Ask Steve: Christian Liberty

February 28, 2015 10:12 pm

Happy

 

Currently Reading:

The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World

by David Murray

Category: Christian Living

2015, Thomas Nelson

 

 

 

Question: Steve, can you explain to me what Christian liberty means? What are principles of Christian liberty? To what issues do they apply? When must Christian liberty be strongly advocated, quietly practiced, or sacrificially limited?

Answer: Christian liberty are the non-moral activities that Christians are allowed to participate in. This subject is thoroughly developed in 1 Corinthians 9, which talks about the proper use of a believer’s liberty. Because they are not expressly forbidden in the Bible, these social preferences, activities, and beliefs are not sinful. These include food, drink, clothing, holidays, jewelry, sports, movies, music, dancing, hairdos, or going to concerts, theatres, or even marrying someone of the same or of a different ethnicity. It is called liberty because they are gifts that God has given to each person to participate in accordance with his unique character and personality. Whereas other religions forbid the eating of certain foods, consuming of certain drinks, and wearing of certain clothing, Yahweh gives incredible flexibility to people in many of these areas. That is one characteristic that makes the Christianity a joyous and free faith in contrast to the cultic and seclusionist practices of some other beliefs and world philosophies.

ClothingHowever, there is a word of caution that must be said about Christian liberty. Though Christians have liberty, they are not to abuse it or think lightly of it. Christians are not free to do whatever they want, because liberty issues are sometimes tied to moral issues. Christians are free to engage in activities as long as it does not cause them, or another brethren, to stumble into sin (Rom 14:12-16). Such liberties can be so tainted with sinful temptation or it can be blatantly misused in a spirit of pride that it is better not to participate in them. It is not only unedifying for personal spiritual growth, but also be of poor witness to other Christians and to unbelievers.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul describes how a Christian should use liberty. A Christian is suppose to glorify God in all that he does (1 Cor 10:31). If the activity does not glorify God in anyway, then it is to be ceased. That is suppose to be the standard for which all Christian activity, whether they are in regards to liberty or not, must be measured. That is what leads to a holy and pleasing life before God. The way you discipline your thoughts, speech, and action indicate both your spiritual maturity and love for God.

When examining how one is to use his liberty in Christ, three areas must be taken into consideration:

Personal edification. Is the activity personally edifying to me, or will it cause me to sin? Philippians 4:8 teaches, “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Paul declares in this passage that a Christian must reflect on and be involved in as much godly things as possible. It is beneficial to a Christian’s holiness, motivation, effectiveness in ministry, and witness to others.

For example, movies, TV, and music are not bad in themselves. But it’s no secret that modern entertainment mediums contain much reference to violence, sex, profanity, and promote poor virtues like pride, selfishness, revenge, and greed. Is it truly profitable for a Christian to indulge in these things? Every time a believer watches a sex-filled movie or listens to a blasphemous CD, he is taking in the material and dwelling upon this things, which overtime, can desensitize his conscience to secular trends that advocate sexual immorality, idolatry, and profanity. To take pleasure in these activities is certainly not wise and goes against teachings such as Philippians 4:8, which can actually lead to sin in thought (Matt 5:21; 27) if not action. That is why it is imperative that believers take caution and be selective in the entertainment mediums that he partakes in.

Even if the movie or music does not contain anything evil in it, but can be partaken in with a pure conscience, it is still good to think about whether it is profitable to watch or listen to. “Should I be watching movies when I could be reading Scripture?” “Should I be socializing four times a week when I could be out evangelizing the lost?” “Should I be listening to jazz music when I could be listening to a radio sermon?” Christians are called to be good stewards of their time and resources, because every believer will give an account of himself at the Bema Seat Judgment (2 Cor 5:10) for what he has done in his life for Christ. That is why every second counts. And if there is a social or entertainment activity that is severely hindering your rewards, then consider limiting liberty in these areas for the sake of your effectiveness on earth. Of course, we should not let music or movies overtake us to the point where it replaces our affection for God, making us guilty of idolatry.

Edification of others. Is the activity edifying to others, or does it cause them to stumble into sin? Romans 14:19 teaches, “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” Paul teaches that in everything we do, it must be to build others up in the faith. This preserves the unity and love of the Christian church. We are not to exalt our Christian liberty at the expense of someone’s spiritual welfare.

One such example can be seen in the issue of clothing choice. Scripture does not give an explicit command, and the appropriateness of the apparel is somewhat relative to each person depending on their spiritual condition and sensitivity. But do our extravagant clothes cause people to envy or be tempted to materialism? Do our clothes cause others to stumble into sexual thoughts? If this is the case, especially with weaker brethren, then it is only fitting that the person acknowledges the situation and dress more appropriately. Why? Because of the Christian’s desire to protect the purity and conscience of others. To insist on continuing to wear clothes that stumble others in a spirit of pride is to blatantly abuse Christian liberty, and counts as sin to the Christian’s account (Mk 9:42; Jas 4:17).

EatingAnother example is with food. Jesus declared all food to be clean to eat (Mk 7:19), but is it profitable to freely eat of certain foods in all situations? You may be acquainted with a Jew who recently converted to Christ, and is slowly growing in the knowledge of the faith. However, he still feels conscientious about consuming pork because of his past association with Orthodox Judaism. Is it appropriate to eat pork in front of him and pressure him into eating it after the Jew expresses his concern? Here is another case in which the Bible teaches that liberty of eating should be restricted in front of struggling brethren (1 Cor 8:9). To insist on eating pork when you know that the brethren is troubled would be a display of pride and lack of concern for his edification, which counts as sin to your account.

Testimony to others. Is the activity going to be a good testimony in front of both believers and unbelievers? Matthew 5:16 states, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” It is not a question of whether our deeds will cause others to constantly praise us or agree with us, but whether our lives are truly reflective of us being genuine Christians, and not hypocrites? Are we truly in this world, but not of this world (Jn 17:16)? Do we demonstrate that are minds have been renewed, and that we do not conform to the sinful patterns of this world (Rom 12:2)?

SocializingFor example, a pastor may frequent a particular gastropub because he likes the food there, and maybe even the ambience. Although this visitation is not sin in of itself, the congregants in his church may be troubled with the pastor’s choice because it is not only a place associated with alcohol, but because many worldly people visit the establishment and express their profane, blasphemous ways there. What should the pastor do? If he is not there for evangelism or any specific ministry purpose other than recreation, then it is proper that the pastor refrain from visiting such a place in order that the congregants will not get a wrong impression of his motives, character, or actions in the pub. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 instructs us to abstain from every appearance of evil. Therefore, it is appropriate at times to refrain from certain activities or visiting certain places because they have a reputation of evil or worldliness, and should not give the appearance that we are associating ourselves with it, especially if it has nothing to do with the Great Commission.

These three principles should probably guide every Christian’s management of their liberty. It must be said that even though a Christian is called to wisely control the practice of his own liberties, he must not force, peer pressure, or condemn others for other’s liberties as if confronting actual sins. When this happens, it leads to legalism, as Paul forbids in Romans 14:1-12. God is the one who convinces every individual of his or her liberty choices, and is ultimately the judge of them. On the other side, when believers flaunt their liberty, put on appearances of evil, and cause others to be tempted, it leads to licentiousness, which Paul forbids as well (1 Corinthians 8:9). God allows liberty in all areas, but only to the extent that it does not malign Him, impinge on the welfare of others, and ruin the testimony of the church to unbelievers.

