Posts Tagged ‘church’
If you have not heard it yet, you have probably not been online for a few weeks. If you have heard it once, you have probably heard it many times. For many organisations, institutions and associations, it is the time of year for the appeal. You know how it goes – something like this:
“The end of the year is fast approaching. The beginning of the next one is going to arrive a second later. For us, it is also the end of the financial year. And this is all the good we have done or tried to do, and this is all the good we plan or intend to accomplish. And yet … money is tight. With just a few pounds or dollars from many of you, or a good bundle of them from even a few of you, Ministry X can keep moving forward and can accomplish so much more in the coming months. Might I suggest a concrete sum or a specific goal to give you a sense of definition and accomplishment? Thank you! So, please, consider whether or not this is a cause to which you can donate. And, by the way, this is your last chance … for now!”
Before you respond to such appeals, I would also like to draw attention to an institution very much in need of your financial support. It is a longstanding institution in which you should have a personal investment on multiple levels, if you do not already do so. It generally stands in need of support, and does untold good, with the capacity for yet more good than can be imagined. It ought to have the first claim on your money.
I hope you know that I am speaking of the local church. This, my friends, is the one institution with direct divine sanction. It is the the one missionary organisation with a heavenly mandate. It is the one establishment with a celestial constitution. Its work is defined by divine fiat. It is the one body with a guarantee of perpetual existence and unending profitable service. And it is the one organisation which has the legitimate and primary claim on our financial contributions to the kingdom of God.
Please do not misunderstand me. There are many institutions and organisations which are doing fine work. Many of them are doing work that lies outside the remit of the church, and they deserve your time, attention and support. Some of them do not have the capacity or desire to clamour for your probably hard-earned cash. Some of them are known to thousands, some to few. Some of them are eminently worthy, others debatably so. You should consider supporting them financially, if you are able. I also understand that there are some avenues of service that are difficult to define in terms of the role of the church either as the direct instigator or overseer.
But that is not the point. The point is that the first call on your financial investment ought to be the church to which you belong for the work which the church is called to do. Beyond that, I would suggest that the second call ought to be the local church to which you belong for the work which that church is called to do. If you trust the elders and the deacons (one presumes that you do, if you belong to the church), and if they have a sincere and wise desire for kingdom investment (and I hope that they do), and if you have a little more that you wish to do (and most of us do), why not give a little more to that church of which you are a part? Most church officers and the congregations they serve already know where and how and why they might invest any further funds made available.
It is clear from the Scriptures that Christians should support the work of the Lord by systematic and proportionate giving made through the local church (Mal 3.8-10; 1Cor 16.1-2; 2Cor 8 and 9). Whether or not you take tithing as helpful principle, it is certainly indicative of the attitude of God’s people concerning giving to God’s kingdom. And what of gifts and offerings made according to one’s ability and willingness of heart (Gen 14.18-20; 2Cor 8.1-5; Ex 36.2-7)? Has there been no blessing from God, perhaps directly through the church and its ministry, for which a thank offering might not form part of an appropriate response?
And what of other churches? Do you know of congregations that are seeking to support missionaries or plant churches or erect or purchase buildings? Are there churches that struggle to support their pastors? If you have given all that you might and all that you could to your own congregation, might you suggest to the deacons that this could be a worthwhile investment? If your church is already involved in such support, and you have more in your pocket, why not pass it along independently and anonymously?
If, after that, you have discretionary funds or wish to make further sacrifices, then by all means go ahead. Might I suggest that you save those shekels for work that lies outside the remit of the church, rather than investing it in something that is replicating or replacing that work without a divine mandate? And, unless and until you find such a need, then look nearer at hand and, I hope, nearer at heart. Christ loves his church. It was to a church that Paul wrote concerning the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich (2Cor 8.9). It is in and through the local church that the first response to this example ought to be made.
Brief, wise words from Joe Thorn:
Of course it’s possible to be converted and not be a part of the local church. Possible. And dangerous. You see, the goal–the mission of the church–is not to see converts, but to make disciples. Conversion is but a part of that process. The making of spiritually mature disciples who obey Jesus Christ can only fully happen inside the church. It is in the church where we discover and exercise our spiritual gifts; where we bear one another’s burdens, exhort, encourage, and rebuke one another; where we share in one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Father.
