Do You Love the Church?

The church is terribly important in the Bible.

After all, it is called the body and bride of Christ. For most men, their wife and their own body come pretty high up on their list of priorities, and I believe the Bible uses those metaphors for that very reason.

Today, even many otherwise theologically sound believers want to neglect the importance of the church. Of course, they would rarely ever say this exactly. But often when they speak, it becomes clear that they nearly always speak about the universal church instead of the local church.

Don’t get me wrong, the idea of the universal church is important. I love reading about church history, specifically because I know that in Christ I am reading about my brothers and sisters. The universal church, that transcends time and space, is a glorious truth.

The local church is no less glorious, but it often doesn’t feel like it.

It’s invigorating to read about Ambrose of Milan defiantly refusing to sway his conscience at the Roman Emperor’s command. But it’s less invigorating to sit through a business meeting talking about what the new paint color of nursery’s walls should be.

Our emotions are stirred when we read stories of miraculous conversions from missionaries we support. But they are significantly less stirred when we listen to an older member tell us the same story about their grandchild for the ninth time.

Passion is ignited when reading Calvin’s Institutes or Spurgeon’s sermons. But it’s difficult to find such passion when we learn that a beloved family is leaving to join another church because they dislike the new leader’s style of worship.

The local church looks less glorious than the universal church, but the universal church is composed of regular, sinful people, just like the local church. We see the universal church as more exciting because the stories that travel across time and oceans are typically the worthwhile ones. And if we hear stories of Christians in sin, we can simply dismiss those them as not being a part of the real church. That’s far easier than looking contrition in the face and walking with a brother or sister through the bumpy road of repentance and reconciliation.

Although we get much benefit from the writings and lives of Christianity’s theologians, almost all of them devoted themselves primarily to serving their church. They were pastors, deacons, and members of local churches before they were ever giants to the church universal.

The local church is not perfect, but she is the bride and body of Christ.

Bear with her.

Cherish her.

Lover her.


This quick post was inspired by this video of Paul Washer.

You really should watch it.

Like right now.

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Is Skipping Church Sin?

Although I once gave little thought to church attendance, I now lean toward viewing serial church skipping as a sin against the congregation.

If that sounds a little harsh, here are my reasons why.

Consider for a moment secular organizations.

No one is ever considered a part of a basketball team without having to commit to practice times.

You will promptly get kicked out of a theater production if you only attend every other practice.

Employees are fired from organizations when they fail to come to their job.

Of course, the church is not merely an organization, social club, or team, but that’s also precisely the point.

Too often, we readily accept the necessary commitment for worldly matters of lesser importance, while shirking commitment to the things of God, namely being His church.

As a member of Christ’s body, your fellow members expect your commitment to the church; in fact, they need it.

WHY WE MEET TOGETHER

Attending church is not simply for your benefit; it is also so that others can benefit from you. Hebrews 10:24-25 says it like this:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Meeting together grants us the opportunity to love and encourage others, while also being loved and encouraged by them. We cannot complete our walk with Christ without this encouragement. Hebrews 3:12-14 emphasizes the importance of encouraging one another (particularly to continuous repentance):

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

Notice that the author of Hebrews purposely connects encouraging one another to finishing our lives in faith. The solution for an evil, unbelieving heart is the exhortation  and encouragement of one another in Christ. We need our brothers and sisters to help expose for us the deceitfulness of sin.

Therefore, a Christian without a community is an unbiblical concept. Repeatedly God’s Word reminds us that we need each other in order to finish our race.

Because of this, neglecting to meet together as Jesus’ body is a sin against our brothers and sisters because we rob them of our encouragement and exhortations, as well as our gifts, talents, and abilities.

Of course, everything ultimately hinges upon the heart. Certainly, physical attendance is not required in the case of those who lack the ability to leave their home, and the church should strive to meet with them regularly where they are. Vacations, visits to family, and other such things are also a normal aspect of life.

