Archive for the ‘Pastoral ministry’ Category

The Presentation of Infants in the Christian Assembly

December 30, 2015

Baptists, and many other Free Churches, hold to the biblical principle of a regenerate church membership. In other words, they believe that the church consists only of truly converted people. This is the main reason why such churches do not practise infant baptism. Another reason for this position is the complete lack of evidence for infant baptism, and the Scriptural emphasis upon faith as a prerequisite for baptism.

Some people imagine, wrongly, that such churches neglect children and have no place for them in their church practice. This is, of course, a complete misunderstanding of the biblical teaching and of Baptist practice.

In the first place, the Bible teaches that parents are primarily responsible for the teaching and training of their children.
In the second place, Baptists and other Free Churches run Sunday Schools and other meetings aimed at winning children to Christ and teaching them the Word of God.

In the third place such churches have a very long tradition of presenting children to the Lord in a public service, sometimes called an infant dedication service. Some may jibe at the word ‘tradition’ but it is important to remember that there are good traditions as well as bad ones. Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians exhorted them to ‘stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.’ Later he wrote commanding them to ‘withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.’ (2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6). The tradition of infant dedication is biblically based, theologically sound and historically practised.

This service, of infant dedication or presentation, can be a most impressive and moving service. Of course, like the Lord’s Supper and baptism, or any other service, it can become a mere formality. But this should not happen if the parents’ hearts are right and they are properly prepared for it.

Although the majority of Baptist and similar churches have such services, sometimes parents either through lack of teaching, misunderstanding or a misplaced conviction, neglect or decline to present their children to the Lord in the congregation of the saints.
Lack of teaching or biblical knowledge can be dealt with by instruction, but the objections of others need to be considered. The objections are mainly twofold.

First, some object on the grounds that the infant dedication service may be mistaken as a ‘surrogate baptism.’ This is a very weak argument which does not show either the church or the minister in a very favourable light. How can an infant dedication service be misunderstood as a ‘dry baptism’ if the parents’ hearts are right and the minister has taught the church and explained the service? One might as well object to the Lord’s Supper on the ground that it might be mistaken for a ‘surrogate Mass’! Why is it that the Lord’s Supper held in an evangelical church is not mistaken for a Mass? Surely it is because of the church’s doctrinal position, the understanding and intention of the congregation, and the teaching of the pastor. Similarly, in a well-taught church, if the parents’ intentions are right and the pastor’s explanation clear there will be no possibility that a properly conducted infant dedication could be understood as a ‘surrogate baptism.’

Of course, you will always get some non-Christians, or badly taught Christians, who will wilfully misunderstand the meaning of any church practice. For example, in the days of the early church some pagans charged the Christians with cannibalism because they spoke of eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood. However, the early church did not discard the Lord’s Supper for fear of what people might think! This is why, in a properly conducted baptismal service, for example, the person conducting the baptism will explain what believer’s baptism is and what it is not. The objection that a properly conducted infant dedication might be seen as a ‘surrogate baptism’ does not hold water!

A second objection to the historic practice of infant dedication is that there is no New Testament warrant for it. This objection is due to lack of Scripture knowledge and of historic development, for there is New Testament warrant for such a service. Moreover, this argument would apply even more strongly to a Christian Marriage service as there is no example of a Christian wedding service in the Bible. Have you ever attended a Christian burial service? If you were consistent you would not have done so, for there is no precedent for a Christian funeral service in the New Testament.

In fact, there is far less evidence for a Christian wedding service or funeral than there is for an infant dedication as we shall see. All of Scripture is written for our learning (1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
Also we are exhorted to follow Christ’s example (Matt. 11:28-30; 1 Peter 2:21; John 13:15).

Now let us turn to Luke 2:22ff. Here we read that Jesus was taken up to Jerusalem to be presented in the temple. This was nothing to do with his circumcision which had taken place previously, eight days after his birth, in his home town (v. 21). The presentation in the temple took place forty days after the birth and was partly a thanksgiving for safe delivery from child birth (See Leviticus 12:1-8).
Notice in this account in Luke the number of references to ‘the law’.

In verse 22 it is the law of Moses, in verse 23 and 24, the law of the Lord, as it is also in verse 29. Notice particularly the phrase in verse 27, ‘the custom of the law’. The very least we can say about this emphasis is that it was obviously the regular custom among God’s people to present a newborn child before the Lord.

They offered a sacrifice of two doves, which the priest took care of. We no longer have to do that as all blood sacrifices are fulfilled in Christ. But we do have to offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving (Heb. 13:15, 16). At that stage in redemption history there were no Christian pastors. The priest would have taken care of the sacrifice, but he is not mentioned as that aspect is unimportant under the New Covenant. Instead, the Lord used a Sprit-filled, just and devout man who was obviously in touch with God, and clearly was fulfilling God’s will. He took the child in his arms, blessed God and gave thanks to God. Simeon also prayed for Mary and Joseph. Anna also gave thanks to God for the infant Jesus. As this was in the temple, a public place, there would have been other devout people present. Here is a clear example of a child (Jesus) who is to be our example, being presented publicly to God in the company of God’s people. Is it any wonder that millions of Christians down the centuries have followed Christ’s example, and the example of his parents? The introduction of infant baptism in the second century certainly muddied the waters, but we should not fail to follow biblical precedent because others have gone astray.

Just as churches have developed a communion service, a baptismal service, wedding services and funeral services, so Free churches have followed this biblical precedent and developed a dedication service. Provided that adequate teaching is give beforehand, clear explanation is provided during the service, and the parents’ hearts are right and their understanding clear, there is no danger of misunderstanding this biblical service. It is surely significant that both Baptist and FIEC churches publish a Service Manual which contains an Infant Dedication Service.

Today a properly conducted infant dedication or presentation service usually includes the following elements:

1. Thanksgiving to God for the safe recovery of the mother.
2. Thanksgiving for the safe delivery and the gift of the child.
3. Acknowledgement that the child belongs to God and is given on trust.
4. A consecration of the parents to the sacred task of parenthood.
5. Prayer for child and parents.
6. A recognition of the Christian community of their responsibility in setting a good example and in prayer.
It should not be overlooked that such a service, as with many other special services, affords a very important opportunity to give teaching. As the minister explains the meaning and importance of the service, what it is and what it is not, the church, parents and visitors are informed and instructed. Such a service can also be an evangelistic opportunity if unconverted relatives attend.

Among the many signs of declension in the church and the nation, is the increasing biblical illiteracy, along with the neglect or abandonment of various godly practices and biblical traditions. Among such are the habit of daily devotions or ‘Quiet Times’, the practice of conducting family worship, and the service of infant presentation in the local church.
APPENDIX: A TYPICAL INFANT DEDICATION SERVICE (Where both Parents are Christians. A modified form of service is available for those cases in which one parent is a believer and the other is willing to go through with the service. Where neither is a Christian it is not appropriate to hold such a service).

Reading: Deut. 6:4-7.

Introduction: Before commencing the actual service an explanation is given regarding the following for the sake of any (relatives, friends) who might not understand: First, this is not a baptismal service; secondly, Jesus was presented as a child, even though He was baptized later as an adult; Third, in this service we (a) give thanks to God for the life of the mother and baby, safe delivery, etc., (b) acknowledge God’s interest in the child, (c) seek God’s blessing on the child, (d) recognize the parents’ responsibilities, and give them an opportunity to express their intentions publicly, (e) recognize the local church’s responsibility to aid the parents by prayer and practical help.

(To the Parents) In presenting this child to the Lord, do you recognise that he/she belongs to God and is given you on trust? (Or, Do you acknowledge the claim of God upon this young child whom He has entrusted to your care?)

