Friday, August 30, 2013

Character-Based Leadership

In recent posts I have been talking about the church: what it is, how it is to function, and what church leadership is to be like (last week). In order to continue this discussion I am including in this week's post an article I wrote in September of 2008 for our elders. I am including this article since it gives a good picture of what kind of leadership the New Testament says the church must have and it also shows that the same vision for pastors/elders I have now is the one I came to Minden with in July of 2008.


I have now had the privilege of serving as a pastor for over two decades.  In that time there are some trends among pastors/elders which I have picked up on and which I believe our congregation has avoided.  I pray that this avoidance will continue.  Let me explain.

First, among pastors/elders who have been through formal training and serve on the staff of a church, there can be a tendency (if they are not careful) to think that the degree, the spiritual gifts, the calling, and the association credential are enough.  These realities can give room for a man to be somewhat careless in his character.  Aside from the major moral failures which have been in the news (which are not indicative of most pastors I have met), the areas where it is easy to be careless are, for example, things like complaining and anger.  Countless times I have heard pastors complain about their congregations, the hard things which are happening, and what people are “doing to me”.  Also, countless times, I have seen pastors easily and quickly slip into sinful anger and justify it. (Let me be honest and say that I have been guilty of both of these sins!)  Now, I am not saying that there is never an element of truth in what is said.  What I am saying is that in these situations there is usually a lack of faith in God and the fact that God is sovereign and orchestrating all things together for our good.  What is more, we pastors must remember that whatever skills or training we may have do not “make up for” our negligence in matters of character.

Next, among pastor/elders who serve on boards—elected by churches—I have noticed a tendency to settle for men who are merely breathing and who can be talked into serving on a board.  Yet, these men have no idea what an elder is to be or do, nor do they have any idea of the qualifications of an elder.  In these situations there is a tendency to justify the lack of meeting qualifications.  After all, “We must fill this slot!”

With both the vocational pastor/elder tendency, as well as the board pastor/elder tendency, there is a similar problem:  a lack of considering the qualifications for elders as mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (and Titus 1:6-9).  Notice the qualifications which Paul mentions to Timothy:  above reproach, a one-woman man, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but instead gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, managing well his own household, not a recent convert, and well-thought-of by outsiders.  Notice that out of this list there are only two qualifications which address skills (which might be learned in formal education such as seminary or through a man’s on-the-job-training):  able to teach and one who can manage his house (and the church) well.  The rest of the qualifications have to do with character.

Since pastor/elders are called to shepherd the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2) and since we will some day stand before God and give an account of our ministry over the flock (Heb. 13:17), it is very important that we choose men to be elders who meet these qualifications and who understand the importance and nature of the task.  Bottom-line, Christian leadership is very much character-based, not merely skill-based.  Such character takes time to develop and time for current elders to discern in other aspiring elders.

Men, I am so thankful that we have solid men as pastor/elders in this church who have strong character.  I am also thankful that I am following a pastor-teacher who, for 14 years, modeled such strong character-based leadership.  Let’s keep in mind these qualifications as we pray about, look for, and train aspiring elders for future ministry in our church.  Nothing will bless or help our congregation flourish more than a high bar for character-based eldership.

Finally, as you and I pray about our own elder ministry, let’s ask God to help us run with endurance the character-based race that is set before us of leading and shepherding this wonderful church!

Joyfully pastoring and overseeing the flock with you,


Saturday, August 24, 2013

How Many Pastors?

If someone asked us, “How many ministers does your church have?” many of us would probably say something like, “All of us are ministers” and would draw attention to Ephesians 4:10-16 and 1 Peter 2:4-10 to prove our point.  However, if someone asked us, “How many pastors does your church have?” many of us would short-change that answer by saying something like this, “We have one senior pastor and one youth pastor.”  Yet, according to the New Testament our answer to this second question should be, “We have eight pastors.  We have a senior pastor, a youth pastor, and six other men who serve on our pastor board.”  “Pastor board?” you ask.  “Tom, have you lost your mind?  It is actually an elder board.”  Before we jump to conclusions too quickly, let me explain what I mean.

