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Book Review on Bryan A. Follis’ “Truth and Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer.”

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Evangelistic Help for the 21st Century

Book Reviewed by David P. Craig

One wouldn’t think that a person who ministered and died in the mid to late 20th century would be one of the most helpful models for apologetics and evangelism in the 21st century, but in this book Follis makes a compelling case for Francis Schaeffer being an excellent model for us in these key areas of living out the Christian life.

Though Francis Schaeffer has been both lauded and attacked as a Theologian, Philosopher, and Apologist. He never claimed to be a proponent of any of these monikers. Schaeffer did not consider himself an academic or even an intellectual. When Schaeffer was frequently asked what he was he would say repeatedly (according to James Sire and others who knew him well) that he was not in “academic apologetics but his interest was in evangelism.”

When you read the works of Schaeffer, in particular what he classified as his Trilogy:  The God Who Is There; Escape From Reason; and He Us There, And He Is Not Silent” you would think he is actually an outstanding Theologian, Philosopher, and Apologist. However, all of Schaeffer’s writing (beginning at the age of 56) was really from his ministry of listening to, teaching, and counseling of a wide variety of humanity (from disillusioned Viet Nam veterans to hippies, from blue collar workers to white collar intellectuals. Schaeffer was primarily interested in the Lordship of Christ and that he would make a compelling case with others of how a relationship with Jesus was the center of everything.

The center of anyone’s life – if it is not filled with Christ – is ultimately a meaningless or empty center. Therefore, in this book Bryan Follis demonstrates how the writing, speaking, ministry, and lifestyle of Francis and Edith Schaeffer was so impactful because it was full of genuine love for humanity (as made in God’s image – and thus extremely valuable) and wrapped in objective truth in propositions and principles that emanated from the Bible.

In the final analysis what the Schaeffer’s modeled was a ministry that was balanced powerfully with a leaning into the supernatural reality of the Holy Spirit that resulted in genuine love and compelling truth. Christians that emphasize either truth without love, or love without truth will have a hard time in apologetics or evangelism. The Schaeffer’s are a wonderful model for all Christians for all time. They showed tangibly how to love God with all ones mind, heart, soul, and strength and in the process loved many “neighbors” as themselves into the Kingdom of God.

Follis has provided an excellent overview and guide into lessons that we may glean so that we too may be effective evangelists for Christ in the 21st century and beyond.

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Book Review on Francis Schaeffer’s “True Spirituality”

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Spirituality for The Real World

Reviewed By David P. Craig

In the introduction to this book on sanctification (how to live the Christian life) Francis Schaeffer says that it should have been his first book. In most of his books he is primarily concerned with engaging the mind, but this is a book that is primarily concerned with engaging the heart. He didn’t write this book until 1971, but wrestled with its contents mainly in 1953 and 1954 while on furlough from his ministry in Switzerland. Much of the material in this book came from Schaeffer’s wrestling with the reality of Christianity. He was wrestling with whether or not Christianity was true, and whether or not this truth in application really worked in the real world.

Here’s what Schaeffer discovered as God brought him out of his crises of faith:

(1) He found a solid foundation for how own faith and life. He became convinced again that the Bible answers the most basic questions that all humans can ask. This gave him delight in the biblical message as the source of the only true explanation of our existence.

(2) He developed a confidence in the Scriptures as the authoritative and inerrant Word of God. This confidence in the Scriptures would in God’s providence, be of enormous help to him in the work the Lord was preparing for him to accomplish.

(3) In the same way, he was being prepared to deal with the great barrage of questions, doubts, and hurts that would come at him from Christians who were struggling with their faith, for in the years to come many of these people would come to his home at L’Abri for answers.

(4) Prayer became more real to him and the supernatural realities of God’s working in his life and the lives of those he ministered to became paramount to the success of L’Abri. He would often say, “How many churches and ministries would not even notice and would carry on in exactly the same manner as usual, even though every reference to dependence on the Holy Spirit and to prayer were suddenly to disappear from the pages of the New Testament!”

5) He discovered that the central, unfolding theme of God’s revelation is the love shown by God to us, and the trusting and dependent love that we are called to show Him in return.

Early in the book Schaeffer distinguishes the difference of  justification by faith (the beginning of the Christian’s life) and sanctification by faith (the rest of the Christian’s life). He says, “The important thing after being born spiritually is to live. There is new birth, and then there is the Christian life to be lived. This is the area of sanctification, from the time of the new birth through this present life, until Jesus comes or until we die.”

In thirteen chapters Schaeffer does a masterful job of showing that that Christian life involves the head, heart, and hands and biblically, theologically, and practically develops the following four themes:

(1) The true Christian life, true spirituality, does not just mean that we have been born again. It must begin there, but it means much more than that. It does not mean only that we are going to be in heaven. It does mean that, but it means much more than that. The true Christian life, true spirituality in the present life, means more than being justified and knowing that I am going to heaven.

(2) It is not just a desire to get rid of taboos in order to live an easier and a looser life. Our desire must be for a deeper life. And when I begin to think about this, the Bible presents to me the whole of the Ten Commandments and the whole of the Law of Love.

(3) True spirituality, the true Christian life, is not just outward, but it is inward–it is not to covet against God and mankind.

(4) The Christian life is positive–positive in inward reality, and then positive in outward results. The inward thing is to be positive and not just negative, and then sweeping out of the inward positive reality, there is to be a positive manifestation externally. It is not just that we are dead to certain things, but we are to love God, we are to be alive to Him, we are to be in communion with Him, in this present moment of history. And we are to love men, to be alive to men as men, and to be in communication on a true personal level with men, in this present moment of history.

Schaeffer does a wonderful job of addressing the world, the flesh, and the devil; as well as helping you find freedom from the bondage of sin. He also shows the antithesis of Christian living in comparing the reality of Christianity with the unreality of other religions and world-views.  I highly recommend this book in helping you understand the wonderful and exhilierating doctrine of sanctification.

 

My 10 Favorite R.C. Sproul Books by David P. Craig

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Since R.C. Sproul’s promotion into the presence of Christ’s glory on December 14, 2017 I have had mixed emotions. No single person has had a greater influence on my understanding of the Triune Nature of God, the Gospel, the Bible, Reformed Theology, Philosophy, Apologetics, teaching, and preaching than R.C. Sproul. There have been a lot of great tributes to R.C. in recent days, but I have been out of sorts since his passing. I have sorrowed as if I lost a blood brother and comrade in the ministry. He was the mentor who has most influenced me by far – especially intellectually – helping me to love the Lord my God with all my mind, heart, soul and strength. The way I am going to pay tribute to R.C. is by writing about the books he wrote that influenced me the most. I have read over 60 of his books.