PARENTS: “We do.”

Is it your desire that he/she should be given wholly to the Lord, and is it your intention to bring him/her up to know and love the Lord?

PARENTS: “It is our desire and intention so to do.”
Do you then promise, that in dependence on divine grace and in partnership with the Body of Christ her, to teach him/her the truths and duties of the Christian faith, and by prayer, precept and example, to bring him/her up in the ways of the Lord?

[Alternative wording: Do you therefore promise that by God’s grace and strength you will surround this child with your love and prayers, that you will endeavour to give him/her all the benefits of a Christian home, that you will instruct him/her in God’s Word and ways, setting forth Christ in your own lives by word and deed, in the hope that by His mercy, God will in due time lead him/her to repentance and faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?]

PARENTS: “We do.”
MINISTER reads one or more of the following Scriptures: Deut. 6:4-7 – “Hear O Israel…”. Psalm 103:17,18 – “The lovingkindness of the Lord…children’s children.” Psalm 127:1,3 – “Unless the Lord builds the house…children are a gift from the Lord.” Matthew 18:1-6, 10,14. – “Except you become as little children…” Matthew 19:13-15 – “The Kingdom of heaven belongs to such.” Mark 10:13-16 – “Permit the children to come to me… and He blessed them.”

MINISTER to the HUSBAND: Will you seek to be the proper head and leader of your home, leading both by your life and by your words? Will you exercise true and proper discipline according to the Scriptures, and be a comfort, shelter, and covering to this child as you are to your wife?

HUSBAND: “I will endeavour so to do, God being my helper.”

Minister to the WIFE: Will you endeavour to make your home a haven of peace, and by your godly example teach the child to submit to their father’s authority, and to follow the Lord Jesus Christ? Will you give full support to your husband in his leadership role, in his exercise of discipline, and in his covering care?

WIFE: “I will endeavour so to do, God being my helper.”
MINISTER takes the child in his arms and, laying his hand upon the child’s head, says, “[NAME], the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you and give you peace.”

The Minister gives the child to the father, symbolizing the latter’s responsibility for the child.
A Hymn is sung, usually chosen by the parents or the minister.

Misdirection and Misapprehension

November 6, 2013

In my teens I was interested in conjuring.  I used to perform at church concerts and socials.  However, when I was converted at the age of sixteen I gave up conjuring.  I felt it sat uneasily with my new-found faith. Conjuring is all about deception.  One of the main techniques in conjuring is misdirection.  The performer directs attention away from what he is really doing.  He pretends to be doing one thing but is really doing another.  This misdirection is intentional and deliberate.

Whether it is realized by its adherents or not, Covenant Theology involves misdirection.  This is not deliberate and is not intended.  The believers in  Covenant Theology are not engaged in deception, far from it.  They are very sincere.  But they themselves are being deceived by misdirection, and so come to misapprehend what the Bible teaches.  Sometimes, Baptist and  Covenant theologians, influenced by the 1689 Confession, which is largely based upon the Westminster Confession, will use Covenant terminology, such as “the covenant of grace”.  But this is misleading and can lead to misapprehension.

Here are three examples of misdirection:

  1. The misunderstanding of Genesis 3:15.  Covenant theologians refer to this verse as a “covenant promise.”  But this is erroneous and so is misleading.  It is a case of misdirection leading to misapprehension.  Why is this so?  First, because these words are addressed to Satan not Adam.  Second, because the context is curse not covenant.  The word “covenant” is nowhere mentioned in this passage.  Third, this is a threat, or rather a prediction, not a promise.  Certainly, of course, believers recognize in these words to Satan the first hint of the cross, but that is not its main thrust.  Fourth, God does not establish His covenants via Satan; the serpent is not an intermediary between God and man.  Fifth, when God establishes a covenant he always addresses those with whom he is making the covenant, or their representatives.
  2. The misunderstanding of Acts chapter seven and verse 38.  Here, in the AV is a reference to “the church in the wilderness.”  The word translated “church” is ekklesia.”  It expresses the idea of ‘called out ones’, and is properly translated ‘assembly’.  By the translation of this word as “church” in Acts 7:38 it is assumed that the church existed in the wilderness.  But this is another case of misdirection leading to misapprehension.  To see this, note that the same word, “ekklesia” is used of the assembly of citizens in Ephesus in Acts 19:32, 39 and 41.  Should we then call them the church also?  Of course not.  If we translate the word consistently as “assembly, then there is no necessary ecclesiastical connection.  The context then decides which assembly is being referred to.  The church of Jesus Christ, the Christian assembly, was formed at Pentecost.  The Lord Jesus Christ said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18) clearly indicating that this was a future activity.
  3. The third misdirection leading to misapprehension concerns the use of the phrase, “covenant of grace.”  This phrase was coined to refer to God’s overarching purpose of redemption, but it has become misleading.  It gives the impression that there is only one covenant, and so it “papers over the cracks” in Covenant Theology.  But “covenant of grace” is not a biblical phrase.  It is found nowhere in the Bible.  Yet people refer to it as though it were an established fact of history, rather than a theological construct.  In fact it misdirects people’s attention away from the biblical teaching that there is a clear distinction between the various covenants.
    1. For example, the covenant with Abraham was about the land, and God promised a multiplicity of descendants.  That is why the sign of circumcision is relevant to that promise.  A small operation on the male organ of reproduction will be a permanent reminder that God has promised many descendants.
    2. The covenant made with Israel at Sinai was not the same one.  Moses expressly declared that the covenant made at Horeb was not made with the “fathers” (Deut. 5:2, 3).  The distinctive sign of this covenant was the Sabbath (Ex. 31:12-18; cf. Ezekiel 20:12, 20).
    3. In Jeremiah’s prophecy God declares that the New Covenant would be “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers” (Jer. 31:31-34).  In the New Testament this New Covenant is ratified by the Lord Jesus at the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  The distinctive sign is the cup representing Christ’s blood.  Hebrews 8:7 implies that the old covenant was faulty, while verse 15 states that it was obsolete, growing old and ready to vanish away.  The New Covenant is not to be identified with the Old Covenant made with Israel (Compare also 2 Cor. 3”7-18; Gal. 4:21-31; Heb. 7:22; 9:15ff.).

Clearly there is a definite distinction between these covenants, and to gather them together and call them aspects of one covenant using a non-biblical phrase to do so, is misleading.  We must beware of theological misdirection that leads to misapprehension.

Situations Vacant

November 14, 2012

There is a desperate need for men to fulfill a certain vital role.  There are many vacancies in Christian work, of course, but the ones I have in mind are rarely recognized as a special need.  The role I have in mind is that of mender of broken churches.  It is not an easy job, and usually requires a measure of experience.  All around the country are churches that are declining, dying or dead.  We read in the media about business men who have the skill and know-how to turn around failing businesses.  We need ministers who have the experience and know-how to turn around dying churches.  Here I am not speaking of revival.  In revival things are taken out of the hands of men.  God takes the field and thousands are converted in a short time.  Hundreds of churches are planted very rapidly.  But while we pray and wait on God for revival, we must continue to work.  And there is no greater need than mending broken churches.  This is not an attractive task for most men.  Most ministers would, understandably, rather go to a thriving church or one with obvious potential.  Or they would rather plant a new church, and there is a great need for that ministry, too.  It is an attractive, though difficult task to start a new church in the present spiritual climate.  But it is attractive because one can start with a clean sheet, as it were, with no old die-hard traditions to overcome.  At least that is the case if the church is formed with new converts.  A church formed with malcontents from other churches is likely to get off to a crippled start.  But to take on a church that is at a low ebb and turn it round, that is the great need today.  Why? Because there are thousands of such churches, and few men to take them on.  It is often easier to start from scratch.  So some churches do need to be shut down, others closed temporarily and then re-started.  But many, with the right leadership can be brought to life again.

