and have biblical precedent. Humans, however, are fallen and as 1 Timothy 4:1 says, “some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” People are lovers of self rather than lovers of God (2 Tim. 3:2-4). That is why there are problems with heterodoxy and heresy, even where there are solid confessions in place. Confessions may not keep false teaching from emerging but it is helpful to have them in place to quench the spread (like gangrene) of unhealthy teaching.

One lesson we learn from the prevalence of unhealthy belief and teaching is the importance of qualified leaders. It is vital that pastors/elders be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2) and correct opponents of the truth (2 Tim. 2:25). We also see the important place of church discipline. The church is set apart as the light of the world and the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) if the truth is not proclaimed and protected by the church how dark will the darkness be?!

The second lesson is that churches must work hard to be watchful and stand firm in the faith (1 Cor. 16:13). If someone is contradicting orthodox teaching and causing division then they should be removed from the church community (1 Tim. 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 3:5; Titus 3:10). The church is to be the set apart people of God (Eph. 1:4; 5:27). Thus, Paul writes “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thess. 2:15).

Baptism

What does baptism mean? 

In Scripture, we see that believers are called to be baptized (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16) but what does baptism mean? First, let’s consider the etymology; where the word came from and what it means. The English word “baptize” comes from the Greek word baptizo. Many believe that this word is correctly translated as “immerse” or “dip.” That is, in part, why we practice baptism by immersion. Also, submersion under water and raising out of it best pictures what baptism represents. What does baptism represent? Let’s look at Romans 6:3-8:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” 

Baptism is a proclamation of the believers union with Christ, in His death and resurrection. When the believer goes under the water it shows that in Christ they have died to sin. When they raise out of the water it shows they have been resurrected to a new pure (Acts 22:16; 1 Cor. 6:11) life in Christ. Baptism is an outward sign of an inner reality. Baptism pictures many things.Screen Shot 2019-10-10 at 11.41.43 PM

  • Death with Christ, death to sin 
  • Union with Christ
  • Identification with the body of Christ, the church 
  • Proclamation of the work of the Trinity (“In the Name of…” cf. Matt. 28:19) 
  • Purification, the washing away of sins
  • It looks forward to the resurrection, new creation, and going through the waters of judgment and being raised to new life justified

Should I be baptized? 

Like many areas of baptism, there has not been uniform understanding on who should be baptized. We believe, however, that a clear case can be made biblically and historically for believer’s baptism. “Believer’s baptism” means only those who believe in Jesus and repent of their sins should be baptized (i.e. credobaptism instead of paedobaptism).

We see no scriptural support leading us to believe that non-believers were baptized. On the other hand, we have clear scriptural support to baptize believers. Peter preaches in Acts chapter two and says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit… So those who received his word were baptized” (38, 41 see also 8:12-13). 

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A Sermon on 1 Timothy 2

 

The passage that we are looking at today has some very controversial issues in it. We will look at them in a little bit but first I want to explain the background of the letter as well as the main point of what Paul says in this chapter.

Paul wrote this letter to Timothy to address a particular context and a particularly difficult situation in Ephesus. Paul was addressing false teaching (1 Tim. 1:3-20; 4:1-5; 6:2b-10) and he was telling Timothy how people ought to “behave in the household of God” (1 Tim. 2:1-3:16; 4:6-6:2a).[1] People at the church in Ephesus were teaching things that were wrong and doing wrong things.

Paul labored at the church in Ephesus for three years (Acts 20:31) and wrote one of the most amazing letters that have ever been written to them and yet they were still liable to fall to unhealthy teaching and living. We see later on that they were also liable to lose the love that they had for Jesus at first (Rev. 2:4). This letter should serve as a wakeup call to us! We too are capable of falling! We too need correction!

Paul wants people to teach what is right and act the right way in “God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). If the church is teaching and living wrong that’s really bad news for everyone. It is the church that is to be the “foundation of the truth.” If the church is not the set-apart light that it’s supposed to be how great is the darkness?!

It’s important that we not miss the main point of what Paul is saying in this passage because our modern disputes distract us. Paul’s main point in this chapter is to instruct us to pray. He tells us to pray together. And he tells us how to pray. So, the main point is: In light of Jesus’ sacrificial love, pray with compassion and holiness.