At one time I could keep up with his writing and let him know at a book signing table at a Ligonier Conference (early 90’s) that I had read all his books and he said to me, “I bet you haven’t read Soli Deo Gloria: Essays in Reformed Theology: Fetschrift for John Gerstner; a book I edited for my Mentor in 1976.” He was right, I hadn’t read this book. I’ve since read his chapter in that book entitled “Double-Predestination.” But I was never able to keep up with his writing while he was alive. Since his death I have been re-reading some of his books, articles, watching videos, and listening to his audio recordings. I am so grateful that Ligonier Ministries has such a plethora of his resources available so that maybe before I die I can catch up on all the great writing, teaching, and preaching of this amazing Theologian and friend in Christ.

I never thought I would be so sad at someone’s death that I only met a few times “live”. I attended four Ligonier Conferences and was able to say hello to him each time and thank him for his ministry in Fullerton, and Pasadena in CA; and Orlando twice. I also got to spend some time in a smaller group setting with him at WTS in Escondido while working on my D.Min. there. Dr. Sproul was always humble, gracious, and kind. He treated me with dignity and respect and modeled what he taught. As others have made great tributes to him, I’d like to give my “two-cents” with the hope that maybe I can influence others to read, or listen to him. I can honestly say that I love R.C. and can’t wait to see him on the other side. I am grateful beyond words for what he has meant and will continue to mean to me and has tremendously deepened my relationship with Jesus.

I will write a little blurb on each of the 10 books he wrote that have impacted me the most:

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(1) Apart from the Bible itself – no other book has made a greater impact on me than The Holiness of God. At the time (summer of 1986) I had never heard of R.C. Sproul. I was a second year student my sophomore year at Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, Oregon. I was working at a church near my home as an intern that summer working with college students. On my day off I went first thing in the morning to read a book at my favorite spot in a cove in Corona Del Mar near my home in Huntington Beach. On the way to the beach I stopped by the bookstore (Pilgrim’s Progress Bookstore – long since out of business, unfortunately) and R.C.”s book caught my eye. I was fascinated by the topic and decided that I would read it at the beach.

I don’t know how long it took me to read the book, but by sunset I was reading the last words at the beach and found myself literally on my knees weeping over my sin in repentance before this Holy God of which Sproul knew so well. I realized that though I had been a follower of Christ from the age of six; I was in practice full of unconfessed sin; a great idolater; and desperately needed to elevate my view of God and His character and attributes.

Since 1986 I’ve probably read this book a dozen times. It’s my go to book when I need to re-charge my spiritual batteries. It’s also set the tone for my personal life; relational life, ministry, teaching, and preaching. Reading this book helped me strive to place God at the center of all of life and seek to live “Coram Deo” – before the face of God and for His glory.
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(2) A close second to R.C. Sproul’s Holiness of God in impact is his classic Chosen By God. Like many young college or seminary students I wrestled with the concepts of predestination, foreknowledge, free will, faith, election, and how all these work together. I was definitely (though I’d never heard the term before) a Semi-Pelagian or Arminian before reading this book. R.C. brilliantly and cogently helped me see that I was dead in my sin and that I needed nothing short of the miracle of God’s electing grace to save me from a destiny banished from Him – had He not sovereignly  graciously and mercifully intervened. I’ve given at least 100 copies of this book away over the years and it’s my go to book to recommend to anyone who wrestles with how God saves His chosen ones. If anyone wants to understand the biblical doctrine of predestination – this book is an outstanding introduction.

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(3) Shortly after reading Chosen by God while in Bible college I read a book called the Psychology of Atheism by R.C. Sproul which I found in the school library. The book has been re-published under the title: If There’s A God, Why Are There Atheists? This book peaked my curiosity because at the time I had an ongoing ministry with philosophy students at a college department across town called Reed College. There was a period of time where I would drive over to Reed College once a week and wait outside the Philosophy Department to talk with Philosophy students (most of whom adhered to Atheism or Agnosticism). R.C. Sproul’s book is essentially a practical exposition of Romans 1. It makes a great case for the fact that people are atheists not because of the evidence of atheism, but because they want to live in sin. I found this to be the case then; and I still find this to be the case. In our secular culture I consider this book “must” reading for believers who take evangelism and apologetics seriously. It gives one a deep understanding of the psychological makeup of those who are in rebellion against God.

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(4) Another book that has helped me tremendously in the area of apologetics and evangelism is Reason to Believe. I read this book when it was titled Objections Answered when I was doing a lot of evangelism with professing Agnostics and Atheists in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. I still think this is the best book available to give to lay-people to help them answer the 10 biggest objections to the Christian faith. R.C. is famous for making the complex simple via his use of language, illustrations, and biblical theology and exegesis. I have used his arguments in this book hundreds of times over the years in evangelism, teaching, and apologetics.

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(5) Pleasing God. I can’t remember the first time I read Pleasing God, but it’s a book I’ve read and used in counseling, teaching, and preaching many times over the years as a great introduction to the biblical doctrine of sanctification. In this book Sproul tackles the greatest enemies in the battle of our seeking to please Christ: the battle with the flesh; the world; and Satan. Laced throughout this book is the reality of God’s grace and practical ways to please God. I still think this is the best introduction available on the biblical doctrine of sanctification.

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(6) I have read this book on the Attributes of God as it has transformed into three different titles over the years: One Holy Passion; Discovering the God Who Is; and most recently Enjoying God. There simply is no better introduction on the character, nature, and attributes of God than this book. R.C. does a wonderful job of explaining the major concepts of how God is different than us and worthy of our worship and passion.

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(7) The best introduction to how to read and study the Bible is still Knowing Scripture. In this short book R.C. gives a plethora of helpful information for anyone who wants to know how to read, interpret, and apply the Scriptures.

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(8) One of the most comforting and practical doctrines for Christians to understand is the providence of God. R.C. has helped thousands of believers around the world be comforted through his teaching on the biblical doctrine of God’s sovereign working to bring about His ends for our good and God’s glory in all things in his classic The Invisible Hand of God.