What qualities are desirable for this task?  Well, first of all, the qualities listed in my previous blog, The Call to the Ministry.  In other words, it is preferable that the minister has some experience.  It is by no means impossible for a new minister just launching out to be used to turn around his first church, but normally experience is required.  So there are additional qualities required, or existing qualities to be re-emphasized.  Here are the ones that come to me.  Other people may have other suggestions.

  1. Stickability, or willingness to persist in the face of difficulties and opposition.  An outstanding example is Charles Simeon, who experienced vicious and persistent opposition and persecution in Cambridge for ten or so years, before he saw victory and great blessing.  Read Derek Prime’s new book on Simeon to learn from that.
  2. Along with persistence is patience.  This is almost the same thing, but not quite.  Such a task is not achieved overnight.  Even where there is no strong opposition, patience is needed to see fruit.  Only last week a retired minister who had seen great blessing in his thirteen year ministry in a certain  church, and is chiefly remembered for the blessing, told me himself, that for the first six years,  there was, to use his own word – nothing.  No blessing for six years, then after that the tide turned and blessing ensued.
  3. Agape love.  This is something we do not have naturally.  Some men are naturally affable and outgoing.  Others are not.  But we all need to grow in grace and the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  We must love the sheep even if we cannot naturally like some recalcitrant old ewes!  (I Cor. 13; John 13:34, 35).
  4. Much prayer.  This is a truism and as such is easily overlooked.  All ministers must pray regularly and earnestly or they are hypocrites, but special prayer is more than ever needed in a dead or dying church.  Read the biographies of men greatly used of God and without exception you will find they prayed much.  If possible, gather a few prayerful folk to pray together at times apart from the regular services.  Our Lord took Peter and James and John further than the others in prayer.  Power Through Prayer by E. M. Bounds never fails to challenge and inspire me.
  5. Stand firm for principles, biblical principles not prejudices, but be flexible on non-essentials.  And move gently, carefully and steadily.  Avoid giving unnecessary offence by avoiding scolding, sarcasm or harsh words.  A Christian couple started attending  a certain church and after some weeks the minister made reference briefly to the Jews in a sermon.  Afterwards this couple asked him about his views on the Jews.  He gave a blunt no-compromising answer on the spot.  They never came again.  He would have been better to have said something like, well, this is a big question; may I come and talk to you about this some time?  I made similar mistake.  After I retired a lady at the church we attended for a time asked me if I was a Calvinist.  Yes, I replied.  I could tell that she did not approve, though she did not leave!  On reflection I realized that I should have said something like, well, it all depends on what you mean by Calvinism.  I say this because not only are there several shades of Calvinism, but also because many people have a complete misunderstanding of what Calvinism is.
  6. Distinguish between teaching and preaching.  We read of our Lord that he went around teaching and preaching.  This is not a tautology. It is not meaningless repetition.  Although there is a measure of overlap and some teaching takes place in preaching, many ministers fail to take advantage of the difference.  Preaching is declaration as a herald with no necessary feedback or immediate response from the congregation.  Teaching, however, takes many forms and allows for feedback, or discussion, and encourages it.  Jesus asked questions of his hearers and answered questions they asked him.  One of the great advantages of flexible teaching is that the teacher can clear up misunderstandings, and also find out where the hearers are, what they believe, what they understand or misunderstand.  In any case, valuable insights and useful contributions may be made by members of the congregation.  A great opportunity is missed if not only the Sunday services but also the mid-week meetings consist only of preaching or lectures.  Both teaching and preaching should be made relevant by loving application.  All-Age Bible School or Sunday School has proved invaluable, not only because there is then no cut-off point where teenagers leave because they have reached the top class, but also because it causes adults to engage in serious Bible Study.
  7. Engage in discipling.  We are to make disciples not converts (Matt. 28:19, 20).    The words Christian and believer are rarely used in the New Testament.  The regular word is disciple, and a disciple is a disciplined learner. Spending time discipling new Christians will pay dividends in the long run.  There are excellent books available on this subject, such as Discipleship by Alan Hadidian.
  8. Introduce training of leaders and preachers.  These two are not identical.  Good leaders are not all good preachers.  How inconsistent it is to expect pastors to be trained but not elders or deacons.  Good preachers may not necessarily be good leaders though, of course, many are.  J. Oswald Sanders’s classic, Spiritual Leadership, is well worth reading several times over. We should aim to pass on to others what we have learned. (2 Timothy 2:2).
  9. Never stop learning.  No one ever has known it all, nor ever will.  When a person stops learning they nearly always stop teaching, or at least cease to remain fresh.  To assume that you know it all is not only false, but it is a manifestation of pride, the basic sin.  That means being open to suggestions and correction.  This does not mean that you accept every suggestion or attempted correction, but that you are willing to consider what others say without rejecting them out of hand.
  10. Maintain your own close walk with the Lord.  This is essential, not only for your own sake, but for the sake of the flock.  You need to be a clean channel so that the living water may flow freely.  This includes being careful to shepherd your own family (if you have one) for they are your primary concern as a shepherd.  An itinerant preacher once stated that when he visited a church he looked at the minister’s wife, and if she seemed to have been baptized in lemon juice he knew there was a problem!

In all our work we must proclaim Christ crucified in the power of the Holy Spirit.  After all, we are exhorted to go on being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), and the Spirit testifies of Christ.  This is best done by the careful, lively, relevant exposition of the Word of God, for it is the Word of grace that builds up a church (2 Tim. 4:2; Acts 20:32).

Where are such men to come from?  The Lord Jesus Christ gave the answer when he said, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest (Matthew 9:36-38).

Church Membership

January 23, 2012

Church membership is extremely important.  At first glance it may seem that there is little about it in the New Testament.  But as we study what the Scriptures say about the church we learn much about church membership.  In the New Testament various illustrations describe the church of Christ.

  1. ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE CHURCH

A number of different metaphors are used in the Bible to describe the people of God. The Church is referred to as a ‘flock’, a ‘vine’, a ‘nation’, a ‘temple’, a ‘bride’, and a ‘body’, to cite but a few descriptive terms. Of these, the term ‘body’, is one of the most frequently used descriptions and is not only a Biblical description, but a functional definition, too, (Eph. 4:13).  Each of the pictures of the church is a metaphor, an analogy from which we can learn a great deal.

The figure of the church as a body speaks of life, unity, action, of the value and necessity of each member, and especially of the Headship of Christ.

The church as a building composed of living stones (Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Peter 2:5) speaks of plan,  structure, purpose, progress, and the indwelling of God by His Spirit.

The church as the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-32; Rev. 21:9,10) speaks of union with Christ, beauty, love, and the longing for the Bridegroom to return.

The branches speak of the life of Christ flowing through us, of fruitfulness and the pruning exercised by the Vine dresser.

II.         SOME IMPLICATIONS OF THE TERM “BODY OF CHRIST”

Let us begin with a tentative definition. The Body of Christ, the Church, is the visible manifestation of the living Christ in a company of disciples of Christ living in a prescribed geographical area who have entered into a committed relationship to each other. ‘Body’ implies visibility. The Holy Spirit, the life of the Body, is invisible, but the Body itself should be, in a sense, the visible manifestation of the Spirit of Christ. The Church, as the Body of Christ, is not only seen by God but by the world as well. The world should be able to observe the church’s behaviour and glorify God (I Pet. 2:12 cf. Matt. 5:16).

