The Disciple-Making Church: Teaching Disciples to Obey All Christ Has Said About the Church


htIn 2001 I took a summer job at the Harris Teeter in Virginia Beach. While on “project” with Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru), I sought a place to work and witness for three months. Harris Teeter fit the bill, and hiring me they knew I’d return to Michigan in August.

That being known, Harris Teeter invested 20 man-hours to train me, like they did every new employee. On top of the on the job training I received working in the deli, they sent myself and another project member to “night school.” Over the course of two weeks, they paid us for our studies in a corporate classroom.

If you’re not familiar with Harris Teeter, they are a grocery store that prides itself on customer service. It identifies itself as a “North Carolina based grocery committed to world class customer service.” Ask a manager and they will tell you they’re here to serve. Join their rewards program and you will become a “Very Important Customers.” Apply for a summer job—like I did—and they’ll train you for 20 hours.

I still remember some of the principles of customer service: “If a customer asks you for help finding a product, don’t point. Don’t explain the path to the product. Walk them to the aisle.” Harris Teeter was and is committed to giving customers the highest shopping experience. And all this for bread and meat that will go bad next week. Continue reading

More Than a Feeling: What Does Love Really Look Like?

buildMaybe you’ve heard or maybe you’ve said statements like this about your church: “I felt so loved in that church,” or “This church feels so loving.” I hope people say that about your church and mine, but I wonder: What does love “feel” like in the church, really? Is it just that, a feeling, or is it something more concrete? Or maybe it is something of both? Can we see love, or should we close our eyes and put out our antennae to pick up the vibe? I jest a little, but it’s an important question, because it will shape our aims in church. What does a loving church look like?

Thankfully, the Apostle Paul doesn’t leave us wondering. Love looks like a construction zone, or at least it looks like people denying themselves to build up others and using their gifts to help “construct,” or edify, others in the church. On this point Richard Hays observes a predominant theme in Paul’s letters. The temple-conscience loves to use the verb oikodomein (‘to build up’) and the noun oikodomē  (‘upbuilding, edification’) “to refer to loving actions that benefit the whole community” (Richard Hays, First Corinthians175).

Consider a sampling of verses which show this. Continue reading

Liturgical Lathes: Exposing Modern Temples with Their Faux-Gospels

latheI suggest that, on one level, Victoria’s Secret is right just where the church has been wrong. More specifically, I think we should first recognize and admit that the marketing industry—which promises an erotically charge transcendence through media that connects to our heart and imagination—is operating with a better, more creational, more incarnational, more holistic anthropology then much of the (evangelical) church. In other words, I think we must admit that the marketing industry is able to capture, form, and direct our desires precisely because it has rightly discerned that we are embodied, desiring creatures whose being-in-the-world is governed by the imagination. Marketers have figured out the way to our heart because they ‘get it’: they rightly understand that, at root, we our erotic creatures—creatures who are oriented primarily by love and passion and desire. In sum, I think Victoria is in on Augustine’s secret.
– James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 76 –

What is Augustine’s secret?

In my first post on this subject, I traced James K. A. Smith’s argument that we are more than just thinking beings. We are loving beings, people of deep desires, who are powerfully shaped by our habits and practices (hence homo liturgicus). As Augustine put it, there exists within humanity, two kinds of cities—the City of God and the City of Man. And each city is driven by a particular kind of love; one ordered by the kingdom of God, the other by the kingdom of this age. This is (part of) Augustine’s secret, one that he discovered himself as he came out of a lifestyle of deep sexual sin.

In truth, made in the image of a God who exults over his people with loud singing (Zechariah 3:17) and burns with fire in his righteous jealousy (Exodus 20:5; Hebrews 12:29), we are a people of great passion. Passions are what drive us, and our bodies (with their faculties of thinking or acting) serve as instrument to express and carry out these passions. Accordingly, it is impossible cultivate virtue or eradicate vice with mental effort alone. We must “learn to control our bodies” (1 Thessalonians 4:4) and use our bodies as instruments which bring God glory (1 Corinthians 6:18–19).

