The brother preaching to the Jehovah's Witnesses at their own convention this past year is an encouragement for all those who desire to follow the Lord Jesus in denying themselves, taking up their cross, and following after Him (Luke 9:23).
Friday, September 28, 2007
Sunday, September 23, 2007
1. Elders (Part 1) - Introduction
2. Elders (Part 2) - Character
3. Elders (Part 3) - Leadership
4. Elders (Part 4) - Teaching
5. Elders (Part 5) - Shepherding
6. Elders (Part 6) - Overseeing
7. Elders (Part 7) - Conclusion
If this isn't a case in depravity, I don't know what is. This man jokingly thought he would try to (1) keep the Mosaic Law, with its strict and regimented rules, foolishly either not realizing or not caring that the entirety of the Mosaic code would be impossible keep in the first place since both the Jewish temple liturgy and the theocratic structure necessary to uphold it was destroyed in A.D. 70 and (2) the Mosaic law was fulfilled and subsequently abrogated in Christ on the cross of Calvary [cf. Matt. 5:17ff; 1 Cor. 9:21; 2 Cor. 3; Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:14-17; Gal. 4:21-31; 6:2; and Heb. 8:6-13]. What's worse, is that its clear from reading the article that this fellow was doing this purely as a publicity stunt. How sad when someone mocks the word of God to suit their own ends and ends up misunderstanding the entire purpose of redemptive history in the process! But isn't that what the Pharisees did when Jesus came the first time?
Saturday, September 22, 2007
The following practical and theological items, although they apply to every believer regardless of their particular theological tradition, are especially directed to those who adhere to Reformed/Calvinistic theology.
I. Recognize that Salvation is Broader than the Calvinist Camp.
1. All of us, at one time or another, were Arminian in our thinking. A professing Arminian may be just as unregenerate as a professing Calvinist, but one’s adherence to Arminian theology does not necessarily exclude them from the kingdom of God. It is disturbing to hear some Calvinists assign all Arminians to the lowest abyss while conveniently forgetting that they too, at one time, were Arminians. Although the great 18th century evangelist, George Whitefield, had his differences with the staunch Arminian John Wesley, he was able to see the hand of God in Wesley’s ministry and count him as a brother in Christ. Thus, we must be patient with our brethren and recognize that both ethical and theological maturity takes time. In fact, there are some truths that, for whatever reason, we may not yet be ready to receive – as Jesus told His own disciples, "I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" (John 16:12).
2. God commands us to accept one another in Christ, in spite of our differences (Romans 14:1; 15:7). If Christ has accepted our Arminian brethren, who are we to reject them? The 19th century Baptist preacher, C.H. Spurgeon, once said:
We give our hand to every man that loves the Lord Jesus Christ, be he what he may or who he may. The doctrine of election, like the great act of election itself, is intended to divide, not between Israel and Israel, but between Israel and the Egyptians – not between saint and saint, but between saints and the children of the world. A man may be evidently of God’s chosen family, and yet though elected, may not believe in the doctrine of election. I hold there are many savingly called, who do not believe in effectual calling, and that there are a great many who persevere to the end, who do not believe the doctrine of final perseverance. We do hope that the hearts of many are a great deal better than their heads. We do not set their fallacies down to any willful opposition to the truth as it is in Jesus, but simply to an error in their judgments, which we pray God to correct. We hope that if they think us mistaken too, they will reciprocate the same Christian courtesy; and when we meet around the cross, we hope that we shall ever feel that we are one in Christ Jesus (New Park Street Pulpit [London: Passmore & Alabaster, Vol.6] p.303).
In another place, he also said:
Far be it from me to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views (cited in Iain Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon [Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1966] p.65).
3. Most Arminians reject the Doctrines of Grace out of gross ignorance, misunderstanding, or misrepresentation on the part of sincere, but misinformed Calvinist’s. Thus, often they are not rejecting genuine Calvinism, but distortions of it. One’s heart may be right, while one’s head may be wrong.
4. Calvinism is not the Gospel. One is not saved by a proper understanding of election, Divine sovereignty, or the extent of the atonement. These issues, no doubt, are important, but they are not the core of the Gospel; they indirectly relate to the Gospel (as do many other Biblical teachings), but are not the essence of it. The puritan, John Bradford, stated: "Let a man go to the grammar school of faith and repentance, before he goes to the university of election and predestination." In the same way that it is wrong to detract from the Gospel message, so it is wrong to add to the Gospel message one’s particular theology. Once again, this is not to deny that the five-points of Calvinism are not important matters; but simply to point out that the minute one makes mandatory for salvation a correct understanding of election, effectual calling, or the extent of the atonement (regardless of how true they might be), they are guilty of adding to the Gospel. This is usually the error of young, zealous Calvinists (although not always), but to use the words of James, "My brethren, these things ought not to be this way" (James 3:10).
II. Don’t Make the Mistake of Accepting Everything "Reformed" or "Calvinistic."
1. Scripture alone is the final standard of authority for doctrine and practice (Isaiah 8:20; Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21), not Luther, Calvin, Owen, or any other great Reformed theologian. This is not to deny that these men – and men from other theological traditions – have made great spiritual contributions to the church, but only that they are not the final arbiters of truth. I know that many Reformed people would assent to this, but how many truly practice it? If we accept everything under the banner of "Reformed" or "Calvinistic," without serious scriptural investigation, are we truly practicing "Sola Scriptura"? Let us not make a pope out of Calvin, Luther, or any other mere mortal (Jeremiah 17:5).
2. Be very careful about accepting entire systems of theology (e.g., Covenant theology, Dispensationalism). Most often, the truth is found somewhere in the middle – and usually, a system of theology contains a part of the truth, but not the whole of it. It appears that God has spread His truth throughout various theological traditions (Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.) so that we might not put our trust in men or institutions, but in the testimony of God’s Word.
3. The truth is, some aspects of Reformed theology are erroneous.
A. Infant Baptism. For a thorough evaluation and refutation of this doctrine, see Paul K. Jewett, Infant Baptism & The Covenant of Grace (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1978); T.E. Watson, Baptism Not For Infants (Worthing, England: Henry E. Walter, 1962); Alexander Carson, Baptism: Its Mode and Subjects (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications [Reprint]); Greg Welty, A Critical Evaluation of Infant Baptism (Fullerton, CA: Reformed Baptist Publications, n.d.).
B. The Covenant of Grace. For a critique of this view, see Jon Zens, "Is There A ‘Covenant of Grace’?" Baptist Reformation Review (Autumn – 1977, Vol.6/No.3), pp.43-53; Richard L. Mayhue, "Hebrews 13:20: Covenant of Grace or New Covenant: An Exegetical Note," The Master’s Seminary Journal (Fall – 1996, Vol.7/No.2), pp.251-257.