Recommended Resource: Concerning Christian Liberty by Martin Luther

Book Review: The Happy Christian by David Murray

February 23, 2015 11:22 pm

Happy

David Murray’s new book, The Happy Christian, is an uplifting, yet biblical, exploration of the joyful Christian. Contrary to appearance, it is not a prosperity book or even a Christian self-help book with loose connections to the biblical theology. It is actually a Bible-based, theological book on what defines a happy Christian. Is there such thing as a happy Christian? Is it okay to be a happy Christian? What are components that make a happy Christian? These are all questions explored in this unique book.

 The 10 Chapters provide an insight, deep, yet accessible, study on the nature of being a joyful believer. It explores such topics as the gospel message, and a Christian’s relationship and interaction with the world in work, media, church, the world, and selfless practices such as giving. As I said, it is a book centered on the Bible, with appropriate verses and passages, but is also filled with good illustrations, statistics, scientific research, and references from modern culture that make this book not only fun to read, but applicable and relatable.

 This is a book I would gladly recommend. It is an inspiring and much needed work that gives a believer a reason to be joyful, especially amidst life’s trials, temptations, and tribulation. Many Christians struggle with being happy and joyful in a gloomy and hard world, wondering if it is really appropriate for Christians to be happy. The argument from Murray’s book is that it is appropriate, and necessary to be joyful to endure in the work of Christian growth and ministry. And this book lays out the proper guideline for what things should make a Christian happy versus what should not.

 Note: I received this book free from booklookbloggers.com. I was not obligated to give a good review, but only my honest opinion.

Philosophy of Ministry

February 17, 2015 8:42 pm

 

Preaching and Teaching

I believe the Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, to be the inspired Word of God. The Bible is inerrant, infallible, and sufficient to address all matters of life. All 66 books of the Bible constitute the complete revelation of God’s will for the salvation and sanctification of individuals and the nourishment of the corporate church.

God is the ultimate authority, but that authority is mediated to us through God’s written word, the Bible. Because the Holy Spirit worked through the biblical authors to write down the words of Scripture, the original manuscripts are inspired in every word, without error, and God-breathed. Therefore, the Scriptures are truth, and anything that speaks contrary to the Word of God is error and falsehood. The Bible accomplishes its purpose with and is binding on people of all time periods, which makes the Word of God timeless in its ability to bring universal conviction of sin, lead sinners to eternal salvation, and sanctify Christians to the degree that they may be presented as complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28).

Because of my high view of Scripture’s unbending truth, transforming power, and clarity, I faithfully adhere to the teaching of God’s Word through expository preaching, guided by a literal, historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture. I believe that this method does the most justice to discovering the truth of God’s will for humanity and to transforming the church in the most effective way. This method of teaching leaves less room for error in the church than pop culture trends of topical preaching, pragmatic sermonettes, or any human wisdom-based teaching that does not interact with or is loosely based on Scripture. Whether it is chapter by chapter or biblical topics supported by relevant Bible verses, my philosophy in preaching is based on three simple goals: exegesis of the texts, explanation and dynamic presentation of its meaning, and application that seeks to challenge congregants and transform lives.

My desire is for the church to be supportive of Bible preaching and strive to be faithful to teach the entire counsel of God. The church is not to shy away from any topic or section of the Bible. It should teach such topics as sin, repentance, heaven and hell, angels and demons, church discipline, end times prophecy, the trinity, evangelism, persecution, apologetics, and any other theological matters that prove relevant to the life of the Christian. In doing so, the church should seek to call the unconverted to repentance and faith and equip the regenerate with the richest understanding of God’s character and will. Such illumination leads to a more sanctified life and a well-informed worship for God.

Although the church should value the idea of tradition and reason being used in God-honoring contexts, it should not exalt them to be on par with the authority of God’s Word. The church’s ultimate submission is to God, who is mediated through Scripture alone. Therefore the church should strive not to rely on human wisdom, secular theories, and extrabiblical resources to instruct and hold sway over the lives of Christians. To do so would prove to be detrimental to the lives of individual believers, diminishing the work of the Holy Spirit in the church and leaving the unregenerate in ignorance and complacency.

As evident in our identification with the orthodox, biblical approach of expository preaching, the church should not teach prosperity theology, universalism, pluralism, faith word theology, works-righteousness theology, social justice gospel, liberation theology, feminist theology, or anything that claims to be the gospel, the message of Scripture, or mission of the church. The church must be guided by Scripture alone and the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. I desire to teach only what God has commissioned and restricted the church to teach, which is the Word of God found in Genesis 1 through Revelation 22. This defines teaching according to Jesus.

 

Discipleship and Counseling

When a sinner is justified by faith and made righteous through the Holy Spirit, he is positionally sanctified before the Lord, which is an instantaneous and unrepeatable occurrence. However, this differs from progressive sanctification, which is the lifelong discipline of conforming a born again believer to the image of Jesus Christ. Though the believer will never attain sinless perfection in this life (which only happens upon glorification of the body), he is still called to be holy and to walk in the image of Christ so he may honor the Lord, be a shining testimony to the world, and be equipped to do the work of ministry, whether it be evangelism or discipleship. The believer is sanctified and grows by obedience to the Word of God. The Holy Spirit uses Scripture to conform a believer to Christ’s image, which is the essence of holy living. Because of this, there must be a heavy emphasis on discipleship and counseling to help sinners combat the temptations of the fallen flesh and progress in their walk toward Christ-likeness.

Being committed to reading the Bible regularly is the foundational step in effective discipleship. My goal is for the church to encourage weekly Bible studies which are designed to not only teach congregants the meaning, importance, and application of Scriptural passages, but to inspire them toward daily devotionals themselves. My commitment to expository preaching and other forms of teaching that is faithful to the Bible is also designed to model the importance of studying and relying upon God’s Word for knowledge, guidance, and growth in the Christian faith. Without regular feeding on the Word, there is no beginning to progressive sanctification or proper discipling of others.

My goal is for the discipleship groups to be aimed at teaching, mentoring, and modeling what it means to be like Christ through teacher / student relationship. The church should seek to have qualified leaders who will train congregants on how to live a complete and well-rounded Christian life, holding them accountable to holiness and encouraging them to use their God-given spiritual gifts to edify others, contribute to the church through serving in ministry, and bring the lost to saving faith. The aim is to grow believers in their understanding and participation of righteous living, godliness, combating sin, giving, evangelism and missions, apologetics, anticipating the second coming of Jesus Christ, teaching, etc. The ultimate goal is to make disciples who will, in turn, disciples other believers with the fullness of biblical knowledge. The church should strive to make this model effective and duplicable, doing their best to make sure that no Christian is unattended to and “falls through the cracks” when it comes to his growth in the Christian faith. As much as the church is to value the salvation of the unbeliever, it must also value their sanctification to the degree that God informs us through His Word and the Holy Spirit. This, I believe, is the essence of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19), which the church is to value since it is its mission.

  In this fallen world, issues, setbacks, and sin will arise in the life of the believer. This is why I value the importance and existence of a counseling program in the church. The content of the church’s counseling must be based purely on the Word of God and not on secular psychology or worldly methods that may run contrary to the wisdom found in Scripture. On the condition that the counselee’s problems do not need to be referred to a physician, the church should use Scripture to counsel its counselees for whatever problems that are stunting them from growing in the Lord and serving Him. I believe that non-medically proven conditions that are, in reality, a sin issue is clearly matters of morality and ethics, and should be handled by biblical counselors and not by secular psychologists. The expectation of the church’s biblical counseling is for the counselees to faithfully submit to the remedial words found in Scripture. Any resistance to God’s truths will only hinder the counselee from recovering spiritually and physically (if applicable). Unrepentant believers should lovingly, but purposefully, called to church discipline.