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(9) The least understood Person of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit. In The Mystery of the Holy Spirit R.C. handles the biblical portrayal of the Holy Spirit with great clarity and makes the complex and controversial issues related to the Spirit understandable and practical. I know of no other better introduction to the Holy Spirit than this great work by Dr. Sproul.

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(10) In 2012 I had a brutal bout with cancer. I read several books while undergoing treatment and wrestling with pain, unemployment, and even death. I have read a lot of books on suffering over the years, but this is still my first choice to give caregivers, people in pain, and those helping people understand the biblical purposes and practical ramifications of suffering.

I feel sort of bad because I’ve left out a lot of great books by Dr. Sproul. Even though many books of R.C. are introductory in nature. They are all deep, profound, cogent, and full of helpful theological truth that are practical, weighty, and lead one to becoming more and more like Jesus each day. It seems that almost every book R.C. Sproul wrote was well written, thorough, and yet he never said too much. I have given away more of his books as gifts than any other author by far. I’ve also recommend his books more than any other author. He was so omnicompetent it’s just hard for any modern writer or theologian to match him on just about any subject. I will continue to read Sproul’s books, listen to his teaching, and watch his videos. He had a unique style, was always interesting, and always taught me something new about the glory and grandeur of God. I can’t wait to see him in heaven and listen to him chatting it up with Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and the many he influenced along the way – like me.

 

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Unshackled: The God of WM. Paul Young

Excellent review from my good friend Dr. David Steele – Thanks for taking the time to write such an excellent critique of “Lies”

Veritas et Lux

liesWM. Paul Young, Lies We Believe About God, New York: Atria Books, 2017, 273 pp. $13.48

Lies We Believe About God is the latest book from the author of The Shack, WM. Paul Young. The author originally penned The Shack   at the request of his wife as a Christmas gift to his six children. First published in 2007, this book has sold over 20 million copies and was recently unveiled as a feature film.

The Shack struck a central chord in people, many of whom confess that the storyline helped them overcome personal pain and tragedy, what the author refers to as, the Great Sadness. Wes Yoder, who endorses The Shack summarizes the ideas in this story. He writes, “The Shack is a beautiful story of how God comes to find us in the midst of our sorrows, trapped by disappointments, betrayed by our own presumptions.” Eugene Peterson…

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Posted by on March 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

The Christian’s A-Z’s of Thanksgiving By Dr. David P. Craig

 

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What do Christians have to be thankful for every day and not take for granted as we contemplate the many blessings we have through Christ? Here are my A-Z’s of Thanksgiving:

A = Adoption – I have been chosen unconditionally and eternally into the family of God: Romans 8:15, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

B = Baptism – I have been cleansed, washed, made new, and am now identified with Christ through the ordinance of baptism an external symbol of an inner reality: Romans 6:4, “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.”

C = Christ – I am a new creation in Christ: 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

D = Disciple – I have a perfect Leader to follow – the Lord Jesus Christ: Luke 6:40, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”

E = Evangelism – I have good news to share with every human being on the planet: Acts 20:24, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

F = Father – I have an intimate relationship with a perfect Heavenly Father who loves to answer my prayers: Matthew 6:6, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

G = Glory – Everything I do can be done for God’s glory: 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

H = Heaven – I know that Jesus has prepared a perfect place for me to live when I die: John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

I = Identity – In Christ my identity is totally secure: Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

J = Justified – Because Jesus’ righteousness has been imputed to me in exchange for my sin I am declared sinless and righteous by God the Father forever: Titus 3:6-7, “whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

K = Kingdom – I belong to an everlasting Kingdom ruled by a Perfect King: Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

L = Love – I am loved by a perfect Lover: John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

M = Mission – I have a purpose to live for that matters forever: Philippians 3:13-14, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

N = New Birth – I have been made alive spiritually in Christ by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit: Titus 3:5, “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

O = Obedience – I have a new inclination to love God and my neighbor with my heart, mind, soul and strength: 1 John 3:23, “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”

P = Peace – I am at peace with God forever by faith in Jesus: Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Q = Qualities I share character attributes of God: Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

R = Rapture – I will one day meet the saints and Jesus in the air: 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”

S = Scripture – In the 66 Books of the Bible I have all the revelation from God I need for salvation and sanctification: 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

T = Truth – In Scripture I have all the objective truth I need to guide my every thought and decision for living a godly life: John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

U = Unity – Just as the members of the Trinity are one; I can be unified with my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world: Ephesians 4:4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

V = Vengeance – I don’t have to worry about my enemies; God will deal justly with those who have hurt or betrayed me: Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

W = Wrath – Thank God He has punished Jesus for my sins and as a result I will never experience His wrath: Romans 3:24-25, “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”

X = Xenophobia – I no longer need to be afraid of God: Romans 5:10-11, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Y = Yahweh – I am grateful that God is the “I AM”. He has the power of being in and of Himself and thus is totally capable of sustaining His creation and carrying out His glorious purposes: Revelation 1:8, “ I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Z = Zion – I can look forward to a fortress – my eternal home – that will never be destroyed, or decay – a perfect city to live with Christ and His family forever: Isaiah 60:14, The sons of those who afflicted you shall come bending low to you, and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.”

 

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Dr. Daniel L. Akin Answers The Question: Why Does Theology Matter?

Why Theology Matters
An Interview with Daniel L. Akin
President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North CarolinaThis summer, Broadman & Holman released a new textbook on theology entitled A Theology for the Church. The book was edited by Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and it has contributions from some of the best known names in Southern Baptist life in the field of theology. This is the first compendium of theological topics produced by Broadman & Holman and written by Southern Baptists in more than fifty years. What follows is an interview between SBC LIFE and Dr. Akin. SBC LIFE wanted to know why Dr. Akin and the contributors to this book believe theology is important for the church and why it is especially crucial at this particular juncture in Southern Baptist life.SBC LIFE Why do you feel it is necessary for churches to focus on theology?

Akin Theology enables God’s people to think correctly and live rightly. What we do always flows from what we believe, and a sound theology helps us think clearly, rightly, and, most importantly, biblically about God.

SBC LIFE What difference does theology really make? Is it not enough that we worship the Lord with our hearts and enjoy warm and affirming fellowship?