We will look at that in more detail soon. A few things, however, should be said at the outset. First, OCF is committed to a high view of Scripture; we believe it is the word of God. We also believe that unless the Bible is God’s word to us, we live without any real moral authority. “Right” and “wrong” would then become matters of personal taste or popular opinion. We would not be able to talk about justice or truth at all, for there would be no way to know objective truth.[2]

So, second, the Bible is our authority. The Bible informs us and teaches us. We are not to sit over the Bible, God’s word, and inform it… It informs us.[3]

Claire Smith has pointed out in her book, God’s Good Design, that “we do not come to the text as neutral readers. We all have cultural blind spots and sensitivities that influence our reading.” She goes on to say, and I couldn’t agree more, that “we must always allow God’s word to critique us and our culture, rather than the other way around.”[4]

Third, all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable. One of the reasons it’s profitable is for correction. One of the things the Bible does, is it functions like a mirror by which we can see ourselves and compare.

Fourth, we must always keep in mind God’s lordship and love. God is all wise and powerful as the Creator. But He is also good and loving. He has definitively shown that at the cross. God’s lordship and love should always inform how we think about things.

If what we discuss below is hard for you, I get it. But please don’t doubt the good character of God. And also don’t doubt His lordship. He is loving and Lord.

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Church Leadership

What is an elder? A biblical elder is a godly qualified man that labors and serves the local church through leadership and teaching. He meets all the qualifications outlined by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9. He is an under-shepherd that seeks to exalt Christ in all he does. He is not the head of the church but seeks to faithfully carry out the will of Christ.
 
I believe the terms “pastor/shepherd” (poimen Eph. 4:11), “elder” (presbuteros Acts 14:23, 20:17, Titus 1:6), “overseer/bishop” (episkopos Phil. 1:1, 1 Tim. 3:2), and “minister” (diakonos 1 Timothy 3:8) all mean the same thing (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5-7; 1 Peter 5:1-3) and only serve to emphasis different aspects of an elder’s calling. Senior pastor, youth pastor, lead pastor, lay pastor are all contemporary terms. They may not be bad in themselves but are not biblical. They reflect contemporary culture more than they do biblical teaching. In this paper, I will be referring to the office as simply elder.
 
Why elders? Although the form of church government is nowhere commanded in the Bible, it at least clearly appears that in the majority of situations a plurality of qualified elders shepherded the church. This is seen from various places. In fact, I cannot think of a New Testament example where it appears that there was not at least two elders. Although there is no explicit text commanding this form of government we feel it is the best option since it appears that this is the form of government in the New Testament church.
 
Biblical examples of a plurality of elders. In the Old Testament we see examples of shared godly leadership. “Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people” (Ex. 18:25) as his father-in-law suggested. There are also other examples of elders in the Old Testament (Lev. 4:15; Ex. 3:16–18; Deut. 21:18–21; 27:1; 31:9; 2 Sam. 5:3; 1 Kings 20:7-8).
 
In the Manual of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in the “Statement on Church Government” “a foundation for strengthening the role of elders” is laid (p. 205). It is pointed out that 
 
“The synagogue was under the management of “elders” (Luke 7:1–5) who seem to have had disciplinary and administrative authority as well as religious…
Because of their heritage, New Testament leaders likely knew and used the synagogue models for the organization of the church… This might explain the fact that the New Testament gives no historical record of the institution of the eldership as it does with the Seven (Acts 6). Much of the church’s organization is assumed in the New Testament rather than argued… However, development in the church’s organization is found in the New Testament.
Christian elders are first mentioned in Acts 11:30 as an existing institution. It is possible that some of the first Christians were already (Jewish) elders and continued in a similar capacity in the early church… Throughout the Book of Acts the elders are seen to be leaders of the church (Acts 14:23, 15:2, 20:17, 21:18).”
All over the New Testament we see that churches didn’t have an elder (sg.) but elders (pl.) (cf. Acts 14:23; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1; James 5:15). In fact, Paul didn’t think a church was as it should be until it had a plurality of elders (Titus 1:5). Paul left Titus in Crete that he “might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town.” The churches were therefore out of order it seems until a plurality of elders was established there. We also see shared leadership in various other New Testament passages (1 Cor. 16:15-16; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:7,17,24 and Paul was almost always accompanied by another leader on his missionary journeys cf. for ex. Acts 13:1-5, 13; 14:14; 15:35-41; 16:3,19; 17:1,10,15-16; 18:2-3,18 not to mention Luke) so this teaching does not arrive from some isolated passage. Rather, we see a good case can be made for shared leadership, i.e., a plurality of elders.
 