Preach the gospel. Preach the hope of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for sinners. Preach it with the aim of reconciling people to God and receiving them into the fellowship. The local church (in all it’s ministries and meetings) is “where it’s at,” not because it’s cool, entertaining, or perfect, but because that it is where Christ stands with his people, fellowshipping with them, and leading them through this life into the life to come.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the main task of the church, via the Old Guys:
There are other agencies in the world which can deal with many of the problems of man kind. I mean by that, things like medicine, the State, even other religions, and cults, and psychology and various other teachings and political agencies. These are all designed to help, and to relieve somewhat, the human condition, to ease the pain and the problem of life and to enable men to live more harmoniously and to enjoy life in a greater measure. They set out to do that, and it is no part of our case to say that they are of no value. We must observe the facts and grant that they can do good, and do much good. They are capable in a measure of dealing with these things. But none of them can deal with this fundamental, this primary trouble at which we have been looking.
Not only that, when they have done their all, or when even the Church coming down to that level and operating on that level alone, has done her all, the primary trouble still remains. So I would lay it down as a basic proposition that the primary task of the Church is not to educate man, is not to heal him physically or psychologically, it is not to make him happy. I will go further; it is not even to make him good. These are things that accompany salvation; and when the Church performs her true task she does incidentally educate men and give them knowledge and information, she does bring them happiness, she does make them good and better than they were. But my point is that those are not her primary objectives. Her primary purpose is not any of these; it is rather to put man into the right relationship with God, to reconcile man to God. This really does need to be emphasize at the present time, because this, it seems to me, is the essence of the modern fallacy. It has come into the Church and it is influencing the thinking of many in the Church– this notion that the business of the Church is to make people happy, or to integrate their lives, or to relieve their circumstances and improve their conditions. My whole case is that to do that is just to palliate the symptoms, to give temporary ease, and that it does not get beyond that.
Michael Kruger offers some interesting thoughts on rescuing church from a facebook culture. He writes:
I have to ask the simple question: What affect does “social media” technology have on the way we view church? What affect does it have on the way we conceive of life in the body of Christ? Of course, much of social media is positive. And the church has used this technology to advance the cause of Christ. Moreover, I cannot miss the irony of writing about the affects of technological forms of communication on my own website! Nevertheless, I do have some concerns—and so should you. Here are a few characteristics of a “Facebook culture” that we certainly need to reckon with as believers:
1. Short attention span/limited learning style.
2. Low view of authority/over-focus on equality.
3. “Surfacey” interactions/artificial relationships.
4. Lack of Physical Presence.
5. Low Commitment/Accountability.
Do read his explanations and conclusions and recommendations in full. They are thoughtful and careful, and worth considering. As he says, the problem is not that technology creates such patterns of sin and ignorance, rather that it provides a ready channel for the sin and ignorance that already exists in our hearts (I cannot imagine many pastors saying, “Yup, everyone in the congregation had a monster attention span married to a right view of authority until Facebook came along!”).
[There] are a lot of opportunities to connect with other people in the church. And in my observation, people who avail themselves of those opportunities almost always feel connected to others in the congregation. People who don’t show up for things, however, usually don’t feel as connected.
Feeling isolated? Only on the fringes? A little cut off from your brothers and sisters? Disconnected from the other members? Mike McKinley offers a simple and effective remedy.
One of the ways which Reformed Baptist Churches have traditionally been distinct from many others Baptist churches is in regard to the serious nature of church membership. We believe that membership is biblical and that it is vital to the life of the disciple. We believe furthermore that members ought to be committed to the church and that they ought to express that commitment by attending all the meetings of the church (for instruction, worship, and prayer) unless they are providentially hindered from doing so.
In what follows I want to give four clear incentives to faithfully attending the stated meetings of your church.
The brothers at Main Things go on to give four incentives – Godward, selfward, saintward, and sinnerward – for our attendance at the meetings of the gathered church. Read them and remember that one of your simplest and best services to God and his people is simply being there.
