Saturday, October 22, 2016

Why we avoid discipleship relationships

“An important mark of a healthy church is a pervasive concern for church growth as growth is prescribed in the Bible. That means growing members, not just numbers. Some today think that a person can be a “baby Christian” for a whole lifetime. Growth is treated as an optional extra for zealous disciples. But growth is a sign of life. If a tree is alive, it grows. If an animal is alive, it grows. Being alive means growing, and growing means increasing and advancing, at least until death intercedes” [1]

This is where discipleship in the local church and our relationships comes in. Biblical discipleship means growing in the likeness of Christ and encouraging and helping others to do the same. For those who have not come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, it begins with sharing the gospel with them. Biblical discipleship in short is relational. The old cliché is correct, its “life touching life”. So if biblical discipleship and growth is essential to the health of the church why is it scarce in churches? And why do we avoid getting in discipleship focused relationships?

Biblical discipleship is time consuming
Training someone requires time, especially if your own life has to be an example to them. This is particularly harder in an extremely busy society and a self-centered one for that matter. It is even harder in a program driven church where meaningful relationships are not as important. Fellowship is reduced to a program or a service. We are content with meeting each other on Sundays and claiming we love each other when in actual fact we never share our lives, we never challenge each other to grow, we never keep each other intentionally accountable and consequently we never spur one another towards love and good works. Biblical discipleship requires time.

Biblical discipleship makes you vulnerable
As we spend time with each other our lives are soon opened up to other Christians and they get to know the real us. They see us in our weak moments, they see us respond to pressure, they will know that we are not as perfect as we portray when we put on our best behavior at the church programs and meetings. Committing to invest your life in others and spend time with them is committing to be vulnerable and transparent. It is committing to truly live out the command in James to confess your sins to one another. Biblical discipleship makes you vulnerable.

Biblical discipleship requires energy
Relationships are tiring and they can be messy. Relationships also require effort to begin and maintain. It is far much easier to organize and run programs than it is to maintain a discipleship relationship. It is even costly at times. As you invest your time and open your life to people you find yourself exerting lots of energy and it can be emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually draining. No wonder we would rather build fences around our lives and protect ourselves from the messy, exhausting and yet richly rewarding relationships.

Biblical discipleship ensures you do not necessary receive the praise
Just like the majority of ministry, biblical discipleship is done in the background. It is away from the eyes of the world and all that is seen is growth in others, unless the person you are discipling or worse off yourself waxes eloquent about the impact you have had in their lives, the world will never know. For a people who thrive on praise and acknowledgment we struggle with the idea that we can invest in the life of someone and see them grow and the Lord gets the glory. Biblical discipleship removes the focus on us and puts it where it should be, namely the glory of God!

[1] Leeman Jonathan. Growing one another. Crossway Wheaton, Illinois: 2012.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Women in Ministry and 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Should a woman be licensed and ordained as a pastor of a church? How about a woman preaching? Or teaching? Some denominations and churches say yes. Others argue no. What roles has God designed for women to play in His household, the church?

Currently we are studying the book of 1 Timothy in our Wednesday night Bible Study. Last night we came to the last few verses of chapter 2; the ones that deal with the proper role of men and women in the church. I think that this passage, verses 11-15 in particular, provides a clear answer to the questions posed above. I believe that we can put the debate to rest with this passage understood in the light of the full complete revelation of God's Word. Allow me to show you. (Grab your Bible and consider my argument. At least give it a hearing before wanting to argue against it.)

The context of this instruction pertaining to women appears to be that of the church assembly. Why do I say that? Because right before he discusses the conduct of women, Paul speaks of his desire for the men in every place to pray without anger or quarreling (v. 8). This best would be understood as the men gathering together for a time of prayer as a congregation. It would not make much sense to be a private practice of prayer of individuals. For there to be discord and fighting, it must be referring to a public gathering of the church for prayer. Also, right after talking about the women, Paul moves on to speak of the characteristics of the leaders of a congregation, the elders and deacons (3:1-13). And if that is not enough to show that the issue concerns how women are presenting themselves and being instructed in the church itself, just look at the apostle's statement in 3:14-15; "I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth." What precedes deal with the proper "behavior" in the church.