But how? Continue reading

Israel and the Church: Continuity, Discontinuity, or Something of the Two?

haysIn his influential study on intertextuality, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of PaulRichard Hays argues the apostle Paul’s hermeneutic is “functionally ecclesiocentric rather than christocentric” (xiii). In a series of essays, he shows how the apostle applies Old Testament texts to the New Testament church, and in so doing he questions the commonly held assumption that Paul wrote with a Christocentric approach to the Old Testament.

In comparison to the Gospels, especially Matthew and John, Hays shows that Paul is much more reticent to cite messianic prooftexts. Rather, writing to local churches who are comprised of the eschatological people of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11), he applies the Old Testament scriptures semi-directly to the church. I say semi-directly, because the old covenant scriptures only apply through the mediation of Jesus Christ, a point Hays goes on to affirm: “christology is the foundation on which [Paul’s] ecclesiocentric counterreadings are constructed” (120).

For Hays, his aim is to observe the hermeneutical principles at work in Paul’s letters. My question is more systematic. What does Paul’s method of interpretation say to us about the relationship between Israel and the Church? Debates rage between Dispensationalists who make a clear division between Israel and the Church and Covenant Theologians who have ostensibly replaced Israel with the Church. Thankfully, these hard divisions have been revised in recent years—Progressive Dispensationalists see more continuity between Israel and the Church (even as they retain a unique place for Israel), and Covenant Theologians like Richard Gaffin and Anthony Hoekema have centered Old Testament promises in Jesus Christ and his new covenant people. Still, the debate continues: how should we relate the testaments? Continue reading

Beholding Christ at the Lord’s Table: Penal Substitution (Old Testament)

altarAnd can it be, that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain? For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me!
Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me!
— Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain”

Substitution stands at the heart of cross—the innocent dying in place of the guilty, the righteous for the unrighteous, the sinless for the sinful. English hymnody is filled with this truth, because the Bible repeats the emphasis—Jesus Christ, sinless son of God, laid down his life in the place of his beloved. But hymnody is not the only place in Christian worship where Christ’s substitution is proclaimed; when we come to the Lord’s Table we also remember his death in our place.

In recent years, there has been no little debate about this truth. More than a few books have been penned arguing against penal substitution. Negatively, some have said penal substitution posits an angry, blood-thirsty God. Others, more constructively, argue that Christ came to defeat the powers and principalities (Christus Victor) and give a moral example of love in his death. To the latter, we can whole-heartedly affirm—Jesus did come to defeat the devil (1 John 3:8) and provide an example of holy love (1 Peter 2:21). But he did so by nailing his people’s sin to the cross, disarming the devil (Colossians 2:13–15) and providing an atonement for those who would imitate him (read the context of 1 Peter 2:21, esp. v. 24).

Therefore, to pit penal substitution against any other aspect of the cross obscures the necessity and beauty of Christ’s death in our place. In fact, it is by remembering Christ’s substitution that we rightly understand God’s love (1 John 4:8–10), and how a holy, triune God reconciles sinners to himself. Therefore, when we approach the Lord’s Table, we must remember see how the meal portrays his substitution.

Today, let us consider three Old Testament passages which teach penal substitution and which prepare our hearts to worship the Son of God who gladly took our sin on his shoulders and died in our place. Continue reading

Discipling Every Nation (Matthew 28:18–20): Sermon Notes by Ben Purves

sowingThis morning Ben Purves, our pastor for student ministers, preached a thorough message on the Great Commission. He began by showing the biblical-theological links from Psalm 2 and 2 Chronicles 36 to Matthew 28, then moved to explain how the grammar of the passaged emphasizes the command to ‘disciple’ the nations, and finished with a practical exhortation for how we can enlarge our hearts for the work of making disciples near and far.

Below you can find discussion questions to his sermon and further resources on the subject of discipleship. You can also sign up for our upcoming EQUIP Conference (September 23–25), where we will consider how marriage and evangelism work together to bolster discipleship in the church. Continue reading

The Lord’s Supper and a Biblical Theology of Feasting

mealJust as the food we eat expresses and establishes the relationships we have, so too meals in the Bible establish and express kinship relationships. Even more, a meal is often a central part of entering into a covenant. And once that covenant is established, a shared meal is one of the greatest ways our identity is formed and reinforced. Let’s follow these two strands through Scripture to see how they shine light on the Lord’s Supper.