C. The Reformed View of the Law. For an evaluation and critique of the traditional view of the Law and its relationship to the believer under the New Covenant, see Douglas J. Moo, "The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses: A Modified Lutheran View," [Chapter 5] in The Law, The Gospel, and the Modern Christian (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993); "‘This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him!’: The Foundation for New Covenant Ethics and Ecclesiology," [ed. Jon Zens] Searching Together (Summer – Winter, 1997, Vol.25/1,2,3); Fred G. Zaspel, "Divine Law: A New Covenant Perspective," Reformation & Revivial [Journal] (Summer – 1997, Vol.6/No.3); Stephen Westerholm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1988); John G. Reisinger, Tablets of Stone (Southbridge, MA: Crowne Publications, 1989).
D. Theonomy. In fairness, not everyone who is Reformed accepts Theonomy or Christian Reconstructionism. I have noticed, however, that many who embrace the Doctrines of Grace, make the unfortunate mistake of accepting Theonomy. For a critique of this unscriptural system, see Jon Zens, "Moses in the Millennium: An Appraisal of Christian Reconstructionism," Searching Together (Vol. 17:2,3,4 – 1988); [eds. William S. Barker & W.R. Godfrey] Theonomy: A Reformed Critique (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990).
E. The Protestant Reformers Persecuted the Anabaptists and Catholics as Well as Sanctioned the Use of the Sword Against their Opponents. The Reformers had no scriptural authority to malign, persecute, and even kill such groups as the Anabaptists and Roman Catholics. While this is no longer a practice among those who are Reformed, there were many prominent Reformation theologians who thought it was perfectly acceptable – even to the point of citing Scripture for its justification (e.g., Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, et al.). This, once again, demonstrates how important it is to not accept everything that comes from the pen of our Reformation heroes since, not only did they err in their interpretation of Scripture at points, but they sometimes engaged in great acts of sin. The late historian, William Warren Sweet, was correct when he said:
There is a widespread notion among Protestant groups that the separation of church and state, and thus religious liberty, was one of the immediate products of the Reformation, that the early Protestants were advocates of a large tolerance, and that religious liberty was but the logical development of the principles held by all the Reformers. Just where this notion arose is difficult to say, and no reputable historian of our times would endorse it. The fact is that the rise of Protestantism was accompanied by an unprecedented outburst of intolerance (Religion in Colonial America, p.320).
J.C. Ryle, a favorite author among many Reformed people, was quite candid in stating:
Any religion, like that of Mahomet, who made converts with the sword, is not from above but from beneath. Any form of Christianity which burns men at the stake, in order to promote its own success, carries about it the stamp of an apostasy. That is the truest and best religion which does most to spread real, true peace (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Vol.4], pp.387-388).
In light of these statements, one wonders what Ryle, and even Reformed people today, would think of Calvin, who had Michael Servetus burned at the stake, or of Zwingli’s complicity in the drowning of the Anabaptists? These men, indeed, should have known better than to commit such evil deeds against other humans – particularly in the name of the Prince of Peace! But, as the old adage goes, "The best of men are men at best." For more on this, see Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1964); Leonard Verduin, The Anatomy of A Hybrid (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1976); William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans [Revised], 1996).
F. Rigid Clericalism/Unscriptural Ecclesiology. The Protestant Reformers as well as most Reformed churches today, have been unable to break with the strict clericalism which they have inherited from both Rome and Constantine. The Reformers were right in their soteriology (doctrine of salvation), but wrong in their ecclesiology (doctrine of the church). They rediscovered the Gospel, but were unable to fully recover the ecclesiology of the New Testament. Thus, in many respects, the Reformation was only a partial reformation. Not only did the Reformers fail to break with the rigid clericalism of their past (including the error of infant baptism), but church attendance in Protestant territories was compulsory. Thus, believers and unbelievers were forced to gather together under the same church membership:
It is one of the incredible paradoxes of history that the Reformers, who so boldly and effectively recaptured the Gospel of grace from its medieval distortion and restored the central message of justification by faith, should have retained the mass church of the mixed multitude, the territorial church of the Constantinian compromise, in which real faith was not a requirement for membership (H. Bender, These Are My People, p.70).
Unfortunately, much of the ecclesiology within our historic Reformed denominations is fraught with practices and cherished traditions which run counter to the New Testament. For further study, see Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership (Littleton, CO: Lewis & Roth Publishers, 1986); William A. Beckham, The Second Reformation (Houston, TX: Touch Publications, 1995); Greg Ogden, The New Reformation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990); Frank A. Viola, Rethinking the Wineskin (Brandon, FL: Present Testimony Ministry, 1997); Alex R. Hay, The New Testament Order for Church and Missionary (Published by the New Testament Missionary Union, 1947).
III. Don’t View Any Period of Church History as Perfect (e.g., the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century), Nor Any Particular Group of Christians (e.g., the Reformers, Puritans, Anabaptists).
1. We must value the spiritual contributions of different men and different periods of time within church history, but never idolize them.
2. We must be willing to look at both the good as well as the faults of our spiritual and theological heroes.
3. We must seek to guard ourselves from the error of a party-spirit as well as from making a virtual pope out of Calvin or Luther – something which, by the way, the apostle Paul explicitly told us not to do (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:1-6; 4:1).
4. When we fail to realize the faults of our spiritual/theological heroes, or when we are guilty of idolizing the past, we end up:
A. Making man the measure or standard of righteousness, instead of the Lord Jesus Christ.
B. We fail to see the progression of church history and end up chained to the past – not recognizing that each period of history has its own unique contribution and blessing (including ours in the twenty-first century).
C. Romanticizing the past ("the good-old days"). We end up viewing history from a romanticized perspective, rather than from reality, which includes both great achievements as well as great down-falls. If even the Bible records the failures and sins of the greatest saints (e.g., David, Peter, et al.), why should we then ignore the faults of lesser saints throughout church history (e.g., Calvin, Luther, et al.)? Perhaps one of the major reasons why God allowed the failures of various biblical characters to be recorded, is so that we would not idolize such persons nor form theological parties around them. For those willing to look at the faults of our Reformation and Puritan heroes – not for the purpose of discrediting them, but for the purpose of seeing a true picture – I recommend the following: Thomas N. Smith, "The Perils of Puritanism," Reformation & Revivial [Journal]: Puritanism I (Spring – 1996, Vol.5/No.2), pp.83-99; Jon Zens, "What Can We Learn From Reformation History?" Baptist Reformation Review (Autumn – 1978, Vol.7/No.3), pp.1-13; Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1964).