Finally, the church must keep in mind the theology, purpose, and outcome of biblical counseling as opposed to pop psychology or “Christianized psychotherapy.” Biblical counseling is mainly for believers, since biblical truths can only be comprehended by those born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. However, the church can invite unbelievers to its biblical counseling program. Such sessions will be devoted to applying biblical truths to practical circumstances and problems for the unbeliever, but the ultimate purpose of the sessions will be to evangelize the counselee with the hope that he or she will come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Only when the counselee is saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit can he or she fully comprehend the value of biblical truths and be willing to follow it.

 

Outreach and Missions

Jesus’ final words to His followers are as follows: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19), “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creations” (Mark 16:15), and to be His witnesses in “Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Since these are Jesus’ last words, they indicate the importance of evangelism and outreach for both the individual Christian and the church. Evangelism is the main mission of the church here on earth, and that mission is to be a witness for Jesus Christ to all unbelieving people and nations. All the knowledge and experienced gained in discipleship must lead Christians to the ultimate goal of seeking and saving the lost so that unbelievers can be saved and likewise discipled, as implied by the Great Comission of Matthew 28:19-20.

As such, I want the church to highly value evangelism, outreach, and missions, for in reconciling the lost onto God, the church paves the way for more people to wholeheartedly “confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11). God desires the lost to be saved and reconciled to Him, and He mainly uses the church to accomplish this task, which is why the church must be passionate about this sober, yet God-glorifying mission.

I want one of the church’s significant departments to be the local evangelism ministry, which should be established if the church doesn’t have one already. This team is to be devoted to going out weekly into the streets, neighborhoods, and commercial centers to proclaim the gospel message to the lost. The church, in accordance with biblical teaching on the nature of outreach, is to use all available methods in evangelism as the opportunity allows us: apostolic-style preaching (open air preaching), one-to-one conversations, and gospel tract distribution. The church should faithfully proclaim the full, unadulterated gospel to the unbeliever and plead with them to believe in Christ, but leave the result of conversion and rebirth in the hands of God the Spirit.

The church must acknowledge that an unbeliever’s desire to repent and believe in Jesus is not based on human wisdom, ingenuity, or clever tricks, but it is the work of God in the hearts of the unregenerate (1 Corinthians 3:16, John 6:44). I encourage this to be a preventative measure on the church’s part to not twist or water-down the gospel message and not to use unbiblical, pragmatic approaches to obtain a visible result of conversion, which may in reality be no conversion. The church’s approach to evangelism results is to simply acknowledge that a conversion cannot be forced or manipulated, but is brought about by God’s sovereignty in the matter.

I believe that evangelism must be a pursuit of every individual Christian outside of church programs. Therefore, the church should be committed to having seasonal evangelism training courses to equip laypeople to evangelize their family, friends, colleagues, and strangers. Whatever evangelism work that is done with the weekly local evangelism team, Christians should be encouraged to do the same in their everyday lives, finding opportunities to proclaim the gospel to the lost and even modeling such behavior to inspire observing Christian friends, disciples, and family members. I want this practice of evangelism to be an especially important feature of the church’s discipleship program and should be evident in the lives of teachers and students.

Along with neighborhood outreach, I desire the church to find opportunities for special outreach projects, church planting, and international missions.  Special outreach projects include events such as homeless shelter feedings, rescue missions, and city improvement. The two-fold purpose of these projects is to show the love of God through our acts of service to our society and to find creative, accessible ways to share the gospel message to unbelievers so that they may be saved, plugged into the church body, and be sanctified in the faith. Church planting should be guided by the church’s desire to see healthy, biblical churches planted in needy areas, and to reach the unchurched in that particular community with the powerful gospel message that leads to eternal salvation. Church planting requires great time, commitment, and effort, which is why the church should encourage the congregants and leaders to find their divine calling for such outreach efforts. Lay people are always encouraged to attend short-term missions to aid ministers in other parts of the world in their needs. It is a good opportunity for evangelism of the lost and for edification and refreshment of the minister being served.

 

Giving

Generosity is essentially giving, of both the self and the resources. Since Christ gave Himself to us first, we are to give (John 15:13). In Christ, we have the basis for our generosity and gracious acts towards others. One of the greatest ways to give is through monetary offering to assist the church, Christian organizations, and brothers and sisters in need.

I believe giving should be an indispensable part of Christian living. Both in the Old and New Testament, God commands giving to support the body of believers with their resources. However, believers are commanded to give joyfully with a cheerful heart (2 Corinthians 9:7). Giving not only demonstrates our thankfulness to and dependence on God, but it also opens up the door for us to be more blessed and used by God in this life and the next. Luke 6:38 affirms this truth as it states, “Give, and it will be given to you…For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” The church should not construe this to be a formula that supports the health-and-wealth gospel or prosperity theology, but it is a biblically based assertion by our Lord Jesus Himself as part of our spiritual growth in Christlikeness.

God promises to give to those who give to Him so that they may continue to give to the kingdom in higher capacities as wise, selfless stewards of God’s resources. With great power comes great responsibility, but it all must begin with the giver’s attitude and commitment, trusting always in the Lord’s providence. Although financial returns are not a perpetual guarantee in this world, other forms of blessings are (Proverbs 3:9, Malachi 3:10), most specifically the eternal blessings and honors. The Apostle Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 9:6 regarding the blessedness of financial giving: “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

With this biblical theology in mind, the church should encourage congregants to give of their financial resources to the church every Lord’s Day, as well as any other time that may be pressing on their hearts for whatever causes. Believers may consider willfully supporting are evangelism ministry, missionary fund, mercy ministry, building fund, and other church departments in need. Financial generosity can be directed toward online giving or in-person donations, which can be directed to a particular department or where most needed. The church’s biblical guideline for giving, which is to be taught and even documented, should be as follows:

  1. Give generously (Mark 14:9)
  2. Give regularly (1 Corinthians 16:2)
  3. Give voluntarily (Exodus 35:21, 2 Corinthians 8:4)
  4. Give sacrificially (2 Samuel 24:24, 2 Corinthians 8:2-3)
  5. Give excellently (2 Corinthians 8:7)
  6. Give cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7)
  7. Give worshipfully (Acts 10:1-4, Matthew 5:23-24)
  8. Give proportionally, not fixed (Acts 11:29, 1 Corinthians 16:2)
  9. Give quietly (Matthew 6:1, 4)
  10. Give deliberately, without hesitation (2 Corinthians 8:11)

Concerning the debate about whether or not an offering should be at the Old Testament tithing rate of 10 percent, I believe the church should first and foremost teach congregants to go beyond this number and give wholeheartedly what they can sacrifice to God’s kingdom for the sake of their own blessings. However, there are no fixed percentages for a church gift. If Christians feel in their conscience that a 10 percent giving rate should be regularly honored, then the church must allow them to honor the voice of their conscience. The 10 percent rate is a recurring theme throughout the Old Testament (Genesis 14:10, Leviticus 27:30-32); therefore this number is an indicator of what God feels is manageable for the average believer to contribute to His kingdom work while still sustaining his everyday life outside of church.

I believe the church must always make it a duty to use such monetary gifts according to how Scripture teaches it to use them. The money must be allocated to faithful ministers and elders so they can commit full time to the faithful work of preaching the Word, discipling Christians, and participating in the Great Commission. The monetary gifts should also be used to evangelize the lost in the community, help the poor and needy within the church, support missionaries and church plants, and fund all other efforts to advance the cause of the gospel in the community and the world.

Church Membership

When a person is saved, he is immediately justified in God’s sight and is included in the body of Christ. The believer is expected to join a local church and be an active member in it. Members of a church are essentially believers. Therefore, I believe all who have experienced God’s saving grace should be members of a church so that they can publicly identify themselves as children of God and members of Christ’s body, the church. The Christian life is meant to be lived individually, selfishly, and in isolation, but as part of a corporate body that serves to edify and hold each other accountable in spiritual growth.

