Category Archives: Ministry

Pastors = Elders = Overseers

{July 26, 2017} 7:48 AM Pastors = Elders = Overseers. Then why should we have a church polity with “pastors” on the one hand and lay “elders” on the other? We are told it is because pastors are paid while elders are not. This seems like a distinction without a Scriptural difference. Church, ordination, titles — a biblical understanding of these themes is one of the most critical issues facing the worldwide body of Christ in our day. Even among evangelicals with their professed high view of Scripture, significant confusion remains. This is what makes Alexander Strauch’s Biblical Eldership so timely and relevant. Its appeal is for Christians of all traditions to get back to the “basics,” by which he means the word of God. He asks important questions. “What is the church?” “Who are called to its priesthood?” “What is the real significance of ordination?” Strauch is convinced that only when we recover the supremacy of Christ and His lordship over our thinking in these areas can local churches function as New Testament churches. Speaking personally, I’ve found that when our ecclesiology gets into trouble, it’s generally because we’ve tolerated distortions in our Christology. An example. Jesus alone is our high priest. Hence the word “priest” is never used in the New Testament for any official church “minister.” It’s the total community of believers that is the “royal priesthood.” Just as Christ offered Himself in service to the Father, so Christians offer themselves and their whole being to God as living sacrifices. Each and every Christian, as a “priest,” presents his or her entire life as a sacrifice to God. This is the priesthood of all believers, not just the “clergy.” Even a Roman Catholic theologian like Hans Küng recognized this:

The fundamental error of ecclesiologies … was that they failed to realize that all who hold office are primarily (both temporally and factually speaking) not dignitaries but believers, members of the fellowship of believers; and that compared with this fundamental Christian fact any office they may hold is of secondary importance if not tertiary importance (The Church, p. 465).

Küng further notes that, in the New Testament, words common in secular Greek for religious authorities are consistently avoided, including words implying hierarchy, primacy, rank, and power. The classic exception is the Diotrephes of 3 John, who is hardly being held up as a positive example. Instead, argues Küng, the language of the New Testament is one of horizontal relationships. Phil. 1:1 suggests that formal leadership in the church is placed within the congregation and not above it. No ministerial office represents status or rank in a social or political sense. The leaders’ influence is measured, not by their titles, but by their Christlikeness and the extent to which they allow the Holy Spirit to work through them for the good of others and the glory of God. In essence, then, the New Testament church is a brotherhood of believer-priests, centered not in the bishop but in Christ.

Ministry, not status, is what the church is about. The Protestant Reformation replaced the altar with the pulpit and the priest with the preacher. It was left to the Anabaptists to develop the concept of the church as a fellowship of active believers, a Christian brotherhood in which the ideal of the kingdom of God would be realized. I wonder if the title “senior pastor” is even biblical. It creates a leader-centric paradigm in which discipleship is staff-driven. It encourages a consumer mentality in which responsibility for “ministry” is shifted from the so-called laity to the pastors. Intentional or not, the title communicates that the head of the church is not Christ but a mere man. Ironically, the one man in the New Testament who could possibly have claimed to be the “senior” or “lead” pastor is willing to recede into the group. Why does the apostle Peter, in addressing elders, refer to himself simply as a “fellow elder” and only Christ as the Chief Shepherd (Senior Pastor)? Could it be that he’s widening the definition of what counts? I am suggesting this: titles matter. Whose name is on the marquee matters. The church is not a collection of supernovas but a collective light that shines on the Son.

(Taken from my forthcoming book Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk.)

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

A Marathon Plan

Dave facing the MatterhornIs your church up to doing a marathon? A marathon is 26.2 miles. It’s a slugfest. But you finish by taking one step at a time. So here are 26.2 ideas to get you started and maybe even keep you going to the end.

1) If you are a pastor, I might suggest that you stop training for “chief ministry provider” and start training for “chief ministry developer.”

2) Let us rid ourselves of the “consumerism” mentality once and for all. It stands opposite to the “body ministry” as described in the New Testament.

3) As leaders, let’s commit ourselves to discovering and employing the untapped potential that exists in our churches.

4) The shift from the “ministry of the clergy” to the “ministry of the laity” is one of the most important decisions facing the church today. Let’s make it.

5) Let’s self-identify first and foremost as a servant. Only one class of people exists within the church, servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Within that class there will always be different functions, but servanthood is incumbent upon all of us.

6) Realize that the under-utilization of our members is the primary reason why the mission of God is not being fully realized in the world and the reason why there is a dearth of servant-leadership in the church. (Side note: You might read my essay The Future of Southern Baptist Missions.)

7) The “laity” in your congregation is the most bountiful leadership resource available. Use it.