So, what does Paul say is the proper "behavior" of women in the church? First, they must be more concerned about godliness instead of their personal appearance (vv. 9-10). Second, they are to "learn quietly with all submissiveness" (v. 11). Now this cannot mean that they cannot talk at all in a worship service. We have to keep in mind what else Paul has written in his other letters. He speaks of women praying and prophesying in a worship service in 1 Corinthians 11:5 so we should not take this as a blanket statement. In fact, Paul clarifies what he means with them learning in silence submissively in the very next verse. It is them not teaching or exercising leadership over men but listening to their teaching and submitting to their leadership. Obviously one of the problems in the church at Ephesus where Timothy is serving when Paul writes this letter was that some of the ladies wanted to be leaders of the congregation. Paul is clear that that is not permitted.

And why does Paul not permit it? Not because he was sexist or against women in any way. But because God has designed it this way. He goes on to point out that "Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (v. 13). He directs us back to God's very creation of man. How He intended man to be the leader of the wife that He had given him. The Fall did not change God's intention. Just look at 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:22-33. God has called men to take the lead. To take the lead in their homes and also in His household, the church. And we see this demonstrated throughout Scripture. Who did Jesus Christ choose to be the first leaders of the Church He gave His life for? Twelve men (Matthew 10:1-4/Mark 3:13-19/Luke 6:12-16). Who did the apostles instruct the early church to pick for the task of taking care of the neglected widows? "Seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom" (Acts 6:3). Even in the Old Testament case of Deborah, a man was called to take the lead, but that man, Barak, like too many men today, failed to step up to the plate (Judges 4:4-9).

This means that we cannot simply dismiss this passage in 1 Timothy as something that only applied temporarily to the situation at Ephesus. While certainly Paul is addressing an issue in that church, they were guilty of breaking a principle that applied to all churches. After all, he bases it upon Scripture. Furthermore, Paul says something very similar to the church in Corinth and makes sure to specify that it applies to women "in all the churches," not just that congregation (1 Corinthians 14:34). In the original Greek of that verse, the very first words are "the women in all the churches," clearly indicating that this is God's design for women everywhere. His mention of "the Law" very well could be referring back to the Genesis account of creation, which is part of what the Jews would call "the Law," the first five books of our Bible. The same place Paul went in 1 Timothy.

In light of such teaching, I cannot support a woman serving as a pastor; a position that by its very nature would require someone to teach and have authority over a man. But let me be clear! I think that we need more women in various areas of ministry. Not every role in the congregation entails teaching or having authority over men. There are many other places that a lady can serve in a church than behind the pulpit as a shepherd. We need you women!!! Titus 2:3-5 talks about older women teaching younger women. As I mentioned to the group gathered at the study last night, there are far better ways that a woman can disciple another woman than I can as pastor. And that is true in any congregation. We also can use more women involved in children's ministries. And the list of the ways that a woman can appropriately serve goes on and on. No one, gentleman or lady alike, has an excuse not to participate in the work of a local congregation. God has called all and will equip all to serve in some capacity.

Why is it that we have denominations and congregations today with women as pastors or other major areas of leadership when Scripture indicates that God has designed man to lead? I think that it is a case where our culture, which shuns gender roles and even gender itself now, has become a greater influence than the Word of God. The gender equality promoted today has blinded some to the beauty of the perfect way that the sexes are to compliment each other with their differing roles. This is true both in the home and in the church. I have come to a greater realization as I continue to preach God's Word just how counterculture it is. It goes against just about everything that the world encourages. So it really shouldn't surprise us that men leading in their homes and the church with women submitting to their leadership is so unpopular. Instead, what is surprising are churches going along with culture rather than the Word of God. The very opposite of what should be.