I distinctly remember it. I was sitting among a group of young people, some of whom were professing Christianity, some of whom were wrestling with God, and some of whom were neither. We were, most of us, in our mid-teens, and many of us had come from homes in which we heard and saw the gospel more or less clearly, more or less often. I cannot remember how the conversation turned as it did, but at one point a clear consensus quickly arose. Pretty much everyone who had been brought up under some degree of genuine Christian influence was wishing that they had lived utterly apart from God. A lot of this had to do with assurance: I think that the feeling was that when you have lived under a degree of restraint, knowing the truth by intellectual instruction if not by spiritual apprehension, there was a felt reduction in the degree of conviction of sin and a corresponding difficulty in discerning the transition from darkness to light. So far, so fascinating (perhaps).
I have learned some things, I hope, over the years since. Among them is the fact that outward restraint is no measure of heart sin, and that there is more than enough iniquity in the heart of the child trained up in a Christian home under the gospel to breed more than enough conviction of sin. The person who thinks otherwise merely needs a more accurate, Spirit-wrought sense of sin: the problem here is not so much reality as perception. I have also learned that the reason why some of us were confused is because not all of us who spoke were genuinely converted: some of those present were discussing the validity and reality of what they had never actually experienced or still needed to experience, as subsequent history has revealed.
But the point I wish to make runs along a different track. There we were, possessed of the incalculable blessings of growing up with parents who sought to teach us of Christ, who trained us and restrained us, holding back some of the worst excesses of our unregenerate hearts, who sat week by week under the faithful preaching of the gospel of Christ Jesus, who had pastors and other mature saints who taught and demonstrated the truth as it is in Jesus . . . and we were complaining that we wished we had been utterly destitute of any such influences, allowed to run in our own way absolutely, given over to sin.
Honestly, I understand the wish, but it is misguided. As I say, there is no need for us to live an outwardly, utterly Godless life in order to know ourselves sinners. Furthermore, I now thank God for the fact that I was so restrained, that my personal history is not more littered with extravagant external sins (there are more than enough), that the Lord removed at various times either the inclination or the opportunity, and laid upon my heart some of those constraints which – though substantially external in themselves – nevertheless were the means of keeping me from greater wickedness.
Then, another, more recent and positive memory: as I read books and blogs and watch videos and attend conferences and so on, I am sometimes struck by the apparent simplicity of a point being made (and subsequently applauded as profound), by the apparent confusion that reigns about points of doctrine which seem to me to be obvious, by the sense of novelty that surrounds material that I consider to be eminently familiar. Error may be no less enticing and engaging, but at least the truth is already in place by means of which to identify and expose the errors. These benefits hit me forcibly a few weeks ago, for example, during a discussion on the Trinity. It was not that it seemed ‘old hat’ to me; rather, as the speaker progressed, I had the sense of being on ground both common and familiar, and – when the time for discussion came – I found myself slightly ahead of the game, my point of departure different from at least some of the others participating. Or, more recently, I was left staggered at the theological naïveté of some of those participating in conversations to do with the Elephant Room. Were the issues not clear? Was the truth not known?
Does this mean that I am unusually brilliant? Am I blowing my own trumpet? Should I thank God that I am not like other men? Not a bit of it. I wish, rather, to record my gratitude to God for three particular blessings which were a means of laying such a foundation, and to encourage others to value and extend them.
The first is the blessing of godly parents. The value of the instruction and example of godly parents is too easily overlooked by those who are growing up under that influence, and who are often inclined to kick against the goads. Parental government may feel oppressive, aggressive, restrictive, excessive. Family worship, reading the Bible, prayer, catechesis, responsibilities required and restraints imposed, facing sin and resolving tensions – all may seem utterly burdensome and unnecessary. Nevertheless, if the Lord God is pleased to work salvation and apply the blood of Christ to the heart of such a child, the perspective ought to shift. All of a sudden, that framework of knowledge is imbued with a genuine (though incomplete) understanding. Those heavy chains of restraint are perceived in time to be God’s gracious means of keeping us from wickedness and even death. That drip-drip-drip of accurate and faithful instruction has laid a foundation all unnoticed, and provided a basis for further study and deeper appreciation which is hard to replicate except by the most eager latecomers to the gospel (sadly, there are many such who quickly outstrip those whose privileges ought to provide for their fast and straight progress in godliness, both doctrinal and practical).