I encourage the church to strongly implement a philosophy that emphasizes

membership for every soundly saved Christian who attends our church on a regular basis. These are three good reasons for the church to implement and stress membership:

  • It helps Christians to know the certainty of their salvation. In joining a church, being baptized (if he hasn’t been already), and becoming a member, the Christian can interact daily with other Christians and be held accountable for his spiritual walk and health. Under the teaching of the pulpit or through the discipleship process, the Christian can come to an understanding of whether or not he is saved, or whether or not he is living the correct Christian life according to God’s will. This is something that can be severely missed when one excludes himself from the body, interprets Scripture on his own, and follows no authority.
  • It helps Christians be aware of and be on guard against false teachings and a false gospel. Through the preaching of the word and sound doctrine that is evident in all areas of the church, the Christian can more easily identify false teachings in the world and have a passion to stand up for the true gospel. He can be lead to a right understanding of whether or not his own life exemplifies the true gospel.
  • It helps Christians be able to use their gifts and resources to edify the church. This helps combat individualism, and the Christian benefits from the corporate nature of Christianity. He is able to use his spiritual gifts to contribute to the body, whether it is in the area of teaching, administration, or evangelism. He is in the position to edify others who are weak in the faith, and be edified at the same time for his own shortcomings. This benefit is non-existent if one does not include himself in church.

I exhort the church to follow three basic steps to determine whether a person is eligible for membership: The first step to becoming a church member is to get saved. The church should not grant membership to those who do not profess Christ or do not appear to have experienced God’s saving grace. The church must do all it can do to ascertain that the believer has been saved, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and has been included among the priesthood of saints. When that has been affirmed through deliberation and prayer, the church should move onto the second step, which is to publicly baptize the believer to affirm his salvation in Christ and his commitment to growth in the Lord. The third step is for the believer to learn and affirm all the central tenets of the Christian faith, comply with the doctrinal stance of the church, and learn what being a member entails for their life. After all these things have been accomplished, the believer should be ready to be publicly sworn in as a member of the church, being able to have all the access, benefits, and opportunities of church membership. These church benefits should include serving in departments and ministries and having access to the deacon’s funds in case of financial shortcomings.

 Although church membership is taught in Scripture through the concept of the universal church and fellowship (Romans 12:5, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18), the church should also teach it to be a privilege. It cannot be treated flippantly or lightly by the member. Members of the church are expected to attain services regularly, participate in communion, attend member’s meetings, pray regularly, give faithfully, read the Word of God regularly, and be committed to either discipleship or serving in some capacity in the church. The church should grant patience and grace to those who may falter in some of these areas from time to time, but a blatant negligence of or wholesale rebellion against the expectations of church membership should not be overlooked. Failure to abide by the philosophy of church membership and living in unrepentant, wanton sin should consequently lead to counseling or even implementation of church discipline, which can lead to forfeiture of the privilege of church membership if repentance does not occur.

 

Church Discipline

Though people of all socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic, and moral backgrounds are welcome in our church, the church should not be a seeker-sensitive congregation that tolerates unrepentant sin and heresy. Unbelievers of all backgrounds are encouraged to come and openly seek for forgiveness of sin and salvation in Jesus Christ, but they are expected to count the cost of discipleship and what it means to be transformed and grow in Christ, which entails a firm commitment of turning away from the former life of sin and following Christ in holiness. This is not to say that congregants are expected to be entirely sinless in their lives, whether in church or out of church, but Scripture teaches that believers should immediately recognize and repent of their sin should they fall into visible transgression (Matt 3:8; Rom 7:15). Any professing Christian who practices unrepentant, habitual sin, whether in church or out of church, should be subject to church discipline, according to the guideline of Matthew 18:15-20.

The purpose of church discipline is not to harm, embarrass, or condemn professing believers, but to restore them back to peace with God and maintain the purity of the church fellowship. This should be the aim of church discipline and why the church needs to implement that system. When a sinning believer is rebuked and he turns from his sin and is forgiven, he is won back to the fellowship with the body and with the Lord. He is essentially restored to holiness and into a pure relationship within the assembly.

I seek to implement or define church discipline within the church according to the biblical principles outlined in Matthew 18:15-17. This involves four fundamental steps that should be followed for a sinning, unrepentant member of the church:

  1. An individual is to go to a sinning brother privately and confront him with a spirit of gentleness and humility. This confrontation involves clearly exposing his sin and calling him to repentance. If the sinning brother repents, that brother is forgiven and restored. Church discipline ends at this stage. However, if he does not repent but persists in his sin…
  2. The individual is to take two or three Christians to confront the sinning brother, exposing the seriousness of his sin and calling him to repentance. If the sinning brother repents, that brother is forgiven and restored. Church discipline ends at this stage. However, if he does not repent but persists in his sin…
  3. The individuals are to report it to the church, and the church is to confront the sinning brother and call him to repentance. If the sinning brother repents, that brother is forgiven and restored. Church discipline ends at this stage. However, if he does not repent but persists in his sin…
  4. The church, after several attempts of calling an unrepentant member to repentance, is to publicly announce the removal of the sinning brother from church membership and fellowship until he comes to sincere repentance. If the sinning brother repents even after this final stage of removal, that brother is forgiven and is to be restored to the church fellowship. Church discipline ends at this stage. However, if he does not repent, then he is to left in the world, under God’s sovereign control, until he comes to a position of repentance.

The church is to remember that the goal is not to embarrass the sinning brother or practice a misguided sense of legalism, but to protect the purity of the church (1 Corinthians 5:6), to warn the assembly of the seriousness of sin (1 Timothy 5:20), and to give testimony of righteousness to a watching world. When a sinning brother is cast out of fellowship at step four, the church should follow the biblical guidelines of making no attempt to dine with or fellowship with such a brother (e.g. giving approval or endorsement of his lifestyle) until he repents and is officially restored back to fellowship by the church. If the sinning brother is unregenerate, God may use this opportunity to bring such a person to true saving faith. If he is a true believer, God will not cast him out, but bring him to the position where he will eventually turn from his sin and learn from this experience. Whatever the situation, the church should always be in prayer, especially for those who have been excommunicated because of failure to respond to the biblical principles of church discipline.

The church should practice patience, mercy, and understanding as much as possible so as not to exercise church discipline for the repentant and struggling sinner. However, blatant unrepentant sin should be confronted according to the mandates of Scripture. The church should recognize and document, through teachings and church membership guidelines, that such sins include an unrepentant and/or habitual practice of any of God’s commandments, including theft, gossip, hatred toward another, sexual immorality (unbiblical divorce, adultery, homosexuality, pedophilia, fornicative relationship), idolatry, and using the Lord’s name in vain. Such sins, if unrepented of, must be confronted according to the guideline of Matthew 18:15-17. This principle applies to any person in the church, whether they are laypeople or people serving in the congregation. Although church discipline is definitely applicable for church membership, it shall be enforced on non-memberships who attend the church on a regular basis and act as if he is a definite part of the church.

 

Worship / Music

No church service is ever complete without the incorporation of worshipful music to render praise onto the Lord. Corporate praise with music has been a recurring practice in both the Old and New Testament. Psalm 98:4 states, “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth and sing for joy and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord, with the lyre, melody, with trumpets and the sound of the horn…” In the New Testament, Paul commands the church to be “filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God…” Therefore, singing songs onto God with musical instruments is a necessary expression of worship in the church. Singing songs of praise should be practiced on the Lord’s Day gathering, in various fellowship gatherings and events, and in individual lives.