The New Testament uses the terms “pastor,” “elder,” and “overseer” (also translated as “bishop”) to refer to the same office, in other words, the same kind of leader.  In 1 Peter 5:1 Peter writes that he is exhorting “the elders (Greek: presbyteros) among you, as a fellow elder (Greek: presbyteros)…shepherd (Greek: poimaneo: the verb form of poimenos, which is “pastor”) the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight (verb form of episkopos which is overseer [some translate bishop])….”  Here, we have all three terms used together.  Of course, since the last two terms are used as verbs, some can argue that we are not talking here of actual pastors or overseers, but the reality that elders do the same kinds of things as pastors and overseers.  Yet, this does not hold water when we understand that in v. 4 of that same chapter Peter refers to Jesus Christ as the Chief Shepherd (from poimenos [pastor]).  If there is a chief shepherd/pastor, then there must also be pastors underneath Him.  This means that Peter saw these elders as pastors.  Following the same logic he also saw them as overseers.

Additionally, in Acts 20:17 (presbyteros [elder]) and 28 (episkopos [overseer]), as well as Titus 1:5 (presbyteros [elder]) and 7 (episkopos [overseer]) we see that an elder and overseer are the same office or kind of leader. 

The only other place where poimenos (pastor) is used is Eph. 4:11 where it is used in conjunction with teacher such that the best translation is most likely “pastor-teachers.”  These pastor-teachers are given to the church to equip the saints for works of ministry, the very same kind of ministry ascribed to elders (cf. 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:9) and overseers (1 Tim. 3:2). 

So, the bottom-line is that when the New Testament speaks of pastors, elders, or overseers, it is speaking of the same kind of leader—not three absolutely different offices or some kind of hierarchy of positions (e.g. Bishop, Pastor, Elder).  Since the New Testament never defines or introduces eldership, but seems to assume that readers would understand what is meant by it, there is something to be said for the thought that the early Church may have operated very similarly to the synagogues which predated and were contemporary with it—and had elders.  In many of the Church’s practices there was borrowing from synagogues.  Most likely, then, followers of Christ would have often had one or two pastors (or elders) give leadership to the others.  These 1 or 2 pastors would have been “first among equals”.  The elders/pastors would have seen themselves as equal shepherds of God’s flock—yet with one or two perhaps giving oversight to the others.  It may even be that the pastor-teacher of Eph. 4:11 would have given oversight to other pastors/elders.

One final point we should make about elders/pastors in the New Testament is that there were more than one in each local church (cf. Acts 20:17; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:5).  There is something healthy about having a plurality of shepherds or elders in a congregation.

Based on the above biblical teaching, what we have sought to do here in the Minden Evangelical Free Church with the ministry of pastor/elder is to diminish the distinction between staff elders/pastors and non-staff elders/pastors—not by decreasing the qualifications for those who are on staff. Instead, we have sought to do it by increasing the qualifications for non-staff pastors/elders—to be in line with the Bible. The advantages of this are clear. When you have a team of biblically-sound, qualified, and divinely called elders serving as a team, there is less likelihood that one or two elders will monopolize or control the others.

To look at this from another perspective, accountability does not come first and foremost by having a minimum number of elders required or even by means of term limits. Instead, accountability comes by making sure elders are called to their ministry (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:1) and by making sure they meet the qualifications of eldership (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-10; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Of course, there must always be an opportunity to remove staff and non-staff elders/pastor in the event they disqualify themselves, but such a process must never be taken lightly (1 Tim. 5:19).

In future posts we will look at more of what the Bible has to say about eldership.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Who's In Charge?

Pastor Mark Dever of Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C, has asked the following in his book, A Display Of God’s Glory:
Does Scripture deal clearly with questions about the…organization of the church? And if so, what exactly does Scripture teach about it? Of course, we Christians believe that Scripture is sufficient for our preaching and discipling, for our spirituality and joy in following Christ, for church growth and our understanding of evangelism. But is Scripture even meant to tell us how we are to organize our lives together as Christians in our churches, or are we left simply to our own investigation of best practices?  Is our church [organization] a matter indifferent? Is it a matter to be determined simply pragmatically, by whatever seems to work best and most effectively to avoid problems?