8) The role of the seminary is to come alongside local churches in training men and women for God-called ministries. This resource is useful so take advantage of it. But it can never become a substitute for in-house apprenticeship training.

9) If you are a leader, be willing to step aside and allow gift-based ministry to occur. Your people must be given freedom and authority for this to happen. Clergy must view the laity as equal in importance, as authentic ministers of the Gospel.

10) Recover the spirit of volunteerism in which every member is valued and equipped to pursue their ministry.

11) Let’s stop minimizing the importance of the local church for identifying, selecting, and developing leaders. As much as possible, indigenous leadership is our goal.

12) The most effective churches today are those that are developing a team-based approach to leadership. Collaborative team fellowship is essential to a healthy church. Since all are to be involved in ministry, team ministry will help to flatten hierarchies and reinforce the notion that there is no such thing as a passive Christian. If at all possible, let’s all avoid doing ministry alone.

13) We’ve got to set an example. The process of homegrown leadership is best done within an environment of mentoring and coaching. Seeing how something is done, rather than just hearing how it is done, is liberating. Let’s focus less on telling and more on coaching. Relationships comprise the chalkboard on which God explains Himself.

14) Share openly with your congregation about the mentors in your own life. The first mentor in my life was Dr. Harry Sturz of Biola University. He taught me the life skills of the classroom, diligence, what good scholarship looked like, and devotion to my students. He stood by me, encouraged me, prayed for and with me, and wouldn’t let me give up on my dreams of earning a doctorate. To him I owe an eternal debt of love, gratitude, and devotion.

15) Provide a biblical foundation for all you do. The book of Acts is a good place to start.

16) Don’t wait to begin this process of empowering ministry to others. Jesus was keen to pass the baton of leadership early in His ministry. If you wait for “perfection,” it will never happen.

17) Be patient with yourself and others. The empowerment model of ministry is laborious and time-consuming. Remember: You’re running a marathon, not a sprint.

18) Memorize key New Testament texts and pass them on to others. I would begin with 2 Tim. 2:2 (Paul’s goal was to train, teach, and empower capable followers who in turn could train, teach, and empower their own followers); Eph. 4:11-13 (Paul taught that equipping people for ministry [“works of service”] is God’s plan for the pastoral care of His people); and 1 Cor. 12:12-26 (where Paul teaches that God’s Spirit equips the church with a host of ministry functions that result in an empowered body capable of adequately fulfilling the mission of God in the world).

19) Remember that even if you only duplicate your heart and passion in one other leader, you have doubled the effectiveness of your ministry.

20) If you have a dependency model in your church, remember that it always comes from a climate of disempowerment.

21) Always emphasize the work of the triune God when it comes to spiritual gifts. This is the clear teaching of 1 Cor. 12:4-6, where Paul says that the Spirit grants gifts to all members, the Son assigns places of service, and God the Father grants us the outworkings or results of our ministries. So there are three steps in this process: discovering our gifts, discovering the place where we can best exercise those gifts, and discovering what God wants to accomplish through us as we exercise those gifts in the place of His appointment.

22) We must take the Great Commission seriously. The church is not only a community of those who learn of Christ but who witness to others and proclaim in word and deed the Lord Jesus and His salvation to anyone who will listen. The whole life of a local church is to be one of service and sacrifice and witness.

23) Let’s remember that the goal of all Christian education (whether it be in the local church or in the seminary) is to incorporate the mission thrust of Jesus into all of our students. The goal is for each local church to “offer the message of life” (Phil. 2:16) in a way that people will know why and how they should turn to this new Lord Jesus Christ.

24) Let’s work hard to see to it that “missions” means more than sending money to support missionaries and missions programs. All Christians are missionaries, and all are to be involved personally in service to the world. That’s why I sometimes introduce myself to people, not as a professor of Greek, but as a fulltime missionary. According to the New Testament, missional service is not the prerogative of an elite corpus but the function of the whole people of God.

25) Let us teach, preach, and model the truth that the gathering exists for the going. It is exactly by going outside itself that the church is itself.

26) Let our priority become being the Master’s messengers in the world and let our churches be satellite offices of the kingdom of God. Let every member of the body see him- or herself as a strategic player in missionary work as both salt and light.