Though music is an integral part of worship, it is not the totality of worship. Despite the common notion in the evangelical world today, worship time does not equate with music time. In other words, worship is not just the music. Worship is the believer’s heartfelt response to pursuing the glory of God in every imaginable way, as he was created to do (Isaiah 43:7). Worship includes holy living, evangelism, discipleship, giving, fasting, prayer, and many other acts devoted to the Lord. Believers do not cease to worship after they finish the time of singing praises, but are commanded to continue worshipping by their continuous actions of thought, word, and deed. This is why singing sessions named as “time of worship” must be properly identified and taught as “time of singing praises” onto the Lord as an act of worship, not the act of worship, so that congregants will not get a wrong idea of worship is and whether or not they are worshipping outside of singing time.

As much as musical worship should be done with sincere passion and emotion, songs of praise must also be done in truth, as evident by Jesus’ teaching on every aspect of worship (John 4:23-24). This is why discernment must be exercised when choosing songs for the time of musical praise. Songs must not be crude, blasphemous, and sacrilegious. They must not teach false doctrine or display any sense of doctrinal error. Finally, songs must not be man-centered and cater sentimentally to the whims and emotions of the listeners. Rather, true spiritual songs must be Christ-centered and aimed at instructing the mind as much as they touch the heart. Songs of worship must be both inspirational and instructional in teaching about the cross, the Person of God, man’s spiritual condition, heaven and hell, and other important theological themes.

With the importance of the music ministry spelled out, I exhort the church to be faithful to incorporate songs of praise, with varying musical instruments, at the beginning of church services and possibly at the end. Songs of worship should also be incorporated in the church Bible studies and fellowship gatherings and events that are devoted to some form of preaching or teaching. Singing praises onto the Lord should also be taught as part of an individual Christian’s devotional life, as we should encourage Christians to sing songs (either with or without instruments) onto the Lord during prayer, driving, and various activities in life.

In terms of musical style, the church should be as accommodating as possible to play both contemporary and traditional songs, both pop songs and hymns, as long as they are doctrinally sound and theologically rich. The church should, if possible, have a music director who is Christian, knowledgeable in Christian doctrine, and skilled in selecting music and arranging musical programs. The church should also seek to actively call for volunteers (soundly saved Christians) who can contribute their God-given talents to the music team, and, if budget and resources allow, to make the music production as epic and God glorifying as possible (choir, orchestra, and individual vocalists). Regardless of the music team’s size, instruments, and capability, the important point to stress is commitment to singing songs of praises in spirit and in truth, aimed at edifying the saints and encouraging them to a life of heartfelt singing onto the Lord.

 

Corporate / Individual Prayer

Many practices define a Christian’s active relationship with the Lord, but none is more pressing than the act of prayer. Prayer is important to the life, health, and power of the church, no less the lives of individual Christians. Prayer is personal communication with God, where Christians acknowledge their dependence on the Lord, trust in His sovereignty over their lives and the affairs of world history, and are involved in activities with eternal significance. When Christians pray, the work of God’s kingdom is essentially advanced. That is why it is important for not only individual Christians to pray outside of church, but for the corporate church itself to pray during service, fellowship events, Bible studies, and even special sessions devoted to corporate prayer.

There is a right way and a wrong philosophy for Christians in the church to pray. The wrong, unbiblical way is to seek according to sinful motives and to ask God to abide by our will and desires at the expense of God’s sovereign plan (James 4:2-3). Another folly of prayer is praying hypocritically with empty hearts and false motives, praying for public display of piety rather than for heartfelt obedience to the Lord. The correct way to pray is to align one self and the church’s desires and plans with that of God’s as He has revealed Himself in Scripture (Matthew 6:9-15). It is to pray in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), without which there is ineffective worship of God. Prayer must be done with a heart that has not only been regenerated, but one with a proper attitude (Matthew 15:8) that is inclined towards obedience and righteousness (Matthew 23:23). Prayer must be done for the sake of glorifying God and not oneself.

Praying in unity as a church has vastly increased power. God delights in the unity of His people, which is why corporate prayer is imperative. Matthew 18:19 is one of the great examples of the blessing of united prayer. Where there is real agreement and where the Spirit brings two believers into perfect harmony as concerning that which they may ask of God, there is absolutely irresistible power.

First off, I desire to implement prayer during church services, where corporate prayer should be lifted up before the start of the service, the offering, the sermon, and the close of the service. Prayer should also be practiced in small groups, Bible studies, various church events, and before and after evangelism events. The church should ideally have a once-a-week day, for about 30 minutes to an hour, devoted to prayer, where both church staff and laity are invited to pray for various concerns on the church’s agenda.

The church should not keep a narrow focus on things to pray about, but must foster a wide range of aspects and attitudes in prayer according to the range in prayer that is depicted in Scripture. The aspects include petition (ex. daily food, forgiveness of sin, ability to keep faith promise), intercession (ex. the salvation of lost sinners, the edification of saints, God’s favor upon evangelistic organizations and churches), confession (ex. sins, shortcomings), praise (ex. affirmation of God’s good character, thanksgiving, songs), as well as attitudes of meditation (on God’s Word), waiting (ex. provision, the Rapture, rent money), and watching (ex. praying defensively for the halt of lawlessness in society, looking for opportunities to be a witness to the lost, being on guard against Satan’s tactics).

These aspects and attitudes that make up the powerful and dynamic prayer should be done on both a corporate and individual level. They should be kept in mind during service prayer, but especially taught, encouraged, and practiced during the weekly prayer meeting. This biblical model of prayer should also be taught to the congregants, either through Bible study or special seminars, so church members can be effectively trained for a powerful and satisfying private prayer life. Individual prayers should be encouraged as part of daily Bible devotionals or as part of a set-time in which the individual Christians prays for as long as God puts in his heart (although long and passionate prayers are encouraged for one’s growth in spiritual capacity and blessings).

Although the church values the prevalence of prayer within the congregation and individual lives, it should not allow unbelievers to pray publicly in representation of the church, whether for the Sunday offering, the opening of the service, or small groups. This would give unbelievers a false sense of assurance of their status before God, and represents an unbiblical notion that there is access to the Father through an unregenerate heart (John 14:6). However, the church should encourage unbelievers to pray if it regards matters of his/her salvation, which would then, upon the person’s conversion, qualify him to properly represent the church in prayer since he is now part of the church and is capable for a life of sanctification.

 

Baptism

Baptism is essential to the life of a believer and the practice of the church. Since the New Testament depicts the practice of baptism from the ministry days of John the Baptist in Matthew 3, and Jesus underwent water baptism as a model for the church to follow, it is imperative that the church honor this biblical model in presenting new Christians onto God.

It is important to note that baptism is not a means, or a work, by which a Christian is saved. In other words, a sinner is not saved through faith and water baptism. Baptism is not efficacious to wash away sins or to improve one’s merit and standing before God. Salvation is by repentant faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, through grace alone and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 10:9). Baptism is depicted in the New Testament as the outward testimony of what has occurred inwardly in a believer’s life, which is salvation. In other words, baptism is the public declaration of one’s repentance, regeneration, and commitment to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, and illustrates a person’s identification with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The church must abide by these two requirements for baptizing a person: 1. The person must have trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, been regenerated, and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This means that baptism must follow salvation and not vice versa. 2. The person must understand what baptism signifies. In baptism, the person testifies that he knows Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and has made a lifelong commitment to follow Him, and to serve and be accountable to the body of Christ (the church). Christian baptism is a step of obedience in publicly proclaiming his faith in Christ, which is a visible indicator of his desire to truly follow Christ and be held accountable to his walk in the faith.