We cannot be legalists about how frequent attendance ought to be, but we must also refuse to compromise on what the Bible clearly commands. Both extremes are equally damaging to the church.

EVALUATING THE HEART

Since the heart is what truly matters, take time to prayerfully answer these questions, considering and evaluating how you view gathering together as Christ’s church.

How many times did you miss church over the past three months? What were your reasons for missing those Sundays?

Sometimes we simply do not take the time to consider how often we might be missing church. Reflecting upon our number of absences may help reveal any unhealthy patterns.

Do you regularly attend church? What is regular attendance for you? Would your fellow members agree with your definition?

Do you delight in meeting together with your brothers and sisters, or is going to church more of an obligation?

Here is the BIG question to ask because this gets to the root of the matter. We can attend church every week, but still fail to biblically meet together. If church is not a time of revitalization and encouragement, then we likely have an incorrect view of the church.

How would attending church during vacation make you feel? Why?

Like the previous question, this one hits the heart of the issue. Reluctance to attend church on vacation probably indicates that we view church as life-draining, not life-giving.

What would you consider valid reasons for missing church? Why?

Everyone has a line in the sand on this issue. Where is yours? Is hospitalization the only thing that keeps you away? Is catching up on laundry a sufficient reason for not meeting together? What about sporting events? Extra-curricular activities of our children? Exhaustion?

CONCLUSION

My heart with this post is not stamp SIN on everyone’s head; instead, I want encourage deep self-evaluation (and if necessary, repentance) on this topic.

As a pastor, I am almost never absent on Sunday mornings, but the battle between delight and obligation is always raging. It is far too easy to view the worship and sermon as “work” rather than being soul-feeding fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Viewing church as a restful activity is often difficult, but it is restful. Jesus commands us to come to Him for true rest (Matthew 10:28), and we know that Jesus is found in the presence of His people (Matthew 18:20).

Gathered together, Jesus ministers to us through our church family.

We desperately need each other.

Do you believe that?

Healthy Members | Ephesian 4:17-32

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25 ESV)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clarmor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:29-32 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

In the Western Meadows Values Series, we have been studying the primary values that we hold as a church. We began with the Great Commission, Jesus’ final command for His disciples to continue making disciples. The great purpose and mission of each Christian and church is, therefore, to make disciples, and we do so because by making more disciples of Jesus we continue to fill the earth with Christ’s image and glory.

Like the Christian walk, making disciples happens on two fronts: individually and corporately. As individuals, we live our lives as a witness for Christ, proclaim His gospel to nonbelievers, and teach other Christians to obey all that He has commanded us. Corporately, we make disciples by devoting ourselves to Scripture (by faithfully preaching and hearing them), prayer (specifically praying for boldness to proclaim the gospel), and community (by loving one another as Christ has loved us).

We now conclude our study of the church’s values by turning to Ephesians 4. In the first half of the chapter, Paul described how to become a healthy church by prioritizing unity and helping one another grow in maturity through our diverse gifts. The second half likewise describes being a healthy church member. Here Paul urges us to put away our previously sinful way of life and to live like Christ. He ends with a volley of quick commands that show practically how we are meant to live around each other in Christ.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read verses 17-24 and discuss the following.

  1. Here Paul commands us to put off our old, sinful ways of living and to put on our new life in Christ. What aspects of your life before Christ have you put away? What aspects do you still wrestle with? How does this gospel provide us hope even in the midst of our sin?

Read verses 25-32 and discuss the following.

  1. Within these verses, Paul delivers a series of exhortations for how we should live as members of the body of Christ. Which verse is most convicting for you? Why? What practical steps might you take to walk in obedience?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

Living Evangelism | Titus 2:6-10

Week 7 | Study Guide & Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (Titus 2:7-8)

Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. (Titus 2:9-10)

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

OPENING THOUGHT

Because Paul wrote this letter to Titus to guide him in putting order to churches in Crete, the letter lends itself well to being a summary for a church should function and serve. In the first chapter, Paul dove into the method and theology behind church leadership. He urged Titus to appoint multiple elders in each church, while paying careful attention to the personal qualifications of each elder. Chapter two then led into Paul’s desire for each church’s members, which he began with a thought on biblical discipleship.