26.2) Finally, remember that there is no “magic formula” for getting any of this done — including lists like this one. There is no such thing as “26.2 steps to becoming a New Testament church.” Living in obedience to Christ means, above all, living in daily communion and fellowship with His Spirit. There’s no better leader than He. Believer, your pastor or your church cannot do the ministry God has given you to perform. Following Jesus is a journey that requires honesty, vulnerability, and commitment. The New Covenant is not an idea to consider but a life to be lived. As I look back, I am convinced that God was profoundly placing me under the mentorship of some of the most godly and humble men on the planet. I am convinced that He has such mentors for you, people who will take your hand and work alongside of you for the glory of God and for the good of His church. I sense there’s a movement bubbling up in our churches today that goes beyond a “seven-easy-steps-approach” and celebrates a completely new way of living. I thank God for the millennials among us who aren’t just complaining about the church but are dreaming of what it might become. Each of us has the privilege of serving Jesus every time we exercise our spiritual gift in His power and for His glory, every time we feed the hungry, every time we acknowledge the value and dignity of the strangers in our midst, every time we love the forsaken and remember the prisoners. Empowerment is giving people permission to become engaged in a meaningful way in the work Christ is doing in the world today.

So ….

On your mark, get set,

GO!

Clericalism and Speaking in Love

 

(Extracted from Dave Black Online, March 17, 2015. Used by permission.)

While I’m at the computer, let me add a brief word about my views on the professional pastorate, since I will also be dealing with this topic in my new book. It is not eldership but clericalism that is the danger. Obversely — and this is of vital importance — we can make anti-clericalism into an idol, a god at whose clay feet we worship with as much zeal and passion as those who bow the knee to the clerical system. (This anti-clerical attitude is apparent in several recent posts in various blogs.) I have no doubt that a stipendiary clergy pauperizes our people and places tradition above Scripture. But this is more than a question of who does what. If we are to maintain a voluntary system we must do so not only in obedience to the mind of Christ but also in obedience to the mind of the Spirit of Christ. I am well aware that a great many good and thoughtful professional pastors hold positions with which I disagree. I am also aware that for every local church that loses its professional pastor for reasons of the latter’s conscience, a replacement will be found from within the ranks of those who feel themselves called to the professional ministry. I believe most professional pastors do what they believe is the correct course of action, and they do so conscientiously. Some of them (many of whom I know personally) are motivated by a belief that they can do more good by striving for reform from within their churches than by planting new churches. They plead for understanding and support from former paid pastors. Should they resign for reasons of conscience, they would do so only with the deepest regret, and future criticism they might make of the stipendiary clergy would be offered in a spirit of deepest empathy and the most cordial love. They know they are not better or wiser than those who continue in their paid pastorates. They pray and labor for a clergy that comprises every single follower of Jesus Christ, and they expect God to answer their prayers. They realize that the Great Commission will never be accomplished by trained and paid workers simply because we can never train and pay enough workers to get the job done. However, a danger exists that the appeal for voluntary leadership will lead to a new kind of Galatianism that claims the superiority of their “non-circumcised” status over against those who have submitted to the legalism of circumcision. Paul’s response should put an end to pride on either side: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision amounts for anything, but only faith working in love” (Gal. 5:6). True faith is always a gracious faith; it works itself out by love for God and love to our brethren. It is not merely an intellectual faith, for “we all have knowledge; knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1). It is a faith that is always expressed in kindness and affection and in a readiness to bear with the weaknesses of others. I censure myself as much as any other blogger out there when I say this: Love is utterly opposed to telling others in a condescending spirit what they “ought” to do, for truth is perfected only in love. So to my fellow reformers I say: Let others see our love and feel our heart of compassion even as they listen to our words of exhortation and correction. Let us not pride ourselves on having found the “only right way,” for Christianity is much more than correct doctrine, even correct ecclesiology. The one essential of the Christian life is love, and one expression of Christian love is a tolerance of diversity — a tolerance that does not spring from indifference but rather from an awareness that church practices are subordinate to what is essential.

To give you an example from my own congregation: When our elders decided to use a single loaf of bread during the observance of the Lord’s Supper (in keeping with their interpretation of 1 Cor. 10:16-17), several members of our congregation expressed to them the uncomfortable feeling they had when touching a single loaf of bread with their fingers, and so alongside the one loaf was placed a platter on which had been laid bread that had been sliced into bite-sized pieces. I venture to insist that, far from being a compromise on the part of our elders, this was an exquisite demonstration of their love for the brethren. In other words, these leaders refused to turn forms into essentials. Whatever strengthens faith is valuable as a help but is worthless as a legalism. It is possible to support professional missionaries without becoming one yourself. (I do.) It is also possible to work with stipendiary pastors to propagate the truth that is revealed in Christ. (I do.) On the face of it, this would appear to be an act of compromise. But we must always separate our personal convictions from our willingness to cooperate with others in the cause of the Gospel. We who are non-professional missionaries must be careful not to judge professional missionaries any more than Paul condemned those who lived by the Gospel. Whether or not we are paid to be a missionary is a technicality. Spiritually, all obedient followers of Christ are missionaries to the non-Christian world. The same Spirit is given to all of us, and where the Spirit is, there is liberty of the most amazing kind (2 Cor. 3:17). If we focus too narrowly on matters of church organization, we face the very grave danger of missing the revelation of the Spirit as the Spirit who labors for the salvation of the world. Every form of Christian mission can and must be undertaken in, with, and by that one and the same Spirit, with each individual finding her or her own proper work under the one Spirit’s guidance. So beware! The road back to Galatianism is all too easy to take.