Because water baptism is symbolic of the inner baptism of the spirit (regeneration and salvation), it can only be applied to true, born again Christians. This means unbelievers cannot be baptized. There is also not enough biblical warrant to baptize infants since babies cannot make a profession of true faith at such a young age. Water baptism on infants would go against the meaning of baptism since the water would be applied to an unregenerate heart. Water baptism is never mentioned in the New Testament as a sign of the New Covenant, much like circumcision was to the Old Covenant. It cannot join a person to the New Covenant of salvation in Christ along with its blessings. Only faith in Christ produces such blessings (1 Corinthians 11:25). Therefore, infant baptism, and any baptism of apostates and false converts, should be not be practiced within the church or actively encouraged.

I exhort the church to regularly baptize Christians, at least on a once-a-month basis. Because it is a public profession of one’s faith and commitment to Jesus Christ and His church, baptism should be done during Sunday service. If not, then baptism should be done on a special event day where family, friends, and especially the church body can be present to witness the baptism and keep the baptized Christian accountable to his growth in the Christian faith.

Since regeneration of the believer should be ascertained as much as humanely possible, it is best not to baptize a new professing believer right away, but to take some discretionary steps to observe any discernable fruits of conversion. The believer should ideally take a one day baptism class so he can understand the genuineness of his faith, what baptism is, and what the life of a Christian entails. After the believer finishes the course satisfactorily, then he is ready to be baptized. During baptism, the Christian should give a brief public testimony of his faith, and the church must affirm likewise to hold him accountable to his spiritual growth and service to the church. Only full-immersion baptism, as depicted in the New Testament, will be practiced, since it is the most biblically observed fashion of baptism and leaves the smallest room for mistake when in doubt.

 

The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper (Communion) should be practiced in the church since this was a significant new fellowship meal introduced by Jesus on the Passover before His crucifixion on the cross. It has been practiced throughout Christian church history as a memorial in remembrance of what Jesus did on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and a celebration of what we receive as a result of His sacrifice, which is justification, righteousness, and eternal life.

Like water baptism, the Lord’s Supper is not a requirement for salvation and is not efficacious in removing sin and conferring grace upon an individual. Communion is a public declaration and identification with Christ and His church, in which a believer not only affirms His salvation and commitment to the Son of God, but also remembers Christ’s death and celebrates the salvation he has in His name, looking forward to the day when Christ will return to the earth to consummate the salvation of Christians and to set up His eternal kingdom. Therefore, a person must already be saved and in Christ before partaking in communion. An unbeliever or false convert must not partake in the Lord’s Supper since he has not experienced the benefit of what the communion signifies. Furthermore, those who observe communion with an unrepentant heart or treat it as an empty external ritual (with no heart obedience) invites the Lord’s chastening upon his life, as evidenced in 1 Corinthians 11:27-30, which gives a proper, biblical guideline on observing the Lord’s Supper.

Contrary to some popular opinion, it is imperative for the church to acknowledge that the Lord’s Supper does not indicate the actual or spiritual presence of Jesus Christ within the bread and the wine. To believe so would be to believe in the idea of Christ’s continual death and sacrifice played out in the Lord’s Supper and the conferring of “grace” to the recipient by his eating and drinking of the physical substance. However, this is an unbiblical view of the Lord’s Supper and of salvation, because the “eating” and “drinking” the Son of Man’s flesh is symbolic of the believer’s spiritual internalization of the gospel, or justification by faith alone (John 6:53-58). The Lord’s Supper is merely symbolic of that inner reality. Therefore, communion is memorial in nature, and celebratory in that it is an act of worship onto God.

I believe the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated continually in the church, preferably once a month during Sunday services near the close of the service. However, number of communion practices is discretionary. Too many times of practice may cause some within the church to see it as “ritualistic” and it may quickly lose its meaning, appeal, and inspiration. However, too few times of observances per year will deprive the congregation of the celebratory power that the Lord’s Supper produces and may leave the congregants without proper focus on their salvation, their identity as Christ-followers, and their longing for the Lord Jesus’ return to carry out His salvific and kingdom promises.

When communion is practiced, the minister must be dutiful to briefly explain the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and what one needs to do to partake of it in good conscience so as not to render judgment upon themselves (1 Corinthians 11:29). Unbelievers must be instructed not to partake in the communion since the celebration does not apply to them. After having time of confession and repentance before God, the congregation is ready to partake in the memorial. In following the biblical model in Matthew 26:18-30, the bread (representing the broken body of Christ) should be distributed and partaken of first. Then the wine (representing Christ’s blood) should be distributed and taken in last. It is fitting that the celebration ends with a song (preferably a hymn), as Jesus did with the disciples (Matthew 26:30).

 

Church Government / Leadership

A biblical church polity is crucial to the maintenance of a healthy church, which is why church government should be done faithfully according to the model presented in the New Testament early church. Proper church leadership allows for proper allocation and distribution of authority to the right party, a strong government to the sustenance and direction of the church, and the Lord’s blessing upon the church’s unity and growth.

The Bible presents a clear picture of what a church government should look like. The first fact to remember is that Jesus Christ is the head of the church and no other (Ephesians 1:22). To Jesus and the Word of God alone does the church submit and find legitimacy in its teachings and practices. Second, the church is to be free and autonomous from any external control or authority, which includes control from the government, a single individual, or a hierarchy of leaders and organizations (Titus 1:5). Third, the church must be governed by a leadership committee composed of two main offices – elders and deacons. Though the Bible teaches the universal priesthood of all believers and that all men are created equal, Scripture does give a clear command regarding the distinct roles of church leaders and laity, and for laity to faithfully submit to the rule and leadership of the church government (1 Peter 5:5). There is no biblical evidence of an assembly ruled by majority lay opinion or by a single pastor.

1 Timothy 3:2, 8 and Titus 1:5-7 outline the qualifications of elders and deacons. Strong godly character must be observed in elders and deacons in order that they may faithfully serve the Lord and be an example of purity and integrity to the entire body. A plurality of elders should be evident, in which each elder is encouraged to exercise his gifts to contribute to the church (ex. administration, prayer, evangelism). Within this plurality there must be a pastor/teacher whose responsibility is to be the main teacher and shepherd of the flock (Ephesians 4:11). The pastor has privileges of decision making and guiding the direction of the church, but does not possess sole “dictatorial” authority, since authority should be centered on the elder and deacon board. Furthermore, the office of pastor/teacher must be filled by men alone, since Scripture makes clear commands that women are not to teach or shepherd over men (1 Timothy 2:12, 1 Corinthians 14:34). This biblical mandate applies to any position of eldership and overseer in the church.

In staying true to the biblical mandates of church leadership, I exhort the church to be faithful to this biblical model by creating a clear distinction between elders and laity, men and women’s roles in the church, and defining the functions of elders and deacons. All elders and deacons must be qualified according to the character guidelines of Titus 1:6-8 and affirmed by the church government through contemplation and prayer. There must be a plurality of elders so as to prevent an abuse of power from one influential individual within the church and to allow the Lord to work mightily through the collective wisdom of the church government.

The elders’ main task is to manage and care for the church. However, each elder’s duty varies according to his gifts. Elders must take responsibility in creating official church policy (Acts 15:22), ordaining ministers (1 Timothy 4:4), exhorting and refuting (Titus 1:9), and acting as shepherds as examples to all (1 Peter 5:1-3). There must be one elder who serves as the main pastor/teacher whose duty it is to preach on Sundays and on other service occasions and events.

I believe the church should also seek deacons to care for various church duties by assisting the elders and serving the laity. Deacons are responsible for administrative and organizational tasks, ushering, being responsible for building maintenance, and being treasurers of the deacon’s fund to care for the poor and needy members of the church. Deacons must also be men of integrity (1 Timothy 3:8-12) and should be evaluated according to character guidelines.