There is another looser definition which would speak of the Body of Christ as “all Christians of all ages who will one day be united in Christ at the end of time”. That also is a true definition. Indeed it is the ultimate. But we have no means of knowing just who belongs to it. Nor can we see it in its totality. Neither can we observe it functioning as a Body. The final manifestation of the Church of Christ as the Bride of Christ awaits the future God-given moment. In the meantime, the only Body of Christ we can see is the local one. Indeed most, if not all, of the references to the Body of Christ in the New Testament are local, not universal. Paul was writing to a specific Church (Corinthians) when he said, “You are the Body of Christ”. The two definitions are not contradictory but complementary, but the concept of the universal Body of Christ is rather theoretical and doctrinal, whereas the concept of the local Body of Christ is practical and functional. It is this latter definition we are mainly concerned about here.

The very nature of the analogy ‘body’ implies that there is a close, firm and permanent attachment of one member (limb) to another under the Headship of Christ. Only in this condition will life exist! The bloodstream in a physical body provides nourishment, cleansing, healing and many other things. This is only possible so long as the limbs are not severed. Of course, the body concept is only a metaphor, and where a believer is forced to be alone, through imprisonment or extreme isolation, the Lord will provide strength and sustenance in some other way (cf. I Kings 19:5­7). But if, through a spirit of rebellion or independence, through self-will, pride, or other sin, a professing Christian refuses to join a true local Church, that person cannot expect such special provision. And other Christians may be excused for wondering whether that person is truly born-again. It may be that they are truly born-again, but they lack teaching or hold false doctrine, which has enabled the sins already mentioned to get a hold on them.

III.       MEMBERSHIP OF THE BODY OF CHRIST

  1. Definition.

The word ‘member’ has two different, though related, meanings. It can mean one who belongs to a society or club or organization. It can also mean a part of the human body. It is the latter meaning which is found in the New Testament. When, for example, in I Cor. 12 Paul writes about ‘members’, he is not speaking about people who belong to an organization, but about the limbs of a body. We use the word ‘member’ in this sense when we speak about a body being ‘dis-membered’, that is having its limbs cut off. A member of a body is a limb, or some other part of the body, and that is the true meaning of Church membership. It is ‘limbship’. We are limbs or parts of the Body when we are members of a local Church.

  1. Application.

There are some strange and unscriptural ideas around concerning church membership.  A few evangelical churches do not believe in membership at all.  This would seem to be quite unbiblical, but may be due to misunderstanding.  If a person is asked, “Which Church do you belong to?” and replies, “the universal Church” (or some similar reply), no information has been given. Every Christian belongs to that! But every Christian is expected to be in fellowship with other believers. This is the local Church. A person who is not in fellowship, in a committed relationship, under pastoral care, is out of the will of God.

In the first place the New Testament speaks quite clearly of believers being members of the body of Christ (Rom.12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 4:25).  This implies a visible connection.  In the second place we read of believers being added to the local church and being joined to the Lord (Acts 2:41,47; cf. 1Cor. 6:17) which implies a definite act of joining.

In the third place, how can pastors or elders care for the flock if they are not clear who they are, if they are not a clearly defined number?  The apostle Paul instructed the elders of Ephesus to take care of the flock of God. Acts 20:28 – “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”   This presupposes a known body of people which, whether there is a list or not, is membership of a specific group.  The elders  need to know them. Proverbs 27:23 – “Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, and attend to your herds.”

Peter urges the elders to shepherd the flock of God and speaks of those “entrusted” to them.

1 Peter 5:2‑3 –  “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; [3] nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”  If people are “entrusted “ to elders or pastors for spiritual care they need to know exactly who they are.  After all, they are to give an account for them. Hebrews 13:17 – “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”  You can only be accountable for people if you know precisely who they are.  That means there must be a specific membership of the flock.

In the fourth place, how can church discipline be carried out if there is no recognized membership?  If no one is ‘in’ membership they cannot be cast ‘out’. The word ‘member’ as used in the New Testament, is not to be identified with merely having your name on a church roll, keeping certain rules and contributing to the offering.  That has been described as ‘club type membership’.  New Testament church membership is being a ‘limb’ of a living body.

But here another misunderstanding arises.  Some evangelical churches agree that believers ought to be ‘in fellowship’, that is, in membership, but in order to avoid nominal membership and the ‘club’ image, have done away with membership lists altogether.  But they have missed the point.  Many churches without lists of members are as much like clubs as other ‘club-type’ churches.  Doing away with a list of members does not automatically deal with nominal membership.  Would that it were that easy! A list of members is purely an administrative convenience.  If Christians are in fellowship someone must know who they are, and therefore a list exists even if it is only in the minds of the elders!  Besides, there are plenty of lists in the New Testament (Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 6:13-16; Matt. 10:2-4; Acts 1:13; 2:42, cf. 1 Tim. 5:9).  What was said about church discipline above applies here also.

In connection with belonging to a local church, consider each of those metaphors in turn.

If you were walking along the street and came across a severed human hand lying on the pavement you would recoil in horror.  But when a church member extends a hand to you, you do not recoil!  What is the difference?  In the former case the severed hand is gruesome and unnatural.  In the latter case the hand is attached to a living human body and is perfectly normal.  The word “member” in the New Testament really means a part of the body or  “limb”.  Membership is “limbship” We are all meant to be joined together as limbs to a body.

In connection with the analogy of the church members forming a building for the Lord’s dwelling, consider the difference between a pile of bricks and a well-designed building.  A pile of bricks has no order, is rather unsightly and fairly useless.  A building demonstrates design, order, structure, purpose, and hopefully, beauty.  Anyone can steal a brick from a pile, but it is much harder to steal a brick from the wall of a well-built building.  Again, a brick lying on the ground has five of its six sides exposed to the elements, but in a wall only one side is exposed.  Moreover, in a wall each brick is supported and in turn supports others.

As for the bride, a dis-membered bride hardly bears thinking about!

  1. Requirements for Membership.

To be an effective limb of the Body, there need to be two things: life and connection.

  1. Life

Life comes to us through the New Birth (Jn. 3:3,5). The evidence of regeneration is seen when a person repents, believes, and lives the life. If they have truly repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, they will have entered into a relationship of obedience to Him. He is Lord. As an act of obedience and of consecration to Him, the new-born believer will be baptized . Upon repentance and faith they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who provides the power to live the Christian life. (Acts 2:38).  But life must not be in isolation. There must be a vital relationship with other believers.

  1. Committed relationship

Life and committed relationship cannot really be seen in isolation in the Body of Christ, any more than they can in the human body. There is considerable overlap. For example, while immersion in water in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one manifestation of

new life, it is also a baptism into Christ, the public sign of entrance into the Church. Similarly, while baptism in the Holy Spirit, received at conversion, places a believer in the Body of Christ, it is also the Holy Spirit who enables them to become a fully participating member of the local Body (cf.. I Cor. 12:13).

  1. Joining the Church.

This being ‘joined’ or ‘added’ to the local Church is a vitally important matter. It has several parts to it which may be examined under the headings of parts of the body.  (See also the article on Procedures in receiving members).

  1. Joints

God’s people are related by joints (Eph. 4:16; Col. 2:19). Just as the limbs of a physical body are related by joints, so the Church, a many-membered Body, is related by joints. A visible body requires visible joints. But these joints must be functional, not merely theoretical or mystical. One dictionary defines ‘joint’ as “the place where, or mode in which, two or more things join, with power of movement”.

Generally, a joint is thought of as a relationship between individual members who are likewise related to others. The sum total of members and joints make up the whole Body and all the members (limbs) are joined to Christ, the Head.

