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.


Cory said...

It seems to me this is where the "rubber" really meets "the road" in your situation. It's good to be in a church that explicitly confesses your beliefs. It's good for you to be close enough to that church that you could consider it local (btw, would it be fair to say you've underestimated the importance of regular fellowship with members of your church between Sundays? Just curious about your perspective on that).
Teaching through Grudem's Sys. Theo. on this subject recently was interesting to me because he goes to great effort to keep people from separating from their church (not that this is exactly the issue you're wrestling with - just in the same ball park). In the study he points out that the only time anyone in Scripture is explicitly commanded to separate is when there are unbelievers claiming to be believers (I Cor. 5:11) and even then it's not the case of an individual separating from a church but a church from an individual. He then goes on to say it's implicitly permitted to disassociate from churches that would explicitly, seriously, and persistently deviate from Biblical standards. Which leads him, naturally to define what those serious deviations would be. He lists:
A renunciation/alteration of the Gospel
Denial of Christ's deity or humanity
Denial of the Nature and authority of the Bible
Denial of the resurrection of Christ
(each are from NT passages)
My guess is that your dissatisfaction with local area churches would fall under the first category - making your situation a really difficult one for your conscience.

I think it was John Owen (though I'm not sure - it could have been Dever drawing an inference from something else Owen said) who said something to the effect that at times there are believers who are truly believers in spite of bad doctrine, i.e, they functionally deny what they verbally confess (like an Arminian praying for God to change someone's heart). In this case, worship at the local level seems even more important - since there would be legitimate believers who need the edification, encouragement and instruction of fellow brothers with good doctrine.

Then, there is of course the toll on a family. Does resistance to worship among local believers implicitly teach them to suspect all church authority? Does lapsed attendance at another church implicitly teach that church attendance is a matter of convenience?

No easy answers here. I wonder sometimes in your situation, if this isn't a question of which church to attend, but what sort of suffering you're willing to prayerfully endure.

In any case, your posts have renewed my desire to pray that God would provide a local body for you to worship in regularly with joy and a clear conscience. He truly can do more than we ask or imagine. Looking forward to more thoughts from you on this subject.

Yes. I'm a little embarrassed about how long this comment became considering I have the password to your blog and could have just published my own post.

Howard Fisher said...

You shouldn’t be embarrassed about the length. To be honest, how could it be any shorter? This is something that needs to be discussed at length and an area we all need to gain some wisdom. So I must confess that I have had significant doubts over the past few years. If I am wrong in what I have done, then I need to repent. However, I don’t think it is a simple black and white situation as Grudem’s list seems to offer, and I know that you fully realize that.

I’m not really disagreeing with Grudem. I think wisdom needs to be applied in it’s application though. For instance, Grudem’s list would be far more black and white during the apostles day and definitely during the era of the reformation. But due to technology [such as the car], and western civilization’s expansion of civil and individual personal liberty, something that doesn’t even really exist in much of the world today, has given rise to denominationalism. Right or wrong, it is the context we live in the “West”.

So if FBC of St. Francis was actually in Scott City, would it really be problematic to begin attending there. Would it really be considered leaving a church for another when the other is just around the block, and is not against having some kind of fellowship as many of today’s church have while maintaining their own confessions and authority? It is there I’m not certain the list applies. But is this what I have done by attending St. Francis? Perhaps if the price of gas were still a buck, but then your other questions must come into play.

For instance, you ask, “Would it be fair to say you've underestimated the importance of regular fellowship with members of your church between Sundays?”

I don’t know that I underestimated it. Perhaps I didn’t know experientially how dry one could feel. But my own personal context is that I used to attend a Pentecostal church in NH prior to my moving here. I regularly fellowshipped with friends from that church at least a couple of times a week. We often talked about the Gospel and theology at length. I have never had that kind of fellowship here in Scott City aside from when you live here. So it really isn’t new to me in some sense. I do discuss theology with Steve though. In many ways, the fellowship my family and I participate in at St. Francis is better because of the unity in doctrine that we have. But when you can’t go every week???? And I don’t even know how to get into the authority of the local church issue yet.

So even if I didn’t move my membership to St. Francis, the differences in doctrine among the local churches in Scott City, fundamentally speaking, are so minute, why not switch over to the First Christian Church [see reason above]? At least there I would be attending with my extended family too. My father-in-law is an associate pastor. Wouldn’t it make sense to come under his eldership?

Believe me when I tell you that I struggled and still do over what to do. Grudem may offer his list, but I listened to other pastors who say if a church preaches week after week in the way many do, to run, and that I am not to subject myself to Osteen kind of preaching, even if they do get it right on some lower Arminian style level.

So within Scott City, I could attend a local church [FCC] that is part of a denomination that I consider to be apostate or attend the FBC of the ABC, whose denomination is heading into apostasy if it isn’t already there or find another local church that is SBC but slightly hostile to Reformed Theology or keep going to St. Francis. It really is perplexing.

Now I am getting too long. ;-)

Cory said...

