Not a Failure

June 25, 2009

In this post, Ken Davis, Pastor of Thistletown Baptist Church, Etobicoke, ON addresses the issues of success and failure in the ministry.

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I am not happy about the number of conversions in my church. I want to be baptizing genuine believers on a weekly basis. I want the community where my church does its work to know that we are here and know they are welcome and that we care for them. I want a budget that enables us to get more pastors on staff, maintains more ministries to the needy, and has evangelism programmes that makes the Gospel known in the marketplace. I want the walls of our church building to bulge on Sundays because of the people pushing to get in. I want my life and my church to be the vehicles used by God to bring large, significant, life altering change to the community. In short, I want to be successful.

Success in the ministry. Who doesn’t want that? No one, not pastors or anyone else, plans to be a failure. And this is not wrong. Paul told the Thessalonian church that his work among them was not a failure (I Thessalonians 2:1). The issue is hardly one of success versus failure.

No one wants, or should want, to fail. God does not call people to fail.

In fact, a large part of the Gospel message is that God never loses. He loses none of all that He gives the Son (John 6:39). He is going to totally vanquish all His enemies and all who belong to Him shall be victorious with Him. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world (I John 4:5). The reward of eternal life is for those who conquer (Revelation 2-3). Jesus promises great reward for those who triumph over their opponents and temptations. God is the ultimate winner and He never fails to achieve what He sets out to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11). To be on the side of the triune God is to be gloriously successful. It cannot be otherwise. No, the issue is never “Does God want success?” the issue is always “Is this the success that God wants?”

The trouble with so much of the contemporary North American church in this matter, is that success and failure are defined somewhat differently than God defines them in the Scriptures. Various arms of Christ’s church will speak of success in their ministries, churches and denominations in different ways. Meeting the financial goals is a common one and in churches that practise believers’ baptism the number of baptisms performed can be set as a standard for success. Many evangelical churches will measure success in the number of converts, or worse, in the “decisions” made.

Those of us in pastoral ministry face incredible pressure to produce results in our work. Pastors can be blamed for everything from a lack of conversions to the faulty plumbing. Too few converts, too few baptisms, too little money in the plate, lack of attendance Sunday night, Wednesday night and a general lack of interest in spiritual things can all be traced back to the pastor and therefore make him to be the failure. Like the sports team that fires it coach for its lackluster performance, churches are most likely to blame its pastors for its lack of success. This is not to be unexpected and it is not always wrong.

People expect much from their leaders and quite often we who lead are far too willing to give them the impression that we can perform a respectable evangelical not-contrary-to-nature miracle in the form of increased attendance, increased baptisms, increased conversions, increased giving, increased influence in the broader community. Just as the sheep are prone to blame the leadership for the lack of results in the desired area, so too the leaders are prone to blame the lack of commitment, the lack of vision, the refusal to buy into our flawless vision, as the real reason for the lack of success. This is human nature and, sad to state, it is thriving in the church. Failure is always someone else’s fault. We are the perfect children of our first parents:

“the woman you gave me…”, “the serpent deceived me” (Genesis 3).

Pastors should be at least willing to consider that there might be some justification for the church’s expectations of its spiritual leadership.

Paul’s comment to Timothy that if Timothy watches his life and doctrine closely then he will save both himself and those who hear him is a text that we who are pastors need to treat very seriously and adjust ourselves accordingly if the fruit that Paul guarantees is not present.

In defence of the pastor in light of that text, Paul does not say how many converts there will be and we know that he does not mean everyone who hears the preacher will be saved. Nor does Paul say when these converts will be realized. We all know that William Carey laboured for many years before he saw anyone come to a saving knowledge of Christ.

And if that one convert after Carey’s eight years in India was the only one that he got the whole time he was there then the promise of Paul to Timothy would have been proven accurate.