Having addressed the need for discipling one another in how to follow Christ more closely, the apostle now moves into a closely related area: evangelism. There is a clear reason for why discipleship and evangelism are brought up back to back because they are two sides of the same coin. Both activities are about sharing and living the gospel. Evangelism has us sharing the gospel with non-Christians in the hope that they will also follow Christ. Discipleship has us sharing the gospel with Christians in the hope that they will follow Christ in an ever deeper relationship. Evangelism is discipleship for non-Christians, and discipleship is evangelism for Christians. The two cannot be separated from one another.

That being said, like discipleship, most Christians feel the need for evangelism but are unaware of how to do it. Too many of us assume that before sharing Christ with others we must have a mastery-level understanding the Bible, be a minister or aspiring minister, or be supernaturally gifted in it. Though we should all aim for a great understanding the Bible, every Christian is a minister, and God does supernaturally use all of us for evangelism, the actual action behind evangelism are not so strange or complicated as we make them. Instead, Paul emphasizes our need to proclaim Christ with our lives before we ever open our mouths.

Read verses 7-8 and discuss the following.

  1. Paul urges Titus to be a model of good works in everything. How might our lives be a model for others?
  2. The teaching of a Christian is meant to be marked by integrity, dignity, and sound speech. What is biblically sound (or healthy) speech?

Read verses 9-10 and discuss the following.

  1. Paul addresses these verses to slaves working for their masters, but we can apply it today as employees and employers. How is being an employee similar and different to being a slave?
  2. The reasoning behind the Christian slaves’ good works is their desire to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. How do our lives adorn the truth of the gospel?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Consider particularly Paul’s words in verses 9-10. Do you, as an employee, live out those verses? Take time to plan for how to better obey Scripture.
  • Pray for God’s grace to live a life that adorns the gospel message.

 

Making Disciples | Titus 2:1-6

Week 6 | Study Guide & Sermon

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1)

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. (Titus 2:2)

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3-5)

OPENING THOUGHT

Having now concluded the first chapter of Titus, we can now easily see that Paul’s theme and focus throughout it was establishing a correct view of church leadership. First, we learned that the New Testament assumes a plurality of elders leading and shepherding the local churches. Second, Paul delivered to us a list of qualifications for being an elder of a church, as well as emphasizing the importance of pastors leading the church in holding firm to the Scriptures. Third, the apostle gave a rousing exhortation against false teachers, during which he warned Titus how to both identify and confront them.

Moving into the second chapter of Titus, there is a shift of focus from one aspect of the church to another, a shift from leadership to membership. Paul’s overall aim throughout chapter two is to reinforce the importance of each Christian living a godly life for the glory of Jesus Christ. Just as we covered leadership in three parts, we will spend an equal amount of time on members. Across this chapter, we will continue to see the same basic theme of the letter: the marriage of sound doctrine and good works.

Paul begins our discussion of active church members with a familiar topic: discipleship. Since we know that Jesus’ final command to His disciples before ascending to heaven was the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), it should come as no surprise that Paul would consider this crucial for every Christian to understand. By speaking to older and younger men and women in purposefully broad generality, he seeks to encourage and guide everyone into further obeying Jesus’ command to make disciples.

Read verse 1 and discuss the following.

  1. In this verse, Paul urges Titus to teach sound doctrine. Why is sound doctrine so important for the church?

Read verses 2-6 and discuss the following.

