I sat on this post for awhile due to the issues described here, internally debating whether or not I should post it. After all, how could I authentically speak to issues of ecclesiology if I struggled with doubts of even belonging to the church militant? Without regards to such issues, I decided to unveil my thoughts, anyway.
If I ever were to pastor a church, which would only happen if God has a great sense of irony and loves to use the weak, the foolish, those prone to sin and despises it, and those with no leadership or interpersonal skills, these are some things I would insist upon:
- Sundays would not be a polished affair with state-of-the-art audio and visual accouterments. Musical instruments would probably be in the back of the church. Focus is to be on the Word unfolded so as to feed the sheep, not on a musical performance. I would refuse to play any music that was programmed to draw in people who would not otherwise go to church.
- I would never, never, never, ever lay the burden of the tithe, an unbiblical practice as taught by the contemporary church, upon the sheep. I will not pastor over the church of Galatia. There would be relatively few sermons or speeches on financial stewardship. Though important, you don’t need Jesus to teach you to balance your checkbook and save for a rainy day. Plus…I am not so good with money, myself. It just does not mean that much to me as it does others.
- I would probably be bi-vocational.
- There would be no sermons with seven steps to this or five keys to that. Legalism lite leads to Jesus lite. Legalism is a path that leads to Hell
- I would do my best to talk a lot about Christ using few if any personal anecdotes. I want you to learn about the Messiah, not about me. If I cannot teach redemptive Biblical history, the historical and true story of Christ alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, by the authority of the Bible alone, to the glory of God alone without telling stories about me and my life experience (boring thought it would be), I do not need to claim to be a pastor. If I ever become a pastor, which is highly unlikely, I will not be there to entertain you. When I die, I would just as soon be forgotten then be remembered as having been a charismatic leader.
- I would not ask for your personal testimonies, though you are certainly free to share – but, foremost, tell me Christ’s story in church, not yours. Your changed life, though I am happy for you, is not necessarily the Gospel. Paxil changes lives, AA changes lives, art changes lives, Mormonism has changed lives for the better. The Gospel story is what breaths life into rotten corpses. The apostle Peter probably had many interesting stories, but he told Christ’s story every time, all the time.
- There would never, never, ever be any altar call nor any other crass emotional manipulation of the flock. If Jesus and the apostles did not need them, then neither do I need that extra-biblical and rather recent and often detrimental appendage to the Gospel call. No. Sappy. Music. In. Church. Ever. Too, why do I need to close my eyes and bow my head during altar calls? Seriously….
- I would seek to heal you with the Gospel rather the Law. Too many preachers wield the Law like an anvil against the sheep when a salve of grace is called for.
- Preaching would be mostly expostional. Exceptions to expostional preaching might entail, for example, teaching about the lives and doctrines of the early church fathers and martyrs. I would also like to learn and teach on church history. Doing a class on systematic theology in the evenings would be cool, too. Theology is a fundamental part of the church. If I ever pastored a church, it would be lovingly doctrinal. Doctrine is the spine and immune system of the church.
- I would strongly discourage the turning of hobbies into ministries. You like to golf, hunt, and ride motorcycles. Such is fine with me; just don’t baptize them. Let me know when you want to go for a ride though. It would be fun to join with you.
- The crippled, the poor, the mentally ill and emotionally scarred, those not so articulate would welcomed and embraced. Along the same lines, introverts are welcome and loved. I understand because I am an introvert, too. If you are uncomfortable in certain social circumstances, we can fellowship, you and me, over a cup of coffee or can of beer where ever you are most comfortable. I personally like sweet tea. Occasionally, a shot or two of Evan Williams is fine. Church is not easy, sometimes, for introverts.
- I would insist that the elders and teachers hold the the Doctrines of Grace.
- No. Skits. Ever. No drama teams, either. You want drama, entertainment, go to a theater. The Word, being potent in and of itself, does not need our help. Drama merely adds extraneous layers. As an aside, it amazes me that people can feel comfortable playing the role of Christ in musical dramas and plays. I recall Peter requesting his body to be crucified upside down because he deemed himself to be unworthy to be crucified in the fashion of the Messiah.
- I would not make too big a deal about secondary issues such as eschatology, though they would not be ignored.
- Communion would be a real meal, I think, not a piece of bread or a plastic shot glass of grape juice. Wine would be available if desired. I also am not wed to the amount of water used in baptisms. Sprinkle or dunk, I can accommodate either. No major problems with either paedo and credo-baptism. I see valid Biblical arguments for either, though I lean towards credo-baptism.