Scripturally speaking, joints have three primary functions:

  1. Joints hold the members together and in place.
  1. Joints transmit life, or supply sustenance, etc., from one member to another, and in so doing perpetuate the growth of the Body.
  1. Joints enable the Body to function as a whole and the individual members to function within the Body in a way they could not in isolation.

If joints (relationships) between members of the Body are weak, then members can easily get ‘out of joint’ and out of place. Such a condition renders them undependable and useless to the purpose of God. It also causes pain and limitation to the entire Body. Weak, ill-defined and undernourished relationships have put many members out of joint.

Without joints, the Body would soon become a re-enactment of Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones, the scattered memory of a once great army. The first step in that prophetic restoration was that bone came to his bone (Ez. 37:7). In other words, the right people must get together in the right way to function in God’s purpose under Jesus’ Headship. It is not diversity within the Church that causes weakness, but rather lack of sufficiently strong joints to hold the members in place together as they provide their unique contribution to the Body. Strong commitment, member to member, is required before there is the freedom to function which will do God’s will. Strong edification and correction best come in an atmosphere pre-conditioned by covenant commitment. Members of Christ’s Body whose insecurity or fear keep them from strong relationships, doom themselves to shallow communication, irresponsibility, and an uncorrected life.

  1. Ligaments.

In Col. 2:19 there is a reference to ‘ligaments’. In the physical body ligaments are the bands of tissue which hold bones together at the point where they are joined. The joint depends on the ligament for its strength.  In the Body of Christ, if the joints are the inter-personal relationships between believers whom God joins together, then the ligaments are descriptive of the covenant commitment which keeps such joints strong and secure. In addition to the covenants made between God and man in the Bible, we read also of covenants made between men (e.g. Gen. 31:43-54; I Kings 5:8-12). In these covenants each of the parties had his clearly defined obligations.  When new churches are planted the participants in the venture usually “covenant” together to form the church, and this is usually referred to in the founding document. Among the Semitic peoples portrayed in the Bible, part of the procedure involved in two parties entering into a covenant was sharing a common meal together, in particular breaking bread from one loaf and drinking from one cup. This is why it was particularly appropriate for the Lord Jesus Christ to initiate the New Covenant at a solemn meal with the bread and the cup, (Matt. 26:20-28). By this one act all who participated in it were thereafter bound together in a sacred covenant. Ever since then, partaking of the Lord’s Supper has included the element of a renewal of the covenant by which all who partake are bound to the Lord and to each other.

So we have members, joints, and ligaments. No doubt many other parallels could be drawn. But the most important part of the Body is the Head. The Lord Jesus Christ is the sole Head of the Church. He is the final authority. All lesser authorities derive from Him, and it is to Him that we look for guidance and direction.

A person who is spiritually alive, who acknowledges Christ as Head, may thus join a local Church by entering into this lovely relationship of mutual trust, mutual love, and mutual respect. There will also be a sense of mutual responsibility and mutual respect for one another.

Clearly, a person who does not recognise Christ as Lord, cannot be a member of any true Church. But to be a member of a particular Church, it is clearly essential that the applicant should be in full agreement with the doctrine preached by the church, be willing to enter into this committed relationship, recognizing the God-given leaders and the other members of that Body. A person may be very sincere in what he believes, but if he will not accept the other members, will not recognize the men God has appointed, and does not accept the teaching given, he is in no position to become a member of that local Body of Christ. We can only receive a person up to the level that a person is prepared to commit themselves.

The Question of Alcohol

August 6, 2011


Should a minister or a missionary, or indeed a Christian, drink alcohol?  For missionaries to Muslim countries the answer perhaps is clear.  Alcohol is forbidden in those lands.  Nor does the Bible appear to give a definite answer at first glance.  But there are principles taught in the Bible which are meant to influence our behaviour.

However, before we examine the Scriptures let us take into account the modern situation, for it is very different from Bible times in several respects.

In the first place, as far as beverages containing alcohol are concerned, in Bible times there was basically just wine and a form of beer.  Today there are many alcoholic beverages including very strong spirits and for many young people a tempting step down to the abuse of other substances, in other words, stronger drugs.  The possibilities of becoming seriously inebriated are very much greater.

Secondly, modern civilization has produced many potentially dangerous situations, such as driving motor vehicles and planes, etc.  In Bible times if a man got drunk and mounted his donkey he would be unlikely to cause a serious accident, but a driver of any motorized vehicle today who is under the influence of alcohol can become guilty of manslaughter within seconds of starting to drive.  The modern situation is therefore much more complicated.

Thirdly, modern science has discovered much more about alcohol and the human body than could have been known in Bible times.  In a programme shown on BBC television doctors stated that alcohol can cause many diseases.[1]  It is now classified as a drug, and affects the brain and bodily functions in a variety of ways.  It is for these practical reasons as well as Bible teaching that should influence our decision in this matter.

Again, before we look at the Bible evidence, let us remember that in Bible times, apart from water, milk and freshly squeezed fruit juice, wine was about the only common beverage available.  Water, perhaps, would not always be safe or available, hence Paul’s advice to Timothy, who was having stomach trouble, in 1 Timothy5:23.  But it is very important to remember that several ways of preventing grape juice from fermenting were known.  The simplest and most common was simply to boil it.  This killed the yeast.  If the resulting thickened liquid was then stored in a new wineskin, i.e. one not tainted with yeast cells, it would remain unfermented for a long time.  To use it people would squeeze a portion into a cup and dilute it with water.

Now when we turn to the Bible we must consider the various words used.

Old Testament.

There are two Hebrew words used for wine in the Old Testament.  The most common word is yayin.  This word is used about 140 times to indicate both fermented and unfermented wine.  It is used of fermented wine in such

passages as Genesis 9:20-21; 19:32-33; 1 Samuel 25:36-37; Prov. 23:30-31.  The same word is used for the sweet unfermented juice of the grape.  It is also used of the juice as it is pressed from the grape, as for example in Isaiah 16:10 and Jeremiah 48:33.  Jeremiah  refers to juice still in the grape as yayin.

The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901) states: ‘Fresh wine before fermentation was called yayin-mi-gat [wine of the vat] (accessed via the internet). [2]

The other relevant Hebrew word is tirosh, a word meaning ‘new wine’ or ‘harvest wine.’  Brown, Driver, Briggs (A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, accessed via the internet) states that tirosh means ‘fresh or new wine, freshly pressed wine’.  Tirosh occurs 38 times in the OT.  It rarely refers to fermented wine (but cf. Hos. 4:11), but nearly always to the unfermented juice of the grape, such as the juice that is still in the grapes (Isaiah 65:8) or  juice from newly harvested grapes (Deut. 11:14; Prov. 3:10; Joel 2:24).   The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901) states that ‘‘tirosh’ includes all kinds of sweet juices and must, and does not include fermented wine.’

(3) In addition to these two words translated ‘wine’ there is another Hebrew word that occurs 23 times in the Old Testament.  This is the word shekar, usually translated as ‘beer’ (e.g. 1Samuel1:15) or ‘fermented drink (Numbers 6:3).  This word seems to refer most often to a fermented beverage perhaps made from palm juice, pomegranates, apples or dates.

 New Testament

The  Greek word for wine is oinos.  This can refer both to fermented and to unfermented grape juice.  The use of this word to refer to unfermented grape juice is testified to in various pre-Christian and early Christian writers.  But this fact can be seen within the Bible itself, because in the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) oinos is used to translate both yayin (a term referring to both fermented and unfermented grape juice) and tirosh (unfermented juice).  The context normally indicates which is intended.  But this is not always the case.  So, for example, the oft quoted ‘use a little wine for your stomach’s sake’ (1 Timothy5:23) may refer to either.