Akin It is important that we love God with our heart, but it is also imperative that we love the Lord with our mind as well. Most of the time, Southern Baptists do a good job of loving God with their heart. However, I am not sure that we always do a good job at loving God with our mind. Peter reminds us to set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15). Jesus instructed us in Matthew 22:37, that you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Theology is one means whereby we love God with our minds.

SBC LIFE How would you respond to those who suggest that studying theology tends to reduce God in the Christian life to an “ivory tower” academic exercise?

Akin Studying theology can certainly run that risk, but we do not have to fall into this trap. That is why Jesus challenges us to love the Lord both with our heart and with our mind. I am convinced that the best theology is done within the context of a passion for the Great Commission. I often tell our students that the model in this area is the Apostle Paul who was both the great missionary and the great theologian. When you wed solid theology to a commitment to the Great Commission, you will bring a balance to your theology that will be healthy and fruitful. We must remember that the best missionaries are capable theologians, and the best theologians are passionate missionaries. The two must never be separated. This is imperative for the future of our convention of churches.

SBC LIFE Many people believe that theology is a discipline best left to seminary professors and the seminary classroom. They would say that pastors and their churches are better served to be about Kingdom priorities of spreading the Gospel and not getting distracted by all of this “heady” material. How would you respond to that?

Akin The title of this book explains what we believe is the case. Theology is a discipline for the church, not just the academy. Indeed, it is primarily a task for the church. The fact of the matter is that defining the Gospel is inherently a theological task. You cannot define the Gospel without doing theology. You cannot define the Kingdom of God without doing theology. You can’t really even define the Great Commission without doing theology. In other words, we do theology whether we realize it or not. Therefore, we are either going to do theology well or we are going to do theology poorly. Pastors need to set the standard in this area by emphasizing and modeling the importance of good theology for their people.

Further, I believe pastors need to regain a renewed understanding of what it means to be a pastor/theologian and to challenge their people likewise to grow in the discipline of studying theology. Reading popular Christian works is fine and good, but it is certainly not enough. Just as a child (and adults for that matter!) needs to have a balanced diet to grow and stay healthy, we also need to take in spiritual food from various sources to ensure that we have a balanced diet. I am personally convinced, as are all the contributors of this theology, that our people are far more interested in, and capable of, thinking theologically than many of us believe. My experience has been when people are challenged to study theology, they respond in a wonderful manner. This has especially been true in what I have seen in teaching high school and college students over the last decade. Let’s raise the theological bar and see what happens! I think the response will be awesome to behold.

SBC LIFE So you believe a pastor could take this work, A Theology for the Church, and lead his people through a study of it over an extended period of time with great fruit resulting.

Akin Absolutely! I know of a Southern Baptist church in which the pastor began five years ago working through a basic systematic theology textbook with ten men. This past year there were 480 men and women who met weekly to study theology! I am convinced more than ever that there is a deep hunger in Southern Baptist churches for a steady diet of good, sound, biblical theology. I also believe that the need has never been greater. It is the prayer of all the contributors of this work that this book might bring about something of a revival and renaissance of the study of theology within the Southern Baptist Convention. Given so much of the conversation and controversy recently in our Convention over the Baptist Faith and Message, I believe the need is self evident.

SBC LIFE Theologians are sometimes viewed as being out of touch with the churches. Further, sometimes they can even come across as being almost “papal,” speaking down to the common people in the pew concerning what they should believe and how they should think. How would you respond to someone who raises this concern, as well as to those who even hold that the doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers would argue against the validity of theological instruction?

Akin That is a really good question. I would begin by saying that we as Southern Baptists affirm wholeheartedly the doctrine of the Priesthood of Believers. We also believe that this doctrine is primarily one of accountability and responsibility which fits perfectly into the study of theology. We are responsible to hold one another accountable in defending the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

It is also the case that God raises up men in the body of Christ to be pastor/teachers to lead us and to help us in thinking biblically and theologically. Some of these men find their place of service in our seminaries and colleges. However, even these men are accountable within and to the churches.

There is no place for a Baptist pope or ecclesiastical magisterium in Southern Baptist life. There is also no place for sloppy and unbiblical thinking either. I can say this. Southern Baptist seminaries are not interested in being theological peeping-toms nor are we interested in conducting theological witch hunts. Rather, we honor all those that God raises up who have the ability to help us think well theologically, and we also recognize that every believer in the body of Christ is responsible to be a capable and competent theologian. Therefore, when a Baptist church, and for that matter a convention, is functioning as it ought, there is a wonderful and healthy accountability that exists between the academy and the local church. Our six Southern Baptist seminaries serve the churches. We are accountable to the churches. We recognize that we will do a better job because of that accountability and responsibility. It is not something that we wish to negate or run from. Rather, it is something we gladly embrace. We are partners in service to King Jesus.

SBC LIFE In looking at the list of contributors, it is clear that there is a broad spectrum of representation among the authors. Some are known for being Calvinistic in their theology, while others are not. Was that intentional and did it present any problems?

Akin You are accurate in your observation. I believe the contributors to this volume represent the best thinkers in Southern Baptist life. And it is true that the contributors are not lock step in all of their theological positions. However, and I think that this is crucially important at this particular time in our history, each of these men is a confessional Baptist committed to evangelical theology and theBaptist Faith and Message. We are in 100 percent agreement on the essentials of the faith, as well as those distinctives that mark and identify us as Baptists. There may be differing views on the number of points of Calvinism, plurality of elders versus a single pastor, or a particular perspective on eschatology. Yet, we are united in what constitutes historic orthodox Christianity, and we are united in the distinctive marks of what constitutes a Baptist. I think A Theology for the Churchmodels well what could be a consensus for Southern Baptists in terms of confessional theology. At least that is a hope that I believe the Lord has placed deep within my heart.

SBC LIFE Is there anything else you would add to our interview?

Akin I would simply want to challenge pastors to take the lead in helping their people once again become good students of theology. I would challenge them to start a study group focusing on theology. Use this book and see what God does. I think many will be pleasantly surprised. I think they will also discover that they will cultivate better listeners of their preaching as well as a cohort of fellow followers of Jesus Christ who will come along side of them to ensure that their people are not tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, but instead they are growing up in Christ to a mature man who is capable of rightly dividing the Word of Truth and holding in trust the wonderful mysteries of the Christian faith.