- I would never say, as many do from the stage and pulpit, that I would not sacrifice my family for of the church, though I would hope I would never face such circumstances. Such statements, though common, seem strange and present a hopefully false dichotomy. I would die a thousand times for the church of the Christ. If my wife or children are not with me on this, then they turn their backs on the bride and body of Christ. I would not.
- I will not be a Christian culture warrior, ever. I will not try to dress unregenerate corpses up with the Law when they need the Gospel. You want a moral nation above all, have Utah succeed and move there. They are nice, family-friendly, moral people even without the Gospel delivered by the apostles. I would never preach pure moralism. It is the anti-thesis of grace.
- Children will not have to go to kids church when big people church starts if the family wants their children to be with them. Distractions are OK, to a degree, and a part of life, and a part of the body, a part of families. You hear me on this one Furtick and Noble? I will not force families to split up when the preaching starts. Shame on you, Furtick, for removing Christ from your service for being a distraction to your show…..as you do the the least of these……
- I would probably not let my church grow much beyond 200 people if I had such control. Should it do so, and this would be a great thing, we split into two sister churches, each with trained and approved elders and pastors. If a pastor cannot at least recognize his sheep, he needs to have others step up to help feed, lead and shelter the flock. Move half of them to another pasture. Keep growing the flock, and then splitting off to new pastures.
- Naive on my part, perhaps, but I would hope the hypothetical church I fed would not be success oriented with tangible metrics. Leave that for businesses. I would not count salivations. That is no ones job but the Holy Spirits; no one else is qualified to separate wheat from chaff. I would hope we would have an orientation of humility. If the seats are filled, fine. If not, fine. It will be Christ who grows His church, not me.
- I would literally die to protect my sheep from wolves, from bad theology. You will not see Wild At Heart or The Shack as recommended reading the churches library. I would never endorse heretics like TD Jakes as have many nominally orthodox pastors.
- I would never, ever have a fund raiser. If someone is in deep financial need, I would sell my possessions, give up vacations, and work overtime to help you. I hope the flock would do the same. Saddest thing I have seen in a long time is a large, evidently wealthy church holding a bake sale fund raiser for a child needing surgery.
- If you want to volunteer to help in the church, that is great. If not, that is fine with me, too. I know your probably work hard to support your family and need no extra burdens. Quite frankly, when you get rid of all the extraneous parking teams, media teams, creative teams, hospitality teams, volunteer coordination team volunteers, you find you do not need volunteers so much.
- Small groups, meh. I have seen them too often be pools of ignorance to which, not so long ago, I helped make even more deeply ignorant. If we do small groups, it will be elder led and Word focused. They are what you make of them.
- If you want a God of second chances, go to where the Gospel is light and cheap. I will give you a Gospel for dead men and women who float hopeless in the dark waters. They don’t need second chances. I, and they, would mess up the second chance, and the third, and the forth. I will point you to a Savior, to paraphrase Paul Capon, if memory serves, who dives into deep water to breath life into sin infused, rotten corpses, dies in the process, and later appears on the shore alive and waits for you having defeated death and sin.
Enough of my orthopraxic utopianism…
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)
Over the months and years, I must have read this passage, Matthew 7:21-23, ten dozen times. I have thought about the horrific implications of Christ’s judgment-laden words in various contexts. I have thought about it in terms of the sad nominalism, self-focus, soft idolatry, and easy apathy that runs deep through much of the American church. I confess I have engaged such things. I have also thought about these three verses in terms of those involved in the cult manifestations and doctrinal aberrations of Christianity. And there is, I believe, obvious truth to those affirmations, truth that is not forced on the text and to which the text can speak.
Riding to work this morning, I thought about this verse from the perspective of those standing before Christ who are being commanded to depart from His presence. In my gift for sometimes missing the obvious, I note that, beyond the engagement of lawlessness, they are attempting to stand before the Messiah on the basis of their efforts, even efforts done in the name of Christ. It seems they are attempting to stand on a sorely and absolutely insufficient foundation of works righteousness before the Holy One who spoke the universe into existence from nothing.
