Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Ten Strategies to Safeguard Regenerate Church Membership

Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” 1 Cor 5:6
It does not take much yeast to cause bread dough to raise 3-4 times its size. Given the right temperature and time, a large lump of dough can raise fairly quickly with a fairly insignificant amount of yeast.
Depending on the recipe, normally 6 cups of flour will call for about one tablespoon of yeast. The ration of 6 cups to one tablespoon is 192:1, or one half of a percent. And yet that one spoon of yeast will cause those 6 cups of flour in a batter to rise over and over again.
While having yeast is helpful for making certain kinds of bread, Paul used this allegory to teach a negative lesson. He was illustrating that allowing unchecked sinful behavior among members of a local church impacts the entire church membership. He likely used this illustration because of its example of a very unbalanced ratio, 192:1. When church leaders allow one member to live in obvious sin, the result impacts the remainder of the church just like leaven!
So any given pastor or church leader needs to be aware of the spiritual state of the members of his church.
In a perfect world all members of a church would be regenerate and would remain so throughout their lives. But we do not live in a perfect world. When a new pastor comes to a church, he inherits all the membership decisions made in the past. Perhaps unregenerate people became members in a church by mistake or even intentionally.
So it is beneficial that we have strategies in mind to safeguard regenerate church membership. Let me recommend ten strategies, to which others may be added:
(1) Baptism for Believers Only
We must guard against the desire to bolster baptismal numbers by baptizing those who have not certain of their faith in Jesus Christ. There is danger on both sides here. We can restrict baptism from “Whosoever will” on one hand, sinning against the Holy Spirit. Or we can baptize those who are not genuinely saved, and thereby sin against the Holy Spirit.
(2) Practicing Communion for Believers Only
Other than baptism, the other command of Christ, the Lord’s Supper, is the place where we need to differentiate between the saved and the lost. Here again there is danger on both sides. On one side, there is the danger of becoming Pharisaical, and on the other becoming Sadducee-ical. For example, it has been my practice to mention the warning of 1 Corinthians 9, stating that the communion table is restricted to baptized believers only, and then allowing the congregants to decide for themselves.
(3) Practicing Church Discipline
Loving ministry necessitates loving church discipline. When a member is found to be living in known sin or immorality, church leaders are obligated to follow Matthew 18, Galatians 6, and similar passages to reestablish this church member. If church discipline is not lovingly practiced, then regenerate church membership is in jeopardy.
(4) Prioritizing Biblical Preaching
A constant diet of the Word of God can protect a church from drifting away from its Master, Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). God’s Word preached literally cleanses the consciences and souls of those who have a hearing of faith in a congregation. Biblical preaching is a powerful key to maintaining regenerate church membership.
(5) Maintaining the Bible’s Distinction Between the Saved and the Lost
In a day of compromise, it is important for the pastor to set the pace for his church by maintaining the Bible’s distinction between the saved and the lost in his preaching. Blurring the lines between the saved and the lost is detrimental to maintaining a regenerate membership. When these lines are blurred doctrinally and or in practice the entire congregation suffers from an influx of leaven into the church.
(6) Welcoming Practical Application of the Bible’s Truths
Along with biblical preaching is the importance of clear application of God’s Word. Preaching is more than informing, it also includes the responsibility to warn. The admonition of Ezekiel 3:18-21 comes to mind here. That same admonition rang in the mind of Paul who stated that he was under obligation to teach and warn all men. For example, Paul affirmed that his ministry was one of “warning every man” (Col 1:28). Likewise our preaching should be more than just informing—it should also include warning. And this warning will go a lone way toward helping us maintain regenerate church membership.
(7) Regularly Visiting Our Members
Maintaining regenerate church membership means that we know our sheep. There is no better way of knowing our congregation than visiting them in their homes. Their homes is where we learn how they live and with whom they live. It does not take long to greet a person, read Scripture, and pray for them—maybe 10-15 minutes. But in so doing the pastor shows love for his people and is better able to empathize with them. His regular visitation allows the pastor to understand his people as life issues come up. He can preach to where they live, and build a relational foundation that he may later need in a first level of confrontation (Matt 18).
(8) Fostering Intentional Loving Fellowship
Along with regularly visiting members, the pastor should be sure that there are regular avenues for fellowship among the saints on the church calendar. Isolated church members can drift. Members that are involved in a healthy community with multiple levels of relationship will be discipled and mentored.
(9) Training Our People in Evangelism
Another way to safeguard regenerate church membership is to train our members in personal evangelism. As we voluntarily train our people in personal evangelism, they will have the gospel set before them once again. They can evaluate their own lives in light of the gospel. And they can recommit themselves to a Great Commission priority in their lives.
(10) Giving Our People Opportunities to Share the Gospel
Once a person is trained to share the gospel, they can now proceed to the next level—sharing the gospel! It is helpful and beneficial for a pastor to create varied opportunities for his people to share the gospel—whether in the local context or on overseas trips. They will already have a built in desire to share the gospel from the Holy Spirit. So the pastor puts legs to the work of the Spirit by providing his people concrete ways to share the gospel. He emulates Jesus who sent out his disciples (e.g. Luke 9:2; 10:1). As they share the gospel, they will be reminded of their ongoing need for Christ, and you will safeguard the regenerate membership of your church in their lives!

