Wednesday, January 23, 2008

This says it wonderfully!!

So I have been struggling trying to answer the question of why people should belong and be members to a church and to a Region. This doesn't directly address regions, but it does address churches and "Christians." Please read and let me know what you think. It was written by Laura Roberts and is posted on her blog with the link

Here is the reprint!!


There's been a bit of a dust-up over on Boundless Line lately, regarding a pretty great summary of Mark Dever's view of church discipline. The usual comments ensued -- you can't kick people out of church for sinning! We wouldn't have a church! Doesn't the Bible say, Judge not, lest you be judged? Who are you to say what is a bad enough sin to kick people out? Since when is "membership" a biblical concept anyway? Etc. etc.

It seems to me, in my experience with these kinds of discussions, that people's misunderstandings about church discipline fall into a few categories:

1. They don't understand the nature of the Church.

2. They don't understand the nature of church membership.

3. They don't understand the seriousness of sin.

4. They don't understand the nature of church discipline.

Let's start with the first one. People who get their knickers in a twist about church discipline often seem to view "church" as an activity for people who call themselves Christians -- something they do on Sundays and Wednesday nights, a group they're a part of by choice, but nonetheless and organization that doesn't necessarily have the right to make any claims on their lives -- maybe slightly more that their book club or union or Facebook group, but not much more. They come to Sunday services to get blessed or "be fed" spiritually.

But what is the Church, really? Two things: 1) the Church is true followers of Christ everywhere, at all times throughout history, and 2) the Church is the local gathering of Christians in particular times and places. Paul's letters, for example, are written to both groups -- the church at Rome in the 1st Century A.D. and by extension to all believers everywhere at all times. Let me emphasize what I think is an extremely important point: if you are a Christian -- a genuine follower of Christ, not just a "Christian" by default -- you are, by necessity, a member of the first group. All believers at all times in all places are members of the first group. But the first and second categories were never meant to be thought of separately. Read Paul's letters and see if you think that the pioneer of the early church had any category in his mind for a person who was a Christian but not a part of any local church. (I'll give you a tip to save you a little time: he didn't.) It's not optional for a follower of Christ to be consistently out of fellowship with a local body. In fact (brace yourself, people, this is pretty serious), I would go so far as to say that if you steadfastly refuse to join yourself with a local congregation of believers, you are in serious danger of revealing that you are not a follower of Christ at all. And now I'm just going to back away... slowly... slowly...

That leads to the second misunderstanding. There is a whole group of folks in the church, as I mentioned in my previous post, who glance through their Bibles, don't see the word "membership," and conclude that any formal affiliation with a church is unnecessary at best and unbiblical at worst. First, I have bad news for those people -- the word "trinity" isn't in the Bible, either. Ruh-roh, Raggy.

Second, there is substantial evidence throughout the New Testament that the pastors of the early churches kept very precise, formal records of the believers they had charge of. I would basically defy anyone to do a careful study of the Jerusalem church in the book of Acts, the job description of an Elder in the pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus), and Hebrews 13 and come away with the idea that it's cool for a believer to sorta hang out on the fringes of a church and never commit to it.

Side note: one of our teaching pastors, Daniel, tells a pretty great little story at the beginning of our membership classes about a guy who falls in love with this amazing, beautiful girl, spends all his time with her, can't shut up about her... and then three years later, they're still dating, but not married or even engaged. Of course she's frustrated, all his friends are saying, "What are you waiting for, dude?" but he keeps telling her, "We don't need to get married to prove I love you, right, baby?" Well, obviously the story is about us and the church. Of course we don't "need" to join a church to prove we love it, but we also can't reap the benefits of commitment unless we're actually committed!

Well, what are the benefits of commitment to a church, i.e. formal membership? First off, when a church admits you to membership, they're saying, "We testify to your salvation. We believe and acknowledge that you are a Christian." (Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why walk-the-aisle, sign-the-card "Baptist" membership is so pernicious -- if your pastors don't examine you and make sure you're actually saved, how on Earth can they be accountable before God for your soul?) What a precious testimony this has been in seasons of doubt! I have often countered the lies of the enemy and of my sinful heart about my salvation by saying, "No! 417 other people, including my pastors, daily witness to my salvation! They see fruit in my life! They believe I am a Christian!" Second, formal membership provides a structure of accountability in a way that mere attendance cannot. You are consciously, intentionally placing yourself under the authority of your pastors, and humbly opening yourself up to be held accountable to a life worthy of the gospel. You're also taking on the responsibility of bearing the burdens of your brothers and sisters in the church and being willing to call them out when they sin as well.