Joining the Downward Path of Jesus – Or the American Dream?

(From Dave Bla9781893729186ck Online. Used by permission.)

Friday, March 6

12:10 PM In light of Bibi’s speech before Congress, I can’t help but reflect on where things stand in the U.S. today. My words are especially directed toward any Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings who might be reading my blog. My parents’ generation has been called “The Greatest Generation” because they fought the Nazis and mobilized for the Cold War. What we forget is the fiscal burden they placed on their posterity, producing an American political system that seems utterly incapable of tackling any big multigenerational problems, including our national debt or even something as basic as national security. America has entered an irreversible downward spiral. We had better understand this new era we’re entering. The American spirit — “We are entitled to whatever we want” — demands growth and consumption. We want the appetizers, the entrees, and the desserts, all at once, and we are eager to ask government to provide it for us. Today each follower of Jesus stands at the crossroads on the question of personal priorities. Will we surrender to the spirit of this age, or will we resist and join the downward movement of Jesus, making a conscious choice to deny the normal comforts and conveniences of life for the sake of others? We rightly honor those who die in military service, we celebrate the accomplishments of our nation’s athletes, we honor fire fighters who perish in public service, but the minute a Christian young person refuses to accept the American Dream and voluntarily takes on an assignment that involves suffering we spend hours trying to talk him or her out of “going overboard.” I am not saying that every Christian must become a professional missionary. But I am saying that if you are really sincere about following Christ, you will not be at peace with yourself until the whole world knows of Him, and you will be intentional about using whatever He has given you — your time, your energy, your wealth, your vocation, your vacations even — to serve the expansion of His kingdom.

“What good is knowledge unapplied?” asked one of my elders recently. What good is an education unless we place it at the feet of King Jesus? Students, my parents’ generation, and my own as well, have failed you because we have catered to the rotten spot in the soul of our nation. We have taught you to expect instant gratification, that the “good life” is the only life there is, that extravagance and waste are the normal patterns of our human existence, that security and liberty are our natural “rights.” We have clenched our fists at our “enemies”– not all of us, but many of us — and have refused to receive the nail prints of the cross, unwilling to make even small sacrifices to reach the millions of lost souls in our world. How different this is from the self-sacrifice of our spiritual forefathers in the book of Acts. Something is desperately wrong, and it is up to your generation to turn it around. The only way Christ will be incarnated to a lost world is through you. As the Father sent Him, so He is sending you so that others can taste and feel and see His presence.

If you are willing to make this commitment, I have a book for you. It is free for the asking. Just send me an email with your snail mail address I will see that you receive a copy of Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?

God bless you all.

Dave

Applying Amos

Seven Marks of a New Testament Church(From Dave Black Online. Reposted by permission. David Alan Black is the author of The Jesus Paradigm and Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, among many other books.)

10:06 AM Good morning to you on this sunny winter day! As you know, this week I will begin team-teaching (with Chip Hardy — a really smart guy who holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago) the book of Amos in both Greek and Hebrew. The course is officially listed as “LXX,” and I’m quite sure the Greek text can and should be read on its own terms, but LXX Amos is a translation of the Hebrew after all, and I think it will be helpful if we keep a close eye on the Hebrew as we work our way through its nine marvelous chapters. However, beyond the question of translation and exegesis — which itself could keep us very busy — there is the message of Amos to be dealt with, namely, the preservation of a covenant people of God until the day God raises up a Son of David in the person of Jesus Christ who shall right all wrongs and provide full and final salvation.

When Amos turned his gaze on the society in which he lived and worked, everywhere he looked he saw nothing but counterfeit religion — exercises in self-pleasure, protection of religious property, and careless indifference to the needs all around them. People lived for frivolity (think American football) and money, and the divine displeasure went completely unnoticed. Amos addressed himself to all who would hear his prophetic word that with privilege comes great responsibility, and that to whom much is given, much is required. Amos was a man gripped by a God of holiness, a God who loves His frail and needy people — His wrath-deserving followers — as much as any God ever could and yet who also insisted that whenever grace is abused and the law is forgotten, a terrible price is to be paid.

And what of today’s church? Is the Lord holding up his plumb line and measuring our lukewarmness? Has America reached the autumn of her probation? Amos was surely written for our admonition. Our God is a different kind of claimant. He demands our complete and undivided allegiance. This is the exclusivity that Jesus so often spoke of. There is no other God! — no matter how many times we hold our inter-faith services or acquiesce to a syncretism that would allow a Muslim call to prayer to emanate from a Christian bell tower.

