The Shared Life

August 25, 2014

The Shared Life

In connection with some our recent thoughts regarding taking care of each other in the body of Christ in our Sunday services, I wanted to share with you our denomination’s statement on “The Shared Life,” and what it means to be brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. If you are interested in knowing more about what the Bible Fellowship Church denomination believes, you can see our full statement of Faith and Order here.

Article 103-6 – Shared Life

103-6.1 Each believer belongs to Jesus Christ and to every other believer.1  This belonging is a relationship to God the Father,2  God the Son,3  God the Holy Spirit4 and to all who belong to God.5  This relationship is not the result of human effort, but begins with being born from above6 and is the living out of the divine nature7 under the Lordship of Christ and the authority of His revealed Word.8  It unites all believers to one another and causes them to be different  from their world.9

103-6.2 The union with the Lord and with one another is spiritual. The relationship of each believer with the Lord is the basis for the relationship between believers10 in sharing truth,11 love,12 and possessions.13 It is dependence, not self-sufficiency, and inter-dependence, not independence.14 Participation in this life affects every believer and church15 and impacts their ministry in the world and to the world.16

103-6.3 Shared life is a privilege and a responsibility.17 The life of the church, therefore, must be a renewing, God-glorifying celebration of life in Christ and a spiritual participation with other believers.18 Sharing this life in the presence of God is worship19 and demands the loving exercise of spiritual gifts20 as well as realization that we are responsible to one another before God.21 The exercise of these gifts builds up one another and equips the saints for the Lord’s work.22 Because this responsibility and accountability are necessary for the church to grow in godliness,23 discipline must be practiced in every community of believers.24 Not to do so brings the very name of Christ into dishonor.25

103-6.4 Responding in mercy, carrying each other’s burdens,26 is also a responsibility and privilege of all believers to one another, and causes them to love, care, share, and be involved with one another.27 All believers, and the church as a body, must recognize, accept, and practice the spiritual responsibilities of being one in Christ, no matter how deeply a fellow believer has fallen into sin or the miseries of this world.28

103-6.5 Every believer is a member of the body of Christ and must be joyfully and personally responsible to live a life of loyalty to the Lord of the church,29 to His Word30 and involvement in its ministry31 and purpose.32 This responsibility, although primarily focused on the local body, extends beyond the particular church to other bodies of believers.33 Because this is true, the shared life of the church breaks down the barriers of race, class, culture, ethnicity, gender, and geography, for all believers are one in Christ.34

1  Rom.1:6; 12:4,5
2  1Jo.1:3
3  Rom.6:3,4
4  1Cor.12:13
5  1Pe.2:9,10
6  John 3:3,5
7  2Pe.1:4
8  1Jo.1:7
9  1Cor.10:14-22; 2Cor.6:14,15
10 Eph.2:11-16; Rom.15:5-7
11 Eph.4:14-16
12 1Jo.3:13-18
13 Acts 4:32-35; 2Cor.8:1-5
14 1Cor.12:14-27
15 Acts 2:44-47
16 2Cor.8:23; Phil.1:5; Phile.6; Heb.13:16
17 Gal.5:13-16
18 1Jo.1:1-4
19 Rom.12:1,2
20 1Pe.4:10
21 Rom.12:3-13:10
22 Eph.4:11-16
23 1Tim.6:11,12
24 1Cor.5:12,13
25 Acts 5:11
26 Gal.6:2; Heb.13:16
27 Eph.4:31-5:2
28 2Cor.2:7,8; Gal.5:25-6:2; Phile.10,11,15,16
29 1Cor.12:6-11
30 John 10:3-5
31 Phil.1:27
32 Acts 11:19-26; Phil.4:14-16; Col.2:1,2;1Pe.5:9
33 Acts 13:1-4
34 Gal.3:27,28; Eph.2:14-16

Love and Holiness

August 11, 2014

For those who may be unaware, we are studying the idea of pursuing an “organic outreach” into our community, here at Cornerstone Bible Fellowship Church. We’re pursuing the idea of a less program/event focused evangelism and outreach and embracing a plan that sees church members building relationships with the unchurched in their midst for the purpose of sharing the Gospel. As the basis for our study, we’re using Tim Chester and Steve Timmis’ excellent Everyday Church. Using 1 Peter as a model for us to consider ourselves as loving, holy people living on the margins of society, they are challenging our thinking on how best to reach out to the world around us. In it, they have an extended quote by Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City. I want to share it with you:

 Unlike models that call for a transformation of culture or that call for a Christendom-like alliance of church and state, Peter expects the gospel to always be highly offensive, never completely embraced or accepted by the world. This is a caution to those evangelicals and mainline Christians who hope to bring about an essentially Christians culture.