Covenant-Making Meals

In Genesis 26:26–33, Isaac and Abimelech “cut a covenant” (v. 28); this covenant is followed by a meal: “So he made a feast, and they ate and drank” (v. 30). Likewise, when Jacob and Laban “cut a covenant” to repair the breach of trust between them (Genesis 31:43–54), a sacrifice and a meal ratified the agreement: “Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread” (v. 54). This pattern of sacrifice and feasting accompanied most covenants in the Old Testament. And we certainly see the Lord feeding his people and feasting with them throughout the Old Testament. Continue reading

Resting in a Received Ministry

batonYears before receiving a call to serve as pastor, I received one of the most helpful lessons on ministry from Eddie Rasnake and the pastoral staff of Woodland Park Baptist Church.

In 2002 I moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee to go through the SALT Institute. SALT stands for Servant Approach Leadership Training. And this two-year cohort program—which continues to serve the people of WPBC—equipped (aspiring) church leaders with sound principles for Bible study, disciple-making, and ministry. Nearly fifteen years later, the things I learned in SALT continue to shape my approach to ministry. That said, one of them, stands above the rest—ministry is received, not achieved.

What is an Achieved Ministry?

Have you ever met someone whose singular aim is to convince you they are called to ministry? Maybe they give away scores of Vista Print business cards inviting you to invite them to your church; maybe they email you regularly to convince you why they should speak or sing or play at your next youth event; or maybe they give as much attention to networking as to prayer and the study of God’s Word. All of these are symptoms of an achieved ministry.

To be sure, Christians ought to be zealous in using their gifts (Romans 12:8, 11). We ought, as William Carey once said, “Expect great things from God,” and “attempt great things for God.” But while God honors such passion, we must admit there are plenty of zealous people not named Carey. In other words, not every zealous minister is equally pleasing to God. Too many are driven by impure motives. And here, I’m not just talking about others. I know my own heart and the conniving ways I seek to assert myself.

So what is the solution? My answer, the answer I received from the SALT Institute, is to crucify self-achieved ministries and pursue, with a patient heart, a received ministry. Continue reading

Gospel-Motivated Giving

givingThe Lord said to Moses,  “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me.
— Exodus 25:1–2 —

But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.
— 1 Chronicles 29:14 —

Old Covenant Giving: A Legal Requirement in the Land

From the opening pages of Scripture God has called his saints to give. Providing the first sacrifice when he made skins to clothe Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21), God modeled for his children the kind of animal sacrifice that would please him. Abel followed in faith (Genesis 4:4; Hebrews 11:4), as did Noah (Genesis 8:20–22), Abraham (22:16–18), Moses (24:4–5; 40:29), and the priests of Levi (when they kept the Law). Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people were called to give.

Echoed in every other world religion, giving is a necessary part of worship. In Israel, tithes, offerings, and sacrifices—atoning and festive—were a normal part of worship. Likewise, the Old Testament testifies that every demon-inspired deity demanded gifts and every culture offered sacrifices—sometimes even giving up their children to the flames of Molech (Leviticus 18:21; Jeremiah 32:35). In short, from a cursory reading of Scripture or a survey of the world, mankind is people who worship, and giving is a necessary part of that worship. Still, in that worship there are right and wrong ways to worship, which means there are right ways and wrong ways to give.

Continue reading

How the Lord’s Supper Retrains Our Appetites

fooWhere should we eat? What should we eat? Where’s the best place to eat?

Whether we take time to think about it or not, questions about food come up every day. Wherever you live, food plays a large part in who we are. Restaurants are often associated with various countries, ethnicities, or even religious practices. Shall we eat at the Mexican grocery or the Kosher deli? Is this food on my diet? Where did it come from?

How we eat—or refuse to eat—says a lot about us. In a sense, we are all foodies—even if you prefer McDonald’s over the farmer’s market. Or to turn it around, dietary practices and table fellowship shape who we are. Studies have shown that children thrive on family dinners, while rigid commitment to veganism may result in deeper relationships with other herbivores and increased disgust with carnivores.

In these ways, food choices are ethical decisions. Eating is an undeniably moral activity. Therefore, as we sit down to “eat” the Lord’s Supper, we should ask: How does Scripture speak about food?
Continue reading