What are the biblical qualifications for an elder? Paul gives a fairly long list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 yet his list is not exhaustive. An elder must be (1) above reproach, (2) a one woman man, (3) sober-minded, (4) self-controlled, (5) respectable, (6) hospitable, (7) able to teach, (8) in good standing with outsiders, (9) gentle, (10) able to manage his household well and have faithful children (or child), (11) disciplined, (12) upright, (13) holy, and (14) firm in the faith and thus able to teach, exhort, and rebuke (Titus 1:9). Further an elder must not be (15) addicted to substances, (16) violent, (17) argumentative, (18) greedy, (19) a new Christian, or (20) arrogant.
 
What is a deacon? The book of Acts tells us that the Apostles were dedicating so much time to serve tables that they didn’t have enough time to do what the Lord had called them to do and thus they had neglected “prayer and the ministry of the word.” Therefore, they appointed seven men that would serve the church’s needs and thus free up time for the Apostles (Acts 6:2-4). This, you could say, is the first installation of the office of deacon. It is here that we most clearly see the rule of deacons. They serve the external needs of the flock so that those entrusted with the task of ministering to the internal needs have the time to do so. That is not to say that deacons cannot also teach, they can (see Acts 6:5; 7:2-53) but their primary role is to serve the church to free the elders for prayer and the ministry of the word.
 
After Paul told Timothy what the qualifications for elders were he said, “Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well (1 Tim. 3:8-13).
 
Therefore, although it is often confused, in Scripture deacons and elders have different but complementary roles. Elders are to be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2) and “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). The elders primary ministry is “prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Whereas, for deacons there is no qualification regarding teaching because that is not their main responsibility, they serve the church in a different way.
 
The practical advantage to having biblical functioning deacons and elders is that it frees the elders up to do what they are called and responsible to do: pray and teach. It is also practical because you have the elders, i.e. overseers and shepherds, overseeing the direction of the church. This is significant because it is the elders and not the deacons that have been formally recognized to “hold firm to the trustworthy word” (Titus 1:9). Elders have proven themselves able in both character and scriptural wisdom to guide the church. Thus the office of elder and deacon is different but complementary.
 
What do elders do? To arrive at the precise function of this elder-overseer-shepherd we must look at various texts and descriptions. Elders are to protect (Acts 20:28–31), shepherd (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1–3), teach (Titus 1:9), anoint the sick (James 5:14), represent the congregation (Acts 11:30), and make policy decisions (Acts 15:6, 22). An elder is to intercede in prayer on behalf of people (Acts 6:4). He is to plead with people on behalf of God (Acts 6:1-7). He is to preach, teach, rebuke, and counsel with love and patience (2 Tim. 2:4; Col. 1:28-29). He is to oversee, lead, and protect the flock. In all of these things he is to humbly and happily serve (Jn. 13:14-15; 1 Peter 5:1-5). Those who labor especially hard at preaching and teaching are worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17).
 
Woman elders? Probably the most debated topic here is whether or not women can be elders. This post can only briefly discuss this subject.
I am convinced that Scripture does not allow women to hold the office of elder though there is a lot woman can do. We do not want to minimize the rule of woman, they are vital and a vast blessing to the church! For example Paul had woman co-laborers (cf. Rom. 16:1-15l Phil. 4:2,3). And I would like to see an increase in women practicing the teaching that Paul talks of in Titus 2:3-5.
 
Let’s briefly look at some of the relevant passages. First, an elder is supposed to be a one woman man (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:5) which a woman obviously cannot be. Second, Jesus set the precedence for male leadership because He called twelve men as His apostles (Lk. 6:13) although he had close relationships with women (e.g. Mary and Martha). Even when Judas’ spot as an apostle had to be filled only men were considered (Acts 1:24). This was in keeping with male leadership established at creation (cf. Gen. 2:18-25). Third, every passage in the New Testament that deals with marital relationships says that a wives should submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:1,4,5; 1 Peter 3:1-6). This should lead us away from saying that wives submitting to their husbands was merely based on the cultural context. Further, Paul takes us all the way back to Genesis in his argument, which in my opinion means that woman submitting to their husbands is not just a cultural mandate. It is rather the way it was from the beginning. If Paul says that woman should not exercise authority over men in the context of the church and grounds it in Genesis than he applies it to various churches in his own day and various cultures. If what Paul says holds true from Genesis to his own day than it surly applies to ours as well (Gen. 2:20-23; 1 Cor. 11:8-9; 14:34-38; 1 Tim. 2:11-14).
 