What about the Lord’s Supper?  One fact that surprises many people who assume that fermented wine was used in the institution of the Lord’s Supper is that nowhere in the New Testament is the term ‘wine’ used in connection with the Lord’s Table!  Consistently, when the contents of the cup are referred to, the phrase ‘fruit of the vine’ is used.  Otherwise, the word ‘cup’ is employed.  That could leave the matter undetermined.  However, there are other considerations.

The Lord’s Supper was instituted when Jesus and his disciples were eating the Pass­over. The Passover law in Ex 12:14-20 prohibited, during Passover week, the presence and use of leaven or yeast (Ex12:15).  This is because leaven symbolized corruption and sin (cf. Mt 16:6, 12; l Cor. 5:7-8).  There is an interesting quotation in The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1904 edition: ‘According to the Synoptic Gospels, it would appear that on the Thursday evening of the last week of his life Jesus with his disciples entered Jerusalem in order to eat the Passover meal with them in the sacred city; if so, the wafer and the wine of … the communion service then instituted by him as a memorial would be the unleavened bread and the unfermented wine of the Seder service’ (see article ‘Jesus of Nazareth: The Last Supper,’ in The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1904 edition, accessed on the internet).

Having established that in the Bible the term ‘wine’ refers to both fermented and unfermented juice, and that only the context can (normally) tell the reader which is meant, we can now examine some of those passages which clearly refer to fermented drink.

In Genesis 6:9 Noah was noted as a righteous and blameless man, yet by chapter9:21he was drunk, incapable, and manifesting uninhibited behaviour.  Genesis 19:30-38 tells of the shameful incident in which Lot’s daughters got him drunk and then committed incest with him.

In Genesis 27:25 Jacob was able to deceive Isaac into blessing him instead of Esau, and it seems that wine was involved to help in the deceit.  In Leviticus 10:9 priests were forbidden to drink when on duty and this was a perpetual statute for all generations.

The Nazirites were to abstain from wine and strong drink.  In Deuteronomy21:20rebellion is expressed in gluttony and drunkenness.  In preparation for the birth of her extraordinary son, Samson’s mother was commanded not to drink wine (Judges 13:4, 7, 14).

The first chapter of Esther tells how the king wanted to show off his queen to the assembled nobles.  He called for her to come and exhibit herself, but she refused, so he dismissed her.  He had been drinking for seven days (Esther1:10).

The book of Proverbs, a book of wisdom, has many warnings about drinking.  In4:17it is related to violence (don’t we know about that in our modern age!); in 20:1 it mocks and brawls and those who get intoxicated lack wisdom.  Chapter23:21warns that drinking leads to poverty.  Verses 29 to 35 of the same chapter are an extended warning about the sorrow, contentions, complaining, wounds, red eyes, unsteadiness caused by drinking fermented wine, adding that it harms all who drink and is addictive.

The prophets issue many warnings about strong drink.  Isaiah utters woes against those who pursue it (5:11), and against those who boast in their ability to drink (5:22).  The prophet warns those who, instead of repenting, are careless and dissolute, that judgment will be inevitable (22:12-14), and exclaims that ‘strong drink is bitter to those who drink it’ (24:9).  It produces reeling, staggering, confusion, false spirituality and vomit! (28:7).  Spiritual blindness, sleepiness, and lack of understanding comes on those who drink (56:10-12).  Daniel and his companions refused the king’s wine and drank water instead, and were blessed in their stand (Daniel 1:8-17).  Hosea warns that wine takes away the understanding (4:11), and produces sickness (7:5).  Joel links wine with injustice and immorality (Joel 3:3), while Amos links it with the oppression of the poor and needy (Amos 4:1) and lack of concern for God’s people (6:6).  Habakkuk declared that wine produces proud and haughty behaviour (Hab. 2:5).  There is no doubt at all that the consistent testimony of the Old Testament is that fermented wine is bad news.

In the New Testament, there are various warnings.  In Romans13:13drunkenness is linked with sexual immorality.  The whole of Romans 14 is very pertinent to this matter, but two verses may encapsulate what our attitude should be.  Romans 14:13

‘Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.’

Romans 14:21

‘It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby your brother stumbles, or is offended, or is made weak.’

Our example is important.  Putting this matter in the form of a question, we may ask, ‘Does drinking alcohol cause some to stumble or be made weak?’  It certainly does.  Also in 1 Corinthians 8 Paul warns against using our freedom in a way that causes others to stumble.

1 Cor. 8:9:     ‘But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.’

1 Cor. 8:11‑12:     ‘And through your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? [12] But when you sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.’

If a minister just took a tiny drink of wine at a wedding or at Christmas, young people, or others, observing would not say, ‘the pastor only drinks a tiny amount occasionally,’ but would simply conclude, ‘the pastor drinks’.  Thus he could become the ruin of someone else.  For this reason alone the present writer  has been a life-long teetotaller.

But there are other considerations.  Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.  (1 Cor. 6:19, 20).  We should do our utmost to keep them pure, and that surely includes doing nothing that would ruin their health.  Alcohol is notorious for the many health problems it causes.  So the best plan, it seems to this writer, because of the many warnings of Scripture, because of the importance of our example, because of modern dangers, because our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, is to avoid it altogether.

 


[1] ‘Alcohol: More Harm than Heroin’, Panorama, BBC 1, 12 October 1987.

[2]  ‘Wine’ in The Jewish Encyclopedia, at: jewishencyclopedia.com.

Have you been hooked?

July 19, 2011

Imagine a stream well-populated by hungry trout.  Three things are dangling in the water.  The first is a bare, barbed, sharp hook.  The second is a wriggling grub, unattached to any string or line.  The third is a sharp, barbed hook baited and disguised by a juicy worm.  Which is the more dangerous to the trout?  Not the bare hook; they will avoid that (it represents blatant error).  Not the juicy grub floating on its own (that represents truth).  The most dangerous item for the trout is obviously the well-baited hook.  Sure there is food on it, there is nourishment, but hidden within to the unsuspecting trout is the barbed hook. That represents truth mingled with error.

One of the great modern inventions is the internet.  Apart from the ease and speed with which people can contact each other by email, there is an enormous amount of free information available at the touch of a button.  The range of Christian, semi-Christian and pseudo-Christian material that is available in the form of books, papers, websites, sermons and blogs is mind-boggling.  But therein lies the danger, because in this vast resource, as in every large library, there is truth, error and deadly mixture.

Recently I read the transcript of a sermon.  The speaker was obviously lively, hyped up in fact, and much of what he said was biblical.  But he also included deadly error in his message.  He claimed that the Gospels do not teach New Covenant truth, and that the New Covenant does not include the need for repentance, which is, he said, an Old Covenant concept.  Hey!  Wait a minute.  Jesus preached repentance (e.g. Mark 1:15, etc).  Ah, but that was before he had died and risen again, our preacher would argue.  But after his resurrection he commanded the apostles to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins to all the nations, in his name (Luke 24:47).  And they did this, for Peter proclaimed repentance on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38), and that is what the apostle Paul proclaimed in Athens (Acts 17:30).  Yes, but that was repentance for conversion, our speaker would argue; it was not for Christians.  Really?  Then why did Paul, writing to the Corinthian Christians, speak of their repentance for wrong Christian behaviour? (2 Cor. 7:9, 10, cf. 2 Tim. 2:25).. And why did the apostle John, writing to Christians in his epistles, say that if we Christians say we have no sin we are deceiving ourselves, and that we must confess our sins to be cleansed (1 John 1:7-10)?  Moreover, the risen Lord Jesus, writing to the seven churches of AsiaMinor, stressed their need to repent, over and over again?  (See Rev. 2:5, 16, 21, 22; 3:3, 19).  The whole New Testament (New Covenant) is against the idea that Christians do not need to repent.

