Friday, August 31, 2007

The Church’s View of Discipleship

In the 1st century church, a few disciples were known as Christians. But there were no Christians who were not also disciples. In the 21st century church, there are a few Christians who are known as disciples. But discipleship is not the norm.

Acts 11:26 – not all disciples were known as Christians, but all Christians were disciples

and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

Nominal Christianity (Christianity in name only) is dead. This is true in at least three senses:

1. Christians in name only are really not Christians at all, and so are spiritually dead

2. Our culture has lost patience and respect with this kind of “casual” Christianity, which is betrayed by the shallowness of its beliefs and commitments, and by the absence of life change.

3. It is dead in that it has no spiritual power associated with it. It has institutions and patterns which have created a kind of Christian sub-culture, but it is dead and dying, and such churches are drying up and closing down. This is supported both by the text of 2 Timothy 3, and by the statistics related to dying churches, found in a variety of sources, such as Harry Reeder’s book, From Embers to Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Church, P&R, 2004.

Discipleship Christianity is alive and well

1. These Christians are related primarily to Christ, and secondarily to a local church.

a. It is Christianity; not church-ianity

b. Their Christianity is personal, a real relationship with a living person.

2. These followers of Jesus are consistently seeking how to live Jesus’ life in every arena of their lives.

a. It is not Sabbath or Sunday Christianity; it is everyday

b. Their Christianity is universal, pervasive

3. These disciples accept responsibility for representing Jesus to their families, friends and associates; and they accept the consequences

a. They do not rely on pastors, missionaries, or churches to take care of their Christ-representation

b. Their Christianity is missional, persecutional

The Shape of New Covenant Discipleship

New Covenant discipleship is not an effort to behave better, but to follow Jesus as fully as possible, to have his character stamped on our hearts, so that we resemble him. NC discipleship is not primarily performance-oriented, and it certainly is not a superficial conformity to a set of rules for appeance’ sake. It is transformational, as the Spirit of promise establishes ownership and control in our lives, including our minds, our affections, and our will.

New Covenant discipleship is representative. As I am fully and completely represented before God by Christ, I in turn seek to fully and completely represent Christ in the world.

New Covenant disciples have:

• A new Captain under a gracious administration

• A new identity and a blood-bought fellowship

• A new mission that cannot be measured in dollars, or numbers, or status

• A new worldview that drastically changes the definitions

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Church’s Leadership

A Note on Biblical Terms:

Elders in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, are a fact of life. In some cases they are there because people grow old enough to be elders. In other cases, they are present because certain ones have been appointed to leadership. The term seems to have significant overlap with the position of pastor/shepherd and that of overseers. It seems that all pastors are elders. It would also seem that all elders have pastoring/shepherding and oversight functions. But not all elders are teachers, though pastors must teach. The purpose of this study is not to re-construct leadership polity, but rather to notice what Scripture teaches about the functioning of church leaders, known as elders, overseers and pastors.

I will add a note after each selected text reference, with the verse following on the next line.

Acts 14:23 – emphasis on carefulness of selection

And when they had appointed elders for them in every church (acc. to church), with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Acts 20:17 – multiple elders, though it is possible there are also multiple congregations

Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.

1Tim. 4:14 – carefulness in setting apart young leadership

Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.

1Tim. 5:17 – not all elders preach and teach; also, the translation “rule” is unfortunate. A better translation would be “lead.” Elders are not kings; they are leaders.

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

Titus 1:5 -

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town (acc. to town) as I directed you—

The main point of this lesson is to emphasize the need for church leadership, and for a kind of church leadership that is pointedly involved in the lives of people. Church leaders must lead by example, but example alone is not leadership. Therefore, I have zeroed in on the use of “rebuke, reprove” as one of the functions of church leadership (Titus especially helps us here). Certainly there are a whole array of pastoral functions when dealing with people. Rebuking is only one of the them. But it is certainly one of them.

Selected verses using “rebuke”

Matt. 18:15

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

Luke 3:19

But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done,

John 3:20

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.

John 16:8 – we rebuke now, to save from rebuke on the Day of Judgment

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:

Eph. 5:11

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

Eph. 5:13

But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible,

1Tim. 5:20

As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

2Tim. 4:2

preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

Titus 1:9

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

Titus 1:13

This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith,

Titus 2:15

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Noun form

2Tim. 3:16

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

Summary Notes:

1. We will not meet the leadership challenge without meeting the prayer challenge. (Cf the previous post on the church's direction and enablement.)

2. We live in a world that tends toward disorder, especially spirit and soul disorder. Christian maturity will not happen on its own. Leadership is needed.

3. Faithful and willing men who meet the qualifications for church leadership are increasingly rare.

4. Honest confrontation is not inconsistent with a loving and caring Christianity.

5. One should notice what things are not included in the Bible’s description of the roles of elders/overseers/pastors.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Church’s Direction and Enablement

Key Verse: Eph. 4:14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, (the rolling of the dice; experimentation), by craftiness in deceitful schemes (rationalizations)

Too many churches and too many times, we (and people like us) have resorted to experimentation (or imitation of the experiments of others) that is a pragmatic attempt to find what works as opposed to a determination to follow the Spirit’s leading. We also can hide behind an approach that elevates human reason. This may be an excuse to retreat into a dead but comfortable traditionalism, which also is not responsive to the Spirit’s leading. The following verses include warnings and determinations which apply to this subject. I have underlined phrases that should prompt reflection.

2Cor. 11:3
But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

2Cor. 4:2
But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

1Cor. 3:19
For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”

Paul’s selection of images in Ephesians offer further food for thought. As a local assembly, we must seek proper alignment with the Cornerstone (Eph 2:20-22). Only the Spirit can create the environment where this proper alignment is achieved. Also, the Body is to live and move in coordination with the Head (Eph 4:15-16). Again, only the Spirit can coordinate proper expression.

The Church’s Direction and Enablement are ultimately from Christ, through the Spirit. Our seeking of Christ’s direction and enablement through the Spirit are pursued, not through the imitation of the church-down-the-street’s latest experimentations, and not by an independent reliance on our own good sense, - but through careful attention to Scripture (Job 23:8-14), and through the practice of prayer (cf prayer in Acts).

The texts mentioned above are highly instructive. Job is poetic, and powerful. You can read it yourself. I provided a sheet with all the references to prayer in the Book of Acts. It is a very easy search to do – but a more difficult practice to follow.

If we are to commit to a) Scripture-attentiveness and b) prayer-practice, then we must set aside significant and quality times for these activities. They need not be whole-congregational, but small-groupish, in order that they can be conversational. The emphasis in these gatherings is to seek the Spirit’s direction and enablement.

The need for these kinds of activities is not an argument for a rejection of preaching and teaching. We actually need more teaching and better preaching. But the activities mentioned above allow the congregation in smaller units to respond to preaching and teaching, in conjunction with reflection and listening.