Now, when I read and ponder on this verse, I will consider even more carefully and understand more dearly and rejoice more heartily in the fact that I bring nothing to the table. We in Christ have nothing of our own to offer our Redeemer than our weakness, our brokenness over sin and our brokenness by sin, a heart that, quickened by God’s sovereign work of grace, becomes more repentant over time as we grow increasingly aware of how miserably far we fall short. We embrace ever more dearly a salvation bought at so great a price by a mighty Redeemer that we may be clothed, both now and through the endless ages to come, in His righteousness. From there alone, from that grace-deposited, ever deepening understanding of the cost and soterial necessity of the Cross, springs a true heart’s growing desire to serve the Messiah, to do works out of praise, worship, and thanksgiving rather than self-exaltation.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Ephesians 1:3-14 (ESV)
Orthodox Christians affirm the omniscience of God. We are told in New Testament canon that the hairs on our head are numbered. In our finiteness, we can we only begin to barely apprehend the periphery of God’s omniscience. In thinking recently about this attribute of our Father God, His ‘all-knowingness’, I dwell on the following observations of the created order that reflect His glory and majesty:
- The universe is at least 156 billion light-years wide. As a reference point, a light-year is, well, the distance light travels in one year; light travels at over 186,000 miles per second which translates to 5,876,000,000,000 miles per year.
- There are approximately 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, our galaxy.
- There are approximately 70 sextillion stars in the visible universe.
- The number of subatomic particles of electron size in the universe is approximately:
……..—.30,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, ——–.--000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 – or 3 followed by 79 digits.
- The age of the universe is somewhere between 11.2 and 20 billion years old (with all respect to my YEC brothers and sisters).
- The universe had a discreet starting point and is winding down.
God, who created the universe ex nihilo, from nothing, knows both the position and momentum of all sub-atomic particles. He knows immediately all there is to possibly know about every subatomic particle in the universe at any point in time of the age of the universe. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle does not apply to our Creator God.
Not only does He immediately know all there is to know about each sub-atomic particle in each discreet moment over the age of the universe, He also knows all contingencies about all of His creation. He knows that if He had created the universe such that if any one factor was different, He knows immediately all that can be know about any alternative universe of any number of altered factors.
God is not contingent, is not dependent, upon the universe. The universe is contingent, is dependent, upon Him. Indeed, it is in Christ Jesus, who spoke the worlds into existence from nothing, through whom all things hold together. In reflecting on creation, I affirm the following:
The true God is not a false pagan god of polytheism or henotheism, gods of idolatry who are only reflections and projections in large of flawed and limited humanity.
The true God is not the false god of pantheism where god is all and all is god. At it’s essence, this theology deifies mankind, hardly an object, given our nature and history, of worship. We need no further impetus for self-indulgence.
The true God is not the impotent, false god of panentheism, the dipolar god of process theology, wherein that which is material may be considered the ‘body’ of god and the non-material spirit of god is the ‘soul’ of the universe, as it were. The god of panentheism is not the immutable sovereign God of all creation.
Father God is not the false god of open theism, a deity not privy to or in complete control of future events though he, according to this errant theology, may forecast them with a measure of accuracy. Again, the true God is absolutely sovereign over creation. He knew all our thoughts before the beginning of time. There is nothing hidden from Him. Further, God is not a risk taker, as some open theists would affirm, for He is sovereign over creation. He is not a needy God. He is utterly and completely sufficient unto Himself. He is not a lonely God in a desperate search for someone to love Him. He is utterly fulfilled in His trinitarian nature. He simply loves us, His adopted children, His redeemed ones, because He loves us
Abba God is not the false impersonal God of deism. He is a personal, knowable God. He condescended to reveal Himself to humanity, to a world in rebellion, through the Bible and ultimately through the incarnation of Christ Jesus.
Anything less than the absolutely righteous, absolutely holy, absolutely just, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, merciful, immutable, and personal triune sovereign God of the inspired, infallible, and authoritative canon of the Old and New Testament is less than worthy of worship, less than worthy of complete confidence and trust, less than worthy of adoration.
What follows is an excerpt from a post I authored a few weeks ago on the incarnation of Christ that seem to be an appropriate conclusion to this post:
- As profound and foundational are the doctrines of the trinity and the physical resurrection of the Messiah, and absolutely in no means do I intend to diminish their import, it is the incarnation of our Savior that leaves me most breathtakingly at a loss for words. That Christ, fully almighty God, immutable and fully in transcendence over creation, Who spoke into existence, ex nihilo, the natural order, should step out of eternity and condescend to take on flesh, a sinless human nature, and, out of love, subject Himself to a fallen creation, leaves me wanting for words. Christ, God almighty, His incarnation realized by His conception and virgin birth to Mary, was obedient to Father God to the point of death on the cross to provide propitiation for sin and, after defeating death, will for eternity forward, walk with us as we behold His cross-scarred body. Here we find incomprehensible truths that followers of the Messiah will feast on for eons.
He offered up His Son as a perfect sacrifice for our sin so that through our repentance and faith in the redeeming work of sovereign grace in Christ’s death on the cross and physical resurrection, we have forgiveness and eternal life. How can we neglect so great a salvation.