This, of course, is where much of the contemporary North American church in many circles is simply patently unbiblical. It often crosses the line from wanting success in terms of converts, doctrinal soundness and holiness of life to wanting to be what other churches, pastors, denominations and ministries that have a successful track record are.

The next step after that, is to conclude that we can be like them if we do what they did. If it worked for them, it is reasoned, then it will work for us and we will have the same results as they did. The Scriptures then cease to be the standard of behaviour or success. The successful church/ministry/denomination is. This is idolatry. It is faith in a plan, a programme, an idea or someone’s philosophy of ministry. It necessarily credits the skills and gifts and genius of those who developed the plan. It is the plan that is to be credited and so the plan is canned and sold to frustrated, discouraged and maligned churches and leaders as the answer to their fruitlessness. It is the non-prosperity Gospel version of the prosperity Gospel that evangelicals enjoy slamming so much. We would never say that God’s will for everybody is health and wealth and we will preach the opposite, but we don’t mind preaching that the necessary evidence of being in the will of God for a church is conversions, big budgets, multi-pastor staffs, building programmes and exponential growth. “And you can too, if you adopt our plan”.

This is a horrible thing to do to a pastor whose heart aches for converts and longs to know that what he is doing matters for eternity.

It is like putting a dish of food just beyond the reach of the hungry, chained dog. The poor creature will do almost anything to get at that food. And the poor despairing pastor will just about do anything to become something that matters, because it has simply been far too long since he tasted the succulence of real success. And far too many denominational leaders, magazine articles, books and church boards believe that dangling that meat is the right thing to do.

Again, all this is not to say that the absence of conversions, growth, money and multi-pastor churches are the sign of God’s blessing either.

That is the point being made here. Let’s define success differently.

How then, should we define success?

The answer lies in the Scriptures. “You know”, Paul said to the Thessalonians, “that our coming to you was not in vain”. How did he know that? Let’s look at the text.

1 Thess. 2:1-10 (ESV)

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. [2] But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. [3] For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, [4] but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. [5] For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness. [6] Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. [7] But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. [8] So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. [9] For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. [10] You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.

How could Paul say that his work was not in vain?

1) Verse 2 – He was bold to preach the Gospel in the midst of much conflict, and with a record of suffering everywhere he had preached, before he got to Thessalonica. In fact when we look at the record of Paul’s travels through Asia and Macedonia in Acts 14-17 we are taken, not so much with the fact that Paul suffered whenever he preached, but that he dusted himself off every time and went to another city to do the same thing all over again. If you leave a situation because of the trouble you got into and then go to another place and do the very thing that got us into trouble before, knowing that it is going to do the same thing again, you may be called a lot of things, but successful will not one of them. But that is what God calls it. We need to reacquaint ourselves with a solid biblical doctrine of suffering for the Gospel.

Most of the Christians in most of the world have to deal with horrific costs to their belief in Jesus. The West has, at least up until now, been spared much of that. With the clear teaching of Scripture that we are only heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ if we suffer with Him (Romans 8:16-17), and the fact that all who live godly will suffer persecution (II Timothy 3:12), we ought to be wondering about the validity of our faith, more than how we can become more successful. We are failures if we do not suffer for Jesus Christ. We are successful if we continue to give the Gospel knowing that it is going to cause others to oppose us, hurt us, ignore us, ridicule us and relegate us to the fringes of society.

2) Verse 3-5 – Paul’s goal was to please God. He spoke the truth, his life was pure and he was absent of deception. Paul reminds the Thessalonian Christians of this by stating everything in the negative.

He was not impure. He did not speak error and he did not deceive. The reason he was not those things is because he was far too busy trying to do and be something else – one who pleases God. The absence of those unacceptable traits was because of his God centeredness. He went into Thessalonica with the goal of pleasing God. The question he asked himself as he made his plans for Gospel penetration of Thessalonica was “What does God want?” Failure is when the horizontal takes precedence over the vertical. Success is keeping the vertical in the first place.