IV. Because We Have Been Given Greater Scriptural Insight, Calvinists Should Be the Model of Humility and Love.
1. Consider the grace and blessings which God has lavished upon you: He could have chosen to create you into a mouse or even a cockroach but, instead, chose to make you into a member of the human race; He could have chosen to plant you in the most remote and harshest place on this planet but, instead, chose to plant you in the free and prosperous land of America; He could have left you in sin and darkness but, instead, chose to redeem you and adopt you as His child through Christ Jesus; And He could have left you in your Arminian confusion but, instead, chose to graciously reveal the Doctrines of Grace to you. Therefore, do you have any excuse for pride or arrogance toward others – particularly toward our Arminian brethren? As the apostle Paul says, "For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7).
2. Because of the tendency to become prideful over the Doctrines of Grace (1 Corinthians 8:1), we must continually remind ourselves of the words of our Lord: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35; cf. John 15:12,17; Romans 12:3,10; 1 Corinthians 13:4,13; Ephesians 4:1-3,32; Philippians 2:1-4; Colossians 4:6; 1 Peter 3:8; 1 John 3:14-18; 4:11). For further study, I highly recommend: Jonathan Edwards, Charity and its Fruits (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust [Reprint], 1969).
3. Seek to cultivate and improve such spiritual characteristics as patience, kindness, and non-retaliation. Robert Chapman, whom Spurgeon considered to be the most saintliest man he ever knew, once said: "There are many who preach Christ, but not so many who live Christ. My great aim will be to live Christ" (Robert L. Peterson, Robert Chapman: A Biography [Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1995] p.29). This, likewise, should be the goal of the Calvinist (or any believer for that matter).
4. The only way to reverse the common assumption that Calvinists are haughty and proud, is to simply not behave in this way.
5. Although those who adhere to the precious Doctrines of Grace should be ready always to articulate and explain their beliefs, we must be careful to not go looking for debates or disputes with our Arminian brethren – as Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:3, "being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Let us also remember that we do not always have to have the last word, nor is it necessary to always "win the debate" – as Spurgeon wisely warned his own students at The Pastor’s College:
In all probability, sensible conversation will sometimes drift into controversy, and here many a good man runs upon a snag. The sensible minister will be particularly gentle in argument. He, above all men, should not make the mistake of fancying that there is force in temper, and power in speaking angrily. A heathen who stood in a crowd in Calcutta, listening to a missionary disputing with a Brahmin, said he knew which was right though he did not understand the language – he knew that he was in the wrong who lost his temper first. For the most part, that is a very accurate way of judging. Try to avoid debating with people. State your opinion and let them state theirs. If you see that a stick is crooked, and you want people to see how crooked it is, lay a straight rod down beside it; that will be quite enough. But if you are drawn into controversy, use very hard arguments and very soft words. Frequently you cannot convince a man by tugging at his reason, but you can persuade him by winning his affections (Lectures to My Students [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Reprint, 1977] Vol.1, p.188).
6. Christian love, however, does not exclude a proper and humble boldness. Proverbs 28:1 reminds us that "the righteous are bold as a lion" (cf. Acts 4:29,31; Philippians 1:14).
V. Don’t Major on the Minors. Be very Careful Where You Plant Your Flag.
1. There are some issues or controversies not worth getting involved in – at least not to the point of disrupting the unity and peace of the church.
2. If you end up majoring on things not truly essential, you will either ignore those that are important and worthy of your efforts – or – people will tend to not take you seriously on vital matters because of your propensity to make a big deal over insignificant issues. This would be the spiritual or theological counterpart of "crying wolf." I am amazed at how many Christians are obsessed with reclaiming America as a "Christian Nation" or who spend most of their available time warning other Christians of the threat of secular humanism or the latest conspiracy theory, yet cannot define the doctrine of justification (Martin Luther believed that justification was the article by which the church stands or falls). Many of these same people want the Ten Commandments to be the moral basis for our country, yet cannot even name them! Quite frankly, if the Devil can divert you to endlessly chase unedifying or non-essential issues, he has won the day.
3. Don’t allow others to drag you into their personal theological controversies.
4. In many cases, those who are in constant friction with others over relatively minor theological issues, do so because: (1) They are spiritually immature; (2) Lack discernment in recognizing what is essential or non-essential; and (3) They engage in unimportant disputes because they’re not truly engaged in genuine spiritual warfare. It’s akin to soldiers, during peace-time, who concentrate on the relatively petty details of shining shoes or making certain that their uniforms are always starched because there’s no real war to fight. Thus, they spend much of their time concentrating on insignificant duties. Actually, the Christian who pursues "fruitless discussions" (1 Timothy 1:3-7) stands under the disciplining hand of God since, unlike the soldier who serves during peace-time, our war is not over, but continues to rage on until Christ returns (2 Corinthians 10:3-4; Ephesians 6:10-18; 1 Peter 5:8-9).
VI. Recognize That You Can Learn From Those Who Are Outside of the Reformed Camp.
A number of years ago, a young Calvinist fellow told me, "I only read Reformed authors!" My immediate response was, "Why limit yourself?" Apparently, he thought that God only teaches those who are Reformed or that they are the only ones who have anything worthy to say. The truth is, God can use the lowliest or most uneducated saint to teach us His truth – including our Arminian brethren. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to agree with everyone we converse. It does mean, however, that we must be willing to listen to those outside of our theological tradition and to accept that which agrees with Scripture and reject that which doesn’t. Don’t limit the avenues which are available for your instruction and sanctification.
VII. Seek to Be A Man/Woman of the Text of Scripture.
That which separates the men from the boys, theologically speaking, is the ability to define and defend one’s theology from the biblical text. Some Christians argue their case from philosophy or general theological assumptions, but the Christian who is able to articulate his views from Scripture itself will stand head over everyone else because, not only does he have a proper starting-point, but his arguments will carry greater weight because they come from God’s Word. Instead of speaking in vague generalities about spiritual or theological matters, they are able to precisely and exegetically support their opinions because they are daily studying the contents of Scripture. To his own students, Spurgeon wisely advised:
There is one book which you all have, and that is your Bible; and a minister with his Bible is like David with his sling and stone, fully equipped for the fray. No man may say that he has no well to draw from while the Scriptures are within reach. In the Bible we have a perfect library, and he who studies it thoroughly will be a better scholar than if he had devoured the Alexandrian Library entire. To understand the Bible should be our ambition; we should be familiar with it, as familiar as the housewife with her needle, the merchant with his ledger, the mariner with his ship. We ought to know its general run, the contents of each book, the details of its histories, its doctrines, its precepts, and everything about it . . . A man who has his Bible at his fingers’ ends and in his heart’s core is a champion in our Israel; you cannot compete with him: you may have an armory of weapons, but his Scriptural knowledge will overcome you; for it is a sword like that of Goliath, of which David said, "There is none like it" (Lectures to My Students [Vol.1], pp.195-196).