Comment Unavailable

Ask Steve: What Characterizes a Great Preacher?

February 16, 2015 10:39 pm

God's Love

 

God’s Love: How the Infinite God Cares for His Children

by R.C. Sproul

Category: Theology

2012, David C. Cook

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, there are Christians who tell me that “this pastor’s sermons are good” or “that pastor is a good speaker” or that pastor “has entertaining messages.” What defines a great preacher?

Answer: People define great preachers in different ways – some for the right reasons and some for the wrong reasons. There are preachers or speakers in modern evangelicalism who provide entertaining messages, feel good stories, on-stage charisma, intriguing topical messages, and intellectual exercises. Some of these things are good, but they do not necessarily make a person a great preacher. And then there are speakers who are faithful to expository preaching, exegesis of the text, and accuracy, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a great preacher either.

Preaching 5So what makes a person a great preacher? We understand what characterizes a great preacher by the examples of exemplary men in the New Testament, including Jesus, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and Stephen. We also see the picture of what an extraordinary preacher looks like by examining model preachers of church history, such as John Calvin, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, and Martin Lloyd-Jones.

 

There are several factors that define a good preacher:

 

  • Integrity. A great preacher must first and foremost be a man of God. He must be saved and filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). He must be one who is “above reproach,” (2 Tim 3; Tit 1:6-7), and not living a debauched or immoral lifestyle. It is very difficult to take a preacher’s talents with much gravity if he is not a man of God, either in his salvific stance or in his sanctification. The preacher not only preaches the word of God to others, but first preaches it to himself. He lives it out, not only for God’s honor, but so that there is no cause to bring accusation or slander against him (Acts 25:7; 1 Pet 3:16).

 

  • Bible-Centered. A great preacher must be committed to the inerrancy of Scripture and the preaching of the word of God (2 Tim 3:16-17). This does not mean that a good preacher always has to do sequential, verse-by-verse expository preaching, but that he must use Scripture as his basis and authority in whatever theological or thematic messages he preaches on. A man who does not rely on Scripture for his preaching, but bases his sermons on his opinions, philosophies, and stories is not a great preacher. As 2 Timothy 2:15 teaches, the preacher must be diligent to present himself as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth [emphasis added].

 

  • Passion. A great preacher must have contagious passion. This is something that is missing in much pulpit preaching, no matter what denomination or traditions of the church. John the Baptist (Matt 3) and Peter (Acts 2) were known for proclaiming the word of God with much passion and conviction, and so should faithful preachers. Passionate preaching does not mean constantly yelling or being jumpy on stage, but implies that the preacher/speaker will speak with real conviction and urgency in his message. He will put the life into his sermons so it will not be unnecessarily boring or tedious. It must engage the listener, especially in our day and age of easy distraction.

 

  • Accessibility. A great preacher must be an understandable speaker. He must not only be a good orator, but one who speaks on a level that is accessible to people who are physically young (children) and spiritually young (new converts). The Bible speaks to us comprehensibly and simply starting from Genesis 1:1, and so should preachers of God’s message. This does not mean that a preacher should water-down the message, but to make a profound and deep message adaptable to all kinds of people. Paul was not eloquent in speech (1 Cor 1:2), but he was still one of the great preachers of the faith because of the fact that he was able to get the message across well to people from all walks of life. Preachers who preach in the style of academic lectures, overreaching philosophical exercises, or overemphasis on Greek-Hebrew exegesis, are not great preachers.

 

  • Content. A great preacher preaches sermons/messages with extraordinary content. For the most part, it has great introductions, brilliant illustrations and analogies, good biblical exposition, accurate theology, passionate exhortations, pleas, and applications, and a memorable conclusion. These things characterized the preaching of Jesus, whether on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) or Olivet Discourse (Matt 25-26), and characterized many great preachers in church history.

 

  • Defense. A great preacher will always defend the faith. He will not simply preach messages on topics that are agreeable to the ears or that only concerns matters within the church. He will address trends and attacks that threaten the welfare and life of the church, including evolution, abortion, anti-inerrancy trends, false doctrines in the church, sexual immorality, and government issues. The preacher does this not to stir up unnecessary debate and criticism, but to guard the sheep by informing them, cultivating discernment, and urging them to greater devotion to God (Jude 3). If there is a Satan working in the world to destroy the church, then preachers must do what they can to guard the church against attacks from both within and outside the church.

 

  • Impact. A great preacher makes a powerful impact on his listeners. Although a preacher can do everything right according to the rulebook, it is ultimately God who establishes the power of the preacher by producing a harvest of saved souls and sanctified saints (1 Cor 3:7). Are the preacher’s messages having a real impact on the congregants? Does it cause many to be saved? Does it inspire people to greater godly living? Does it help people to understand the depths of God and worship Him with greater passion?

 

These are some of the main factors that define great preachers of the past and great preachers of today. These are guidelines that an elder or speaker should keep in mind when seeking to honor the Lord, and edify the saints, in His calling as a preacher. It is a terrible thing when preachers are immoral, passionless, topical message centered, hard to understand, inaccurate, compromising regarding attacks on the church and the Bible, and does not make any real impact in the lives of the listeners. The pulpit is a high calling, therefore it must be treated with the utmost importance, since souls are on the line (1 Tim 4:16).

This answers the question of what a great preacher is, in contrast to a great lecturer, speaker, teacher, devotional person, or storyteller. There are great preachers today, some of whom are not widely known and some who are. Some examples of great preachers today include Steven J. Lawson, John MacArthur, Paul Washer, Voddie Baucham, John Piper, and Alistair Begg.

Recommended Resource: The King of Preaching God Blesses by Steven J. Lawson

 

Book Review: Contagious Disciple Making by David and Paul Watson

February 15, 2015 10:19 pm

Contagious

Contagious Disciple Making is a book on discipleship, most specifically in the context of church planting and church growth. It is a short, but practical, book that teaches you many essential components that go into planting churches, helping them grow, and maturing believers in the faith. The book speaks about attitudes of a Disciple maker, practices such as evangelism and prayer, and discovery groups that help make the connect people to the local church.

This book is a helpful resource on discipleship and church ministry. Even Chapter 2’s discussion on contextualization of the gospel to foreign cultures are quite insightful. It’s not about watering down the message or making the church like the world in order to draw it in. Rather, it is about removing the non-essential barriers that would hinder non-Christians (in certain cultural contexts) in coming to Christ. Although the book is a little methodized at times in speaking about its discipleship process, it is still a helpful resource to take into consideration when doing church planting.

Note: I got this book complimentary from booklookbloggers.com. I was not obligated to give a good opinion, but only my honest response.

Book Review: Pillars of Grace by Steven J. Lawson

February 7, 2015 8:45 pm

Pillars

Steven J. Lawson is not only a great preacher, but an avid studier and writer of famous church historians. Pillars of Grace is a compilation of every major theologian and church figure from 100-1564 who stood up for the truth of the gospel. It is a marvelous effort from Lawson, who writes one of the most riveting church history books in recent memory.

Pillars of Grace is not a typical church history book that exhaustively documents all the teachings or life events of every major player in early or Medieval church history. Rather, it is selective in who is exactly discussed, and what makes their contributions to Christianity so special. Lawson sets out to prove that the church figures who made the most impact in church history and were emblems of faithfulness to God were those who held to what Reformation doctrine calls the Doctrines of Grace, which includes radical depravity, definitive atonement, sovereign election, irresistible call, and preserving grace.