The primary reason for declaring the Gospel is the glory of God. God is glorified in the salvation of sinners. We should of course be motivated by compassion for the lost, for the social improvements that true conversion brings and the love that results. But ahead of them all is the glory of God. Our goal is specifically not to please people. We seek to please God with the knowledge that we will have to give account for not only our work, but our motives as well. We have failed if we cannot look inside ourselves and claim to be pleasing to God because we know our motives are pure and have led to work that is right. We are a great success when we can go to bed at night and know that God has said, “well done”, no matter what the results are.

3) Verse 5-6 – Paul was not duplicitous. He was not trying to be one thing with people for the sake of impressing them or getting something out of them. Paul could look back on his time with the Thessalonians and find great encouragement from the fact that no one could justifiably say that he had bilked them of money or things. He was free of hypocrisy. He didn’t offer free gifts to people for the sake of getting money from them. In fact he refused to take money from them and worked at his trade in order to keep body and soul together rather than lay himself open to the charge of being into the Thessalonians for their money. No insisting on his rights being respected, his income being adequate to his education and experience, his need for four weeks a year holidays and two weeks of conferences. He avoided such things so that the Gospel would be what people remembered and fled to. Here is success; a clear conscience with God and men. To live and work in the work of the Gospel in such a way today that one knows he can recite II Timothy 4:7-8 when he is about to leave this life.

4) Verse 7-8 – The opposite of being duplicitous for the sake of getting things out of people is to give yourself to them at your expense. Paul knew his work was a success because his heart was burdened for the Thessalonians and he showed it with practical, on hands loving service for them. He loved them. We can identify with Linus, from Peanuts, who exclaimed “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand”. People can be very trying. They can be demanding, hard headed, hard hearted, dull, stupid, stubborn and unteachable. I can’t imagine anyone who has pastored who hasn’t encountered the depraved human nature in some form that demonstrated itself in opposition or unfaithfulness. It can be tempting to see simply surviving in some situations as the mark of success. We are not told if Paul encountered the kind of problems with the Thessalonians as he did with the Corinthians, but I doubt whether it would have mattered. Paul did not love the Thessalonians because of their wonderful personalities. He loved them because it was his calling.

Because of who called Him. You want success? Love your people; especially the hard headed, hard hearted, dull, stubborn, and unteachable.

5) There is one final mark of success hat needs to be brought out from this text. In the first verse of this chapter Paul calls the Thessalonians “brothers”. The Lord calls a man into the pastoral ministry because He is going to save one or more people through his ministry. The Thessalonians knew that Paul’s ministry with them was not a failure because they were saved. If he had not visited them, they would not have heard the Gospel. This does not mean that every pastor is going to have a mega-church with hundreds of converts being added to the church every year. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that the pastor will be aware of all the people he has influenced with the Gospel. But it does mean that someone whom God has called into the pastoral ministry will be used by God to lead or influence someone into the Kingdom of God. I Timothy 4:16 leads us to this conclusion as well 1 Tim. 4:16

(ESV) Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. So here is real success. Someone is going to live for God’s glory and get to eternal glory because God chose to use you to win Him.

The striking thing about all these marks of real success in the ministry is that they all are a result of the grace of God at work in the heart of the pastor. And since they are all the result of God’s grace they serve the purpose of drawing attention, not to the pastor who has exhibited them, but to the God of grace who has enabled him to exhibit them. This is truly the mark of success. When the people you preach to and visit and pray for; when they meet you and after hearing you preach, teach and pray; when they have been visited by you and been led through a meeting by you; their conclusion should not be what a great pastor they have. The conclusion should be what a great God they have.