VIII. In Purchasing Books, Be Selective and Purchase Only the Best.
A man’s library is a good indicator of his thinking and theology. The wise believer, therefore, should not waste his money or time on the sensational and shallow. Although the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:12 are true ("the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body"), this does not undermine the value of securing profitable books which help to inform our minds and clarify the meaning of Scripture (2 Timothy 4:13).
IX. The Calvinist, Above All Others, Should Seek to Be Productive in His Walk For Christ.
1. Knowledge brings accountability. The more knowledge that one has of the Word of God, the more accountable they are to live in obedience to it and to manifest the fruits which spring from that knowledge. Thus, there is no excuse for an unproductive and lazy Calvinist. Don’t be a spiritual fat cow!
2. Don’t settle for low levels of grace within your life. Seek to excel in your Christian walk – as Paul urges us in Romans 12:11, "not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord" (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:58; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; Hebrews 6:10-12).
3. Practice disciple-making. It amazes me how many people grow in the Doctrines of Grace and who excel in their grasp of God’s revelation, but who never make any effort to disciple others. Think of the many experienced and older Christian men who never impart their wisdom and knowledge to younger men. In my opinion, this is a waste of the rich spiritual and intellectual resources which God has given to each one of us, as well as disservice to the body of Christ. For more on mentoring and disciple-making, see Paul D. Stanley & J. Robert Clinton, Connecting (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1992); Bill Hull, The Disciple Making Church (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1990).
4. Be optimistic about your future and service unto Christ – as was William Carey, the founder of modern missions, who said: "Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God."
5. The Calvinist should seek to be the model of hospitality and charity (Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9).
6. Be generous and liberal in your giving to others (Deuteronomy 15:10; 2 Corinthians 8:1-4; 9:7). William S. Plumer, "He who is not liberal with what he has, does but deceive himself when he thinks he would be more liberal if he had more." Henry Ward Beecher, "In this world it is not what we take up but what we give up that makes us rich."
X. Develop A Theology of Listening.
1. So often, when we converse with other believers, we tend to talk past each other because we have not learned the value and discipline of listening. James 1:19 tell us, "But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger."
2. I am persuaded that most of our doctrinal controversies throughout church history could have been solved or perhaps eased had Christians been more willing to listen carefully to one another.
3. Learn to be patient with the verbal blunders of others – "For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well" (James 3:2).
4. As hard as it may seem, learn to value the criticism that you receive from others. Spurgeon wisely advised his own students at the Pastor’s College in London to not view criticism as necessarily a bad thing:
You must be able to bear criticism, or you are not fit to be at the head of a congregation; and you must let the critic go without reckoning him among your deadly foes, or you will prove yourself a mere weakling. It is wisest always to show double kindness where you have been severely handled by one who thought it his duty to do so, for he is probably an honest man and worth winning . . . The best of people are sometimes out at elbows and say unkind things; we should be glad if our friends could quite forget what we said when we were peevish and irritable, and it will be Christ-like to act towards others in this matter as we would wish them to do towards us . . . A sensible friend who will unsparingly criticize you from week to week will be a far greater blessing to you than a thousand undiscriminating admirers if you have sense enough to bear his treatment, and grace enough to be thankful for it. When I was preaching at the Surrey Gardens, an unknown censor of great ability used to send me a weekly list of my mispronunciations and other slips of speech. He never signed his name, and that was my only cause of complaint against him, for he left me in a debt which I could not acknowledge. I take this opportunity of confessing my obligations to him, for with genial temper, and an evident desire to benefit me, he marked down most relentlessly everything which he supposed me to have said incorrectly. Concerning some of these corrections he was in error himself, but for the most part he was right, and his remarks enabled me to perceive and avoid many mistakes. I looked for his weekly memoranda with much interest, and I trust I am all the better for them (Lectures to My Students [Vol.2], pp.169-170,175).
5. Criticism Will:
A. Keep you humble. Criticism helps to deflate swollen-egos.
B. Inform and educate you.
C. Keep you dependent upon your heavenly Father.
D. Help to confirm that you are not a man-pleaser – as Jesus warned His own disciples: "Woe to you when all men speak well of you" (Luke 6:26).
XI. Don’t Allow Your Past Failures to Hinder Your Service to God.
1. It’s important to remember that the greatest of men within redemptive history have had their short-comings and failures, yet we still used by God. Therefore, "Let us press on to maturity" (Hebrews 6:1; cf. Philippians 3:12,14).
2. Don’t allow yourself to fixate on the failures and sins of your Christian life, but look to the greater work of sanctification that God is doing in your life. Soldiers don’t quit! John Owen, "Think of the guilt of sin, that you may be humbled. Think of the power of sin, that you may seek strength against it. Think not of the matter of sin . . . . lest you be more and more entangled."
3. While it is granted that a Christian may act hypocritical at times, a genuine believer will not continuously live a life of hypocrisy (1 John 3:9-10). Henry Scudder, in his classic work, The Christian’s Daily Walk, writes:
Uprightness being part of sanctification, is not fully perfect in this life; but is mixed with some hypocrisy, conflicting one against the other. It has degrees, sometimes more, sometimes less . . . A man is not to be called an upright man, or a hypocrite, because of some few actions wherein he may show uprightness or hypocrisy: for a hypocrite may do some upright actions, in which he does not dissemble, though he cannot be said to do them in uprightness; as Jehu destroyed the wicked house of Ahab, and the idolatrous priests of Baal, with all his heart (2 Kings 10). And the best man may do some hypocritical and guileful actions, as in the matter of Uriah, David did (1 Kings 15:5). It is not the having of hypocrisy that denotes a hypocrite, but the reigning of it, which is, when it is not seen, confessed, bewailed, and opposed. A man should judge of his uprightness rather by his will, bent, and the inclination of his soul, and good desires, and true endeavors to well doing in the whole course of his life, than by this or that particular act, or by his power to do. David was thus esteemed a man according to God’s own heart, no otherwise; rather by the goodness of the general course of his life, than by particular actions: for in many things he offended God, and polluted his soul, and blemished his reputation (pp.159-160).
XII. Recognize That Your Greatest Power is Found in Prayer.
E.M. Bounds once said, "To give prayer the secondary place is to make God secondary in life’s affairs." In his book, The Weapon of Prayer (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Reprint, 1991), he further stated:
The men to whom Jesus Christ committed the fortunes and destiny of His church were men of prayer. To no other kind of men has God ever committed Himself in this world. The apostles were preeminently men of prayer. They gave themselves to prayer. They made praying their chief business. It was first in point of importance and first in results. God never has, and He never will, commit the weighty interests of His kingdom to prayerless men, who do not make prayer a conspicuous and controlling factor in their lives. Men who do not pray never rise to any eminence of piety. Men of piety are always men of prayer. Men who are not preeminently men of prayer are never noted for the simplicity and strength of their faith. Piety flourishes nowhere so rapidly and so rankly as in the closet. The closet is the garden of faith (p.33).
