Commitment!

Church-membershipFrom time to time I want to highlight the importance and the meaning of church membership. In my opinion, this is a subject that is horribly misunderstood in American churches. 9 Marks is one of the most profitable resources to moving the church back to it’s Biblical roots.

In one sense, we become part of the body of Christ the moment we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit. In another sense, we become part of the body of Christ the moment we commit to a particular body. So in a very real sense being a Christian means being joined to a local church.

Church membership is not simply a record of a box we once checked. It’s not a sentimental feeling. It is not an expression of affection toward a particular place. It’s not an expression of loyalty or disloyalty toward parents. It should be a reflection of a living commitment to a group of people.

The practice of church membership occurs when Christians grasp hold of each other in responsibility and love. By identifying ourselves with a particular local church, we are telling the pastor and other members not just that we commit to them, but that we commit to them in gathering, giving, prayer, and service. We are telling them to expect certain things from us and to hold us accountable if we don’t follow through. Joining a church is an act of saying, “I am now your responsibility, and you are my responsibility.” Biblical membership means taking responsibility. It is seen in our mutual obligations to each other. The church is a body in which all parts care for one another.

Those members who are not faithful or who shirk their responsibility as members confuse both real members and non-Christians about what it means to be a Christian. Since membership is the church’s corporate endorsement of a person’s salvation, we do them no favors by ignoring their lack of commitment.

We must continually be reminded of each member’s commitment to the life of the church.

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By lakeviewbc Posted in Church

No Church This Sunday–It’s Christmas!

By: David Gibson

Every few years Christmas is on a Sunday and suddenly believers face a dilemma: Stay home hanging stockings and opening gifts, or upend those cherished domestic traditions and go to Sunday church services. That is, if their church is even open.

Nearly 10% of Protestant churches will be closed on Christmas Sunday this year, according to LifeWay Research, and most pastors who are opening up say they expect far fewer people than on other Sundays. Other reports suggest that churches across the board are scaling down their services in anticipation of fewer worshipers.

“We have to face the reality of families who don’t want to struggle to get kids dressed and come to church,” Brad Jernberg of Dallas’s Cliff Temple Baptist Church told the Associated Baptist Press. Similarly, Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va., is planning a short service featuring bluegrass riffs on Christmas music. “I’ll do a brief sermon, and then we’re going home,” said Pastor Mike Parnell.

Even in denominations organized around the liturgical calendar and sacramental worship, like the Catholic, Episcopal and Orthodox churches, kid-friendly Christmas Eve services (actually held in the late afternoon) are proliferating—the “Jingle Bell Mass,” one Catholic priest dubbed them—while “Midnight Mass” is often a term of art, ending rather than starting at the stroke of midnight.

 In the centuries after the Reformation, some Protestants, notably the Puritans in England, sought to ban Christmas celebrations as pagan bacchanals, which they often were. In colonial America, Christmas was celebrated more widely but still as a church-based holiday, with more festive celebrations tending to follow after Dec. 25. Gift-giving was a minor part of the traditions.

By the early decades of the 19th century, however, Christmas began to change. A growing middle class reacted against the custom of poor people knocking at their doors requesting Christmas handouts, so they started shopping for special gifts that would be given as treats to children and loved ones. At the same time, popular stories by Washington Irving, Clement Clark Moore and Charles Dickens provided ready-made traditions—Santa Claus, stockings, flying reindeer, decorated evergreen trees—that would undergird the notion of Christmas as a holiday focused on home and gift-giving more than church.

Today, polls show Americans are much more inclined to put up a Christmas tree and decorations or go to a party than to attend religious services, even though they tend to see Christmas as a religious holiday.

Perhaps it’s a bit puritanical to insist that believers dump their cherished family traditions to march off to church on Christmas morning. But it’s also self-defeating to complain about keeping Christmas holy when churches close on Dec. 25.