I want to be baptizing genuine believers on a weekly basis. I want the community where my church does its work to know that we are here and that they know they are welcome and that we care for them. I want a budget that enables us to get more pastors on staff, maintains more ministries to the needy, and has evangelism programmes that makes the Gospel known in the marketplace. I want the walls of our church building to bulge on Sundays because of the people pushing to get in. I want my life and my church to be the vehicles used by God to bring large, significant, life altering change to the community. And I want my people, when such things happen, not to say, “Aren’t we blessed to have such a pastor who brings us such great success”. I want them to say, “How utterly amazing it is that God should allow us to know Him and be used by Him. He has done great things for us and we are glad.” And, like Paul, I will know that my work among them was not a failure.

Ken Davis has been Pastor of Thistletown Baptist Church, Etobicoke, ON since 1993.


Local Church Spirituality

June 8, 2009

Tim Kerr, Pastor of Sovereign Grace Church, a recent church plant in Toronto affiliated with Sovereign Grace Ministries, recently came to the home church of my wife and I, Hespeler Baptist Church in Cambridge. He shared a burden of his heart in the area of discipleship and mentoring. A comment caught my attention. I do not have it verbatim but the gist of it was, your spirituality is tied to the local church. Now readers of my personal blog, will know that the concept of the local church is of incredible importance to me. My three post series on The Primacy of the Local Church, there have been the culmination of strong teaching on the topic while I was in seminary, and much thought about the subject including living it out in the context of the church. My clarion call in much of my preaching on the local church is “the local church is God’s vehicle for accomplishing His will in this age.” The church is primary. Every believer should be an active part of a local church.

Yet, we live in a day and age when spirituality is viewed in very personal terms. My spiritual relationship is good when my personal relationship with God is good. My relationship with God is good when I am doing my personal Bible study and prayer. There is no concept that your spirituality might be affected by your body life, that is your relationship to the local church. The crux passage on this issue in my mind is Ephesians 4:11-16.

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Here Paul is informing the Ephesian church about gifting noting that there were those in the church that had been given specific roles by their gifting from God with the express purpose of building up the faith of the church. These people were designed to teach the people so they knew what the Word said and would not be deceived by untruth but embrace the truth of the Scriptures. The capstone though is that there is a focus on growing in Christ as a body. Each part is necessary for the church to grow. Nowhere here does it say that we grow in our faith in Christ alone. We grow in our faith in Christ in the context of the body of Christ. The body of Christ, the local church, is necessary in the life of the believer for growing in faith and godliness. We were never meant to go it alone. We were always meant to be part of the church of Jesus Christ. And you cannot grow spiritually apart from that which Christ died for, the church!

When thinking about spirituality, let us never divorce what we need to grow in Christ from the local church. The local church is the place we grow in Christ as we learn, study, serve, and fellowship. So, the spiritual thermometer of your life should never just be about what you do alone with Christ. It should be what you do with Christ in His body. How you live with other believers, how you treat the local church, how you serve it, that is how you will grow in your spirituality. Christian spirituality IS local church spirituality.


Praising God for His Church!

May 7, 2009

My wife and I go to the world’s best church, Hespeler Baptist Church, in Cambridge, ON. Ever since coming to the church last year we have been welcomed, loved, prayed for, invited into homes, allowed to serve, and privileged to be a part of this body of Christ!

Ever since we lost our job in March we have been worried about what would happen to us. We are running out of money and have not received any unemployment, and despite my efforts at trying to find a job, nothing has happened yet. But we do not have a church that simply says, “go, be warm and well fed.” No, we have a church that loves us and wants to care for us and seeks to mee our needs in practical ways. Our elders are always asking us how we are doing so they can pray and care for us. I have never felt so cared by a church and its leadership in my life. Today, I want to thank God for our local church, our lifeline! Without our church, we would be drifting! But our churhc loves us and wants to care for us! Praise God for His church!


Tim Brister on “Redemptively” Using Twitter

April 29, 2009

My friend Timmy Brister, Associate Pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL has put a lot of thought into two recent posts on his blog on the use of Twitter. I highly recommend both of them.