Speaking of sin... Sin. I'm always surprised to read the "Dear Boundless" letters that deal with couples having sex or living together outside marriage -- the writers almost always characterize their behavior as "mistakes" or "slip-ups" or "crossing the line" or some other such convenient phrases; rarely does anyone write in and say, My boyfriend and I have been violating the standards of a holy God every Friday night for three months. We've also been dragging the name of Jesus through the mud by our behavior, and we'd like some advice on how to stop being an offense to the Gospel...

But that's just what sin is -- defiance against the rightful Ruler of the universe. Listen, I don't know if you know this, but God, as the Creator of all things, has the right to rule the universe as he wishes. You don't go to Iran, dance around on a picture of Muhammad in a town square in a bikini, and then think you're going to get away with it by calling it a "slip-up" when somebody throws your butt in jail. Sin is a serious, serious matter -- why would we look at our brothers and sisters in the church falling into persistent sin and look the other way? We should feel shame at the thought of standing idly by while those who bear the name of Christ deny him with their actions when we could do something about it!

And that's just what church discipline is, people. Church discipline, at heart, is the Body of Christ refusing to allow the beloved children of God continue in sin unchecked. It is a reminder to those who have ignored the Spirit's whispers that danger lies ahead.

99% of the time, church discipline does not involve "excommunication." Usually, the preaching of the Word, worship, the sacraments, and community life are the means the Lord uses to discipline his people. Occasionally, a brother or sister will have to call you out for a particular sin. Less often, someone will have to be confronted in love by the pastors if they continue to live in unrepentant sin. Usually, that person will repent in the course of one of those events. If not -- if that person continues to refuse reconciliation and ignore the pleas of his brothers and sisters, acting like he is not a believer -- then the church is to treat him in the way he is acting! The problem is, people see Paul's command to the Corinthian church to treat the adulterous man in their midst "as an unbeliever" and think that means they kicked him out. But doesn't your church welcome unbelievers? Don't you pray that unbelievers will show up? Don't you invite unbelievers to your services?

Church discipline is a beautiful ministry of the local body; I for one am blessed to be a part of a congregation that has the structures for church discipline in place --it reminds me of both the grace and the judgment of God. I pray that I never have to be placed under formal discipline by my church, but I know that my fellowship with them is part of what ensures that I never will!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

10 Facts You Should Know About American Baptists

This is published by the ABCUSA and is useful to understand me and my faith. I may not agree wholy with everything that is put for in these 10 facts, they are a foundation for my beliefs.

The 1.5-million members and 5,800 congregations of American Baptist Churches USA share with more than 43 million Baptist around the world a common tradition begun in the early 17th century. That tradition has emphasized the Lordship and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, believers' baptism the competency of all believers to be in direct relationship with God and to interpret Scripture, the importance of the local church, the assurance of freedom in worship and opinion, and the need to be Christ's witnesses within society. The following facts are representative of the tradition and practice of American Baptists.

1. American Baptists believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, and that the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God that serves as the final written authority for living out the Christian faith.
American Baptists celebrate the fact that belief in Jesus Christ assures salvation and eternal fellowship with a loving God. The events of the first Easter week are the cornerstones of our faith: the death of Christ, in which He took upon Himself the sin of the world, and the Resurrection, which gave proof of His triumph over sin and death. Holy Scripture always had been for American Baptist the authoritative and trustworthy guide for knowing and serving the God who is revealed and Creator, Savior, and Advocate.

2. For American Baptists the local church is the fundamental unit of mission in denomination life.
Baptist roots date back four centuries to a people seeking the opportunity to worship God as individual members of freely organized and freely functioning local churches. Baptists always have maintained the need for autonomous congregations, responsible for articulating their own doctrine, style of worship and mission.

3. American Baptists partake of two ordinances: believers' baptism and The Lord's Supper.
Baptism, an act of full immersion following Christ's example, is undertaken by those spiritually mature enough to understand its profound, symbolic significance: resurrection to new life in Christ. Through The Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion, the bread and cup that symbolize the broken body and shed blood offered by Christ recall God's great love for us-just as they did for the disciples on the eve of Christ's crucifixion.