            Beginning from Clement of Rome all the way to John Calvin, we see a marvelous and inspiring picture of these beliefs in each person. These are the components that describe the truth, depth, and necessity of the gospel, and each figure exemplified these traits in some way or another. Of course, the criteria is not to base the church figures beliefs out of the TULIP formula, but to base it on the teachings of Scripture. Does the Scripture affirm the corruption of man and the sovereign election of God in salvation? Does it teach that God preserves the saints? Lawson is able to make an adequate case from even the time of Ignatius and Justin Martyr (who did not have as fully developed of a systematic theology as later generations) that these teachings in the Bible are both true and necessary for the life of the Christian and the church.

            This book is a valuable resource in how it documents the line of godly men in church history. It provides good autobiographical detail, church figure’s work, their theology, their battles, and their commitment to the biblical teachings concerning the doctrines of grace. The book even has a unique study guide at the end of each chapter that challenges the reader to remember and recite the importance of each church historian’s ministry and doctrine. Pillars of Grace is, by far, the most exciting church history book I’ve read. It does not come off at dry or meandering. Rather, it is thematic, purposeful, and inspirational. Through the examples of these church historians, we understand the central doctrines of Christianity and why they must be cared for, especially in our day of apostasy, lukewarm feelings for doctrine, and defense against the claims of skeptics. This book should be on the shelf of both laypeople and Christian scholars.

Note: I received this book as a complimentary copy from Reformation Trust Publishing. I was not obligated to give a good review, but only my honest opinion.

Ask Steve: The Doctrine of Inerrancy

February 7, 2015 8:00 pm

Contagious

 

Currently Reading:

Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery

by David L. Watson & Paul D. Watson

Category: Christian Life / Ministry

2015, Thomas Nelson

 

 

 

Question: Steve, can you explain to me the doctrine of inerrancy? Summarize historic and contemporary challenges to this doctrine. What implications does this doctrine have for pastoral ministry?

Answer: The doctrine of inerrancy is one of the most important teachings that a Christian and the church can hold to. It is the foundation for understanding every major (and even minor) doctrine of the Christian faith. It affirms the truth of who God is – impeccably sovereign, true, and faithful. Without believing in the essence of inerrancy, we are left with doubt concerning the truthfulness of God’s revelation and the power of His sovereign preserving of His word. Without inerrancy, there is nothing really to define what the gospel is and whether it can be trusted or not.

Inerrancy is the simple and timeless fact that Scripture contains nothing that is contrary to reality. It is without error in not only the facts concerning salvation and Christian living, but also historical, scientific, prophetic, and geographical details. It must be clarified that inerrancy of Scripture applies exclusively to the autographa (original manuscripts), and not the subsequent manuscripts, translations, or commentaries that have come from it. The inspiration of Scripture only applies to those works which were penned by the original authors (moved by the Holy Spirit), and not to the works of the manuscript copyists or translators. However, this does not mean that the Bible we have today is hopelessly full of error or is untrustworthy. Through the science of textual criticism (the practice of reconciling textual variants in ancient manuscripts), we have come to recover approximately 99.5% of the autographa.

Picture 1This roughly 0.5 percent of the Bible difficulties – often called technical scribal errors – do not in any way influence the major – or even sub-major – doctrines of the Christian faith, such as the meaning of the gospel, God’s eternal attributes, the essence of Christian living, etc. Even if the 0.5 percent of the scribal discrepancies did not exist, it would not have any noticeable impact on the Bible that we have today. It would not have changed the course of Christianity or given greater power to the gospel, Christian living, and church growth. This reality attests to the faithful hand of God to preserve His word throughout history so it can accomplish its purposes, which is convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn 16:8). Therefore, the church can have confidence that even though the physical autographa is not with us today, the contents of that autographa is essentially recovered and available worldwide in our Bible.

Many verses in the Bible demonstrate the truth of inerrancy. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired [God-breathed] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, rebuke, and training in righteousness.” This passage not only demonstrates the infallibility and authority of Scripture, but also its total truthfulness, because of the Agent of truth who inspired it. Jesus affirms in 17:17, “Sanctify them in Your truth; Your word is truth.” Psalm 119:160 states, “The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.” Last, but not least, 2 Peter 1:20 declares, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

Picture 2The inerrancy of Scripture, as established in such verses like 2 Timothy 3:16, encompasses many truths concerning the Bible. Because the Scripture are without error, it implies that the Bible is authoritative in all areas. That means every principle in the Bible has authority over a person’s life; there is no such thing as picking and choosing what is true or what to follow. Because Scriptures are without error, it is sufficient in all areas. It is complete and enough to guide a sinner to eternal salvation and effective worshipful living before God. Because Scriptures are without error, it is infallible in all areas. It will accomplish its salvific and sanctifying purposes in the church throughout history. Because Scriptures are without error, it is clear in all areas. It speaks on all major matters in a manner that is comprehensible to every man on the planet so they can understand the truth of Scripture and obey it.

The doctrine of inerrancy has had many challenges throughout history, therefore it has major implications on pastoral ministry. There are quite a number of people who do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, even within evangelicalism. It is a problem amongst many Christians and churches. It’s even an issue with many liberal seminaries (like Princeton and Fuller). Even if professing believers hold to inerrancy (for the sake of appearing orthodox or reverential to God’s character), their definition of “inerrancy” is completely misleading because of how they redefine or twist the meaning and intent of Scripture. By reinterpreting sections such as the 7-Day creation account (into theistic evolution), Jonah and the big fish (into a parable), and even the gospel message (into social or dominion theology), the so-called inerrantist defies the Bible’s clear teaching on perspicuity (Ps 19:7; 119:160) and indirectly pronounces Scripture to be in error. This does not mean that all Christians who deny inerrancy are heretics and apostates. Yet a word of caution should be applied here. The degree to which “Christians” deny the inerrancy of Scripture, and teach aberrant doctrine, can very well reveal the true condition of his heart and salvation. As Matthew 7:16-20 says, “You will know them by their fruit…”

A denial of inerrancy has major effects on pastoral ministry and church. For one, it causes elders and laypeople to be distrustful of the Bible. They will not have as much faith in the authority, truthfulness, and sufficiency of Scripture as they should, which is exactly what Satan and the secular world want. Some errantists believe that the Bible is only infallible when it comes to teachings on salvation and Christian living (e.g. faith and practice), but not on technical details of science or prophecy. If that is true, what does this really say about God’s truthful nature? What does it imply about His sovereign power to guide men’s writings or preserve His word? This idea of a “canon within a canon” just does not correlate to the Bible’s clear teaching regarding the integrity of His written revelation.

Picture 3Denying inerrancy opens the floodgates to many possible dangers. Because the Bible is not completely true in all areas, who is to say what is true and what is false? Who is even to believe that the Bible’s teaching on salvation and Christian living are true and timelessly binding? Who is to say that we cannot lie or be negligent on small matters as well? The problem with those who oppose biblical inerrancy, especially by historical critical scholars, is that they elevate academic scholarship, feelings, and novelties over the Lordship of Christ. Instead of humbly submitting to Christ’s lordship, these Christians believe themselves to be above God’s word, which is why they cannot accept it for what it says. The word of God is only meant to be understood through the normal, clear, and (at times) literal sense of the language, which precludes the idea that the words of the Bible are esoteric and known only to the readers or audiences of their time. Otherwise, it cannot be a light or a tool to make the simple wise (Ps 119:160).

It is important to hold to the doctrine of inerrancy, especially when pastoring in churches. Without it, expository preaching is in vain (since much of it is either not true or not applicable to us). Trust in God’s faithfulness is shaky. Futile speculations and theories about the possible meaning of Scripture leads to doubt and lack of conviction, which is a slope that eventually turns to liberalism, agnosticism, and atheism.