Don’t Waste Your Tweets

Twitter for the Local Church

And I highly recommend you following him on Twitter!


Book Review – Materials Toward a History of Feet Washing Among the Baptists

December 22, 2008

Materials Toward a History of Feet Washing Among the Baptists. By R. L. Vaughn. Mount Enterprise, TX: Waymark Publications, 2008, 232 pp., $21.99, paper back.

 

Baptists are well-known for holding two commands of the Lord as specific ordinances to be performed in the context of the local church on an ongoing basis. Believer’s baptism by immersion sets Baptists apart from many other groups who practice paedobaptism. The Lord’s Supper is practiced yet debate over who may partake and how often it is to be practiced exists over it. Yet, who would have thought that foot washing is an ordinance practiced by many Baptists in the past and still practiced by some today? R. L. Vaughn has provided the church of Christ with a fascinating collection of primary source materials regarding the practice of feet washing among Baptists. I myself as someone who pursues Baptist history with a passion, was surprised at how many groups practiced some form of feet washing.

 

The book first gives a biblical overview of feet washing from both the Old and New Testaments and proceeds to survey the topic of feet washing from the beginning of the church to approximately 1500 AD. He then progresses to looking at feet washing among the continental Anabaptists, and in the British Isles and finally making it to North America. He then begins to survey the use of feet washing by different groups including Particular Baptists, Free Christian Baptists, Free Will Baptists, General Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Regular Baptists, Separate Baptists, Seventh Day Baptists, Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists, Union Baptists, and United Baptists. Then he helpfully moves beyond looking at feet washing by groups to feet washing by geographical regions. This most extensive area deals with America but there is also a treatment of Canada and Mexico as well. He then provides a survey of feet washing among Baptists in other areas of the world.

 

He helpfully includes arguments against feet washing by Calvin, Owen, Dagg, B.H. Carroll, and others. He then includes many appendices in order to helpfully provide more information for the eager researcher in exploring this strange but important area of Baptist history.

 

The major value of this work is very simply that it provides in one location so many varied and helpful primary source materials related to feet washing and Baptists. Instead of being isolated incidents in the history of the Baptists there were many who claimed the name Baptist that practiced feet washing as an ordinance. Vaughn’s comments are few but where they are found they are helpful. I have found this to be an excellent volume and it has really broadened my views when it comes to Baptist history and feet washing. It has not convinced me of feet washing as an ordinance for the church today but it has opened my eyes to the many Baptists that have seen it this way. And if many of practiced the intent behind feet washing on a regular basis then perhaps we would have more loving churches.

 

This is a very helpful book for those studying Baptist history or the history of feet washing in general. It is highly recommended and I hope it has a wide readership. Brother Vaughn is to be commended for preparing this excellent resource.


Russ Moore on the Primacy of the Local Church

October 17, 2008

Readers of this blog (see here), and hearers of my preaching (see here), will know how the primacy of the local church is extremely important to me. There is nothing that comes above, or even along side of, the local chuch in importance to the life of the believer. Russ Moore, Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has recently wrote a brief article titled, “Jesus Didn’t Die for a Campus Ministry: The Spiritual Danger of Unchurched Spirituality” for the Carl F. H. Henry Institute For Evangelical Engagement of which he is Executive Director. While brief, it is extremely helpful. Dr. Moore is sharp and astute and everything he says and writes is worth reading. I had the privilege of picking him up and dropping him off at the Toronto airport when he came to speak at the 2007 TBS graduation. He is a good man!

On that note, check out his recent chapel message at SBTS on which Justin Taylor calls, “one of the most prophetic pro-life messages I have ever heard.” Listen to “Joseph of Nazareth is a Single-Issue Evangelical: The Father of Jesus, the Cries of the Helpless, and Change You Can Believe in” (Matt 2:13:23).


