Love Disciplines: Addressing Five Objections to Church Discipline

sheepLast year the elders of our church preached through a series on the church. The penultimate message in that series turned to the important but often misunderstood topic of church discipline. Expounding Matthew 18, our elder-turned-fulltime-seminary-student, Jamie McBride, articulated a vision of church discipline that is compassionate, convictional, church-building, and Christ-centered.

This Sunday we return to the topic of church discipline, as we summarize and apply 1 Corinthians 5–7. For the last eight weeks, we have walked through Paul’s instructions on church discipline (ch. 5), legal proceedings and sexual purity (ch. 6), and singleness, marriage, divorce, and remarriage (ch. 7). Now we will consider how these teachings are meant to shape life together in the church.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, let’s consider five faulty objections that come against church discipline. Jamie answered these objections in his sermon. And I will answer them here, drawing on many of his biblical insights.

Five Objections to Church Discipline

1. “It’s none of my business.”

In our hyper-individualistic culture, we are accustomed to passing by the plights of others. In the church, however, we cannot simply ignore the needs of others. We are not a restaurant that gives out biblical teaching and communion wafers. We are a family, a household of God, brothers and sisters committed to Christ and one another. We are not like Cain who mocked, “Am I my brothers keeper?” We are our brothers keeper.  Continue reading

Three Reasons Why The Church Needs Singles

water
First Corinthians 7 is a difficult passage for many reasons, but one of those reasons has to do with how poorly the evangelical marriage machine (i.e., Christian romance novels, endless marriage conferences, Christian Mingle, etc.) has loved singles and thought about the subject of singleness. While the EMM projects marriage as the blissful goal of every Christian adult, singleness is often perceived as something to avoid. Yes, Paul calls it good, but . . .

Genesis 2:18 is the tell-tale verse: “It is not good for a man to be alone.” Period. End of story. From this verse, and the cultural statistics about men and women waiting for decades before married, the goodness of singleness is missed.

Then we read 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul makes odd statements about how the married should live as though they are not married (v. 29) and that those who marry do well, but those who do not marry do better (v. 38). To understand Paul’s point, we have to fight back images of monks punishing themselves for impure thoughts and stories of celibate priests abusing young boys. “Surely,” we say to our selves, “the inspired apostle is correct in what he says, but things have changed.” “Yes, there is a gift of singleness that God gives to some people, but that’s not me and should be avoided at all cost.”

Long story short, I think we still have a negative view towards singleness. To the married, there maybe suspicion of those who are not married. And to the single, there may be sorrow, anger, or frustration that Mr. Right has not yet arrived. In fact, this sadly is the promise most True Love Waits-type ministries offer—“If you save your virginity, you will be rewarded with a godly (gorgeous) spouse”. But is that so? Continue reading

God at Work: Learning About the Doctrine of Vocation from Gene Veith (and Martin Luther)

work“Vocation” is a word that comes from the Latin word for “calling” (vocare). In modern vernacular it often is an unimpressive synonym for work, i.e.,  vocational training. However, in Scripture, the word is filled with significance, even dignity. God calls us to himself, out of darkness and death, into the life and love of his beloved Son. Therefore, Christians must understand “vocation” not as a mundane description of work, but rather a dignified “calling” to serve God and the creatures who bear his image. Truly, to ignore or minimize this vocation is to miss a significant facet of the Christian life.

When the Reformers like Martin Luther threw off the shackles of Rome, they restored the doctrine of justification by faith alone. However, contesting the clergy-laity divide, they also esteemed the priesthood of all believers and the doctrine of vocation. In fact, in church history any study of vocation must consider his writings, for he wrote so much and so well about this doctrine.

workTaking this into consideration, Gene Veith an evangelical Lutheran has captured much of Luther’s doctrine, make that the biblical doctrine, in his excellent book God at Work: Your Vocation in All of Life. Introducing his topic, he writes, “When God blesses us, He almost always does it through other people” (14). This, in a sentence, is the doctrine of vocation. Or more exactly, this is the fruit of the gift of vocation.

In what follows I’ve traced the themes of his book and encapsulated a number of his best quotes. I hope it piques your interest in this topic, even as it paints a picture of why vocation is so important for the Christian.  Continue reading

Discipleship in the Local Church: What Has Preaching to Do With Discipleship?

discipleshipDiscipleship programs.

Discipleship pastors.

Discipleship pressure.

Following Jesus means obeying the Great Commission, with its command to make disciples of all the nations. But what does that mean? And how do we do it?

In a few other posts I’ve answered what it means to be a disciple and who makes disciples. But today, I want to begin to address the question: How do we disciple?