I face a similar problem in youth ministry quite a bit - well...similar feelings anyway. Many times I'll take my youth group to some Christian event and the theology will be, as it almost always is, embarrassingly shallow and thoughtless. The result is that I have to spend the ride home, or the lesson time the following week detoxifying the students, trying to Scripturally pump their proverbial stomachs.
So, many times, I feel like the choice I face is to (1) disassociate from everything that isn't affiliated with our church/theological camp or (2) always be the guy who's dumping on everyone else's teaching/ministry.
Not exactly the same dilemma, but the conflicted feelings probably are similar.

So, here's a hypothetical question: Have you thought about moving to St. Francis? Let's say God opens up an opportunity for a job for you there and you're able to provide for your family. Is a doctrinally sound church worth moving for?

Howard Fisher said...

"So, here's a hypothetical question: Have you thought about moving to St. Francis? Let's say God opens up an opportunity for a job for you there and you're able to provide for your family. Is a doctrinally sound church worth moving for?"

Great question! I mentioned this issue when I was seeking council from Dr. White many, many moons ago. His instant reply was, "Move!"

I have personally witnessed over the years how quickly churches may change. So jumping ship and moving may actually cause further problems. St Francis is pretty remote. When the pastor retires, what will come next? There aren't exactly a whole host of RB pastors running around.

But then again, this doesn't really answer the question. In the end, I really don't think I am willing to move, but perhaps I should be. Then there is the case of wisdom. People that are from there are fine to be there. But moving there without any roots.??? For instance, if the only RB church that existed anywhere was in Africa, why not move there?

It seems to me that the NT seems to have people praying that God would grant the opposite. In our case, we have a different scenario. We have been blessed with churches all throughout our land and Scott City is no less blessed. What we need is for God to grant us repentance with a sound proclamation of God's truth. Perhaps wisdom would have me here to keep praying for such a thing?

Then there is also the wisdom of economics. Perhaps giving up everything is what God wants, but is it the wise thing to do? How would I know?

Perhaps looking for a job in a broader economic market such as Colorado Springs would be wiser? That might make more sense since there are reformed Baptist churches in the area.

Good thought that I need to rethink through.

Howard Fisher said...

BTW: there are plenty of reasons to stay, family and otherwise. I should mention that Dr. White told me to move before you ever graduated high school.

Cory said...

You ignored James White's advice? Scandalous, I say!
I would come visit you in Colorado:)

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that you make a good case for the Catholics if you actually confess a faith that has you explain to your child on the way home from Sunday service how your pastor is in error. How does your child know you are right and that your neighbor is / pastor / population of hundreds of thousands of differently-believing Baptists are wrong when you're all calling on the same Confession and the same Bible?

It's good that you agree with a confession of faith, as it gives you a starting point in exegesis beyond your own personal likes, dislikes and biases, but you ought to consider what Christians had been confessing for the 1,650 + years prior to the London Baptist expression.

It's good that you agree with a confession of faith, as it gives you a starting point in exegesis beyond your own personal likes, dislikes and biases, but you ought to consider what Christians had been confessing for the 1,650 + years prior to the London Baptist expression.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the double paragraph above.

Howard Fisher said...

Anonymous, I don't know where my response went, but something weird has happened in cyberspace.

So I'll try a briefer response. Your epistemology isn't even where I would start. History doesn't jive with your assertion either. There is no unanimous consent of the fathers. It is a myth. For example, no one believed in the bodily assumption of Mary for at least 500 years. Yet Rome has dogmatized it as a part of the Gospel to be believed and has bound the conscience of the faithful to its false teaching and a-historical teaching.

I also reject that Rome has the right to interpret history to justify her claims.

Plus, you still have the same problem. Under Rome's roof, you have both liberals and conservative catholic priests that are worlds apart. Which one do you believe? How do you interpret Trent. Are Protestants condemned to hell as the document clearly states, or are we merely separated brethren? Do Muslims really worship the one true God with us? Of course not, but others will interpret differently from you what Rome says because Rome is mushy.

then you have your own private interpretations of John 6 in order to defend Transubstantiation. Yet Rome has never said anything about John 6 in defense of that dogma.

So you must come to understand that I am approaching this from an entirely different perspective than you do. I am not looking for a cult-like leader with infallibility to tell me what to believe (as if that solves anything). I am simply looking for consistency and to be consistent with the Confession of faith my Baptist fathers gave to me.

Anonymous said...

. I am not looking for a cult-like leader with infallibility to tell me what to believe (as if that solves anything)

True! You are your own infallible leader.

Howard Fisher said...

"True! You are your own infallible leader."

I don't know why Roman Catholics don't apply the same standards of judgment to their own positions, but they don't. Are you an infallible guide to point me to Rome? Of course not. Yet you are attempting to use some kind of rational thinking and argument to persuade me (although failing miserably).

So why do I have to be infallible to make a judgment about seeing the Reformed Baptist faith is consistent? Do I have to be infallible to make a judgment about becoming a member of a Reformed Baptist church or whether it is teaching Biblical truth? Of course not. But in the end, you are trying to use a rational argument to demonstrate Rome is the only infallible interpreter.

So stop with the infallible presuppositions. I'm not interested.