Many Christians who are otherwise very serious about details of theology and what the Bible teaches have answered these questions posed by Dever something like this: “Well, the New Testament isn’t that specific about how the church is to be organized.” Elsewhere it has been said: “What’s striking, therefore, is how most evangelicals have pushed the question of church structure into the category of nonessential and…of non-importance. The gospel is important, even essential, we say. Church structure is neither. And since questions of church structure only divide Christians…it’s best to leave it out of the conversation altogether.”[1]

Both Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman go on in their respective books to make the same point I want to make in this blog post, namely, the Bible does give us specifics about Church organization and so it is not a matter that is simply left up to our own pragmatism.

Ah, but many of you will quickly reply, “Tom, think about all the different denominations and church structures represented by them” (examples: Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran). “Doesn’t this diversity suggest to us that we simply cannot come to consensus about what the Bible teaches?” My answer may surprise you, but I believe we can (or ought to) come to consensus about the core truths. Obviously, this side of heaven we will probably not all agree on all the specific details and how the core truths are balanced with each other. Nevertheless, I believe there are some points to which we all should hold that will prohibit certain forms of church government.

A particular form of church government that I want to address that should be prohibited is that of pure congregationalism (aka pure democracy). This is important because it hits at the heart of the question, “Who’s in charge in the church?” I want to answer that question with the following seven points. As I do that, I trust you will see that the Church of Jesus Christ (and even its local manifestations—each local congregation) is never to be run merely by the consensus of the masses.[2]

1. Who Is Ultimately In Charge Is Jesus Christ
This should be beyond doubt, for the New Testament teaches that Jesus Christ is “the head of the body, the church” (Col. 1:18 [see also Eph. 1:22]).  Most Christians would affirm this in one way or the other. What is important is that we operate as Christians in the Church in such a way that we exemplify this truth. I believe there are two primary ways this is done.

To begin, we must regard Jesus Christ as Lord and bow our hearts and wills to him in all we are and do (John 14:15; 15:1-16; Rom. 10:9; Phil. 2:10-11). The very essence of what it means to know Jesus Christ as Savior is to be his follower (Mt. 4:19), in other words, to obey him (John 10:27-28; 14:15). Where this leads is that we should care more about how Jesus wants us to think and behave more than we care about the opinions of friends, co-workers, family, neighbors, or even our traditions.

Additionally, we must make sure we do not cloud the reality that Jesus is the ultimate authority by either over-emphasizing the authority of local church leaders, denominational leaders, or that of a congregation.

This leads us to our next point where we consider the practical authority in the church.

2. The Means Through Which Jesus Christ Exercises His Authority Is Through His Word
Jesus made it very clear that the only ultimate binding source of authority for his people is the Word of God (Matthew 15:1-20; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17). Specifically, what this implies is that our goal should be to hear what God says in his Word and to do it (James 1:22-25). When it comes to the purpose of the church, the main ministries of the church, how the church is to operate, how a person comes to Jesus Christ, how a person grows in Jesus Christ, how we deal with conflict, and all other areas, we must submit to the Scriptures.

Again, any way of viewing the church that places my rights, my preferences, my past experiences, my traditions, leaders, congregation, or anything else above the authority of the Scriptures should be rejected.

So, this leads to the third point.

3. Church Structure Should Reflect The Ultimate Authority Of Jesus Christ Through His Word
Whatever the structure of the church is, it must not deny the first two truths. But, we need to keep massaging the biblical teaching on church government out to gain more specific guidance. To do that we continue on with our next point.

4. The Manner In Which This Is Exercised In The Church Is Through Word-Subordinate Faithful Leaders
What is the key manner in which God has provided that the church can be guided by and equipped in the Scriptures for the work of ministry and life?  Paul answers this in Ephesians 4:7-16, where he teaches that God has given empowering grace for the Christian life to each believer, yet this grace will be used well only in proportion to the extent that believers make use of gifts God has given the church. What are these gifts?  They are leaders: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. These leaders are to equip the saints for the work of ministry and also for the God-glorifying unity that should be present among us as we mature in Christ.