Written by Darryl M. Erkel (1998)
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
In our last teaching on Titus 3:12-15, we learned that the New Testament never talks about two classes of Christians – “minister” and “laymen” -- like we often hear in churches today. According to the Bible, the people (
NAU John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Of course, the Old Testament clearly taught that the Jews were to love fellow Jews (Lev. 19:18), but you will never find in the Old Testament a command to love each other like Jesus Himself loved them. This is the “new” part of Jesus’ new commandment. My friends, Jesus is speaking of body-love. As I said during my last teaching, one of the biggest obstacles to effectively spreading the love of the gospel today is the false idea that only supposedly “holy guys” can do ministry and only “holy guys” can show that kind of love to the body of Christ. This idea says that only people like pastors and other spiritual leaders are really qualified and able to do the work of the ministry. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Yes, it’s true that the N.T. makes a clear distinction between those who are gifted to be spiritual leaders and those who are not (cf. 1 Thess.5:12-13), but this distinction also assumes that all believers are priests that have the responsibility to grow in their faith and minister to each other by doing good deeds for each other. A good place to learn how to do good deeds and meet pressing needs is to consider “how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another . . .” (Heb. 10:24-25). Paul says that we are to “. . . admonish one another.” (Rom. 15:14), “comfort one another . . .” (1 Thess. 4:18) and “encourage one another and build up one another” and “always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people . . .” (1 Thess. 5:11-18). And so, we are to diligently seek the good of both believer and non-believer.
Because all believers are “ministers” (believer-priests) who have been spiritually gifted by God with the ability to lovingly build up their spiritual brothers and sisters and encourage them toward spiritual maturity, the ministry of elders and deacons must be viewed against the backdrop of the general priesthood of all believers. Elders and deacons serve an important part in the building up of the body, but they are not the only sources of edification in the body. A harmonious church that exhibits body-love by doing the “one-anothers” of Scripture will also will be a light to the world, attracting unbelievers to the light of salvation through trust in Jesus (John 12:32). This is how Jesus said that the unbelieving world will know that you are His people. Again, He said,
NAU John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Now, contrast what Jesus said with the following. According the Barna Research Group, 16-29 year olds have a very poor perception of the church. During a recent conference, Barna Research employee David Kinnaman presented information to be released in an upcoming book about how 16-29 years olds perceive Christians and the church. Here is what the research shows:
91% perceived Christians as being Antihomosexual/Homophobic.
87% perceived Christians as being Judgmental.
85% perceived Christians as being Hypocritical.
78% perceived Christians as being Old-fashioned.
75% perceived Christians as being too involved in politics.
72% perceived Christians as being out of touch with reality.
70% perceived Christians as being insensitive to the needs of others.
Many people will try to explain away these perceptions. Some will say that we should not expect unbelievers to understand Christians or the church, and to a certain extent this is true due to the spiritually dead state of unregenerate people (1 Cor. 1:18; 2:14). Others have suggested that the church and the world have a different set of priorities and a different set of pressing concerns. And there are probably many other explanations as to why the world would see Christians and the church as judgmental, hypocritical, and insensitive to others. Nevertheless, according to that research, I think the unbelievers polled in those studies have professing evangelicals pegged.
But regardless of how we try to explain away these perceptions, the fact remains that Jesus seemed to indicate that the unbelieving world would be able to recognize Christians out of all the other people in the world by their love for each another. Now, if unbelieving 16-29 year olds are, according to Jesus, supposed to be able to recognize us by our love for each other, why is “love” not mentioned as one of their perceptions?
Why do those in this generation see Christians and the church as judgmental, hypocritical, and insensitive to others in need? Could it be that they have heard the talk but haven’t seen the walk? Could it be that our sermons condemn their actions, but our actions do not demonstrate the love of Christ to each other? Is it possible that they hear Christian celebrities such as Pat Robertson denouncing the perils of certain dictators in
After coming out of traditional, institutional churches, believers who begin to seek to live out Jesus’ new commandment usually face a number of obstacles. Obviously, everyone brings their past church baggage and traditions with them to a certain extent. Folks can often see the problems with how most churches try to do things, but they are not always sure how to avoid such pitfalls in the fresh setting of a NT church gathering. Therefore, I need to lay down some basic, fundamental perspectives that past experience tells me will go a long way toward helping the saints of this church get started on the right foot. First, we will look at the foundation we must work from, and then we will examine some very practical issues about getting along with one another and working out problems together both in the church and the home.
I. What Do We Build On?
Given the propensity of human traditions to multiply, get in the way, and block the truth, it is important for believers to be sure that their practice of church is built on the correct foundation; namely, the Holy Scriptures. A search of the New Testament reveals that there is only one foundation for the church and that is Jesus Christ Himself — His unique person, His redemptive work, and His authoritative words (1Cor. 3:11; 15:3-4; Matt. 7:28-29; 17:5). In terms of what Jesus taught, it is necessary to understand what He viewed as being central for the New Covenant community. On the eve of His death, after He had washed the disciples’ feet, again, He announced without ambiguity, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34 -35). Every outworking of church life must flow out of a one-another love that imitates what the Lord did for us on the cross (John 15:12-13).
II. Where Did Our Exodus Away from “Body Love” Occur?
At this point, it is vital to understand the precise relationship between the Old and New Covenants. Both covenants were based upon the Lord’s action in history to separate to Himself a people.
If you look at books on Christian Ethics you will discover that most of them end up being expositions of the Ten Commandments, as if ethical fullness can only be found in Exodus 20. In such volumes the “new commandment” and its implications are almost never given any attention. To cite a glaring example, in Patrick Fairburn’s massive The Revelation of Law in Scripture, he spends a great deal of time on the Ten Commandments, but says almost nothing about the “new command” in John 13. In the history of theology more attention has fallen on the Old Covenant ethics based on the Egyptian Exodus than on the New Covenant ethics flowing out of the Exodus Christ carried out in Jerusalem on the cross (Lk. 9:31). Perhaps this explains why church has traditionally, in certain key areas, been shaped more by Old Covenant images than New Covenant revelation.