Original Source: http://www.sbclife.net/Articles/2007/09/sla7

 

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Dr. Donald Whitney: Why Join A Church?

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Why Join a Church?

by Dr. Donald S. Whitney

“Scripture makes abundantly clear that we are to be members of a local church.” Kenneth Kantzer

“Why should I join the church?”
Despite my seminary training and pastoral experience, I was unprepared for this new

Christian’s question. He agreed from our study of the Scripture that he needed to identify himself as a disciple of Christ through baptism, but then he asked, “Can you show me from the New Testament that I’m supposed to officially join anything?”

Now he really had me.

“If I come and worship as often as the members,” he continued, “if I fellowship with these believers as much as anyone else, if I profit from the teaching and other ministries of the church, and if I actively demonstrate love for my brothers and sisters in Christ here, why should I formally join the church?”

His question struck me with an uncomfortable logic.

I began to realize that many of my conclusions about church membership were actually nothing more than previously unchallenged assumptions. These assumptions were now melting into questions of my own. Can I give reasons from Scripture why anyone should join a church? Did the Christians in New Testament times formally join churches or did they more of an informal relationship? Did the churches in the days of the Apostle Paul have a membership list? How do I respond to the rising tide of opinion that says church membership is merely an unchallenged, but unbiblical tradition and an unnecessary formality?

Here’s what I found.

BIBLICAL INDICATIONS OF CHURCH MEMBERSHIP IN NEW TESTAMENT TIMES

To start with, we encounter the word church throughout the New Testament. In the great majority of instances the term refers to a specific local church like that in Rome or Corinth. Sometimes when we read of the church the reference is to what’s often called the church universal, that is, all Christians everywhere. But when you read “church” in the Bible, it almost always means “local church.”

At the very least, the local church was the fellowship of the followers of Jesus Christ in a particular area. We know that they met together, worshiped together, prayed together etc., as the born-again family of God. But did people actually join this fellowship in some official way, or was it a mutually-assumed and less formal association?

The New Testament church practice of keeping a list of widows makes sense in the context of membership

We know that churches in the days of the Apostle Paul made and maintained at least one type of list. “No widow may be put on the list of widows,” Paul instructs Timothy, “unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband,” etc., (1 Timothy 5:9, NIV). As easily as the churches had lists of widows, they could have had lists of members. There would be no difference except for length for a church to keep a widows’ list and a membership list.

The instructions for church discipline make sense only in the context of membership

In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus gave us instructions on how the church should respond when someone within the church persists in living like an unbeliever. We read of a specific case of this in 1 Corinthians 5 and how the Apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, instructed the Christians in the church at Corinth to handle it. In verses 11-13 Paul says, “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner-not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person.'”

There was a sexually immoral man in this church. Was Paul simply telling them not to let this man come to church with them because he was acting like an unbeliever instead of a Christian? No, he couldn’t have meant that, for we know from other places in this letter (cf. 14:24-25) that unbelievers were welcome to attend church meetings. Even when they obeyed Paul’s instructions to “put away from yourselves the evil person” and considered the man an unbeliever, they would have allowed (even welcomed) him to come and sit under the preaching of God’s Word like any other person in town. So in what sense would they have “put away” (“remove”-NASB, “expel”- NIV) this man?

The best way of explaining how they would have “put away” this man is to understand that they removed him from the membership of the church and generally stopped associating with him outside the church meetings.

Notice that Paul refers to those who are “inside” and to those who are “outside.” Outside of what? As we’ve noted, anyone could attend their meetings. This kind of language can only refer to a definite church membership of converted people. For what authority does a group have to remove someone who is already “outside” and not a member of the group? You can’t fire someone who doesn’t work for you. You can’t vote in your country to remove a government official elected by another country. You can’t appeal to a court to discipline someone who isn’t within its jurisdiction. In the same way, you can’t formally discipline someone who is in an informal relationship with you; you have no authority to do so. These people in Corinth had voluntarily committed themselves to a formal relationship and they knew who were official members of the church and who were “outside.”

Church discipline must be done by the “church” (Matthew 18:17) and occur “when you are gathered together” (1 Corinthians 5:4). Who is to gather together? How do you know who the “church” is? How do you determine who does and does not have the right to speak and vote on such matters? Does the person subject to discipline have the liberty to bring in his extended family or coworkers who have never been to the church, or even people off the street, and expect them to be given an equal say with those who have been faithful to the church for years? No? Why not? Do you exclude them from involvement because they’ve never been part of the church? Then what about the person who attended once five years ago? Or those who came at Easter and Christmas last year? Or those who regularly watch the church services on television or listen to them on the radio, and perhaps even send money, but never enter the building? Or those from distant cities who visit several times each year because of family members in the church? Obviously, Biblical church discipline must be limited to a specific group and that must mean the church members.

The meaning of the word “join” in Acts. 5:13 makes sense only in the context of membership

In Acts 5:13 we read of the reaction of the non-Christians in Jerusalem after a couple within the church, Ananias and Sapphira, had died on the spot when it was revealed that they had lied to the church. It says, “Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.” The unbelievers had great respect for the Christians, but after this incident none of them who claimed to be converted but were outward-only believers wanted to join the church.

In the Greek language in which Paul wrote this letter, the word he used that’s translated here as “join” literally means “to glue or cement together, to unite, to join firmly.” It doesn’t refer to an informal, merely assumed sort of relationship, but one where you choose to “glue” or “join” yourself firmly to the others. Again, that kind of language only makes sense in the context of membership.

That same “glue word” is used in the New Testament to describe being joined together in a sexual relationship (1 Corinthians 6:16) and being joined to the Lord in one spirit in salvation (1 Corinthians 6:17). And it’s the very same word Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 5:11 when he says “not to keep company with” any so-called brother who continues in immorality, but rather to “put away from yourselves the evil person.” Clearly this kind of language doesn’t refer to a casual, superficial, or informal relationship.

So when it says in Acts 5:13 that no insincere believer “dared join them,” the “glue word” used there speaks of such a cohesive, bonding relationship that it must be referring to a recognized church membership.