In those letters in which Paul instructed two young pastors, it is clarified that one of the chief ways in which leaders (especially pastors/elders) carry out this equipping ministry is to teach the Bible faithfully, to guide the church faithfully to follow the Bible, and to make disciples of Jesus Christ who are faithful to the Bible (1 Tim. 3:2, 15; 4:6-16; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:1-2, 15, 24-26; 3:14-17; 4:1-5; Titus 1:5-10; 2:1-15). When we put this together with the reality that the Bible is the only ultimate binding source of authority (Mt. 15) and that Christ-like leadership is servant leadership (Mt. 20:20-28), we conclude that leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ must first and foremost be willing to subordinate themselves to Jesus Christ by submitting to his Word and being willing to stand on that Word and teach that Word faithfully, no matter the personal cost. Simply-put, Christian leaders love Jesus Christ and love the church they are serving best by faithful adherence to the Scriptures—in lifestyle and teaching (1 Cor. 13:6; 1 Tim. 4:16).

No Christian leader will perfectly model Christ-like Bible-grounded behavior and no leader will infallibly teach the true Scriptures. However, they must be reasonably faithful humble men (1 Peter 5:5-6) who are poor in spirit (Mt. 5:3) and who mourn over their sin and seek to fight their sin, rather than cover it up (Mt. 5:4; Eph. 6:14). One of the helps God has given to leaders in the church that they might be accountable to these standards is a biblical design that calls for multiple elders, a team of equal shepherds who pastor the flock (examples: Acts 20:17, 28; Phil. 1:1; 1 Pet. 5:1). One of the strongest checks against a power-hungry or godless leader is the presence of other godly biblically-informed men who see themselves as a team that is to sharpen and hold each other accountable to their calling.[3]

In the same manner, then, that God gives subordinate authority to individuals in other walks of life (e.g. parents to lead, guide, and teach their children as Word-subordinate individuals, Eph. 6:4; Titus 2:3-4), so God gives subordinate authority to elders/pastors in the church. Their calling is not to lord their leadership or promote themselves, instead it is to call people to submit to Jesus Christ. Ideally, the way this happens is that faithful pastors/elders model and teach God’s Word, so their lives and doctrine can be followed (1 Tim. 4:12, 16; Heb. 13:7). In relation to such leaders, the rest of the church is commanded:  “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls” (Heb. 13:17). If we carefully follow these first four points, our conclusion should be that the only reason leaders should be opposed or confronted is if their life or their teaching do not measure up to Scripture. And, even in these two areas there must be at least two or three witnesses to such an infraction even before a charge is given and received, not much-less believed (1 Tim. 5:19). The reason most likely is because elders/pastors are regularly out in front of people teaching and leading and can be in many situations where a hearer or congregant may be upset by their teaching or in which their actions may be misunderstood. So, safeguards have been put in place.

When we grasp the manner in which the Lord has called us to safeguard the truth and ultimate authority of his Word in a local church (through elders/pastors who are called to lead by leading us to Jesus Christ), we must understand that pure congregationalism that places a congregation over elders in authority is simply not biblical.

But, this does not mean elders have absolute authority and congregants have no say. We must continue.

5. This Authoritative Word Affirms The Priesthood Of Believers, So All Are Ministers And In Some Way The Congregation Should Have Subordinate Input
The very Bible that is our ultimate binding source of authority to communicate the will of our Lord tells us that all believers are ministers, all the church exercises the authority to admit and remove members, and the entire body comprises the priesthood and temple that mediate the presence and mission of God (Mt. 16:19; 18:18-20; 1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 218-19, 22; 4:12; 1 Peter 2:4-10). What is more, we have examples of very important decisions in the New Testament being made by leaders in conjunction with input from the congregation (Acts 15:22-23; 2 Cor. 2:6). Since each believer is baptized with the Spirit into the one body and each believer is empowered by one and the same Spirit (1 Cor. 12:11-13), we should assume that all true believers should be able to contribute to the ministry and direction of the church in some way.

Yet, the church should do all this in such a way that it is subordinate to the Word of God. So, the congregation is not “over” the leaders and the leaders are not “over” the congregation in some hierarchical flow chart. All submit to Christ by submitting to his Word. Since leaders are given to equip and point to Christ by their teaching and example, it is true that there is a call to submit to leaders. Yet, the next point must always be remembered.

