Saturday, April 21, 2012

Church Membership part 3: Consistency

I wanted to establish in my last post, whether or not I did well, is that I firmly believe salvation does not exist outside of the church. We are not saved outside the context of the church. Jesus died for the church and purchased it with His blood.

As one whose theology is within the Reformed Baptist camp, the struggle comes within how to be a member within a local church when such radical differences exist in theology in the area in which I live. For example, is it a proper thing to take your family to church only to have to constantly explain to your kids on the way home that such and such was wrong? Perhaps the Pastor used the poor illustration of George Wilson's pardon? Perhaps there was dancing or a skit in violation of the Regulative Principle (read john Frame's article here). Perhaps the constant form of preaching is topical and lacks any exegesis on a consistent basis causing people to read the Bible poorly. Perhaps some people receive a "word" (in the charismatic sense) from the Lord and decide to share it. Perhaps there is no Confession at all to which the people agree.

As one who agrees with the 1689 London Baptist Confession, looking for consistency is quite difficult. And bringing this consistency to my family is even more so. The reason why we attend First Baptist in St. Francis is that the church is Confessional and adheres to the 1689 Confession. They attempt to practice and be consistent with the Regulative Principle of Worship in how they approach formal worship. The pastor often preaches through books and attempts to have exegetically based, expository sermons (which he does extremely well I might add). While driving home I love being able to ask my children to recount the points my pastor raises during his sermon and discussing them. I desire to bring spiritual health to my family, and I believe having sound and consistent doctrine taught to them is of vital importance.

But getting to St. Francis on a regular and consistent basis simply isn't practical. Even if we do, they would not be the same people we interact with on any regular basis during the week. Not that that is necessary, but having an RB church down the street is vastly different from having one nearly 140 miles away.

This is a spiritual health issue. Although most churches do teach the law of God in some fashion, many churches teach some kind of moralistic/therapeutic philosophical self help methods of living a healthy life with Jesus' Name attached on the back side just to give it approval much in the same way we end our selfish prayers with "in the Name of Jesus" just to make certain it goes through.

I am not interested in moralisms. I am not interested in fighting the world of politics, Left or Right or whatever. I am not interested in hearing a 5 part sermon series on the biblical definition of the family verses the world's or a 5 part series on how to save your marriage or make it better (as important as that may be). I am not interested in fighting alcohol or drugs or gambling as damaging to lives those things can be. I am not interested in substituting youth groups for 4-H or Boy Scouts because it has the Jesus stamp of approval.

I am interested in a consistent presentation of the Gospel and being discipled and making disciples. And it is to that I turn in my next post.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Church Membership part 2: What Is It?

Now many good books have been written, even recently, on the subject of the church. This truly is a great thing. As I mentioned last time, so many people treat the church as a pair of slippers to be put on when one feels like it. However, this should not be our attitude. Yet with so many scandals within the church, how do we avoid such a mentality in a nation where we have such freedom to go wherever we like.

A few years back, a friend of mine explained to me that he quit going to church because his pastor had raised a lot of money from the parishioners, including him, and absconded with the money. When I explained to him that perhaps God was using these events to teach him wisdom and to get him to think about theology and a sound church [he was more charismatic]. That wasn't even a consideration. Perhaps God was testing him to see if he had faith at all? Whatever God may have been doing in his life, we need to do the obvious. We need to look at what Christ has to say. After all, it is His church.

It really is that simple. Christ founded His church, is building His church, and is coming again for His church. The church isn't just some mental exercise that people discuss. It isn't some building down the street made of mortar. It is His body. In Matthew 16 Jesus explains Peter's confession about who He is.

Mat 16:18  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Now I realize that my Roman Catholic friends see this in a perpetual installation of Popes that mark the church. It is here we must see the difference between passing the torch [so to speak] via natural means verses such as what John explains in his Gospel.