The meaning of “the whole church” in 1 Corinthians 14:23 makes sense only in the context of membership

The earthly founder of the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul, wrote to this new body of Christians about their many difficulties, including how to bring order to their public worship. He began 1 Corinthians 14:23 with, “Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, . . .” Who did he have in mind when he referred to “the whole church”? The only realistic answer is “the church members.” That’s why one commentator, working with the original language of this text, translates it “If then the whole church assembles together and all its members” [emphasis mine] and notes “(the last two words are not in the Greek but are naturally to be understood).”(1)

Imagine the leaders of the Corinthian Christians walking into the gathering of the church for worship one Sunday. Would they have known by looking, or would they have had some way of deciding, whether “the whole church” was there? Surely they would have known who was supposed to be present in a churchwide meeting and who was missing. But how else could they have known when “the whole church” was “together in one place” without knowing who was a member and who wasn’t? This implies a verifiable membership.

The instructions for pastoral oversight and spiritual leadership make sense only in the context of membership

“This is a faithful saying:,” said Paul to Timothy, “If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1). In other places the New Testament also refers to a bishop, or “overseer” as the NIV and NASB render it, as a pastor or elder (Acts 20:17, 28; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5-7). But what or whom does he oversee? How can he provide spiritual oversight if he doesn’t know exactly those for whom he is responsible? A distinguishable, mutually-understood membership is required for him to fulfill his charge.

Down in verse 5 it says of an overseer, “for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?” The local church is compared to a family. Is anyone a casual member of a family? No, membership in a family is a very definite thing.

“Take heed to yourselves,” Paul instructed the elders of the church of Ephesus, “and to all the flock” (Acts 20:28). How could they fulfill their responsibility as undershepherds to “all” the flock unless they knew who was part of “the flock” and who was not? These leaders of a growing church in a large city needed some means of identification of those for whom they were to “take heed.” A simple membership list is the logical solution.

In Hebrews 13:17 is a word addressed to those under such overseers: “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” For whom will the leaders of a church give an account-everyone who comes in and out of their church services? No, it has to be a limited group of people-the members of the church-for whom they will be answerable. Otherwise, how can church leaders be responsible for someone until they know he or she is committed to their care? The Bible’s instructions for pastoral oversight and spiritual leadership can best be obeyed when there is a well-defined church membership.

The metaphors used to describe local churches (flock, temple, body, household) make sense only in the context of membership

The New Testament uses several metaphors to describe churches. Some of these metaphors describe the church of Christ collectively throughout the world. While all of them could potentially apply to the local church also, at least four of these metaphors- flock, temple, body, and household-are definitely used to refer to individual churches (in Acts 20:28; Ephesians 2:21; 1 Corinthians 12:27, and 1 Timothy 3:15). And each metaphor is best understood in a setting of specific church membership.

A flock of sheep isn’t a random collection of ewes, rams, and lambs. Shepherds know their flocks. They know which sheep are theirs to care for and which are not.

Sheep belong to specific flocks. This is also the way it should be for God’s spiritual sheep. A temple building, just like a church building, shouldn’t have any loose bricks or blocks. If it does, something’s wrong. Each one of them has a definite place. “There is no place,” said an English preacher long ago, “for any loose stone in God’s edifice.” (2) The same analogy is true for a human body. Your body isn’t a casual collection of loosely related parts. You don’t keep your fingers in your pocket until you need them. They are joined. They are members of the body. The local body of Christ should be like this also-those joined to Christ, who are members of His body-should express that relationship through a visible membership. And in a household, a family, you’re either a member or you’re not. So if you are part of the family of God, show it by joining a local expression of God’s family.

British pastor Eric Lane sees additional significance in this quartet of metaphors:

God has given us four pictures of the church, not one. This is not just to emphasize and prove the point by repetition, but also to say four different things about what it means to be a member of a church. To be a stone in his temple means to belong to a worshipping community. To be part of a body means to belong to a living, functioning, serving, witnessing community. To be a sheep in the flock means belonging to a community dependent on him for food, protection, and direction. To be a member of a family is to belong to a community bound by a common fatherhood. Put together you have the main functions of an individual Christian. Evidently we are meant to fulfill these not on our own but together in the church. Now can you see the answer to the question why you should join a church? (3)

We’ve just seen five Biblical indications that New Testament churches had membership lists of some sort. They knew who was a member and who was not. When people became followers of Jesus, or when followers of Jesus moved to another town, they formally identified themselves with a local church-they joined it. “In the New Testament there is no such person as a Christian who is not a church member,” writes Douglas G. Millar. Conversion was described as ‘the Lord adding to the church’ (Acts 2:47). There was no spiritual drifting.” (4)

Perhaps you are persuaded that the churches in the days of the New Testament had membership lists and that people joined the churches instead of “drifting.” Are there other Biblical reasons why Christians should be members of a church today? Here are some . . .

BIBLICAL REASONS FOR JOINING A CHURCH

You prove that you’re not ashamed to identify with Christ or His people

Jesus said (in Mark 8:38) that if anyone is ashamed to identify himself with Him on earth then He will not identify Himself with that person when he or she stands before God in the Judgment. Joining a church is one of the plainest ways of saying you’re not ashamed to identify yourself with Jesus and with His people. Jesus certainly made a formal commitment to identify Himself with His people when He left Heaven to come to earth and die as a man. Can, then, one for whom Christ died be reluctant to identify himself formally with the others for whom Christ died? California pastor John MacArthur explains and asks further, “You have been joined together with Christ. . . . You bear His name. Are you ashamed to belong? Are you ashamed to bear that identification with other believers of like precious faith? . . . Shouldn’t you be willing outwardly to identify with the visible, gathered members of that group to which you eternally belong?” (5)

When you join a church you make it clear whose side you’re on. You’re telling the family of God that you’re part of the family too, and that you don’t want to be considered on the “outside” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13) any longer.

You stop being an independent Christian and place yourself under the discipline and protection of other Christians

In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus set up an accountability system. When a professing believer starts living like an unbeliever, those in the church who know about it are to confront him about his sin. First, one is to go to this person, and then, if he will not listen, the one is to bring one or two others along for a second conversation. The goal is to restore him back to full fellowship with the Lord and his fellow believers. If he persistently and unrepentantly refuses to return to the Lord, the final step is to report the matter to the church. Then everyone in the church has the chance to win the person back. And if he continues in his sin, the church is to withdraw fellowship from him as the final means of showing him his need to repent.