And unlike models that call solely for evangelism and are highly pessimistic about influencing the culture, both Peter in 1 Peter 2:12 and Jesus in Matthew 5:16 expect some aspects of Christian faith and practice to be highly attractive in any pagan culture, influencing people to praise and glorify God. (pp. 52-53).

The message here friends is that we need to strike a balance in thinking about how we reach out with the Gospel. Certainly the Scriptures know nothing about an alliance between State and Church and our efforts to force people to embrace our Christian beliefs and morals will never result in Gospel transformation. In fact, only Gospel transformation will ever result in people embracing our Christian beliefs and morals. To expect people to think and act like us even though their hearts are not regenerated is frankly, ridiculous. We need to change hearts first, and change laws second.

But, there is certainly something about who were are as Christians that will be attractive to the unchurhced, and rightly so. We are a people of brotherly love showing people there is a family available to them. When relationships break down all around them, there is hope and a home available to to them in the church of Jesus Christ. So, certainly by influence of our good works and love, people may embrace us as change agents in a culture of pagans, because they want something different.

The key is, to be that difference. People who love and serve the unchurched around us, not with the goal of positive change in the world around us, but for people to find the church attractive, so they will give us a Gospel hearing. We are also to be people of holiness, not just so we can drive our nation to embrace Biblical morals that they don’t really believe, but that the unchurched see us as people of conviction that are different in that we do not embrace the paganism of the world. The balance is that we do BOTH, not just one. Loving and holy. That’s how we will create opportunities for people to be drawn to the church and to the message of hope we have!

Revealing the Maker

August 4, 2014

 “I expect by very ridicule and contempt to be called a man of very fruitful brain and copious fancy, but they are welcome to it—I am not ashamed to own that I believe that the whole universe, heaven and earth, air and seas, and the divine constitution and history of the holy scriptures, be full of divine things as language.” Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758)

I have been utterly amazed at the level of wildlife that I have had the opportunity to enjoy since moving here to the Hudson Valley. Not only are the vistas beautiful; full of lakes and rivers, trees, and surrounded by mountains, but that as I look out my windows, I see the full panorama of the beauty of creation. Pileated woodpeckers, blue birds, blue jays, cardinals, and finches are just some of the birds that frequent my yard. A red fox has meandered along the forest line for me to see. Deer are in abundance, and I’ll never forget watching that fawn dart across my lawn in front of my picture windows. A family of geese waddled by when my family and I were having dinner on our porch. And, while I did not see it, I did get to experience the power of a bear as it ransacked my trash and destroyed two of my bird feeders. What beauty there is all around us.

 I often think that as a Christian I get to have a unique grasp of the wonder and significance of the world around me. As the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards said above, it is the whole universe that is full of “divine language.” Edwards is reflecting on the Psalms here. For instance Psalm 19:1 reads, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Everywhere I look, I see the goodness and majesty of God.

It is difficult, at least for me, to look at the wonder and beauty around me and think it all occurred by chance. Considering the gross statistical improbability that the universe could have arrived on its own and life developed on its own from non-life, I’m stuck wondering about where it all came from. Apart from God, I would be forced to look at this universe mechanistically, considering only natural law, and food chains, and such. I would miss out that this universe not only obeys laws, but reveals to us that the One who made it is loving and kind and gave it to us for our enjoyment. How can I look at the beauty all around me and think that God did not love me?

In the grand vistas of the mountains down to the smallest of insects, this world offers us a glimpse at the majesty, creativity, and love of God. Edwards again, could even see the wonderful beauty and care that God provided even for pesky spiders in a famous letter he wrote on spider behavior: “We hence see the exuberant goodness of the Creator, who hath not only provided for all the necessities, but also for the pleasure and recreation of all sorts of creatures, and even the insects and those that are most despicable.”

I wonder of the futility of appreciating the aesthetic beauty of the world around us apart from recognizing that it came from God. If it all happened randomly and through happenstance, then life maintains a level of senselessness. What’s the point? Yet, from both the Bible and the world around me, I can consider and think upon a God that loved me so much that He gave me the very universe to enjoy. From far off swirling galaxies, to a subtle ocean breeze, to the squirrels that steal from my bird feeders, to the bugs that crawl in the earth. All things of beauty are only truly known and truly appreciated, when I consider that they were given to me by a good and gracious God.

 So, when I take my morning walk tomorrow, and I gaze upon the wonder of the world, from the babbling brook to the animals that drink from it, I will remember to thank God that He gave me eyes to see a wonderful gift: His world.