Just like yeast changes the size of the lump of dough, so unsaved members will transform a local church in a negative way. Maintaining regenerate membership is a challenge. These ten strategies are offered to safeguard the household of God and to help us keep unhealthy leaven from infecting our churches.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Word about the Interrelationship of Evangelism and Discipleship

Debates between the mission of the church related to evangelism and discipleship only happen in those churches that still believe in instantaneous conversion or “You must be born again” (John 3:7).
So at the outset, it must be clarified that these debates only occur in the minds of those who believe in an authoritative Bible. If a person believes in an authoritative church or one particular person within a church, then that person or church tells them what to think about the issue, and there is no debate. But if a person believes that the Holy Spirit speaks in-with-and-by the Word of God and that each individual is called to “take heed” and “guard their heart,” then each person has the privilege and responsibility to diligently search the Scriptures and have his own opinion on the matter.
Further, it must be clarified that this is not an issue for those who believe in a gradual salvation through prolonged application of certain spiritual disciplines, salvation by infant baptism, or some other form of sacramental salvation. The number of Christian Churches that fall within these categories is far more than a super-majority of those who call themselves Christian. For them it is clear that discipleship is the obvious priority over evangelism. Evangelism is either totally unnecessary or exists only to reach barbarians and savages.
Basic Definitions
At the outset evangelism and discipleship must be defined. By evangelism I mean the sharing of the gospel by which a person who is spiritually dead hears the gospel and is offered an opportunity to receive Christ by placing their trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins. By discipleship I mean “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you” as stated in Matthew’s Great Commission (Matt 28:20).
Even so, evangelism and discipleship differ in doctrinal application, in the church leaders in whom these responsibilities are vested, and verbally in the Bible. Yet they are also closely related to one another, as will be noted in three texts. So evangelism and discipleship are similar and also distinct. We will begin with some distinctions.
Evangelism, or the gospel proclaimed, when accompanied by a hearing of faith on the part of the listener, leads to justification. Discipleship, when also accompanied by a hearing of faith, leads to sanctification.
Justification is punctiliar or point-in-time in its application to the human heart. A person goes from the state of not-being-saved to the state of being-saved. So it is explained by Jesus in John 5:24:
John 5:24, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.
Sanctification, however, is a life-long process that begins at justification and continues on until the end of our lives. Hence, Paul wrote to Christians in the church in Thessalonica, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess 4:3).
So, evangelism and discipleship are differ from a doctrinal point-of-view. Again, for churches that blue the lines between conversion and sanctification (normally by adhering to some kind of sacramental salvation), the doctrinal distinction described above is either non-existent or ascribed to infant baptism.
So evangelism and discipleship are quite different in their result—doctrinally-speaking.
Church Leaders
In His great wisdom, Christ gave the church two separate church leaders, one to focus on evangelism and one to focus on discipleship.
The evangelist is given to the church by Christ as noted by Paul in Ephesians 4:11:
Eph 4:11, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.
So one leader that Christ gave to His church is the evangelist. The main focus of the evangelist is to evangelize lost souls who are yet “dead in their trespasses and sins.” This emphasis is found directly in his name—Evangelist.
And yet in the same text, we the NT’s sole use of the word “pastor.” While the evangelist is to focus on lost souls, the pastor is to shepherd the new believers gathered through the work of the evangelist. The primary task of the pastor is then to be a shepherd to the gathered people of God.
It stands to reason that the shepherd will have a role in evangelism and it also stands to reason that they evangelist will have a role in shepherding. However, their gift set and their motivations will differ, as may their attitudes to evangelism and discipleship.
It may be that one of the greatest difficulties in understanding the differences between evangelism and discipleship is the blending and graying of the distinctions between the evangelist and the pastor. Both the evangelist has a role and so does the pastor-shepherd. Neither should overlook the importance of the other!
Just as the leaders have different names, so different verbs are used to explain the roles of each leader in Matthew’s Great Commission. The verb associated with the role of the evangelist is the Greek matheteuo, translated “teach” in the KJV and “make disciples” in more recent translations. These translations are somewhat misleading as they tend to blur the differentiation between justification and sanctification, between evangelism and discipleship, and between the role of the evangelist and that of a pastor.