If you aren’t part of the church, they have no authority over you and cannot do what Jesus said to do. Unless you join the church, your independence places you outside the way Jesus wants things to happen. Incidentally, when Jesus says in verse 17 to bring this matter “to the church,” how do you know who should be notified (and who should not be) unless there is a formally recognized membership?

Related to this idea of spiritual authority, recall Hebrews 13:17, the passage we examined which tells us to obey the leaders of the church and submit to them because they keep watch over our souls. The leaders of the church are to “watch over” you by providing spiritual protection for you and caring about your growth in Christ. You place yourself outside that spiritual watchcare unless you join a local church.

You participate in a stronger, more unified effort of God’s people to obey Christ’s command to reach others

The last thing Jesus said before returning to Heaven is known to Christians today as the Great Commission. It’s found in Matthew 28:19-20 where Jesus told His disciples (and us), “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.”

I’ve met a few people who weren’t interested in church membership but who were zealously witnessing to others about Christ and trying to make disciples for Him. Since they do so well what relatively few Christians do at all (i.e., share their faith), why emphasize church membership to them? They need to see that joining a church is like putting one candle with many others. They will give off more light collectively than the one lone candle ever could, and together they will have a greater penetration into the world’s darkness.

And as your local church reaches across the country and around the world in direct and indirect support of missionary work, you can participate in ways of reaching the world for Christ that you could have never dreamed otherwise.

In contrast, consider the potential negative impact on your efforts to talk about Jesus if you don’t join His earthly body. John MacArthur says we should ask ourselves, “How wonderful can Christ be if we’re not even committed to being associated with His church?” (6) How believable is our testimony of the goodness and greatness of Christ if we don’t want to identify openly with Christ’s family?

You have a greater opportunity to use your spiritual gift “for the profit of all”

At the moment of salvation when the Holy Spirit comes to live within a believer in Christ, He brings a gift with Him. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit,” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:4. He continues in verse 11, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” For what purpose does God gift each Christian? The answer is in verse 7: “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” God gifts you individually so that you will use your gift “for the profit” of others. You have a greater opportunity to do that when you use your gift in and through local church membership.

Yes, you can use your spiritual gift for the good of God’s people without joining a church. But in a lot of churches, many of the ministry opportunities are available for church members only. That’s because the church wants to know that you stand with her doctrinally and support her ministry goals before you’re asked to minister in certain positions. Besides, remaining outside the membership of the church may say more about your desire to serve than you intend. “Not joining the church,” according to MacArthur, ‘is saying, ‘I don’t want to serve the only institution Christ ever built.” (7) So the best way to maximize the effectiveness of your spiritual gift is to use it “for the profit of all” in a local church as a member.

You openly demonstrate the reality of the body of Christ

“Now you are the body of Christ,” Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27, NIV). But how can we see the body of Christ? When you join a church, you make it visible. You give a living demonstration of the spiritual reality of the body of Christ. You show that even though you are an individual, you are a part of the body, you are joined together with others. You take the body of Christ out of the realm of the theoretical and give it a meaning that people can see.

As pastor and author Ben Patterson puts it, “To join a particular part of the body of Christ is not to bring something into existence that was not there before. It is simply to make actual what is spiritual, to prove that the spiritual is real.” (8)

You participate in a more balanced ministry than you can otherwise experience

In Ephesians 4:11-16 we read of the Lord giving gifted men such as evangelists and pastor-teachers to the church. We’re taught that each part-every member-of the church body has a job to do for the body to function properly and grow. It’s a picture of wholeness and balance. We need this God-ordained mutual ministry to be what God intends.

Further, God has designed us so that we can’t get this well-rounded ministry on our own. No one develops the proper spiritual symmetry just by listening to Christian radio, watching Christian television, or reading Christian books. You can’t get this kind of maturity merely by participating in a group Bible study. Unless you’re an active part of a local church, your Christian life and ministry will be imbalanced.

You demonstrate your commitment, not to “spiritual hitchhiking,” but to “the proper working of each individual part” in the visible body of Christ

Some time ago in the magazine of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, a writer made an interesting observation about the hitchhiker. He wants a free ride. He assumes no responsibility for the money needed to buy the car, the gas to run it, or the cost of maintenance. He expects a comfortable ride and adequate safety. He assumes the driver has insurance covering him in case of an accident. He thinks little of asking the driver to take him to a certain place even though it may involve extra miles or inconvenience.

Think about the “spiritual hitchhiker” who has settled all his major questions about the matters and has definitely decided where he wants to attend church, but now wants all the benefits and privileges of that church’s ministry without taking any responsibility for it. His attitude is all take and no give. He wants no accountability, just a free ride.

This is not meant to discourage those who are attending a church to find answers about Jesus Christ and are still uncertain about their eternal destiny. If that describes you, your first priority is to come to Christ rather than to come for church membership.

Neither is this intended to deter those who are sincerely and actively seeking God’s will in a decision about a church home. Sometimes that decision cannot be made quickly. A wise person evaluates a church carefully before joining its membership.

A “spiritual hitchhiker,” however, has no real intention of joining the church, at least not soon. He only wants to enjoy its advantages without any obligation on his part. He wants convenience without commitment, to be served rather than to serve. But every true Christian is to be committed to “the proper working of each individual part” (Ephesians 4:16, NASB) in a local church. When you join a church, you’re saying you believe in taking your “individual part” and that you don’t want to be a “spiritual hitchhiker.”

You “exhort” new believers to the same “good works” of commitment to the local body of Christ

In the familiar passage on church commitment, Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Notice the command to “consider one another” that is associated here with church involvement. Bear in mind the message you give to other believers, especially new believers, if you do not join a church. What are you modeling to new believers when you remain uncommitted to the local church? Do they see your example and learn that the church isn’t important enough to join? Do they get the message that the Kingdom of God is not worth such an investment of yourself? Do they interpret your actions as saying that the work of God does not deserve a full commitment?

On the other hand, joining a church is one way of “exhorting one another” as this passage puts it, “to love and good works.” When you do join the local church you provide a positive example that says, “This is worth being a part of and I recommend it to you.”

You encourage a ministry when you consider it faithful and join it

Suppose John loves Mary and sees no one else but her for ten years. Every time they are together he tells her that he loves her, but never proposes to her. Finally, after a decade she has enough nerve to ask him, “John, why haven’t you wanted to marry me?”