A Brief Introduction

Many helpful books have been written on discipleship. My (old) favorite is Robert Coleman’s Master Plan of Evangelismmy (new) favorite might be Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus by Mark Dever. Both are simple reads. The former tracing Jesus’ pattern of discipleship; the latter giving practical instructions on “helping others follow Jesus,” which is Dever’s simple definition of discipling. If you have never read a book on discipleship, I’d recommend you pick up one of these two—then read the other.

In the meantime, let’s try to put a few how-to’s in place, with or without any prerequisite reading. Without limiting or listing the number of ways discipleship can be carried out, here are three ways we might conceive of discipleship. Continue reading

On Religious Liberty and the Freedom to Worship

declaration

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
— Jeremiah 29:7 —

Today marks the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence—a day that marks the birth of our nation and reminds us of the wonderful liberties we have in America. In celebration our family read that founding declaration this morning and praised God for placing us in this country.

At the same time, though, my praise is mixed with pain and petition.

America is not what it was when it was founded. In many wonderful ways the liberties that were not afforded to all men have been extended. But in other less admirable ways, the liberties constituent in the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights have devolved into a libertine version of hyper-individualism. (On this point listen Albert Mohler’s recent discussion with Yuval Levin). Whereas rights were once understood to be endowed by our creator, rights have become things which men can create or castrate as they—or the Supreme Court–wish.

One of the greatest differences the founders vision of liberty and today’s is found in the increasing distinction between the “freedom of worship” and the “freedom of religion.” The former is the freedom of personal belief and private religious assembly; the latter is the constitutional right—the very first right—which says in the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; . . .”

In our day, the change in language to “freedom of worship” is altering the understanding of this first amendment right, and with societal pressure Christians are being forced to mute their beliefs—especially with regards to marriage, sex, and lifestyle choices (a clever euphemism in and of itself). For that reason, on this day of liberty I am both grateful and grieved.

But perhaps, as a pastor, I am most concerned about the way some Christians and Christian leaders celebrate the Fourth of July without voicing any concern for these changes. Can we watch fireworks, grill hotdogs, and eat apple pie, assuming all is well? I think not. As Os Guiness (A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and America’ Future) and Eric Metaxas (If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of America’s Liberty) have observed, America’s liberty is under threat from within. And therefore, this holiday leads me in two directions regarding religious liberty and the freedom to worship. Continue reading

How the Lord’s Table Defines Its Dinner Party

 

whoA number of years ago, as I ate dinner with friends at an outdoor café, I was wrongly identified as a famous race car driver. It was more than a little awkward, as the mistaken gentleman belted out: “Dale!! Dale Earnhardt, Jr.?!? Is that you? Awww . . . I love you, man!”

With sorrow and embarrassment, I had to say: “Sorry, you’ve got the wrong guy.” He quickly recognized his mistake and passed on, as we continued to laugh about the boisterous error.

Misidentification is common in our world. Who has never misidentified a friend in a crowd? Or drunk from the wrong glass? Or put the wrong beverage in the glass? In our fallen world harmless mistakes like this abound. But so do more serious ones.

Sin is a Case of Gross Misidentification

In 1 Corinthians Paul constantly reminds the church who they are. In chapter 3, he tells them “You are God’s field, God’s building . . . God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (vv. 9, 17). Likewise, in chapter 6 he says of them individually, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v. 11). In the context of deciding who will inherit the kingdom of God, he says that those who persist in their sin—i.e., who define themselves by their greed, drunkenness, or immorality—will not enter the kingdom. But you, beloved children, Paul says, are new creations in Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17). Continue reading

George Eldon Ladd on “The Kingdom and the Church”

alreadyIs the kingdom present or future? Is it now or not yet? Could it in any way be both? If so, how?

In evangelical circles this question has been answered for the last half-century with a view called “inaugurated eschatology.” This view affirms Christ’s present royal position as seated at God’s right hand, even as he rules the church by way of his Spirit (Matthew 28:20; John 16:7; Ephesians 1:21–23).  At the same time, his kingdom has not been yet consummated, and the people who have believed the good news of the kingdom await the day when he will return to establish his rule on the earth.

Among the many names who have advocated this position, few are more important than George Eldon Ladd, the late New Testament professor from Fuller Seminary. During the middle decades of the twentieth century, his books on the kingdom of God engaged Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology alike. And in each, he provided a rich biblical exposition on the subject.

Ladd maintained that the kingdom of God is found in Christ’s reign more than the location of his rule (i.e., his realm).[1] He understood the kingdom as a future reality, but one that had broken into the present. Against a view of the kingdom of God as spiritualized in the individual—a view based on a poor translation of Luke 17:21 (“the kingdom of God is within you,” KJV; rather than “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” ESV)—Ladd centered the presence of Christ’s kingdom in the church, without confusing the church with the kingdom. In this way, Ladd opposed both replacement theology and classical Dispensationalism.