Here is what the Anglican Church believes about baptism:
XXVII. Of Baptisme. Baptisme is not only a signe of profession, and marke of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from other that be not christened:  but is also a signe of regeneration or newe byrth, whereby as by an instru­ment, they that receaue baptisme rightly, are grafted into the Church:  the promises of the forgeuenesse of sinne, and of our adoption to be the sonnes of God, by the holy ghost, are visibly signed and sealed: fayth is confyrmed: and grace increased by vertue of prayer vnto God. The baptisme of young children, is in any wyse to be retayned in the Churche, as most agreable with the institution of Christe. (Thirty-Nine Articles [1572]; available at:; accessed 21 Oct 2004).
In a church that believes that infant baptism saves the infant, it is hardly difficult to see that they do not appreciate evangelists traveling about evangelizing, making it seem like these infants were not really saved in their infancy. Hence, it is not difficult to understand why the KJV’s blurred the lines between “teach” in Matthew 28:19 and “teaching” in v. 20 to fit their pastoral approach to salvation—salvation through the ritual of infant baptism as applied by a pastor of the Church of England.
However, the Greek word matheteuo has a different meaning than being involved in an outward and overt long-term discipleship relationship, as is often considered to be the case. The same verb is found in Matthew 27:57 as applied to Joseph of Arimathea before he identified himself as a follower of Jesus. Consider this verse:
Matt 27:57, “Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple [matheteuo] of Jesus.
The entire phrase “had also become a disciple” is the translation of the verb matheteuo. Here is the skinny. Joseph was called by John a “secret” disciple (John 19:38). And yet the same verb is used of him as was used in the Great Commission for making converts before they are baptized. In fact, we know from other Scriptures, they must be followers of Christ before they are baptized.
So the second verb in Matthew 28:19 is also the first in the salvific sequence of a soul: “Go, win disciples of all nations, baptizing them.” The new convert must first be won as a disciple. Then he must be baptized. Then he is to be taught: “teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you” (v. 20).
Radical Differences
So then, there are radical differences between evangelism and discipleship. These differences are seen in doctrine. They are noted in the offices of the evangelist and that of the pastor. They are also clarified in the Greek verbs used in Matthew’s Great Commission.
Amazing Unity
But just as there are radical differences, so also there is an amazing unity of ministry. It is this “yes-and-no” that makes the issue complicated. Paul spoke with amazing clarity using a united terminology. Ezekiel spoke with clarity about this unity in accountability. And then Paul again spoke with clarity about the unity in ministry.
Colossians 1:28
Col 1:28, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.
In Col 1:28, Paul intentionally repeated the phrase “to all men” (panta anthropon) three times. Each time the phrase is attached to an important concept in the sequence of verbs showing the commonality of the focus whether or not people are saved or lost.
In the first case we find it attached to the verb “warn,” the classic verb that we find used in the Ezekiel 3 passage below. Warning speaks of the motivation as well as the extent to which people are taught. It is more than mere informing, true gospel ministry involves warning the hearers.
Next Paul uses the “all men” in relation to teaching. Here we have a verb often used of pastoral ministry. But Paul purposefully attaches it to “all men.” So there is an element of teaching in evangelism as well as in discipleship.
Lastly, Paul uses all men of the end goal or end result of any and all spiritual ministry, that they might be perfected in Christ. Truly this goal is the aim of all Christian ministry.
Ezekiel 3:18-21
In Ezekiel 3 God calls Ezekiel to warn both the wicked (vv 18-19) as well as the righteous (vv 20-21). The punishment for not warning is the same in both cases, “his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezek 3:18, 20). The parallelism is astounding as the same verbs are used for ministry, and the same concepts are used for accountability. There is a clear parallel between ministry to the saved and ministry to the lost
1 Corinthians 1:10-4:7
It is perhaps in 1 Corinthians 1 that Paul made it absolutely clear. He stated that the root of the argument between evangelism and discipleship was arrogance in the heart of the debater (4:6-7). Yet, rather than enflame an argument, Paul used himself and Apollos as examples or types of the two sides:
1 Cor 4:6, “Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.
So Paul wrote in chapter 3 that he planted and Apollos watered, but that God gave the growth. He continued expounding upon these two phases in ministry:
1 Cor 3:7-8, “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.
So then, it is not about whether evangelism or discipleship is more important. They are both important in God’s economy of things. But in the end, it is God who is important, because it is God who does the work through the evangelist and through the pastor.