And so, the specific focus of the new commandment is to love “one another, even as I have loved you.” This shows that Christian ethics primarily relates to body ethics. At the core of the New Testament is a concern for the Church to live out the very nature of the new man, which Christ created on the cross, making peace through creating a New Covenant priesthood where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:28). As Paul Lehmann observes, “Christian ethics is koinonia ethics,” and the ekklesia is a context where spiritual maturity and spiritual growth, and not mere morality, is encouraged. Therefore, the way we understand how the NT church is structured and how it is supposed to function must be rooted in the New Covenant which has been put into effect as binding, and our relations as brothers and sisters must be bathed in the new commandment to love one another as He loved us at the cross of
III. “Accept One Another / Admonish One Another”
After being a Christian for over ten years, I have struggled with watching a problem that occurs with tragic frequency in Bible-believing circles. I’ve seen church split after church split. I’ve seen brethren biting and devouring one another. I have often thought in my heart, “How can the New Testament, which puts so much emphasis on love and unity, become the source for so much division and strife?” Somewhere in the midst of my personal struggle on this issue, the Lord brought me to the two-fold perspective of Paul in Romans 15. It does not, of course, bring an immediate resolution to every possible scenario we will face at Shepherd’s Fellowship. However, I really believe that to the extent that we can practice this two-fold dimension of assembly life, we will go a long way toward avoiding the ugliness that, sadly, has come to mark much that bears the name Christian.
In the context Paul has dealt with the sticky reality that the early church had to face early on – Jews and Gentiles were brought together as one new man, and they were meeting together in the same homes (Eph. 2:15). Paul, of course, did not opt for the easy thing to do, namely, have Jewish believers meet in one place, and the Gentile believers meet somewhere else. The only consistent outworking of the Gospel was for the two radically different ethnic groups to meet together because Jesus on the cross tore down the wall of separation between them and brought the two together into one group called the church, thereby making peace (Eph. 2:12-18). This was a volatile situation, and Paul faces it head-on in Romans 14-15.
So after dealing with how Jewish and Gentile saints should show love to one another in areas like foods, drinks and days, Paul comes to the conclusion of the matter in Romans 15:7 – “Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” Then in verse 14 we discover the flip side of this exhortation to accept each other, “And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.” In these two verses a tension is revealed that we must all wrestle with: How do we pursue truth together without destroying our fellowship, and how can we pursue fellowship together without avoiding Christ’s truth?
Most churches tend to illustrate the pendulum swing – they either pursue truth in an atmosphere without love and caring (which results in witch-hunts), or they emphasize acceptance and love with little interest in Christ’s revealed will (which results in gushy sentimentality devoid of Scriptural truth). Why do Christians always try to sever what God has joined together? Why can’t we cultivate and encourage an atmosphere of acceptance of our fellow brethren in which we will learn to speak the truth to one another in love in the midst of our differences? Our tendency is to reject other Christians who disagree with our understanding of Scripture in what we regard as important, yet secondary issues. Or, there is the tendency to so underscore acceptance that there is no concern for Scriptural truth. To fully accept one another in the bonds of the Gospel and to instruct one another in an atmosphere of love and truth is a tension we must face and work out.
According to Paul, spiritual growth can occur only when we speak the truth to one another in love (Eph. 4:15; John 17:17). Elliot Johnson rightly observes, “In a sense, Evangelicals have lived with an interpretational truce. While we agree on doctrinal ‘essentials’ we have also agreed to not talk very seriously about issues of disagreement. Yet Paul charted God’s strategy for Christian growth [In Eph. 4:12-13]. In order to reach unity we need some way to talk about our different interpretations and to evaluate these differences.”
The problem in most configurations of believers is that the very rationale for the group’s existence rules out the possibility of certain truths or ideas being discussed. Their understanding of what truth is has already been defined in terms of some predetermined boundaries. I’m not talking about doctrinal statements or denominational affiliations, although that may play a part, but instead, I’m speaking of secondary issues that people just will not “go there” on; whether it’s a doctrinal issue or a practical Christian living issue. I suggest that this kind of behavior is childish and makes a mockery of the Holy Spirit and the Gospel. When we face new issues from the Word we must be willing to work together, study together, pray together and even fast together in order to seek the Lord’s mind and come to greater agreement. Most of us are ready to separate from other brethren at the drop of a hat. However, Jesus wants us to “speak the truth in love” and make our firm commitment to the truth of Scripture as firm as our willingness to work out our disagreements with fellow God-lovers to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
IV. Seeking Truth Together in Fellowship
To prevent our church from eventually falling apart, I have listed some critical things that I believe echo the two-fold vantage point of Romans 15:
• We Must Have a Previous Commitment to Follow Scripture — Such an assembly must come to the Scriptures having previously made the commitment to obey and follow as literally and completely as possible whatever leading may be discovered therein.
• We Must Emphasize the Centrality of our Love for God and our Love for Each Other — Such an assembly, above all, must preserve the love for one another, without which any religious insight, no matter how correct it may be technically, loses its power because there are no actions that back it up.
• We Must Instruct in An Atmosphere of Love — Such an assembly will respect and maintain brotherhood with all sincere seekers of truth (Rom. 15:7), though at the same time, they will see it as their Christian duty to respectfully point out what they feel to be errors in the other’s thinking (Rom. 15:14).
• We Must Seek Truth without Fracturing Christian Fellowship — A dialectic is in operation here: The preservation of fellowship is of supreme value; however, agreement in the truth of Scripture is also of high value. The pressure toward doctrinal agreement in every jot and tittle dare not be allowed to destroy fellowship, but neither dare the joys of fellowship be allowed to stifle the search for the point of agreement from the truth of the Scriptures. If this dialectical balance be patiently maintained, the Spirit can and will eventually bring about agreement - while in the process you enhance rather than destroy sweet Christian fellowship.
• We Must Seek to Demonstrate Humility and Willingness to Listen Carefully to those who Disagree with Us — Much more important than having the truth is being in a position to receive the truth; thus, the life of the church always must be open-ended toward listening to and accepting truth from God’s word.
If every assembly would walk in the power of the Spirit according to the ways described above, we would see a lot less arguing and a lot more unity in love and truth. The problem is, of course, that it is sinful people like you and me who make up the parts of each church. We are all very capable of putting ourselves and our agendas ahead of others. This reality underscores the importance of each part of the body being committed to loving one another fervently. When families have problems they don’t run away from each other. So goes with those families and so it should be with the church. Hopefully, there is a real, loving commitment present that will cause Christians to stick it out during the process of resolving issues. How much more in the spiritual body of Christ should we be willing to persevere with one another in anticipation of the Lord by His Spirit enhancing our fellowship as we speak the truth in love?
V. “Agree with One Another” (1Cor. 1:10)
No human family can function indefinitely without having to face a conflict or problem. Likewise, in Christ’s family there will be problems that must be resolved. Indeed, much of what was written in the New Testament had to do with correcting errors of teaching and practice among the saints. What guidelines does the New Testament give for working through the bumpy times that any congregation will inevitably face? 1 Corinthians 1:10 reveals some critical apostolic teaching in this regard.