Today, his works remain invaluable for students of eschatology. Indeed, those who are unfamiliar with him or inaugurated eschatology are missing the best exegetical research on the kingdom of God for the last two generations. While certainly fallible—as his biography shows—his studies have been a major catalyst in evangelical theology.

In what follows is a summary of five points from a chapter entitled “The Kingdom and the Church” in his A Theology of the New Testament.[2]  Continue reading

Household ‘Stewards’: A Rich Metaphor for Pastors and Churches

shepherdThis is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Moreover, it is required of stewards
that they be found faithful.
– 1 Corinthians 4:1–2 –

In creation, there is nothing more valuable than human life. And this is doubly true for those who have been purchased with the infinite blood of Christ (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Peter 1:18–19). God sent his Son to Calvary to redeem a people for his own possession, and so great is his love for his people that the Good Shepherd has raised up shepherds who would tend his flock. Sometimes these spiritual leaders are called pastors, or overseers, or elders—synonymous terms for the same office. At the same time, while each of these labels stress different aspects of local church ministry, there is another title that needs consideration—steward.

In Paul’s letters especially, “steward” (oikonomos) describes the kind of ministry pastors are to have. As Christ gives pastors to his people (Ephesians 4:11), he gives them to particular, groups of people—i.e., local churches. In Acts 2, when the church was “birthed,” new converts were “added to the number” of the church (v. 47; cf. 4:5, 32; etc.). Later Paul could speak of a “majority” in the church (2 Cor 2:6) or the “whole church” gathering, indicating an awareness of the number of the people. The importance of this observation is that God has not simply given pastors to be spiritual mentors or life coaches to Christians in general. He has called them to manage local gatherings of God’s household.

For good reason, most pastoral literature focuses attention on the multivalent duties of the pastor/overseer/elder. However, focus on these three labels without consideration of the fourth gives us an incomplete picture. There needs to be equal emphasis given to the idea of the pastor as God’s steward. In fact, such a notion focuses the high calling of a pastor within the parameters of a local church and clarifies the importance for Christians to be members of a local church. Without disregarding the vital importance of the universal church, the pastor as steward corrects amorphous understandings of spiritual leadership and church life.

What is a Steward?

In the New Testament, oikonomos and oikonomia are two words related to the oversight of a house. Continue reading

Not Hardening Our Hearts Against the Hard-Hearted: A Pastoral Meditation on Hebrews 3:12–14

heart12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
— Hebrews 3:12–14 —

Until the day when Christ returns, churches will be faced with the mystery of iniquity. And more, we will be faced with the challenge of responding to erring church members with grace and truth.

Hebrews 3:12–14 gives us a number of things to consider when a Christian acts upon their hardness of heart. What follows is a five-fold meditation on how to address the hard-hearted without hardening our own hearts.

1. We must read Hebrews as speaking to Christians.

The threat of Christians being led astray by sin, the devil, and the world is very real. Verse 12 crushes any notion that salvation makes Christians impervious to sin. The author addresses “brothers,” meaning his words are for Christians, not some other spiritually-mixed community.

Accordingly, we learn the new birth doesn’t—in this age—make us sin-free, even as it frees us to fight sin. Even so, there are times when sin deceives us, ensnares us, and we need the help of the church to free us. Conversely, the church needs to patiently endure the words and actions of its members. It must preach the gospel to them and bear with them as God’s truth brings change. Continue reading

How the Doctrine of the Trinity Cultivates Church Unity (1 Corinthians 1–2)

 

paulHere is a long-form piece that came from our recent sermon series on 1 Corinthians. While many commentaries do not recognize the trinitarian nature of 1 Corinthians 1–2, Paul highlights doctrines related to each member of the trinity in order foster unity in the church at Corinth. May the Lord grant doctrinal unity to his church, as its members tether themselves to his triune gospel of grace.

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What do you do when a church begins to fight? What do you say when members of the church begin to take sides and misrepresent the other? Where do you turn? What truth(s) do you recall? How do you bring peace to a divided church?

Sadly, many faithful followers of Christ find themselves in churches divided by various doctrines and competing practices. In one church I served controversy broke out concerning the doctrines of election, regeneration and faith, and the extent of the atonement. Or at least, those “doctrines of grace” appeared to be the problem. From my vantage point, those problems were merely used to protect a deeper, darker problem—the baleful commitment for various groups in the church to maintain control over what their church.

Commitment to self-interest in the church is all too common. It appears in modern churches who fracture over various worship styles, and it appears in ancient churches who sought to identify themselves with certain charismatic leaders. It appears on the pages of church history and it is found in Scripture itself, especially in the book of 1 Corinthians. Continue reading