The Church is Bigger than you Think

July 9, 2008

One of the most frequently asked questions by unbeliever and believer alike is “why are there so many denominations.” There are simplistic and overly complicated answers to this question. One could take people on a biblical study of the purity of the truth to a historical study of schism and separation. But, can we get so focused on our differences that we do miss the call to be a unified body of Christ?

Many of us, whether we say it or not, often believe that our particular group is the only one that God is using in this age. Coming out of a Fundamentalist background, while I appreciate the focus on the purity of the truth, there is a tendency to have sort of the Elijah complex (1 Kings 19:10) who believe they are the only group still truly faithful to the Gospel. There is a tendency to therefore separate over non-fundamental issues. I would now consider myself more or less part of the Reformed camp (although a solid dispensationalist!). We, in our over zealous state, try to encourage people to embrace the doctrines of grace so fervently, that we often believe that the idea of an Arminian believer is an oxymoron! How quickly do we allow ourselves to become fixated on ourselves or on one particular theological idea that we neglect what unites us together, specifically, the cross work of Christ!

The church is bigger than you think. It is not just Baptists, or Presbyterians, or Methodists, or Pentecostals or such. In fact there would be people in each group that could hardly be called Christians! There are members of the body of Christ in the Anglican church and I would dare say it, some even in the Roman Catholic church. Not all have bowed the knee to Baal.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one (John 17:21-23)

Jesus’ high priestly prayer was for the unity of the body of Christ. People would know we are followers of Christ by our love for one another. Yet, we divide over petty issues, issues that while important, do not have bearing on the essential core message of the Christian faith. Frankly, I can have fellowship with my brother the covenant theologian, my sister the paedobaptist and not feel like I have compromised the faith. I can have fellowship with one who believes tongues still operate today or who do not believe in unconditional election. These aspects are not fundamental core aspects of the faith.

What then are the core doctrines of the faith? What should be that which we divide over to maintain the purity of the Gospel? Historically there were five major fundamentals of the faith (these have been sub-divided into larger groups, but this should suffice).

(1) The literal inerrancy of the Scriptures.

(2) The virgin birth and deity of Christ.

(3) The substitutionary view of the atonement.

(4) The bodily resurrection of Christ.

(5) The literal return of Christ.

Now, if a brother and sister holds to these core truths, have embraced Jesus Christ as saviour, then we can be united in fellowship together around these core doctrines of the faith. Now, does that mean we can fellowship on the same level in each instance? No. For instance I would not have a paedobaptist come into my church and do a baptismal service! But, I would have him come in and preach in a regular service perhaps. This thinking about levels of fellowship is important as we seek to apply practically our theology to those of different positions yet together in faith.

So, my point? The church is bigger than you think. Just as Elijah thought he was the only one, the Lord reminded him there were 7000 that did not bow the knee to Baal. There are many of our brothers and sisters in the faith around the world that we can rejoice with in our shared salvation. We should not back ourselves in little corners thinking we are the only bastions of the faith, but should embrace those who too are not bowing the knee to Baal! They will know we are Christians by our love! Do you love the brethren in all its forms?

See Bob Hayton’s “Minimizing the Gospel through Excessive Separation” for a helpful discussion of the problem of excessive separation.

 

 


DNA of a New Testament Church

July 8, 2008

Our director at SGA, Allan Vincent, shared with me an illustration regarding the state of the church today. A farmer in St. Jacobs, ON once told him that not all potatoes labeled Yukon Gold are actually Yukon Gold. You see, with all the genetic changes being made to food, there are a number of things that are labeled one thing, but in reality are something different. A bag of Yukon Gold potatoes that you pick up at the grocery store may in fact not be Yukon Gold! Scary stuff indeed.

Now what does this have to do with the church? In reality, much of what is called “church” nowadays is really in fact not church. What we see today with our consumer, marketing, program driven approach to church is really, a genetically altered form of the church. It was designed to “sell” the church even though it was no longer the church. We see a watered down form of the church. Most believers today are really looking at churches with a consumeristic attitude (does this church meet my needs, does it have what my kids need, will I get what I want out of it). The attitude of “you get what you put in” is foreign to most church goers today. And the churches have changed their genetic make-up in order to appeal to these church goers today.