When he preached at Christmas, Saint Augustine acknowledged the associations between the still-dominant pagan rites and Christianity’s Feast of the Nativity. But the bishop of Hippo said that such associations should spur the faithful to deeper observance, not to downplaying the holiday altogether or tailoring it to the prevailing culture: “So, brothers and sisters, let us keep this day as a festival—not, like the unbelievers, because of the sun up there in the sky, but because of the One who made that sun.”

Mr. Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service.

By lakeviewbc Posted in Church

What’s Important at Church!

The great error of our day is the choosing church based on preference. People move from church to church based on programs, music style, building size, social opportunities, friends who are there and many other superficial reasons.  Here is a refreshing quote from an upcoming book titled, “Reverberation” by Jonathan Leeman:

“Here’s what I want to plead with my fellow Christians: as you or I sit there wondering whether or not we’ll come back to a church, the most important thing to consider is how seriously the church treats God’s Word. Are the sermons meaty? Is the music theologically beefy? Do they read the Bible out loud? Do the public prayers reflect the priorities of the Bible?…If the Father’s Word of the Son working through power of the Spirit is the only thing that gives life to the dead and freedom to the slave, then you and I should primarily be looking for one thing when we gather with a church: God’s Word

 

By lakeviewbc Posted in Church

The Great Distraction to the Great Commission

Thom Rainer has posted a few thoughts on church, pastors and criticism that I thought were very accurate.  Here is the first one:

I sat in his office after hearing him preach a magnificent message in two services. He was leading the church to greater depths of discipleship, and many in the community were becoming believers in Christ. The worship services were incredible; everything from the prayers to the preaching to the music was God-centered and God-glorifying.

With a sad smile on his face, he looked at me and simply said, “Watch this.” He powered his computer and opened his email. Someone had already sent him a critical email about the music in the service. “She sent it within five minutes after the service,” he said softly.

“We just have to press on and love the critics,” he spoke with resignation. “But it sure does get old.”

The Same Sad Story

I have been pastoring, consulting, and working with churches for over a quarter of a century. Criticisms have always been a part of a pastor’s life, but it seems that the rate and the intensity of the criticisms have both increased.

When I first served as a pastor in 1984, I began to understand some of the stories I had heard about the difficulties of local church ministry. Because the church I served was small, the number of critics was relatively small. Their barbs still hurt though, and their criticisms were a distraction to my ministry.

A year later in 1985, Marshall Shelley wrote a classic book on church critics, Well-Intentioned Dragons. Reflecting back over the past 25 years, I think local churches have more dragons now that aren’t so well-intentioned.

The Big Distraction

I have advised pastors over the years to focus on the good in the church, to realize that the supporters typically outnumber the critics by a wide margin. But the reality is that we humans have difficulty ignoring critics whom we see every week, critics whose faces are ever before us. Ignoring critics is a good idea in theory, but only a few pastors are really able to accomplish such a feat.

Criticism is a huge distraction. Though I’m reticent to speak for Satan, I have to believe that one of his primary weapons against the church is distracting leaders from the Great Commission. Who has time to make disciples when we have to listen to Betty or Bob complain and criticize for 45 minutes? Pastors lose valuable time and, inevitably, have little energy to do anything else after bearing the barbs of the latest critic.

I know that pastors are not above criticism. And sometimes the critic can be well-intentioned. But things are way out of balance now. Pastors are getting beat up daily for some of the most insignificant matters. Many are unable to lead because they fear the latest round of attacks. And it seems like the advent of Internet, text messaging, and the social media has accelerated the attacks.

It’s Time to Respond

At times, I feel like the matter of criticizing pastors and other church staff has been minimized. We may not fully grasp how demoralizing and debilitating the criticisms are to the pastor. The problem is serious. Indeed, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it is a crisis. It’s time to respond.

A first step is getting serious about church membership, or whatever term you use to describe how someone affiliates with your church. I can’t judge the heart, but I do find it hard to believe that some of the most vitriolic criticisms come from the heart of Christians. I am convinced more than ever that we have let millions of unregenerate members into our churches. We are now suffering the consequences of such low standards of church membership.