Love in Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Lessons For the Church From the Book of Acts

Today I took some much needed time to go through the book of Acts. There is so much confusion over what the church is and does today that I wanted to go back to its start and be reminded of how God designed it. While the culture around us may be changing, the role and work of the Church does not. That is simply because God Himself does not change nor does His Word. While we do need to be careful in taking a historical account that documents God's work in a specific time and place to not make it prescriptive (telling us what we need to do) instead of descriptive (informing us of what has been done), that doesn't mean that there still aren't things that remain the same with the Lord's design and work. I'll just share with you three specific things that jumped out at me in the book of Acts and the lessons from them for the church today.

God Is The One Who Ultimately Does the Work
The book of Acts is actually inaccurately titled. It shouldn't be called "The Acts of the Apostles" but really "The Acts of God the Holy Spirit" as it is His work and not any man's. In fact, Luke seems to go out of his way to emphasize that every major occurrence is a result of the action of God. He is the One indicated who pierces the hearts of the crowd listening to Peter's sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:37). The Greek word for "pierce" indicates that this is something that happens to the people from outside of them. It clearly was the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and not something that originated from them internally. Luke credits the growth of the Church with God and not the apostles or members of it (2:47; 5:14; 9:31; 11:21, 24; 16:5). "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (2:47). Jesus Himself met Saul also known as Paul on the road to Damascus dramatically turning his life around and changing his course (9:1-9). Paul didn't have a chance to refuse the Lord of glory when confronted with His presence! The Gentiles who believed were those whom God had already appointed to have eternal life (13:48). Lydia didn't open up her own heart to respond to the gospel message that Paul shared but the Lord did (16:14) and God made sure that Paul knew that there were many people in the city of Corinth whom He had sovereignly chosen to be His people (18:9-10).

Throughout the entire movement of the early church, God's Spirit directed, guided, and protected all that happened. The Spirit sent out Barnabas and Saul/Paul (13:2) as well as guided the decision of the Jerusalem Council (15:28), determined Paul, Silas, and Timothy to go to Macedonia to minister as He shut the door to the other directions in which they were heading (16:6-10), and called the ones He desired to serve as elders in the church at Ephesus (20:28). God also worked to remove every stumbling block that Satan tried to mount against the Church. He took care of Ananias and Sapphira's tampering with the truth before the church (5:1-11), released Peter and others from prison (5:17-20); insured that Saul would be received by Ananias (9:10-16) and that Peter would witness to the Gentiles (10:13-16) in light of both of their apprehension, released Peter from prison again (12:6-17), struck down King Herod (12:18-23), and protected Paul in order to bring him to Rome where he could further spread the gospel message (27:1-28:10).

I am certain that there are many more that could be shared that I have missed but as you can see everything that took place all was a work of God. No man could take the credit for what transpired in the life of this church as it was growing and expanding. I think the same is still just as true today. Any work that ever is accomplished in any congregation can only be explained as it being a work of God's Holy Spirit. We could never bring about the same results that God can. So, does that mean that we can sit back and expect God to just take care of everything? Nope. Because we do also see in the book of Acts an important role that the Lord has called His redeemed church to play in His marvelous plan of salvation.

The Means God Uses To Accomplish This Work of Growing His Church is The Church's Prayer and Proclamation
God, in His infinite wisdom, has determined to do this great work of expanding and growing His church through the means of the church itself. Specifically through the church's praying and proclamation. We don't find these new believers lazy by any means. They are busy for the Lord!

First, they are a praying church. And I am not talking about each member simply saying grace before a meal or saying a few words to the Lord as they go to bed. They spent time praying together as a church. The discipline served as part of the regular routine of their gathering together (2:42). Just about everything that they did was preceded in prayer whether it was seeking the Lord's will for the replacement of Judas (1:23-26), commissioning leaders (6:3-6; 13:3; 14:23), and asking for the sending of the Spirit for new believers (8:14-17). God honored their prayers as well. After they prayed for boldness in 4:23-30, we are told that "the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness" (v. 31). Such boldness can be seen with the scattering of the apostles to spread that gospel message as well as with Stephen preaching the gospel unto his death. Also, their earnest prayer for Peter in prison (12:5) resulted with his release, much to the surprise of the church (vv. 12-17). Paul and Silas' praying and praise brought about an earthquake freeing them as well as leading to the conversion of the jailer himself (16:25-34).