6. However This Is Worked Out In Detail, There Will Be A “Dance” Between Leaders And The Congregation
In the same way that a husband providing spiritual leadership in his home is involved in a dance (he knows his wife does many things better than him and also as a servant leader he wants her input and wants to lead her by serving and empowering her), so also elders/pastors are involved in a dance with the congregation. It is for the congregation to focus upon submitting as much as they can and should. It is for leaders to focus on submitting to Christ and his Word and thus serve the congregation in this way as much as they can. Congregants should want to follow, leaders lead by and through Christ, but leaders should also want to listen to the congregation (of course, not to the point of nullifying clear biblical truth).

7. Though Differences Will Continue Between Different Denominations, We Are Not To Conclude The Sky Is The Limit To The Potential Options
Denominations will always disagree over some of the details and also how to tie together in biblical balance these core truths, but it is my conviction these seven points should be agreed upon by all, even if we still have some room for diversity in the minor details of organization.

I trust this discussion will assure us that how we organize the church does matter, there is no room for top-heavy leadership where the congregation becomes mere spectators, there is also no room for pure congregationalism, and there truly is biblical warrant for how our congregation seeks to live as the new society of new people under Jesus Christ. After all, he is in charge!

[1] Jonathan Leeman, The Church And The Surprising Offense Of God’s Love, 17.
[2] You might want to know why I am emphasizing the problems of pure congregationalism (democracy) rather than those of the hierarchical forms of church organization that are “top heavy” and tend to exclude congregational involvement and/or input.  My response is that in the Evangelical Free Church Of America we operate under congregationalism and historically there has been a tendency of some people within the congregational form of church government to advocate pure democracy. This is exacerbated by a view of the United States government to which some hold that it is a democracy and works pretty well, so why not have something similar in the church?  This commitment to pure congregationalism can also be heightened if a person has experienced abusive leadership in the past. Many, therefore think, “Isn’t democracy the way to keep leaders accountable?” So, I want to answer those who tend to think in this way.

[3] The Bible makes it clear that “elder,” “pastor,” and “overseer” all refer to the same office (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Tim. 3:1; Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1-4). The New Testament allows for financial remuneration for elders (see 1 Cor. 9:8-14; 1 Tim. 5:17-18). However, elders can also be non-paid leaders (see the pattern set by Paul, 1 Cor. 9:15). As such, the difference between the spiritual leaders in the congregation does not lie between elders and pastors. These terms refer to the same ministry. The difference lies between staff (paid elders who can give more time) and non-staff elders (non-paid, who also have to have another job and so have less time to give). Yet, there is not a difference in importance, status, qualification, or calling. As such, distinctions between staff and non-staff elders/pastors should be minimized and all seen as a team. This fosters great accountability.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The New Society

The Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary defines “society” this way. It is: “Companionship or association with one's fellows;  friendly or intimate intercourse…a voluntary association of individuals for common ends; especially, an organized group working together or periodically meeting because of common interests, beliefs, or profession….” This word is a good place to start when defining the Church of Jesus Christ. In fact, the Greek word that stands behind the term, the word ekklesia, was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to speak of the people of God as they were assembled.[1] In other words, the Church of Jesus Christ is, by definition, his people assembled together as a society, a community to carry out his will.

If we track with this biblical line-of-thought, the Church is not exactly merely where any Christian is or where any two or three Christians are located. Instead, the church is comprised of Christians coming together in the ways Jesus prescribes for the purposes he gives us. Briefly, here are the particulars the New Testament sets forth.

·         Together we are the people of God who show forth the presence of God among us, who are responsible to show forth to the world the way to God and his salvation, and who are to proclaim the excellencies of his glorious salvation.[2]

·         Since we are naturally sinful, naturally do not love God, and naturally do not see Christ and his gospel as delightful, we must be truly born-again (regenerated and converted) people in order to carry out the purposes of Christ.[3] As such, the true church is comprised only of those who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, those whom he purchased with his own blood.[4]

·         Simply-put, the church is a society of people who together are to display and proclaim the glory of God and the glory of his saving grace to both men and before angels.[5]