 Joh 1:13  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Protestantism recognizes that the church exists where ever the Gospel is preached, the sacraments/ordinances followed and perhaps church discipline [that is debated] and true believers gather together. The Gospel isn't passed on through an institution that resembles a business. It is passed on through faithful men.

Christianity doesn't perpetuate itself necessarily through our children. Although God may be pleased to bless faithful parents by bringing their children to faith. This isn't necessarily the case. Just because another generation comes along and says it is Christian, doesn't make it Christian.

Again in John chapter 3 Jesus states very clearly,

Joh 3:6  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Again, the Spirit gives birth to believers. So the church is made of those who have been given new life through the preaching of the Gospel. But this is not individualistic. We are not saved to be a bunch of Lone Rangers. Instead, Jesus is creating a new humanity that is united in Him.

1Co 12:12  For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
1Co 12:13  For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

What effect should this have on the believer. He should recognize that the church exists because Christ has purposed it to exist. He should recognize that just as we are all born in Adam and united to him through natural means of propagation, we are united to Christ and all of His spiritual descendants through supernatural means.

The believer should recognize that the institution of the church is not some merely human organization, but an organization that is created by Jesus through His Spirit. It is a living organization that resembles a body. Just as any body, the parts are dependent upon each other and all look tot he Head, so too we must all learn to love one another and together look to our Savior.

Now there is obviously the many and finer points of theology that I am not going to go through in this post. Suffice it to say that the church of Jesus Christ is not an option for the believer simply because of what it is. It is Christ's body.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Church Membership: part 1: Its Personal

The question of church membership was posed to me this weekend. Now some people may not think much about church membership. Hey, if you go to church, what’s the big deal about being a member? Some people treat church membership in a way that makes church just one place to go and worship. I can worship in my home or when I go camping in the woods or while driving my car. But as my friend, Dr. White, often says, “Inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument.” We really ought to be concerned about what Christ and His Apostles have to say about His church.

Now this is not an easy question to discuss for me since I have been personally struggling with church membership for the last couple of years. This is not some mere academic exercise, but a real life situation that I have been living. Over the last couple of years, I have seen several people struggle and some having fallen away from church. So again, this is real life and has real life impact on ourselves and our families.

A few years back I decided to move my membership to another Baptist church that is consistent with my Reformed Baptistic theological beliefs. The major problem with the decision I had made was that the church was literally over 2 hours away. With the price of gas, this has made going to church on a regular and consistent basis a major hardship. Another difficulty is that I have always believed that if it possible, one ought to attend a church in one’s community.

A third difficulty is that of offending friends and relatives, especially former church members in the church I used to attend. I want to be clear. I do not think that other denominations are somehow evil. But for the same reasons (hopefully) that a person who is not theologically Reformed would not want to attend an RB church, are the same reasons I am trying to be consistent in this area.

Being in the Reformed Baptist camp theologically has placed me in quite the bind. Since there are no Reformed Baptist churches in Scott City, how should I interact or work with local churches? For many, this may seem like a silly question, but as one who takes theology very seriously this is a far bigger problem than most realize till I have offended someone with some theological viewpoint.

For example, my father-in-law is one of the associate pastors/elders at the First Christian Church in Scott City. I know this terrific man would love for me and my family to attend regularly in his church. I know he would love to have me help in teaching youth or high school groups in some way. Yet if I were to do so, would I not cause offense rather quickly? (Something I am trying to avoid.) Reformed theology isn’t just some academic exercise. It is a rigorous and systematic theological thought that has a great impact on one’s life and how one approaches ministry.

So for the last couple of years, I have tried to find that balance where I might go to church within the area of Scott City and yet still attend as a member of FBC, St. Francis. Over these couple of years I have not found this balance profitable and not being a member within a local church in the local area has, I think, impacted my life negatively. Yet how to deal with this has been the most perplexing question in my entire Christian life.

Hopefully, I will be able to post some thoughts on my views of church membership over the next few posts and also evaluate my own situation. Perhaps together, some conversations may be started and some wisdom may be gained by thinking through what Scripture has to say about this very important subject.