One of our greatest needs, especially when surfing the internet, bur also in reading and listening to sermons, is the need for discernment.

Mistakes Ministers Make: 2 – In Practice

April 17, 2011

Or How to keep your church members from witnessing

Of course, this particular error may not be the minister’s fault, but may be due to the traditional practice of the local church, the church programme or way of doing things.  One preacher said, “A pastor often hears three remarks when he suggests something new: ‘We tried it once and it did not work’; or, ‘We’ve always done it this way’; or, ‘We’ve never done this before.’”

I sometimes imagine that on the day of resurrection some Christians will arise and object, saying, “Lord, we’ve never done this before!”

What is this mistake that ministers make?  It is doing all the talking.  It has been remarked that many Christians are like the arctic rivers, frozen at the mouth.  But this may be the result of years in a church where they are never allowed to say anything.  The minister preaches on Sunday and preaches at the mid-week meeting, and there is no other opportunity for the members to make any contribution verbally.

Now please do not misunderstand what I am saying.  Not all are called to preach.  Preaching is a specific calling and is vitally important.  The priesthood of all believers does not mean the preacherhood of all believers.  There is a call to the pastoral ministry.  However, that does not mean that church members should never say anything, never witness, never teach or  (in some cases) preach.  There are at least two lines of evidence about this.  First, in Acts 8:1, 4 we read that when persecution arose after the stoning of Stephen the Christians were all scattered abroad, except the apostles.  Then we read, “they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.”  Also, both Philip and Stephen, who were deacons, preached the word.  The second line of evidence is in the variety of words translated as “preach”.  There are at least ten such words, and one of them is the ordinary word for speaking.

However, to return to the pastor’s task, it is very clear that one word used is that of a herald, and there is no discussion or dialogue in that.  This is the straightforward proclamation.  But another word is that from which we get our word “dialogue.”  The apostle Paul “reasoned” in the synagogues and in public.  The Lord Jesus Christ both preached and taught.  The fact that both words are used implies that there is a difference between preaching and teaching, otherwise that would be a tautology, a mere repetition.  When Jesus preached there was no argument or discussion.  But when he taught he often asked questions, and these were not just rhetorical questions; he expected an answer.  He also answered questions that people asked.  It is a big mistake for pastors to do all the talking and never allow time for questions or discussion.  Now obviously that is neither possible nor advisable in the public services.  For one thing a proper discussion cannot take place with a large number.  For another thing this may open the door for false doctrine or other wrong things to be stated in a large public gathering.  But it is a bad thing if the church members can never ask questions, never discuss or offer contributions.  Why is this a bad thing?

I.  The Negative Results of a Silent Church

  1. The minister may never know whether the members have understood his teaching.  They may even have completely wrong ideas, or have misunderstood what he has said.
  2. The congregation do not learn as effectively as when they can express what they have learned verbally.  It is an educational fact that a person does not really know and understand a truth they have heard unless they can express it in their own words.
  3. Christians, other than the minister, may have valuable insights to contribute from their own prayer and meditation in the Scriptures.  If these are repressed the church as a whole loses out.
  4. The members do not get practice in expressing themselves, so this can hinder their ability to witness.
  5. Sadly, if they have no opportunity to express an opinion, and the only time they can freely speak is the church business meeting, their questions or concerns take on a different hue in such an atmosphere.
II.  Why some ministers do not give an opportunity for members to speak
  1. Lack of knowledge of the and spiritual benefits of discussion.  Hearers retain only a fraction of what they hear.  But they retain very much more, perhaps all that they can repeat for themselves.
  1. Misunderstanding of their role as a teacher and a limited knowledge of teaching methods.
  2. Fear of being unable to deal with questions or insecurity in dealing with discussions.
  3. With a few, perhaps, it may be pride; they only have the truth; their opinion is always right.  No one else has any spiritual insight.
III.  The Benefits of Encouraging church members to Contribute Verbally.
  1. The minister gets to understand where the church members are spiritually, how much they understand.
  2. Mistaken ideas, misunderstanding, errors or even heresies are uncovered and may be corrected.
  3. The members may contribute valuable insights.
  4. The members gain confidence in expressing themselves on spiritual matters.  Until they can express a truth it is not theirs, it is only what the minister believes.
  5. Leaders may emerge and be trained in easier circumstances than in a public meeting.
  6. Fears, concerns, criticisms may be expressed in a non-threatening environment instead of being brought out in the highly charged atmosphere of a church business meeting.

IV.  The Biblical Basis for Church Members to contribute verbally.

  1. This is one aspect of fellowship, which basically means sharing.  Malachi 3:16 says: “they that feared the Lord spoke often to one another…”   Cf. Acts 2:42; I John 1:7.
  2. The New Testament encourages believers to exhort one another Heb. 10:25.  Cf. Rom. 14:19; 15:14; I Thess. 4:18.
  3. Colossians 3:16 instructs us that we are to teach and admonish one another. CF. Eph. 5:19, 21.

V.  When can this take place?

  1. Group Bible Studies.  Many churches have profited from the introduction of All Age Bible Schools.[1]  In other words, instead of the Sunday School being limited to children, a full range of classes is organized for all ages from Tiny Tots to adults.  In the Teen and Adult sections well-led discussion is a valuable teaching method.  One added advantage of All Age Bible School is that teenagers are less likely to leave.  In ordinary Sunday Schools there is nothing for them when they reach the top class.  In AABS there is always another class to move up to.
  2. Home Groups.  There are too many advantages to Home Groups to mention here.[2]  With properly trained leaders not only is there an opportunity for members to contribute, but also an elementary level of pastoral care can be carried out.

The fact is that not allowing an opportunity for members to contribute, hinders their growth personally, and the growth of the church corporately.  Pastors would do well to consider carefully how they may provide opportunities for contributions and discussion by the members.  The vital thing is that any subsidiary groups should be led by spiritually minded, reliable, loyal, trained leaders.


[1] See the author’s article on All Age Bible School.

[2] See the author’s article on Home Groups in the Local Church.

Mistakes Ministers Make

April 8, 2011

Since retiring I have had the privilege of listening to many more ministers than when in full-time pastoral work, and have enjoyed and appreciated some excellent exposition.  However, probably because of the years in the pastorate, I have become more sensitive to mistakes that ministers make, some of which no doubt I made myself in earlier years.  My motive in writing about these mistakes is not just to be critical, but to help younger preachers to avoid errors which may hinder their ministry.  These matters may seem obvious or elementary to some people, and they are.  But as these problems do exist it is as well to expose and if possible eliminate them.

I.  Pitfalls in a preacher’s public prayers.

1.  Some preachers fall into the trap of telling God things because they want to pass on information to their congregation.  An extreme example is the man, not a preacher this time but a participant of a prayer meeting, who said in his prayer, “Doubtless you read in the paper this morning, Lord,…”  But it was a preacher who reminded the congregation in his sermon, “As I told you in the long prayer…”  The answer to this problem is obviously to pass on necessary information about the subject of prayer before actually addressing the Almighty.

2.  A variety of this error is preaching to people in prayer.  The famous evangelist, D. L. Moody, is  reported to have interrupted a man who was leading in prayer by saying, “Open your eyes, brother, you are preaching, not praying.”  This, of course, is an abuse of the holy privilege of prayer, and not worthy to be called such.  We must resist the temptation to get points across to the congregation in our prayers.  Still worse, is actually criticizing people in prayer.