And what of missions and evangelism? I wonder.

  • New Testament scholars attend their academic conferences, pursuing the intellectual (as well they should). But the true combination of humanitas and pietas, of intellectualism and spirituality, should be apparent in Gospel preaching as well as in the understanding Scripture.

  • Pastors continue to erect their magnificent temples (“churches”) as if God lived in houses made with human hands —  and the church in the Third World goes without. Don’t read Amos unless you’re prepared to have your priorities turned upside down.

  • Seminaries act more like watchdogs than gadflies to sting into action for change.

  • People in the pews remain indifferent to the sufferings of their brothers and sisters in foreign lands. I do not know of a better statement of our double standard than that made by W. A. Visser ‘t Hooft in 1968: “It must become clear that church members who deny in fact their responsibility for the needy in any part of the world are just as guilty of heresy as those who deny this or that article of the Faith.”

Church, we are playing it too safe. This very day there is a Christian orphan in India you can support for what it would cost your family to enjoy a monthly meal at MacDonald’s. I can hook you up today with an evangelist in northern India who, for a mere $60 in monthly support will take the Gospel fearlessly to a completely unreached people group on the border of Sikkim. Would you consider becoming like the apostle Paul — rather than asking for money for the mission work you do, trying your best to become self-supporting so that the resources of God might go to the needy in other nations?

Our Anabaptist forefathers of the 16th century understood this principle well, at least in its application to missions. They knew they would never reach the world with the Gospel if they continued to outsource the task to professional clergy, and so they all stepped out by faith to get the job done themselves. Our conservative churches today claim to “be like Jesus” — and we are when it comes to holding and defending a high view of Scripture. But Jesus was also a radical who wasn’t afraid to sweep away centuries of tradition so that God’s word might be understood and obeyed.

This Friday I am meeting with one of our former doctoral students at SEBTS who practices his trade as an academic in a country where Christianity is at best tolerated. As he lectures in his university, he shares his faith and develops friendships with a view toward Gospel conversations. I want to do everything I can to support and promote that kind of strategic work. In India, as you know, more and more missionary dollars are being sidetracked into charitable social programs by denominations that equate social action with evangelism. How far we have drifted from the faith of the apostles! There is a need for a revolution in missions today, and that change will begin when we admit that Western missionaries are less effective at evangelism, church planting, and establishing local churches than are the local missionaries and evangelists. Foreign governments may close their borders to foreign missionaries, but they cannot close them to their own people. The native missionary movement in Asia is one of the most exciting developments I have seen in my 38 years of missionary work. Week after week on this blog I continue with this one message: native missionaries are waiting by the thousands to be sent to the next village with the Gospel. All they need is our prayer and financial support. As I said, any family in the U.S. can do this. Pray about it, be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and God will show you what to do.

Thus is the message of Amos. Special privileges involve special obligations. Special revelation requires special obedience. Special love requires special responsiveness. Jesus says (as Amos did long before Him) that it is of absolutely no consequence to say “Lord, Lord” and then to turn from doing the will of God when it comes to global evangelism. Jesus’ last words are lasting words (as Danny Akin is wont to say). We have our marching orders (Matt. 28:19-20). Millions of souls depend upon our obedience.

Thanks for listening,

Brother Dave

Professionalization of the Pastorate

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.)

9:02 AM To follow up on Henry Neufeld’s insightful discussion of church leadership (Should Pastors Learn Textual Criticism?), I’d like to offer a brief word about the idea of “professionalization” and its bearing on eldership. I’ll use an analogy from aviation — an area of great interest to me seeing that I fly so much. The other night I watched a YouTube on the crash of Air France 447 in the Atlantic with the loss of all on board. That event, along with the crash of Asiana Airlines 214 in San Francisco and Colgan Air in New York, illustrated the need to retrain pilots to fly manually. There is no doubt that all three flight crews were sorely deficient in this area of training. In the case of Asiana 214, the NTSB determined that the probable cause of the incident was the flight crew’s mismanagement of the airplane’s descent during a visual approach and their inadequate monitoring of airspeed. Contributing to the accident was the pilot flying’s inadequate training in the planning and execution of visual approaches when the ILS (Instrument Landing System) glide slope was out of service, as it was on the day of the crash. In short, and as unbelievable as it may sound, the flight crew of Asiana 214 did not know how to manually fly a VFR (Visual Flight Rules) approach in perfect weather. They were frankly incompetent, and one of the reasons for their incompetence was their overreliance on automatics. Airlines have become so “automatics reliant” today that incompetent pilots slip into the system and are allowed to fly passengers whose lives depend on them.

asiana oroootot

I wonder. Could a similar argument be made when it comes to pastoring and teaching a local flock? Henry is probably correct when he asserts that a working knowledge of the biblical languages is an unrealistic expectation for a pastor today. Instead, the internet (automatics, if you will) has become the go-to source for knowledge about the biblical text. I have met many of my former students who, though they may have excelled in Greek 1-3, could not translate a single verse from their Greek New Testament today if their life depended on it. Proficiency is simply not expected. Many of us are content to run on “auto-pilot.” Just as expecting pilots to be able to hand fly a visual approach is an illusion today, so expecting pastors to do their study in the Greek and Hebrew is a pipe dream. This is indeed what some argue. Mastery of the languages simply takes too much work.