4. American Baptists believe that the committed individual Christian can and should approach God directly, and that individual gifts of ministry should be shared.
American Baptists hold that all who truly seek God are both competent and called to develop in that relationship. They have rejected creeds or other statements that might compromise each believer's obligation to interpret Scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and within the community of faith. American Baptists also celebrate the special gifts of all believers, testifying that God can use each of us in ministry.

5. American Baptists take seriously the call to evangelism and missionary work.
American Baptists worldwide mission work is a response to Christ's call to "make disciples of all nations." Through the efforts of our missionaries in partnership with others, ministries of evangelism, healing, education and development have made Christ's love know in the U.S. and around the world.

6. American Baptists support religious freedom and respect the expressions of faith of others.
As a people whose forbears came together in response to intolerance, American Baptists have cherished freedom and pursued it for millions around the world. Manifestations of that ideal include supporting separation of church and state, advocating for people everywhere to be guaranteed the right to worship free form discrimination, and lifting up respectful dialog and a healthy means to understanding.

7. American Baptists acknowledge that God's family extends beyond our local churches, and that God calls us to cooperative ministries.
Early Baptists saw that the effectiveness of their ministries would be greater through cooperation with other believers. Today within our American Baptist regions, churches work with each other and with denominational staff and in local and regional ecumenical arenas to increase the vitality and scope of their ministries. That outreach extends worldwide through our relationships with Baptist World Alliance, the National Council of Churches of Christ, the World Council of Churches and other groups.

8. American Baptists have been called to be Christ's witnesses for justice and wholeness within a broken society.
American Baptists have been led by the Gospel mandates to promote holistic change within society, as witnessed by their advocacy of freed African Americans following the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, women in church and societal leadership, ecological responsibility, and many other issues. While not all of one mind as to how to deal with challenges, American Baptists do affirm the need to follow Christ's example by being actively involved in changing society.

9. American Baptist Churches USA celebrates the racial, cultural and theological diversity witnessed within its membership.
American Baptist Churches USA today is the most racially inclusive Protestant body. Represented in our churches are equally diverse worship styles, cultural mores and approaches to Scriptural interpretation. The resulting challenges and opportunities have made us stronger - through fellowship, respect, mutual support and dialog, all based on a belief that unity in Christ involves growth and understanding.

10. American Baptists heed the biblical call to renewal and the need for a vital witness in a new millennium.
As people of faith, American Baptists seek renewal and revitalization. Informed by their history and tradition, motivated by contemporary needs and challenges, and strengthened by God's leading and example and sacrifice of their Savior, American Baptists seek to bring a transforming witness to an uncharted future.

Respect for Differences

This is from Rudy Antle's blog, AntleHope. I found this interesting.

I heard an interview where Catholic author George Weigel discussed what is needed for inter-faith dialogue between Christians and Muslims. See the transcript here. Weigel said:

The prerequisite for serious inter-religious dialogue is a frank acknowledgement of differences. Tolerance does not mean ignoring differences, as if differences don’t make a difference. Tolerance means engaging difference with civility and respect, but with a clear understanding of your own moral values as applied to politics, and why they’re worth defending.

This has relevance in other situations as well: political discussions between Republican and Democrat friends; theology differences between different Christian denominations; policy issues within religions denominations; or in disagreements within a church.

You find “politics’ in every organization, even a church. Good people disagree on deeply held issues. To often, though, we avoid discussing issues where we know there are strong disagreements. We don’t want conflict, and we end up shrinking from true dialogue.

Using Weigel’s formula for serious dialogue above, here are some suggestions for engaging in true dialogue with respect for each other.

· Frankly acknowledge that differences exist. Ignoring them is like trying to cap a volcano.

· Know that differences matter. If you strongly believe something, you don’t want to just be told that it’s OK to disagree and let’s move on. That is effectively saying your beliefs don’t really matter. They matter to you.

· If your beliefs and values matter, you want to defend them--respectfully. In Weigel’s interview he links this defense to reason, not emotion. Reasonable dialogue involves civility and respect; and it seeks to find common values that enable us to live and work together in harmony.

· Respectful and reasonable dialogue means discussing issues, not people. Another author I’ve heard recently said that “refuting” an argument “doesn’t mean reject strongly or angrily. It means to argue successfully against. . . . It involves rational discourse.”

We may differ on various issues, but if we can agree on certain values we can still live together in peace. You may not be able to find peace with everyone (you may want it, but they may not). Even then, Paul’s advice in Romans 12:18 applies, “ If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Respect for differences and for each other makes it work.