What then does the mapping of the DNA of a New Testament Church look like? Well, in reality the Word of God gives us a clear understanding of what the local church did in New Testament times. Acts 4:42-47 reads,

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

There are some very key points here which can show what the focus of the church was. Essentially, the focus of the church was 1) preaching and teaching the Word, 2) prayer, 3) fellowship of the saints, and 4) partaking in ordinances of the church.

Clearly, one important aspect of their time was devoted to the Apostle’s teachings. They yearned to hear the Word of God preached and taught and applied to their lives. They knew that a Word saturated ministry is a life changing ministry. Only through the power of the Word which revealed the Word, that is Christ, could they hope to attain the promise of life eternal. The Word changed hearts and brought people to Christ, and it changed lives as people were becoming more like Christ.

The second item was prayer. They devoted themselves to prayer. Prayer is that divine work where we communicate with the Sovereign God of the universe. We have the privilege of being agents of His divine will through prayer. God accomplishes His will through our prayers. We are the ordained means to the end. Plus, we grow in our relationship and fellowship with the Triune God through prayer. It is our lifeline to our life giver! Without prayer, we will wither and die!

A third thing the church was committed to was fellowship. While we might not embrace the communal living they did, we can appreciate the close relationships these beleivers had with each other. We live in a segregated world where we know of nor care about our neighbours let alone our church family. These people though faithfully met together and cared and loved for each other in such a way that they met each other’s needs. Imagine what churches would look like today with this kind of level of fellowship!

Finally, they devoted themselves to the ordinances of the Lord. There is debate here, but I believe at least a part of what is being referred to here is the Lord’s Supper. The church regularly “broke bread” together as they celebrated the finished work of Christ that united them together and looked forward to the glorious return of Christ when they would celebrate the meal with Him! They also of course took part in the other ordinace of baptism which served as the initiatory placement of the person into the community of faith. Therefore, when the church came together, they added those to their number through baptism, and they fellowshipped around the Lord’s Table.

This is the DNA of a New Testament Church. This is how the churched looked then, this is how it should look now. How far have we gotten off the beaten path through our programs and our marketing and everything else. The church was simple. United around the preaching and teaching of the Word, prayer, fellowship, and the ordinances. If more of our churches today focused on these aspects and less on “meeting needs” we would live in a world of greater conformity to Christ in our churches. We would be a close knit family united around Christ.

What a privilege it is to be a part of the body of Christ. May we pray for our churches to better reflect the New Testament picture of the church. Let’s remove the genetic engineering that has happened to the church and get back to the simplicity of it all!


“Listening to the Past – Lessons from Andrew Fuller” 17

November 11, 2007

 

Fuller rightly responds to people who want to be part of a broad religious group without a commitment to their local church. It seems the problems we face today existed in Fuller’s day just the same. The following entry comes from The Works of Andrew Fuller, III:797.

“There appears to be a mistaken idea, to commonly prevailing in the religious world at present, respecting what is called a party spirit. Many professors, while they endeavour to promote the interests of religion in general, too often neglect to pay that attention which id due to the interest and welfare of that class or denomination of Christians in particular with which they are or have been connected. It is not uncommon to see one of these “candid” Christian professors keep at a distance from his own denomination, or party, where that denomination stands most in need of his countenance and support; while he associates with another pat, which is sanctioned by numbers and worldly influence. And when the inconsistency of his conduct is hinted at, he will excuse himself by saying, in the cant phrase of the day, That it is his wish to promote the interests of religion in general, and not to serve a party. I wish some of your correspondents would expose the conduct of such fawning professors i its true colours; and endeavour to convince them that in vain are all pretensions to Christian candour where consistency and integrity are wanting.”