I also have an idea about what to do about the critics who are already in the church. While church discipline sometime will be in order, I doubt the leaders of our churches will be able to or should be able to bring discipline to every complainer. That is neither wise nor practical.

But something must be done. I am convinced that we have a major crisis in our churches.

Source

By lakeviewbc Posted in Church

Cracks in the Crystal Cathedral


Here is a great article on the recent crumbling of the Crystal Cathedral from Christianity Today.  The bold emphasizes is mine.
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This past October, the megachurch prototype of the late 20th century filed for bankruptcy. A 24 percent drop in donations and a $50-$100 million debt owed to more than 550 creditors forced the Crystal Cathedral to file. It was a poignant moment in the history of modern evangelicalism.

Robert H. Schuller’s famous Crystal Cathedral was built on a foundation of self-esteem. In a 1984 interview with Christianity Today, Schuller said that when he came to Garden Grove, California, in 1955, he asked himself, “What human condition exists here that I can have a mission to?” His answer was “emotional hunger.” “Because of that,” he said, “we have developed our present ministry.”

That ministry increasingly was defined as the gospel of self-esteem, which for Schuller meant “the divine dignity that God intended to be our emotional birthright as children created in his image.” It was lost in the Garden of Eden, he explained, but “we hunger for it until we regain it through faith in Christ.”

Over the years, many people have caricatured Schuller’s theology. Indeed, there has been much to criticize. To be fair, it was more nuanced than many critics imagine. Schuller’s root concern from day one was emotional hunger, and the answer was helping people gain a positive self-image, albeit in Christ.

Schuller was tapping into themes of the human potential movement, the rage in the 1960s and ’70s, when Abraham Maslow’s theories deemed self-actualization the highest expression of human life. Schuller put a biblical and theological spin on it all and, as a result, attracted many to faith in Christ.

The mystery of why and how people come to faith is just that—a mystery.

But already in Schuller’s day, there were concerns. The most scathing critique of this general cultural mood was from Christopher Lasch, who noted, particularly in The Culture of Narcissism, that the new therapeutic culture was leaving people trapped and isolated in the self.

It’s like building a state-of-the-art structure. Technology moves at such a rapid pace that as soon as you move into the new building, you immediately find yourself stuck with an architecture that is already technologically dated, if only in small degrees at first. It isn’t long before another developer announces plans for something even more state-of-the-art.

Today both the Crystal Cathedral and the theology that undergird it seem woefully inadequate buildings in which to house the gospel. In an age deeply sensitive to energy conservation, a glass house of worship is a sinful extravagance. In a culture increasingly addicted to the self, the gospel of self-esteem is clearly part of the problem. In short, the Schuller enterprise is filing for bankruptcy on more than one front.

Some are tempted to hit the man while he is down, but this is unwise. Robert Schuller is not the problem—contemporary evangelicalism is. Schuller was only leading the parade of those who believe they are responsible for making the gospel relevant. The lesson is not that Schuller got it wrong or that his theology is out-of-date; it is not that we just need to find a better, more current point of cultural contact. The lesson is that our attempts to find and exploit a point of cultural contact inevitably end in bankruptcy.

This does not deny the need to talk about the gospel in language and thought forms that a culture understands. In fact, we cannot avoid doing this—we are culturally and linguistically bound, ultimately unable to get out of our own skin and see the world in any other way. But we must repress every fearful thought that suggests that making the gospel relevant and meaningful rests on our shoulders. The mystery of why and how people come to faith is just that—ultimately a mystery. Spiritual directors long ago discovered what theologian Karl Barth noted: “As God awakens man to faith by his Holy Spirit, he himself posits the necessary point of contact.” Or, as Peter put it, in describing the conversion of the Gentiles: “God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit …” (Acts 15:8, ESV).

In fact, it is not only the listener who is deaf and blind to the gospel. The church is equally handicapped, especially regarding what will “work” to achieve genuine conversion. But—God be praised—we have a God who makes the deaf to hear and the blind to see! In every age and every culture, we are wise to trust the God who is rich in mercy and is able to accomplish through his Word that which he intends.