  1. These verses present Paul’s practical view of discipleship within the church. What is discipleship? Why is it important?
  2. Paul presents four categories of people (older and younger men and older and younger women). Which category do you fall under? Does your life reflect the characteristics that Paul describes?
  3. The apostle commands the older men and women to train younger men and women in both theological and practical things. Why is this training important? Do you actively practice this?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Consider your life in light of Jesus’ command to make disciples. Make a list of areas where you succeed and fail in discipling others and being discipled by others and a list of how you might grow in discipleship.
  • Pray for the kingdom of God to continue expanding into the earth through the making of disciples and for the Lord’s guidance in how you can more effectively make disciples.

 

Is Church Membership Biblical?

In my spare time, I have recently begun to compose a membership packet for the church. Obviously, this has caused me to starting thinking deeply about the entire concept of church membership, so I decided to initiate the membership packet by answering the question of whether or not church membership is biblical (which is what I am sharing here). The following is slightly adapted to make it more suitable for being on a blog, and I owe much of the following thoughts to Jonathan Leeman and his book, Church Membership (which is certainly worth reading).

All of that said, here are some of my thoughts on the basic idea of church membership.


A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35

Have you ever seriously considered the idea of church membership?

I mean, the concept is mentioned nowhere in the Bible. You have the church, the body of Christ, discussed in terms of a family, a nation, and even a flock of sheep. Never, though, is it spoken of in terms of membership.

This is because our cultural presuppositions tell us that memberships belong with clubs and organizations, and while the church is in some sense an organization, the Bible never condenses the weight of being a part of Christ’s body into the terms of merely joining a social group. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we do the biblical idea of the church a severe injustice by simplifying it down to social-organizational terms.

Look no further than the four descriptions that Peter gives of followers of Christ: we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession.”[1] As new creations in Christ, Peter calls us a chosen race, a new breed of humanity that is being remade in the image of Jesus. We are also now citizens of a heavenly kingdom, a nation within the nations of the earth. The apostles, likewise, use familial terms for believers throughout their letters. The idea of Christians living among a tightly-bound community of other Christians is outlined by our Lord Himself in the verses listed above: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” To be clear, one of the primary goals of following Christ is to let the world know that we follow Him and how they too can know Him. Thus, loving one another is intricately tied into the very core of being a Christian. Biblically, you simply cannot be a Christian if you have no love for other Christians.

If we, therefore, begin to think of church membership more in terms of a citizenship or becoming a member of a family, we then have a very biblical idea on our hands, an idea that is present throughout Scripture. This is the concept of church membership that I want to emphasize.

Furthermore, if you seek membership, the church ought to not ask that you join the church but that you submit to the church. Note that in saying this, we must remember that the local church is a collective body of followers of Christ. Thus, in doing so, we are obeying Paul’s call for each of us to submit “to one another out of reverence for Christ.”[2] With this comes “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom”[3], but it also involves serving each other: “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave”.[4] As being a part of Jesus’ church, we also obey our “leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”[5]

I, therefore, urge you to submit to your church, not simply join it. By doing this, you become a servant to the rest of the body of Christ, a brother or sister in Jesus’ family, a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

Does this mean a Christian must become a member of a local church before truly being saved?

Absolutely not! In one sense, every believer upon salvation becomes a part of the universal Church, which encompasses all followers of Christ. But I would also argue that if you are saved, you will long to become a part of a local church of Jesus followers.

You will crave to have other brothers and sisters in Christ to live life with, to teach and help one another.

You will desire to be under leadership, whom God has placed to watch over your soul and to serve as a model of how to follow Christ.

Ultimately, if we are followers of Christ, we will love one another, just as Jesus loved us, so that the world might know that we are His disciples.

If we are then to have church membership, let us strive to do so by emphasizing all of the weight and depth that the Bible gives to being a member of Christ’s body.

[1] 1 Peter 2:9

[2] Ephesians 5:21

[3] Colossians 3:16

[4] Matthew 20:26-27

[5] Hebrews 13:17