NAU 1 Corinthians 1:10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.
First, it can be noted that Paul directs his exhortation to the brethren. These were believers in a city who maintained an ongoing relationship with one another in the bonds of Christ. They were committed to one another because of their common interest in the Gospel. It is this deep mutual fellowship (koinonia) in Christ that provides the backdrop for Paul’s approach to them with correction. One author I read noted that, “Change takes place when truth is presented in relationship. Perhaps a relationship of deep regard and empathetic concern is the context for change, creating an atmosphere in which the truth of God can be heard nondefensively and thus penetrate more deeply . . . . to be healthy, a church must present truth in the context of encouraging relationships” This insight reflects what we saw in Romans 15:7 (“Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.”). A loving, caring, accepting atmosphere must be the context for speaking the truth to each other in love (Rom. 15:14). What reason would we have to think that Gospel truth will take deep root in a setting which reflects instead the modified line from the old song, “Where seldom is heard, an encouraging word”?
Next, Paul confronts the Corinthians with a very serious problem. Paul had a number of issues with them, but this is the one at the top of his list. They were clustering around gifted personalities, and by such schism were ruining the image of an undivided Christ. “For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:10-11). This sinful division was already occurring and had driven the saints apart from one another. To solve this problem, Paul appeals to them to agree about the wickedness of this situation. If they agreed then the divisions could no longer exist. The phrase translated “made complete” (the participle katartismenoi) used in verse 10 is significant. It is from the same verb used in Ephesians 4:12, translated there as “equip” or “prepare” It is the verb used when the disciples were “mending” their nets (Mt. 4:21; Mk. 1:19 ). We could loosely translate the verb, “mending with a view toward rendering something as functional again.” This idea also emerges again in Galatians 6:1, “restore such a one . . . .”
As used in the context of 1 Corinthians 1:10, we can see an important implication of being “perfectly united in mind and thought.” While we are not given any of the details as to how they worked this out, at a minimum we can say that the Corinthians had to work through this matter until the breach was mended and they finally agreed. A process which results in unity is in view. They were already split apart, so in order for the torn garment to be repaired they had to: (1) take the apostolic instruction; (2) come back together; (3) face and discuss the word of the Lord together; (4) repent of their sins; and (5) be restored again to their original oneness.
The utterly amazing fact is that, even with all their problems, Paul assumes that the assembly has the spiritual resources to overcome their waywardness. Many posit that the problem-solving abilities Paul presupposes will only work among mature churches. But this is a bogus suggestion. Corinth was in many ways a very immature assembly, but Paul still expects them, for example, to deal with immorality in their midst (1 Cor. 5) and to resolve their disputes internally without going to unbelieving courts (1 Cor. 6).
The apostles taught that within the New Covenant community all were anointed by the Holy Spirit who enabled them to test and discern what the will of God might be (1 John 2:20 , 27; 4:1; 1 Thess. 5:21 ). The church, therefore, is first of all a discerning community, able to bind and loose, and thus is also a decision-making community. The very word chosen to earmark the New Covenant people of God, ekklesia, is taken from the secular political realm, not from a religious context. Ekklesia referred to a group of people with common interests getting together to accomplish certain business. It would be very similar to the town meetings that took place in developing
As you reflect on the New Testament epistles, it is quite striking that church leaders are not addressed separately, as if some special decision-making authority resided in them. Instead, Paul directs his writings to the entire church. For example, he does not rebuke the elders at
Paul’s approach flies in the face of the traditional decision-making method, which views “the pastor,” or a body of leaders, as the source of decisions. Abraham Kuyper, for instance, removed the right to judge from the congregation and asserted that “the administrative authority over the church rests not with the members, but properly with the presbyters.” The Christian counselor Jay Adams says that “take it to the church” means “take it to the elders,” who then forgive or excommunicate. Such an interpretation is arbitrary, informed more by presuppositions than by the text itself. Elders will certainly be a part of the discerning process in the body, but the New Testament will not sustain the notion that elders are involved in the process alone. The truth is, there is very little focus on elders in the New Testament, compared to the at least fifty-eight “one-another” commands found therein.
Both times Jesus uses ekklesia to identify His New Covenant people, He attaches binding and loosing to its function (Mt. 16:19; 18:18). This clearly indicates that we need to significantly broaden our ideas of what is entailed in doing “church.” Traditionally, doing church means going to a building, sitting in a pew, singing some songs, putting some money in a plate, hearing a sermon, shaking the pastor’s hand, and heading home to get your roast out of the oven. Most fundamentally, however, ekklesia means doing the whole gamut of kingdom activities with other committed believers in a local congregation. We are not used to thinking of resolving disputes within the body as church, but the essence of practicing ekklesia involves problem-solving and decision-making in an atmosphere of loving acceptance where Christ’s truth can be spoken in love.
It behooves us, therefore, to realize that Christ expects churches to agree with one another and to be perfectly united in mind and thought. This does not mean that we must have unanimity regarding every doctrinal nuance, but it does mean that we must be ready to work things out with our brethren as required in light of apostolic teaching. Paul was not surprised when congregations had problems, but he was upset when they failed to work through their problems together as a body. Here is a question each of us needs to face: when the inevitable day comes in my assembly that a problem surfaces, am I going to run and hide from it, or am I going to stand with the body and do my part to be part of its resolution? In other words: are you going to be a consumer or a contributor. Are you going to be like a leech on the body of Christ, sucking the precious, time, energy, and resources from it, or are you going to be a contributor, helping solve the problems that arise within the body? Practicing ekklesia or “doing church” the right way requires hard work and commitment, but we must never forget that Jesus’ presence by the Spirit, persistent prayer, preferring others ahead of ourselves, and fervent love are where the battles are won.
VI. “Honor One Another Above Yourselves” (Rom. 12:10)
One of the most staggering goals of Christ’s work is set forth in 2 Corinthians 5:15, “and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” One of the unending lessons of discipleship is to take up our cross daily and follow Christ, to deny ourselves consciously by the Spirit’s power. This happens when we stop living for ourselves and serve Him and His people. In terms of our life in the body of Christ, one of the key ways we demonstrate a selfless life is to put others’ needs ahead of our own. Think about it. If each believer was preferring others ahead of himself, everybody’s needs would be met. There would be no need for welfare or government aid because we would all be looking out for each other. No one would be forgotten. It sounds so simple, but we all know that body life does not work out that smoothly because each of us sinfully desires to put ourselves ahead of others.
In terms of our life together as believers, and in light of our responsibility to work things out in the body, one of the central ways we avoid self-centered living is by listening to the concerns and burdens of others. James 1:19 says, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” Some commentators see in James’ remark a corrective to what was occurring in early Christian church meetings. Curtis Vaughn and Earl Kelly note, “There may be an allusion [in James 1:19] to the free and unstructured worship of the early Christian assemblies.” Further, “It is possible that contentious Christian babes were taking advantage of the informal style of worship in the early Christian church to produce wrangling.”