·         Since we deceive our self because of our sinfulness and, as a result, can think we are right with God when we are not and since people who do not know Jesus Christ, but profess to know him actually dishonor him, Jesus gave authority to the church assembled under his authority and that of his word to be the representatives of Heaven in testing the validity or lack of validity of a person’s profession of faith. This is what is meant by giving to the church the “keys of the kingdom” and also what Jesus means when he speaks of “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”[6]  This function of the church assembled means that we must be accountable to each other under the authority of Christ and his Word. No Christian has ever been meant to be on his/her own. We are to love one another, exhort one another, bear the burdens of one another, pray for one another, forgive one another, spur one another on to gospel-directed love and good works, assemble regularly with one another, restore one another as needed, and so on.[7] In other words, we are to be a regular part of not just the Church universal, but a concrete local church. This is how Christ means for us to live in obedience before him. If we are not submitted to Christ and his Word by being submitted to one another and to gospel-and-Word-directed leaders in a local church, we are disobeying Jesus Christ and may be calling into question our salvation.

·         What the preceding truth also demands is that we are to live out our Christian life under the authority of Christ and his Word as we are equipped to do so by his Word-directed leaders and as we submit to his Word-directed leaders.[8]  The church is not to be a democracy where the masses rule, it is to be a priesthood of believers where Christ rules by his Spirit through his Word and where we help each other love and submit to him. After all, he is our head and our Lord.[9]

·         We also see that this society must love one another, be united with one another, learn to accept one another in the midst of differences, and also must pursue peace with one another in order to display a credible witness and in order to glorify God as we are intended by him.[10]

As we can see from these preceding bullet points, the church does not function as the church except in local assemblies or congregations any more than a couple is married simply because the institution of marriage exists in the world. In other words, in the same way the institution of marriage is lived out in concrete marriage relationships in families and homes all over the world, so the institution of the true universal Church is lived out in particular local churches all over the world.

And, we must see that these local churches are part of the new society which Jesus Christ has brought forth, a society of very different people, but who have been brought together by him and his Spirit through the gospel to function as a unit, a “new man,” a “temple.”[11]  We are a new society because we collectively as the church are the embassy, the outpost, of the kingdom (the saving reign of God) and, as such, we collectively serve as his ambassadors who give to each other, others, and the angelic world a foretaste of what the future kingdom in its fullness will be like.[12] After all, we who are in Christ are a new creation, the old has passed away, and behold the newness of the future new heaven and new earth, the newness of God’s true full life has come upon us and impacts us now.[13]

Since all this is true, there are characteristics of the new society and the new society people that will be vastly different than the larger society we see around us. If we do not grasp this from the clear teaching of the Bible, when we hear these differences taught, we will conclude that somehow they are not true. Here is sampling of such differences:

·         When we hear the Word of God, we treasure it, believe it, seek to trust in it and do it, and receive it as what it is, the trustworthy Word of God, not merely the teaching of man.[14]

·         Because we understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the core of the truth by which God grows and empowers us, we relate to each other differently than those in the larger society. On the one hand, we realize we are family and so are accountable to each other and must help each other live out the effects of the gospel, we exhort one other, we help restore each other, and we pursue one another when we are hurting or falling away from the truth of Christ.[15] On the other hand, we are gracious with one another, we do not jump to conclusions about each other, we do not gossip about one another or believe slander about one another—as a result, we are very careful to assume the best about each other and to assume one another is innocent until proven guilty.[16]

·         We realize as sinful people, conflict will happen. Yet, Christ has supplied the resources we need to work through it and, as a result, to glorify God in it.[17]  What this means is that we do not love and forgive only when it is easy, we love and forgive even when it is hard—even when the person is our enemy.[18]

·         We have values and ways of seeing vices that those outside the new society do not. For example, we realize how horrible it is to have something in life that is more important to us than Jesus Christ.[19] Another example is that we understand how destructive it is when a person asserts their “individuality” and “freedom” in such a way as to oppose Word-directed, gospel-true leaders in the church and also to cause division in the body.[20] In other words, we realize how important truth-based, Christ-honoring unity in the church is.[21]

·         Finally, very different than the culture around us, we do not define ethics merely by the absence of doing bad things. We understand that true life in Christ, true life in the new society, is marked by the pursuit of Christ, by delight in him, by love for him, and by denying self (not as an end in itself), but that we and others might have greater joy and pleasure in Christ to his glory. As a result, the new society is at its very heart missions-minded, committed to making disciples.[22] So, unlike the culture around us, we do not think we should “keep our faith to ourselves.” We give away life that we and others might have more life!