If he says, “I’m just trying to make sure,” how do you think she would feel? Of course, she’s glad he says he loves her, and she’s thankful for all he does for her, and she’s pleased that he doesn’t see anyone else, but in spite of all that, she’s going to be somewhat discouraged because he doesn’t love her enough to decisively commit himself to her.

The people and pastor of a church are glad whenever you attend. But if you keep coming and never join, they may begin to wonder what Mary wondered about John, despite how happy you seem to be with the church and how many wonderful things you say about it. So there is a sense in which your attendance and involvement can actually discourage the church and its leaders if, after a reasonable time, you do not join it.

Conversely, the church is encouraged (the NASB and NIV render “exhort” in Hebrews 10:25 as “encourage”), and its leadership is encouraged, when you indicate by joining the church that you love it and think it is a Biblically faithful ministry worthy of your commitment.

BIBLICAL RESPONSES TO THIS MESSAGE

Now that you’ve read these things about church membership, what should you do?

Turn from living for yourself and follow Christ, the Head of the church

Membership in a local church does not mean that you are part of the body of Christ. Without Christ, church membership means nothing. Hell is filled with people who were church members. Before you respond to the challenge of church membership, you must make sure you know Jesus Christ, who is “head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:22). Your greatest need in life is not to be on the membership roll of a church; it is to be made right with God by the One who died for the church, who created the church, who loves the church, and who is returning someday for His true church.

What should you do? The Bible says you should repent and believe in the Gospel (Mark 1:15), i.e., the message about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To repent and believe in this way involves turning from living for yourself and turning in faith to Jesus Christ. Recognize that your sin has separated you from God (Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:23). You’ve repeatedly broken God’s laws and this excludes you from His family and from eternity with Him. Come to Christ, however, and He can make you right with God. Believe that His death can cleanse you from all guilt before God and provide you with all the righteousness God requires. This is infinitely more important than church membership.

Present yourself to the church for baptism as a symbol of identification with Christ and His church

Ten days after Jesus had ascended back to Heaven, the Holy Spirit of God descended upon the believers who were gathered in Jerusalem. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter preached that morning to the crowd that had gathered because of the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. About three thousand people turned from their sin and believed that the crucified and risen Jesus was their Messiah and God. Then, according to Acts 2:41, “those who had gladly received his word were baptized.” If you have received (i.e., believed) the word about Jesus Christ, you should be baptized.

Baptism is a church ordinance commanded by Christ (Matthew 28:19). If you have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, you should present yourself to a local church as a candidate for baptism. By this means you will openly identify yourself as a follower of Christ and a member of His body.

Present yourself for membership in a local, New Testament church if you’ve been Scripturally baptized and your membership is elsewhere

Have you come to Christ and been baptized? Then you should formally identify yourself with the people of Christ where you live. If you have moved, or for some other reason have membership in a church you no longer attend, you should unite with the believers of a Biblically-based, Christ-centered church where you can participate faithfully. (See Acts 18:27 and Romans 16:1-2 for a New Testament example of Christians who identified with and served with a local congregation even when they were in a place which might not have been their permanent residence.)

When I was in college I faithfully attended a local church. After about a year I realized that my membership needed to be in that church, not the one back home that I grew up in but now rarely visited. So I presented myself for membership in the church where I was worshiping regularly. Today I encourage students to become members of a church in their college town, because that’s where they are most of the time. If they are home for the summer, I suggest that, if practical, they move their membership back to their hometown church for those three months. There are two good reasons for doing this. One, there’s no guarantee that their plans won’t change and that they won’t be back either at their school or at that particular church in the fall. Two, this develops a healthy pattern of thinking “Join a church here” whenever they relocate. This habit will serve them well when they graduate and move away from college to who-knows-where, not to mention each of the several times they are likely to move in the coming decades.

Reaffirm the commitment implied in your present church membership

If you are presently a member of the local church you attend, you should exercise your spiritual gifts in and through that church (see Romans 12:5-6a). Membership implies commitment and activity. All the living parts of the body of Christ should be working and fulfilling their God-intended function.

Think about this: a member of a human body, such as a heart or kidney, cannot exist apart from the body, except by some temporary and artificial sustenance. But this isn’t what it’s designed for. In this sheer existence the organ doesn’t fulfill its function in the body. It isn’t nourished in the way God intended through the body, but subsists only through some synthetic way that provides mere maintenance but doesn’t stimulate growth or development.

In the same way, a true member of Christ’s body is not designed to operate independently or outside the body. An authentic part of Christ’s spiritual body cannot be content while separated from the rest of His earthly body. That’s because he or she is made for interdependence, not independence.

As wonderful and sophisticated as the heart is, it was never made to be just a heart, but a part of a body. It has no value to the body outside the body. And the heart itself can’t thrive outside the body. As incredible and wonderful as you are, Christian, you were never made just to be an individual Christian, but a part of body. As every organ and every cell is God-created to be an active member of the human body, so every true Christian is God-created to be a active member of a localbody of Christ.

Are you a true Christian? Are you an actively and Biblically involved member of a local body of Christ? “Belonging to the church,” says John MacArthur, “is at the very heart of Christianity.” (9)

Church membership involves many responsibilities, but we must never lose sight of the great privilege that it really is. “We must grasp once again,” said Martyn Lloyd-Jones of London in the mid-twentieth century, “the idea of church membership as being the membership of the body of Christ and as the biggest honour which can come a man’s way in this world.” (10)

(1) C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 324.

(2) Joseph Hall, as quoted in John Blanchard, More Gathered Gold (Welwyn, England: Evangelical Press, 1986), p. 43.

(3) G. Eric Lane, I Want to Be A Church Member (Bryntirion, Wales: Evangelical Press of Wales, 1992), p. 21.

(4) Douglas G. Millar, “Should I Join A Church?”, The Banner of Truth, Issue 62, Nov. 1968, p. 21.

(5) John F. MacArthur, Jr., “Commitment to the Church,” Tape GC 80-130 (Panorama City, CA: Grace to You, 1994.

(6) MacArthur tape GC 80-130.

(7) MacArthur tape GC 80-130.

(8) Ben Patterson, “Why Join A Church?”, Leadership, Fall Quarter, 1984, p. 80.

(9) MacArthur tape GC 80-130.

(10) D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), p. 30.

*Adapted from Spiritual Disciplines Within The Church by Donald S. Whitney, Moody Press, copyright 1996. Used with permission.

 

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