The point is that in our dealings with one another each of us must first of all “be quick to hear.” Obviously, in any group of Christians there will be those will want to talk a lot, those who are very reluctant to do so, and others in-between. Those who have the gift of gab should take to heart James’ admonition, “be slow to speak.” They should prefer others ahead of themselves, and be sure that they do not stifle the input of others, either by dominating the discussion, or by coming across in such a dogmatic tone that no one feels up to contributing their thoughts. The verbally timid should be encouraged to share their insights by the rest of the group, realizing that each one of us has the potential of adding edifying content to the meeting (1 Cor. 14:26). As William Barclay observes about the meeting described in 1 Corinthians 14, “The really notable thing about an early Church service must have been that almost everyone came feeling that he had both the privilege and obligation of contributing something to it . . . . Obviously this had its dangers for it is clear that in
In light of the exhortation for each of us to be “quick to hear,” what are some vital attitudes that we must cultivate in our body relationships?
1. We must be open to learn from Christians in various traditions. We all tend to stick to a denominational party-line and turn our heads away from information outside of our comfort zone. A.N. Groves wrote in 1833 concerning his relationship with J.N. Darby, “I do not think we ought to propose to be modeled unlike every sect, but simply to be like Christ; let us neither seek nor fear a name. I wish rather to have from every sect what every sect may have from Christ.” Are we willing to “listen” to multiple sources and discern from them what might help us discover the mind of Christ? Are we really open to be challenged by others to search the Scriptures and see what is indeed so? Thomas Dubay notes in this regard: “Since no one of us mortals, affected as we are with original sin, is perfectly pure in his desire for truth, no one of us is exempt from some degree of close-mindedness. It is only our God who is truth than can cure our reluctance to embrace all of his truth, however he speaks it.”
2. “We need to be humble,” says Dubay, “small in our own estimation. Finding the solution to a mathematical problem is possible without humility, but finding God’s will is impossible without this virtue. James 4:6 tells us that God resists the proud but gives grace (and light) to the humble”. Whenever a group of believers bathed in humility gather together, great things can be expected; but, as James 3:16 notes, where “jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” The truly humble believer puts others ahead of themselves, and they can do this when they carefully listen and pay attention to what they hear from others.
3. We must always have a “willingness to be changed by what is going to be said. One listens wholly only if he is willing to modify his present position if the evidence warrants it. People who are set in their thoughts and determined not to change their behavior do not listen to contrary evidences (Dubay, p. 11). If we admit that we don’t know anything like we should, then we will be open to new light from our fellow Christian. We must listen to possible new evidence that has escaped our attention. As I’ve said earlier, the church must always be open-ended toward God’s truth in Christ.
4. We must “grow in awareness that the person speaking is important, even a precious one of “God’s beloved” (Rom. 1:7). We pay attention to important people. To the proud person other people aren’t important and so he is not inclined to take them seriously nor listen to them. Even more, we value the opinions of those we love. If I do not really care what my brother thinks, I had better doubt that I love my brother” (Dubay, 11). I have seen so many cases in churches, on the internet, and in e-mails where those who articulate things with razor-sharp logic bulldoze over the little person, and pooh-pooh any concerns they have. You may think that a question or concern coming from another is immature, or ill-timed, or very low on your list of priorities, but if you really love that person you must give your ears and heart to that fellow-believer who is precious to Christ. We must highly esteem the input of every part of the body, or we run the risk of missing the voice of Jesus speaking through them in our midst. In Christ’s body we are instructed to heap more honor on those parts that seem to be weaker and less honorable (1 Cor. 12:22 -24).
A huge chunk of not living for ourselves, but for Christ, is displayed in how we defer to one another in the body of Christ. Without apology I say that to the degree a committed body of believers by God’s grace follows the perspectives set forth in this teaching, they will fare well and be able to tackle the inevitable bumps that come in the course of church life. If these perspectives are forgotten, neglected, or rejected, then a body will more than likely eventually self-destruct or resort to programs to keep the shell of the church alive long after the Spirit-filled organism of the church has died. This is the sad state of most churches today. Functioning together in the ekklesia is like holding a bird in your hand. If you hold it too tightly you will kill it. If you hold it too loosely it will fly away. If believers are fueled by the love Christ had for them on the cross – “as I have loved you” – then they can successfully keep the bird alive by loving one another fervently. After considering what has been said about body life, you may be thinking: “There is just one thing wrong with the biblical view of the church which we have been sketching: it does not seem to exist. The definition is fine, but the phenomenon it describes is missing.” I think those of you who have had anything to do with Shepherd’s Fellowship for any length of time know that that simply isn’t true.
It is true that Shepherd’s Fellowship strives to do the work of Jesus by “one-anothering.” But the truth that these attitudes and perspectives are the obvious will of Christ by the Spirit will give us great confidence that they can become an even greater reality in our assembly through loving each other, patiently listening to each other’s concerns, and a determined willingness to work out our differences so as to push for the unity of the saints in the bond of peace, for the glory of God (Eph. 4:15; 1 Cor. 10:31).
“Lord Jesus, please enable us to give ourselves to the life of love you have revealed in your Word.”
 David Kinnaman, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity and Why It Matters.
 Douglas Webster, A Passion for Christ: An Evangelical Christology, (Zondervan, 1987), 52, 149, 153.
 Paul Lehmann, Ethics in A Christian Context, (Harper, 1963), 47, 54.
 Elliot Johnson, “Author’s Intention & Biblical Interpretation,” Position Paper given in
 Larry Crabb, Encouragement: The Key to Caring, (Zondervan, 1984), pp. 84, 91.
 John H. Yoder, “Binding & Loosing,” Concern #14, Feb. 1967, pp. 2ff.; cf. TDNT, IV, p.336.
 Abraham Kuyper, “Pamphlet on The Reformation of the Church,” The Standard Bearer, Oct. 1979, p. 14.
 Jay Adams, Ready to Forgive, (Pres. & Reformed), 3-4.
 Curtis Vaughn and Earl Kelly, James: A Study Guide, (Zondervan, 1960), 35.
 Ibid., James: A Primer for Christian Living, (Presbyterian & Reformed, 1974), 69.
 William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, (
 Thomas Dubay, “Communication in Community,” Searching Together, Winter, 1985, 11.
 It goes without saying, of course, that there is to be no compromise or sacrificing whatsoever of genuine, essential doctrinal truths or practical Christian living principles.
 John H. Yoder, "A Light to All Nations," Concern #9, March, 1961, 17.