Therefore, mankind being puffed up (as we all are), and Christians growing and learning as we go, it is likely that the debate between evangelism and discipleship will not cease with this article. For, in a way it is a useless debate, as it is debating things that the Bible addresses fairly clearly. On the other hand, it is a very important debate. The fact that it exists as a debate shows that those debating it believe in the Bible, believe in conversion, and believe in evangelism. These are all good things. So may the debate continue!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

First Person Prayers in the Psalms

In a prior blog I noted six cries for mercy in Psalm 119. In addition to these, the following notes three prayers in the first person singular. These are scripted prayers. They are prayers that God has placed in His word to guide His people to come into and maintain a vital relationship with Him. One has to accept by faith that what they request can and will be answered positively by the God who breathed them out.
Psalm 27:8, “When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ My heart said to You, ‘Your face, Lord, I will seek.’”
Here the Psalmist receives a command from God to seek God’s face. The Psalmist then responds by faith saying from his heart, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.” This is a great example of praying Scripture back to God, as well as a response of faith to that which is written in the Bible.
Psalm 32:5, “I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.
In Psalm 32:5 we find salvific language dealing with sin and an affirmation of forgiveness of sin, or the issue that is at the heart of the Book of Romans gospel. Interestingly, we have here the affirmation of the need for prayer to the Lord in the first person, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” The rightful response of the reader should be, “I ought to confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And if the reader does, God’s response is to forgive the iniquity of his sin. This powerful verse explains the focal point of responding to God in repentance and faith.
Two items are of special note in Psalm 32:5, the Person to whom we should ask forgiveness is the Lord. Here we have a parallel to 1 John 1:9-2:2, in which John points us to confess our sins to our Advocate, Jesus the Righteous One. Then in Psalm 32:5, the desire for prayer is followed by the affirmation, “and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Hence, the person who has the authority to forgive is God alone. Was this not the same teaching with which the Pharisees wrestled with Jesus in Luke 5:21, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And yes, God alone can forgive sins. And God Himself became flesh and dwelt among us through His Son Jesus!
Psalm 41:4, “I said, ‘Lord, be merciful to me; Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.’
In this third scripted prayer to the Lord, the reader cries out for mercy and requests healing. The reader admits that he has sinned against the Lord! In a way, Psalm 41 provides the direct terminology to the guidance provided in Psalm 32.
These three pleas for mercy are well summarized by another confession in the Book of Psalms:
Psalm 119:176, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; Seek Your servant, For I do not forget Your commandments.

Direct pleas for mercy. All of them in the Bible. And all of them in the first person singular. Powerful prayers from the pen of God. Prayers which He will hear and answer!