The second is the blessing of faithful churches. Notice that they are not perfect churches. How I used to buck at some of the hypocrisy and shallowness that I saw growing up in a faithful church! How I used to wonder at the gravitas some people assumed in public and around “grown-ups”! Those people would often forget a child was watching and listening, and could see what they were really like in the attitudes, actions, antics and allowed life of their homes (I still know people whose boast of high standards of conviction and behaviour practiced in their homes, when I remember something very different, is grievous). But such – although they provide much fuel to the cynical fires of jaded youth – are not all that the church is. Again, we should not underestimate what is taking place as the Word of God is faithfully expounded Lord’s day by Lord’s day, morning and evening, in a particular place; as truehearted believers welcome children into their homes and hearts, and love them and care for them and teach them; as various workers labour to communicate something of Christ’s saving excellence to those under their care. Again, that inheritance – which may lie fallow for years or even decades – provides a phenomenal head-start if the Lord God is pleased to bring it to life by his Spirit. A bedrock is in place upon which future building can immediately take place.
The third is the blessing of good books. You do not need to be a great reader to benefit from the availability of the rich resources of good Christian publishing. Recognising that not everything is good, and that a sifting and selecting process has gone on even in providing that which is good, nevertheless the wealth of instruction and admonition and exhortation and correction to be obtained in reading is unimaginable. The man or woman who reads – and particularly who reads faithful old books – has an advantage, for there is nothing new under the sun, and the experience and understanding of those who have gone before is made readily available to anyone with the inclination to find or make the time and expend the energy on obtaining it. Why learn all your own lessons all over again when you can take a shortcut and learn them from wise men who walked the same paths in previous generations? This is not an argument for unthinking assimilation, but for aggressive engagement and interaction with the best of the past as a way of understanding and navigating the present. As Samuel Davies said, “I have a peaceful study, as a refuge from the hurries and noise of the world around me; the venerable dead are waiting in my library to entertain me, and relieve me from the nonsense of surviving mortals.” To have walked these ways in the company of faithful guides equips the saint today to serve God with a readiness and insight not available to those who have been deprived of the riches of a library.
Are there dangers here? To be sure. It is all too easy to be like a crown prince who has become accustomed by long exposure to the beauties and glories of the palace royal, but who has thereby lost his appreciation of the excellence of its galleries and the effectiveness of its armouries, and has so failed to value them accordingly. When he comes of age, he is all too inclined to cast away what his forefathers won with blood, sweat and tears. This is a travesty. We ought to be appreciative inheritors, not losing our sense of joy and the stimulating freshness of discoveries of fresh depth, but neither confusing that with an obsession with novelty.
But are there lessons here? I hope so! First, to parents: invest in your children. Do not make them little Pharisees, by any means, but model God’s grace in Christ and pour into them those truths and train them in that conduct which, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, will equip them for godly life in a fallen world. Second, to churches: keep preaching and teaching. Do not fall prey to all the fads and fashions that sweep the evangelical world, but go on drip-feeding and praying for those who may, under God, provide the future membership and leadership of faithful churches. Hammer home saving and sanctifying truth week by week and day by day: never underestimate the deposit that is being built up in the hearts even of your youngest hearers. Thirdly, to all: get some good books and read them. Read them in family devotions, at the bedside, in an armchair. Read them in the mornings and evenings, alongside and with your Bible to illuminate and explain and apply. Read them on the train. Read them (carefully) in the bath. Provide them and recommend them to others. Start libraries. Lend them and give them. Read them together and alone. Read them with pencil in hand. Read them actively: engage and argue with them, and learn from them. Mine the past in order to provide for the present.
These are not, for the most part, blessings which we get for ourselves. We do not appoint the families into which we are born, the churches in which we might grow up, or the books made available to us in our youth. We only realise in later life the blessings that our heavenly Father intended for us. That is why we cannot boast: “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1Cor 4.7).
So, we cannot get them for ourselves, and we do not merit them by our own efforts, but we can give them, and we can – with hindsight – learn to appreciate what we ourselves were given before, and how to pass them on to others.