A Christianity Today editorial | posted 1/10/2011 09:27AM

By lakeviewbc Posted in Church

Trying To Find Commitment In The Church!

The word COMMIT means to give in trust or charge, to pledge oneself to a position, an issue or a question, and to bind or obligate. And what I have noticed is that the idea of commitment is no longer visible in the church.  There is very little commitment to the church among its members.

Take what God says in Hebrews 13:17, “ Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”

When we join a particular church we are COMMITTING ourselves to that particular place and those people.  It is a COMMITMENT akin to the marriage COMMITMENT.  We have pledged ourselves and we have bound ourselves to this church for better or worse.  We have COMMITTED ourselves to do everything we can to make this place and these people better and more glorifying to God.

Sadly to say, you don’t see that kind of COMMTTMENT concerning the church anymore.  Instead of obedience and submission to the leadership of the church, if we are dissatisfied we find another church. Instead of speaking to the leadership about what is dissatisfying, we stop showing up.  Instead of being obedient in giving, we question the distribution of funds and we cease giving.

I understand that is what is commonly done in our culture and in these last times but it does not make it right.  I have to admit that I have never seriously considered and studied this topic.  I grew up in this non-COMMITAL environment as well.  I have watched so many hop from church to church. I have seen churches deeply hurt by those who have grouped together to split from a church and go to other churches or start their own.

My question is where in the BIBLE do we see this happen.  Where do we see anyone in the BIBLE change churches because they did not like something the church did or did not do? Where do we read the Paul saying that church is dependant on our likes and dislikes?

I do understand that there maybe times when heresy may enter into the church and exiting that church may a viable resort.  But Biblically, it should be the last resort.  We should confront and try to correct the heresy.  The letters to the seven churches was a challenge to change the things that were amiss in the church not to abandon it. It was not an encouragement to leave Sardis and join Philadelphia.

The truth of the matter is that we do church according to our preferences.  If things are done to our approval and the leadership caters to me then I’m happy but the moment that ceases to be the case then I start the church looking process. So there is no obedience or submission to those who are placed in positions of leadership.  There is no COMMITMENT to the place or the people.

It does not matter how you slice it, moving from church to church is not Biblical.  In fact, I would offer that it is outright disobedience.  God saves us and then places us in a local assembly so that we can grow, serve, and glorify God.  And apparently joining the church was after much prayer for the leading of the Lord.   But then something happens and NOW God has changed his mind.  He wants us to go over to this church NOW. It is hard for me to have much confidence in a God that is so confused. What we are really doing is doubting God’s sovereignty in our lives and we doubt his power to change the various situations in our lives.  We think God could not want us to endure a difficult situation and that God does not have the power to change it.  So we bail and we find another church to our liking but don’t bank on us because when we get dissatisfied at the new church, we will find another one.

It seems here that God has placed us in particular place with a particular people and the leadership of that place is going to be required to give an account for our souls.  We are to be COMMITTED by obeying the leadership and by submitting to them.  When we fail to do this we are saying that everything centers on US and not on GOD.  It becomes about US and not about HIM.

So when someone wants to join the church what they are really saying is “Hey preacher, we would like to join your church until we get mad, tired, bored, dissatisfied, or until something better comes along.”  And it is sad, selfish, and not Biblical!  The Bible says be COMMITTED!

By lakeviewbc Posted in Church

Church Weakness!

From Sinclair Ferguson’s latest By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me (Reformation Trust, 2010), page xiv:

“A chief reason for the weakness of the Christian church in the West, for the poverty of our witness and any lack of vitality in our worship, probably lies here: we sing about ‘amazing grace’ and speak of ‘amazing grace,’ but far too often it has ceased to amaze us. Sadly, we might more truthfully sing of ‘accustomed grace.’ We have lost the joy and energy that are experienced when grace seems truly amazing.”

By lakeviewbc Posted in Church