In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the chapel door in Wittenberg, Germany and by this gave birth to the Reformation. The sixteenth century Reformation revolve around the main issues of the view of Scripture (is it the only ultimate binding source of authority for the church?) and how one is saved or justified. Today we need a new Reformation, yet this time it needs to center around the Scripture’s teaching of what the Church is and how it is to function. Like in the Middle Ages with Scripture and salvation, so today evangelicals have become very sloppy and negligent when it comes to what the Bible says about the Church. As a result, when the truth is preached, it feels like it is not true because it is not “what we have always heard”.

Brothers and sisters of the Minden Evangelical Free Church, I call you now to reform. Read the Bible. Pour over it and what it teaches about the church. Don’t just take my word for it. Do this because if you do not, when you hear elders in our church (staff or non-staff) teach on it, you will wrongly conclude what we are teaching is wrong. Do it because our unity depends on it. And, do it because our joy in Christ and the work he has called us to do as his new society depends on it!

[1] See how the New Testament confirms this with the use of ekklesia to speak of the people of God in the Old Testament assembled or congregated: Acts 7:38; Heb. 2:12; 12:23.
[2] 1 Peter 2:4-10.
[3] John 3:1-8; Romans 3:9-19; 2 Corinthians 4:4, 6; Titus 3:5-6.
[4] Acts 20:28.
[5] Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14; 3:10; 1 Peter 2:9.
[6] Matthew 16:19; 18:18. Churches do not do this perfectly. No authority (parents, government, etc.) carries out their authority perfectly (after all, the New Testament assumes there will be many times we sin against and/or offend each other and need to practice forgiveness: Ephesians 4:31-32; Col. 3:13), but this fact does not erase the fact God has given authority to the Church, parents, and government in their respective realms (e.g. Romans 13:1-4; Ephesians 6:1-3).
[7] John 13:34; Gal. 6:1, 2; Col. 3:13; Hebrews 3:13; 10:24, 25; James 5:16.
[8] Ephesians 4:7-12f.; Hebrews 13:7, 17. No leaders have absolute authority. They have authority under Christ and only as those who represent and teach the true gospel (see Galatians 1:8-10).
[9] Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:10-11; Colossians 1:18.
[10] John 13:34-35; 17:20-23; Romans 15:7; Hebrews 12:14; 1 John 3:16-18; 4:7-12.
[11] Ephesians 2:1-22.
[12] 2 Corinthians 5:20; 1 Peter 2:4-10.
[13] See 2 Corinthians 5:17.
[14] Proverbs 13:13; 1 Thes. 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Titus 1:2; James 1:22-25.
[15] Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Thes. 3:13-15.
[16] Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15-21; Matthew 18:16, 19-20; 1 Cor. 13:7; Eph. 4:31-32; 1 Tim. 5:19.
We should not miss that the way the world-at-large deals with each other is to assume that the other person’s issues and/or sins is “not my problem” or it is “none of my business.” Yet, when rumors and gossip fly, there is a quickness to condemn. On the contrary, the new society of Christians is to realize our sins impact each other, we are a family, we are responsible to each other, and our problems are “each other’s business” (if understood in appropriate ways). However, when rumors, gossip, and slander begin to fly, we do not believe them, but prayerfully, carefully, and slowly seek out the truth. This is one of the areas where the new society is most counter-cultural.
[17] Romans 15:7; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Galatians 5:22-23; 2 Peter 1:3-11.
[18] Matthew 5:43-48; 6:14-15; Luke 6:27-31; Romans 12:9-21.
[19] Matthew 6:21-34; 10:34-39; 1 John 2:15-17; 5:21.
[20] Titus 3:10; Hebrews 13:17.
[21] John 17:20-23; 1 Corinthians 13:6; Ephesians 4:1-16; Philippians 2:1-11.
[22] Matthew 4:19; 6:33; 13:52; 28:19-20; John 15:1-16; 2 Corinthians 1:24-2:4; Philippians 1:21-23.