Of course, submission does not mean that women are any less than men in person or character; only that they have a different role. Adam and Eve were both created in the image of God. Similarly, Jesus is not any less than God His Father yet they have different roles. Jesus submits to His Father (Jn. 3:35; 8:21-47; 14:41; 17:1-5; 1 Cor. 11:3; 15:24-28).
 
Practical advantages to a biblically qualified plurality of elders. A qualified plurality of elders is very practical in the life of the church. First, there are many advantages to qualified leadership. If the elders are biblically qualified than the church should have mature and loving Christians leading the direction of the church rather than some who may be less spiritually mature. If elders are holy and able to teach than they should have biblical wisdom and be able to make good decisions for the church. On the other hand, if the general members are making the majority of the decisions then at least some new Christians (contra 1 Tim. 3:6) will be influential in guiding the direction of the church.
 
Second, a plurality of leadership is helpful for accountability. I, for instance, have been under two pastors that fell to grave sin and left their families and church. They were the sole pastor of their church and didn’t have the accountability that they should have. I believe that if they had fellow elders to encourage them and keep them accountable things may have been very different. A plurality of leadership is also very helpful in decision making. The Proverbs attest to this: “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” and “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; cf. 10:17; 12:15; 19:20; 20:18; 24:6; Eccl. 9:17-18).
 
Conclusion. Although there is not a formal command saying that churches must have a plurality of qualified leaders I believe that it is in fact the most biblical model and thus it the best and has the most practical advantages.

The Hospitality of God and our Hospitality

First, what even is hospitality? What does it mean? It means “love for the stranger” or “to befriend a stranger.”[1] One definition says hospitality is having “regard for one who comes from outside one’s group.” That is exactly what God has done for us. God is perfectly holy and exalted and yet He has regard for us. 

The Lord God has regarded us—loved us—even welcomed us into the Triune fellowship (see e.g. Jn. 20:17), we who were sinners and strangers. And He did so with great cost to Himself.[2] And we see from the Gospels that Jesus was a friend (philos) of those we would expect to remain strangers and outsiders, people like tax collectors and other sinners (see Matt. 11:19), sinners like you and me.[3] And so Paul says, “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7).

When we understand the amazing hospitality of God we will find it easier to love and welcome people in. Understanding the hospitality of God is essential as we think about the hospitality that we are called to practice. Because, in one sense, hospitality is supernatural. It is certainly not natural to us. We need to meditate on the hospitality of God if we hope to be hospitable as we are called to. 

It is true, however, that even “secular people” who don’t know God’s love show surprising generous hospitality (cf. Acts 28:2,7[4]). So, how much more should Christians, who have been welcomed in by God with great expense, welcome in and love others?

The LORD has shown undeserved love to us in Christ may we show love to others (Ex. 23:9; Lev. 19:18, 34; Deut. 10:17-20).

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On the Frequency of the Lord’s Supper

There are a variety of practices regarding the frequency of the Lord’s Supper. Some celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday and others only once a year. The Westminster Directory of Public Worship says “The communion, or supper of the Lord, is frequently to be celebrated; but how often, may be considered and determined by the ministers… of each congregation, as they shall find most convenient for their charge.” I agree that the Lord’s Supper is to be frequently celebrated and I appreciate the leeway that the Directory acknowledges.

With that being said, I think it’s ideal that the Lord’s Supper be celebrated every Sunday.[1] There is no command in Scripture for this but it seems from my reading of Scripture to be the practice of the early church (see Act 2:42, 46; 20:7; 1 Cor. 10:14ff; 11). It is also a vital element of the gathered worship of the church and is a picture of the gospel so I think we would be wise to include it in the gathered worship of the church every Lord’s Day.

Notice that in Acts 2:42, it says “the bread” (the definite article in Greek precedes the noun bread) and so this seems to refer to more than just eating together. It should also be noted that “breaking of the bread” is listed along with other practices that were common or characteristic of the early church.[2] Also, upon studying 1 Corinthians 11 my understanding of the text is that Paul expected that the Corinthians were and should partake of the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day. But they should do it in a worthy manner.

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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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