Unlike the flight crew of Asiana 214, the NTSB hit it right on the money: Asiana pilots need to be retrained. In this case, the pilots were both low and slow — a certain recipe for disaster. Flight Training 101 would have told them to apply power first. Instead, they pulled back on the yoke at stall speed without adding any additional thrust. The result? Three dead. And it could have been far worse.

Of course, I realize I’m showing my bias here. I love languages. I love studying languages. I love learning new languages. I work hard at keeping up the language skills I do have. At the same time, I don’t face the daily pressures that your typical pastor faces. As an emailer (himself a pastor) put it to me yesterday:

The pressure on today’s pastor is enormous to be all things to all people and be the best at that. The congregation doesn’t realize how they heap upon their pastor voluminous expectations of perfection and performance and then have the nerve to complain because the pastor didn’t speak to them or visit them this week while deacons sit at home, content that they have hired a religious expert to do the work of the ministry. “After all, that’s what we pay him for!!”

In the end, each of us has to decide what we will do with the languages. It is a very personal decision. Perhaps, as Henry argued, the best solution is team-leadership. Those without competence in the languages can learn from those who possess those skills. I’m all for that. I do know this. If ignorance is unacceptable when it comes to piloting a modern aircraft, I fail to see how ignorance is acceptable when people’s souls are at stake. Church and academy need to work better and wiser at training elders to “cut it straight.”

Thinking about the Local Church

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.)

4:06 PM Care to think about the church with me for a minute? My local church, like yours (probably), is constantly thinking about its ecclesiology. The main question — in my view, at least — is the degree to which our churches should be willing to adopt normative biblical principles and concepts that constitute the structure and life of the church. Questions include:

  • The level of involvement of the whole people of God in the life and witness of the church.

  • How leaders are to be chosen.

  • How “ordination” is understood and practiced.

  • The role of the “preacher” in the assembling of the church.

To people (like me) who deny a sacramental and sacerdotal priesthood, these questions are anything but theoretical. So here I offer a few random reflections. Feel free to respond on your blog.

1) The study of church history is absolutely vital if we are to return to biblical norms. For example, it was the Protestant Reformation that replaced the altar with the pulpit and the priest with the preacher. The New Testament, of course, sees the center of the gathering of the body as neither an altar nor a pulpit but a table. The apostolic church gathered explicitly to “break bread” (the telic infinitive; see Acts 20:7), not to listen passively to a sermon.

2) Moreover, the apostolic church was both a charismatic and Spirit-filled diakonia. Whatever organization there may have been in the early church, it existed in order to promote the proper and orderly interactions between the spiritual gifts (exercised freely). Ekklesia was a body of which Christ alone was the Head and in which each member was a fulltime minister-priest. After the third century, however, the charismatic ministry began to disappear and there arose in its place a hierarchical and institutional church. The stage was thus set for the spectatorism so evident in our churches today.

3) The New Testament believers did not have an abstract concept of the church but one that was dynamic and concrete. They saw it as their mission to manifest Christ to the world by becoming His representatives and by participating in His transforming of people’s lives. Energized by His Spirit, there were aflame for Him, and when they gathered, the members worked “together as a whole with all the members in sympathetic relationship with one another” (1 Cor. 12:25).

4) The church of the New Testament was nothing less than a partnership of grace in which every member had its function to fulfill, without jealousy or competition. Their gatherings were Christ-approved, Christ-centered, Christ-oriented, Christ-like, Christ-infused, Christ-exalting, and Christ-led. Remove Christ from the church and you might as well build a house on the sand (Matt. 7:24-27).

5) The Pastoral Epistles in particular need to be reevaluated. Neither Timothy nor Titus were pastors. They functioned as missionary-apostles and represented the church at large. Centuries later, the Anabaptists and other “radical” groups argued that the primitivism of the early church was normative in every age. The priesthood of believers was to be more than a dogma. They actually addressed each other as brothers and sisters. (Oh, how I wish we could do that today in our churches!). They insisted that Christ’s obedience to the Father should be exemplified in the life of every regenerate church member (Nachfolge-Christi).