This is quite a contrast to the activity of most American churches today. If the congregation has a prayer meeting, and that is a big IF, very few people come out for it or take it seriously. They claim to not have time to come before the Lord with their brothers and sisters, admit their utter dependency upon Him, and request Him to do the work that only He can do. No wonder we don't see God do as much in our congregations today. We aren't petitioning Him to do anything. I am convinced that we could see the same mighty works of God moving today as that church in Acts if we would just follow their lead and get on our knees together.

Second, this church was a proclaiming church. Their main work in addition to praying was proclaiming the gospel of God's grace to those who needed to hear it which is everyone. Luke records not only the church's actions in this (6:7; 8:4-6; 14:1; 16:13; 17:2-3, 13, 17; 18:4, 28) but also even some of their evangelistic encounters or sermons in detail (2:14-36; 3:11-26; 7:1-53; 8:26-40; 9:19-22; 10:34-43; 13:16-41; 17:22-31). The narrative ends with Paul "proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance" (28:31). Without any question this was the church's main goal . . . and of course it should have been as their Lord and Master commanded them to do so (Matthew 28:19-20) and stated that this was His purpose for them (Acts 1:8). Above all else, they were committed to tell others about Jesus and the salvation that can only be found in Him.

If prayer and the proclamation of the Word of God serve as the two means that God uses to bring about His intended purpose in the church, then why would the contemporary church neglect them or attempt to do anything else? Could this be why many congregations today are not seeing much spiritual growth (which is different from just filling the pews with people whose hearts remain far from God)? They have abandoned the only two means that God has ordained for Himself to work through. In fact, in light of this we can refine the proper title of Acts, "The Acts of God the Holy Spirit Through the Prayer and Proclamation of the Apostles."

The Work That the Church Does Is Empowered By the Holy Spirit
One final thing I want to point out to you concerning what we can learn from the book of Acts. You will notice that as you read through this historical account that even this proclamation of the gospel that the church labored at to serve as the means of God's drawing men and women to Himself was not done in their own strength. They did it relying on the power that God provided for them in His Holy Spirit. Many times before someone shared the gospel or had God do a mighty work through them, we read that they were "filled with the Spirit" (4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9-11). Those who were mature in the faith are also deemed to be "filled with the Spirit" (6:3, 5; 11:24). I think the point communicated with this phrase is that these men operated by the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish their appointed task.

Believers today are no more stronger than these weak ones we read about in this book. Remember that many of these apostles were the timid, confused, stubborn disciples who cowered in fear behind locked doors after Jesus' arrest. The only explanation for the courage we witness in Acts is that they were relying on the power of the Holy Spirit that the Lord had graciously given them to do the means which God worked through to bring about His plan to grow His church. How much more could those in the church accomplish today if they just would rely on the Holy Spirit that dwells within them? To step out in faith and in Him find the confidence to face the uncomfortable? David Platt hit the nail on the head when he said, “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to the spread of the Gospel today is the people of God trying to do the work of God apart from the power and presence of God.”

Putting all of this together we could say that a better name for the book of Acts would be "The Acts of God the Holy Spirit Through the Means of the Praying and Proclamation of the Apostles Empowered By That Spirit." Of course, that would be a rather long title but more substantial in capturing the essence of the book. However, I think the bigger issue is whether what you see in your congregation could be described as "The Acts of God the Holy Spirit Through the Means of the Praying and Proclamation of His People Empowered By His Spirit" or "The Acts of Man Through the Worldly Means of Themselves Relying on Themselves." May God mold us into the model of the church provided for us in the book of Acts instead of allowing us to be molded by the model of the world.

Love in Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!