3.  Some earnest preachers, in an understandable effort to impress their sermon upon the hearers, have formed the habit of re-preaching their sermon in the closing prayer.  Some even go to the lengths of givng all the main points and even sub-points in the guise of prayer.  Don’t do it!  It is not only an insult to God, it is wearisome to the congregation.

In most of these cases the men concerned probably do not realize that they have fallen into a bad habit.  It has become the natural thing for them to do. We need to examine ourselves, perhaps listen to a recording of our prayers, and remember that in prayer we are addressing the almighty, omniscient God, not the congregation.

Off-the-peg Theology

January 7, 2011

In 2008 a Presbyterian minister, speaking at the Banner of Truth ministers’ Conference in Leicester, offended some Baptists by referring to “Reformed Baptists” and then adding, “If there is such a thing.” Was he justified in making this remark? Were Baptists justified in taking offence at it?
Before the advent of television there used to be a radio programme entitled ‘The Brains Trust’. In this popular programme a team of experts fielded questions sent in by listeners. A regular member of the panel was the late Professor C. E. M. Joad, who, when a question was put to him, frequently prefaced his answer by saying, “Well, it all depends what you mean by …” He was very wise. If only Christians were as discriminating.
Many Baptists claim the adjective ‘Reformed’ without defining what they mean by it, and often without even thinking what they mean by it. By the term ‘Baptists’ I mean all who hold that the church consists only of true believers, and therefore baptize only believers by immersion, whether they use the term ‘Baptist’ or not. So this would include many independent evangelical churches. Such churches would generally hold to the autonomy of the local church and also the separation of church and state, which the Reformed usually do not.
In 1986 Dr. Kenneth H. Good, a Baptist scholar, published a book with the intriguing title, “Are Baptists Reformed?” (Loraine, Ohio: Regular Baptist Heritage Fellowship, 394 pages). He carefully distinguished between General (Arminian) Baptists and Particular (Calvinistic) Baptists, and then pointed out those areas in which the latter differed from the Reformed. In a nutshell, while such Baptists are Reformed in soteriology, they are not Reformed in ecclesiology. In other words, they believe in election, predestination and particular redemption, but not in the “mixed multitude” membership of Episcopal and (most) Presbyterian churches. They reject infant baptism and hold to the autonomy of the local church and the separation of church and state. Dr Good spends some time in discussing the American Baptist scene, especially the difficulty in choosing a title for a church or grouping that accurately defines what the church, or churches within the group, believe. Much of what he says on this subject is not particularly relevant outside the USA. The bulk of the book is taken up with demonstrating that Baptists differ from the Reformed in their views of the Word of God, in their views of the church considered as an organism, in their views of the church considered as an organization, and in their philosophy of history. With regard to the first of these Dr. Good acknowledges that the Reformed Confessions have excellent statements on the inspiration and authority of Scripture, but argues that, like the Roman Catholic church, the Reformed often place more weight upon what the Confessions say rather than what the Scriptures teach.

Lest that statement should be doubted, let me give a recent example. A Baptist minister was talking to a Reformed minister about the latter’s view that all infants who die in infancy, whatever their background, are automatically saved (I am not at this point discussing the truth or otherwise of that view). The Baptist then said, “So you believe in universalism, so long as they are young enough?” When the Reformed minister blenched, the Baptist asked him, “What Scriptures do you base your views on?” The Reformed minister replied, “I do not base my view on Scripture but on the Westminster Confession.
The trouble is many young men go to theological college and accept without question the ready-made theology that is handed down to them. That is what I call “off-the-peg theology”. By that designation I do not mean to suggest for one moment that we should all have a custom made theology to suit our own preferences or personality. Rather I use the term to highlight the fact that so often statements of theology are accepted without question as long as they come from within out own circle. Unlike the Bereans, we do not search the Scriptures to see whether those things are so (Acts 17:11).

Obviously we cannot all re-write the massive theology that has been handed down to us; we cannot re-invent the wheel, but we can at least examine our wheels to make sure they are round and not square! Perhaps “hand-me-down theology” would be a better description. It is only too easy to accept, and even vigorously defend, a theology which we have never carefully compared with Scripture. If, as Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” perhaps the unexamined theology may not be worth holding.
In 1957, the first year of my pastoral ministry, I went with a friend to hear the distinguished minister, Rev. William Dodgson-Sykes, give an address at the Church-on-the Wall in Bristol. Mr. Sykes was rector of a strongly evangelical, Protestant and Calvinistic church. He was also president of the Sovereign Grace Union, a strongly Calvinistic organization. As it is so long ago that I heard him speak I cannot recall the main topic of the address, but one of his remarks so surprised me that it became etched upon my memory. He said: “I have never read Calvin’s Institutes.”
In these days we have become rather careless in our use of such terms as ‘Reformed’ and ‘Calvinistic’. The word ‘Reformed’ is bandied about almost as though it were a synonym of ‘orthodox’, or a shorthand term for “really, really sound.” Perhaps Dr. Kenneth Good was right in asking the question, “Are Baptists Reformed?” If you can ignore the irrelevant bits, and put up with the wordiness and occasional repetition of some points, you may find Dr. Good’s book worth its weight in gold dust. Unfortunately the book is out of print, so, like gold dust, it is not only valuable, but rare.

God’s sovereignty in gifting and results

November 5, 2010

Recently I have been impressed once more by the amazing variety in the ways of God with men.  This is observable in conversion.  It seems that rarely, if ever, does God meet with us in identical ways.  There are, of course, certain basic unalterables, such as repentance and faith, but even the way in which these are expressed varies from person to person.  God deals with us as individuals, and he is a creative God.  A glance through the Scriptures will confirm this.  Compare how God met with Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Saul of Tarsus, to name but a few.  God is sovereign in conversion.

God is also sovereign in gifting  (Rom. 12:1-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-31; Eph. 4:7-11).  This is vividly illustrated in the glorious Puritan era.  Although the Puritans had so much in common, especially in terms of doctrine and their emphasis upon preaching,  they varied widely in their skills and abilities.  William Perkins (1558-1602) for example, had a profound influence in Cambridge, and, notably “[h]is writings exceeded in quantity and quality all other Puritan authors up to that time.”  [Erroll Hulse, Who Are The Puritans?, (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2000), p. 43].  Yet he lived only 44 years!  By contrast, Laurence Chadderton (1537-1635), a powerful preacher, lived to be nearly 100, yet published little.

God is also sovereign in results.  This should be an encouragement to us all.  We must endeavour by God’s grace, to live godly lives and work hard, for God will not bless lazy and ungodly preachers.  Yet even the most hard-working ministers can only leave results with God.  One sows, another reaps, but God gives the increase ((1 Cor. 3:5, 6).  An illustration of this truth is also found among the Puritans.  Richard Greenham (1531-1591) laboured for 20 years in the village of Dry Drayton near Cambridge.  He was a most diligent and hard-working minister.  He rose at 4.0 am both summer and winter, preaching powerfully several times a week, his first sermons before men went to work!  He diligently visited his flock, even at their work in the fields.  He became renowned for his counselling skills, and needy souls came from far and wide to seek his help and counsel, returning home with their needs met.  Yet it is recorded that he knew of only one family converted in his own village parish.  By contrast, Richard Baxter (1615-1691) saw almost the whole of Kidderminster converted, and has left a rich legacy of spiritually uplifting literature.  Different gifts and different results.  If we labour faithfully and earnestly in biblical ways, especially earnest prayer and the ministry of the Word, we can leave the results with God.