6) Finally, ecclesiastical superstars didn’t exist. Pastors (i.e., shepherds) were also sheep. In fact, that was their primary identification. (Can you imagine if pastors today had secular jobs like everyone else and lived out in the world, as in New Testament times?)

So … where does my church, or yours, fit into all this? For starters, maybe we should reexamine our priorities when it comes to church finances. Any church building we construct must be purely functional in nature and should express a biblical understanding of the true nature of the church. Theologically, the church does not require a building. A church building has no more right to be called a “sanctuary” than a garage does. The body of Christ, the communion of believers, is the true tabernacle of God. Think and act this way today and you may well end up where the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century did — maligned or even persecuted. The need today is not to mimic the Anabaptists. The need is to renew our commitment to the New Testament Scriptures. Think of the followers of Zwingli in sixteenth-century Zurich. It was their allegiance to the New Testament (in Greek, by the way) that got them in so much trouble with their erstwhile teacher.

So the question is, “Is this pattern scriptural?” If not, a return to the New Testament may be the healthiest antidote to institutionalism.

P.S. I feel led to make an additional statement as a footnote. I know of many people who would never think of asking the church to help them pay for their summer vacation at Disneyworld or in Europe. Then why do so many of us automatically turn to the church to help pay (or even pay for entirely) the costs of our mission trips? I urge you to put aside money to that end, to even schedule your mission trip before you schedule your yearly vacation. If there’s any money left over, then you can enjoy Disneyworld or Paris. But please, plan ahead. Save if you can. Do not ask the church to do for you what you can (and perhaps ought to) do for yourself. Yes, it will take scrimping and saving. But the money is far better used in the Majority World than in paying for your airfare. I know not everyone can do this. But some can. Have you ever considered it?

 

Money and Missions

8:06 AM Money and mission trips can be a sensitive topic.

Most of us find conversations about Christian finances difficult, as did Paul. What on earth are we supposed to do when a close relative of ours asks us to support their summer mission trip? We, like Paul, must be in vital touch with the Lord. We must be prayerfully open to sensing His leading towards the individual He wants us to help. I am certain that I have missed many opportunities because I have been too distracted by my own agenda. But it is essential if we are to help other people that we follow the Lord’s leading. One approach that has occurred to me is this: When a loved one asks me to support their summer mission trip, I can say: “I’m happy to help you, but you must match every dollar I give you from your own savings.” When I give, I want to see that there is at least some effort by the recipient, if he or she is able, to add to the kitty out of their own savings and thrift. Serving Jesus is costly. Paul knew this very well. During the day he preached; during the night he plied his trade. The truth of the matter is that Paul, united with Christ, was able to face life confidently, irrespective of the aid of others. He was “untroubled by the vicissitudes of life” (Hawthorne). He lacked nothing. And this is true partly because he was willing to support himself.

Read Paul’s “Thankless Thanks” in Phil. 4:10-20.

(From Dave Black Online, used by permission.)

 

What Kind of Church?

8:22 AM Mornin’, yall! Let’s return for a moment to the picture I posted the other day of this Catholic “community” in North Dallas.

St. Rita Catholic community

Is that how you would describe your “church”? Peter Savage once wrote a fascinating essay called “The Church and Evangelism.” It appeared in The New Face of Evangelism, a book that was edited by C. René. Savage suggested four models of the church that are in operation today in North America. Here they are:

1) The lecture hall. This is the church where people go primarily to listen to sermons. I’d say that in many traditional Baptist churches, this model most definitely applies. The pastor is even called the “preacher,” the service “the preaching service.” I myself have always been attracted to meetings like this, especially where there is excellent Bible teaching. You know, you go in with an empty notebook and come out with a full one. You know, the kind of church where the pastor says “Now the fifth thing I want you to know about this Greek verb is ….” Yep. Suits me to a T.

2) The theater. This is the church people attend because of the drama of the service, the great music, as well as a good sermon. And have you noticed — even the architecture in our churches encourages this view of the church? As in a secular concert hall or theater, you have programs and ushers, cushy chairs (instead of hard pews), and you expect to be royally entertained for about hour. Participation on your part? It doesn’t exit, except perhaps to applaud.

3) The corporation. This is the highly-programmed church. For every need there is a provision. When our children are growing up, this is the kind of church we often are attracted to. We gotta make sure there is a good children’s ministry and a good youth group and lots of exciting events to attend.

4) The social club. The focus here is not so much on the word or on entertainment or on programs but on social works. Food drives. Car washes. Community service.

Savage then goes on to discuss the church as the New Testament seems to depict it: as a community of obedient followers of the Lord Jesus. The emphasis is on sacrificial living rather than on knowing the truth about the Gospel. The note of genuine community is primary. Hierarchical titles that tend to create distinctions among the brethren are discouraged (the elders are known by their first names). Have we ever seen churches like this? Yes, indeed. They were called the Anabaptists. Here’s what they stood for:

  • serving instead of ruling

  • breaking down walls instead of isolationism

  • biblical authority instead of ecclesiastical tradition

  • brotherhood instead of hierarchy

  • the towel instead of the sword

  • the headship of Christ instead of that of any pastor

  • the way of peace instead of “just war”

  • the church as a living organism instead of as a human institution

  • the reign of God instead of a political kingdom

  • the catholicity of the true church instead of sectarianism

  • the power of suffering instead of the cult of power

  • the Bible as a book of the church instead of as a book of scholars

  • loyalty to their heavenly citizenship instead of loyalty to the principalities and powers

  • Spirit-orientation instead of forced structures of church life

  • being a “light to the nations” instead of a Christian enclave

  • suffering instead of inflicting suffering

  • knowing Christ instead of merely knowing about Him

  • faith that works (in both senses) instead of dead orthodoxy

  • effectual grace as a living reality instead of as a theological dogma,

  • every-member ministry instead of clergyism

  • baptism into Christ instead of baptism into a denomination

  • a unity that is lived instead of a unity that is merely extolled

  • welcoming the despised and marginalized instead of ignoring them

  • a hermeneutic of obedience instead of a hermeneutic of knowledge

  • individual conscience instead of theological conformity

  • volunteerism instead of professionalism

  • and allegiance to Christ instead of allegiance to the state

Significantly, in this kind of a community, Christ’s followers are all seen as brothers and sisters, each with a vitally important contribution to make to the whole. Church is now characterized by direct relationships, by reciprocity, by obedience to the Gospel, by deep fellowship, by mutual assistance, by participation by all of its members. The church no longer exists for itself but for others. Its kingdom call is reconciliation of people to Christ through the Gospel. Church growth for growth’s sake is now seen as a form of missional mutilation. There is a reawaked awareness of the value of spiritual gifts. It is a community created and animated by the Spirit. It is, moreover, a missionary community. The gathering exists only for the going. There is a keen sense of responsibility for evangelization and church planting in other nations. Mercy ministries also have their place.

Folks, we live in a techno-age, that’s for sure. Even yours truly just got an iPhone! In this kind of a society, the church can easily morph into nothing more than a smoothly-running machine with a veneer of power. Of course, there is a biblical alternative. I think the Anabaptists nailed it. For them, church was a radically biblical, caring community of believers totally sold out to Jesus and His reign.

Wow.

What a church.

What a community.

 

Cessationist or Continualist?

8:32 AM Are you a cessasionist or a continualist? I want to go on record and affirm that I am a passionate continualist.

  • I believe we ought to continue the pattern of simple, radical, life-style evangelism begun in the book of Acts. After all, it worked for the early church.
  • I believe we ought to continue bearing a humble, faithful, and consistent testimony to Christ, as the early believers did. Let moderns appeal to the sensational and spectacular; even the early church knew of signs and wonders. But the greatest work of the church has not been the spectacular but rather the faithful day-in and day-out living of normal everyday Christians.
  • I believe we ought to continue the pattern of church discipline as practiced by the early church and call out “play Christians” that only go through the motions thinking they are Christians but unaware they are only pretending. When the secular press begins to mock our inflated membership statistics, isn’t it time we did something about it?
  • I believe we ought to get out of our cozy churches and put Christ on display in the world’s darkness where we are needed. For the early Christians, the field was the world, and the corn of wheat had to die if it was to please God and bear fruit. Why, then, do we sit around debating theological puzzles when we ought to plant our lives in the ugly soil of the world?
  • I believe we ought to continue the emphasis of the New Testament upon every-member ministry, since we are all priests – every one of us – of the Most High God. No church in the New Testament had a single pastor who did all the work. If you have such a leader in your church, fire him – and then hire him back immediately as your CEO, “Chief Equipping Officer” (Eph. 4:12).  
  • I believe we ought to continue the early church’s rejection of blind patriotism. The only Christian nation the Bible knows is the blood-bought, born-again purchased people of God.
  • I believe we ought to follow the example of the apostle Paul and eschew the excellence of human oratory and any appeal to human wisdom. Nothing about the Gospel pleases this world – nothing! – and we are never so foolish as when we try to dress it up in the garish garments of this age.
  • I believe we ought to continue the example of the early church and reject position and power as the measuring sticks of success. Why should we seek prominent seats in the kingdom when our Lord promised us not seats but suffering? Obedience cost John the Baptist his head and Jonathan Edwards his pulpit. What has it cost us?

So … are you a cessasionist or a continualist?

(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)