Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Household of God

Here's a little of what I've been learning in my studies for Sunday's sermon. Some "overflow" if you will...

God refers to those who are part of His church as members of His family. And it's part of the Gospel - the Good News - that we are "accepted in the beloved."(Eph 1:6)

There was a time when we were not members of the household of God, but strangers, aliens.

Eph_2:19  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,

As “fellow citizens” we are a part of God’s Kingdom, but as Members of His household what are we? We could be servants and be part of the household, but more explicitly we are Children of God.

Rom_8:17  And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

And how did we become Heirs and children of God?

Tit_3:7  That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

And as heirs we are all on the same footing with Christ.

1Pe_3:7  Likewise, husbands, dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor  to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life;

How can we know that we are God’s Children?
One way is:

Rom 8:16  The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that
we are the children of God: 17 And if children,
then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;

So, the Household of God is also the New Testament Church of God.

 1Ti_3:15  you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

Jesus also portrayed the church as a family.
To His Disciples early in His ministry:

Mat_5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Teaching them to pray:
Mat_6:9  Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

After the resurrection:
Joh_20:17  Jesus said … "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

Jesus promises His disciples a Family of God.
Mar 10:29 Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there’s no one who has left house or brothers, sisters or mother, father or children or lands, for my sake and the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

The Apostle Paul Explains the Family of God is part of one of God’s great mysteries.

Eph_3:6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Paul portrays How and Who He chose to be part of His Family!

 Jas_2:5 … my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he promised to those who love him?

Paul also explains how we ought to live as members of the Household of God.
1Ti_3:15  you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, 

1Pe_4:17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who don't obey the gospel of God?

Gal_5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only don’t use freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Gal_6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in sin, you who are spiritual restore him in a spirit of gentleness.

1Th_5:12 We ask you, brothers, respect those who labor among you, are over you in the Lord and admonish you,

1Th_5:14 we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

1Th_5:25 Brothers, pray for us.

2Th_2:15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught by us, 

2Th_3:6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition you received from us.

Jas_1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,

Jas_1:16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.

Jas_1:19 …my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;
Jas_2:1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the
faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

1Jn_3:16 … he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

1Ti 5:1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothersolder women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. 

 While there are many other Scriptures that describe how we ought to live as followers of Jesus Christ, a significant part of those instructions reflect how members of a family ought to behave. 
We don't have the luxury of saying "It's none of my business" when it is a brother or sister in Christ who needs, prayer, comfort, recognition, admonishment, rebuke, restoration, help, encouragement, service and respect. Why? Because we are members of the same family. The family of Jesus Christ and the Household of God.

So may I encourage you all in the Holiday Season that has so much to do with family visits, don't forget your "Other" family; the one God brought you into.
I'm glad I'm in your family!


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Invitations and Altar Calls

Invitations and Altar Calls

Invitations are ancient, altar calls are relatively recent.

Houston, We have a problem.” Those have come to be favorite words to describe something of great concern in a soft, non-panicked way.
Well we in Christendom, and as Baptists, have a problem. There are many people calling themselves Christians who are not living as disciples of Christ. Now surely, at any given time, they are true believers struggling with some part of their life. They do not want to give up something that God requires, or perhaps they have a blind spot and are not behaving in a way that honors Christ. But they are still true believers and God will bring them through this time of difficulty.
But for many who name the name of Christ and show no devotion to Him there is another answer. They are not truly born again Christians. Jesus said there would be those who called Him Lord whom He never knew.

Is this problem worse now than in other times in history? I think so. It is easy to be called a Christian in our society. There’s little persecution, certainly not what believers in other countries experience. There are instant friends when you go to church. There may even be instant consumers for whatever one is selling.
But chief of all, it’s so easy. You walk down the church aisle, say you want to be a Christian, you repeat a prayer the pastor leads you in, word by word, and Voila! It’s done. They even tell you, “Congratulations you are a born again child of God now!”

Are they? Are they really? Yes, some may have been saved in a very similar scenario to that one, but there were other things at work if they were.
There was the conviction of sin that the Holy Spirit brings to impress upon us we need forgiveness. There is the awareness that Jesus Christ is Lord that leads us to repent from sin and place our faith in Christ. There was the awakening of faith in our hearts and minds, the sense of relief from knowing that our sins are washed away. Without this sort of a work of God, repeating prayers till we are blue in the face do not save.

This does not mean it is drenched in emotion, though it may be. But it does mean there is a desire for salvation, and the understanding that it only will happen through faith in Christ, and there is the placing of one’s faith in Christ, at the very least.

Not wanting to give someone a false hope is why I am wary of how one conducts an invitation to Christ. Some have ceased to offer an invitation with accompanying invitation hymn. I always call them ‘hymns of commitment’ by the way; for believers to commit themselves to Christ as well as unbelievers.

So the main Question we should always ask in situations such as this is “Is it Biblical?”

Isaiah the prophet said, “Come now and let us reason together; though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as wool...” Jesus said, “Come unto me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” These are invitations from God to come to him and find forgiveness and rest from trying to earn His forgiveness.

The altar call however is an early 1800’s invention. It was called an anxious seat or mourner’s bench, and people were called to come to the front of the meeting room and sit on this bench, or kneel at it to be made right with God.  It seemed like a good idea, to get all those needing to be saved in one place, but why? There are many moves of God in which this ‘altar call’ was never used and many were truly saved. I would even go so far as to say it was more effective that way than with the bench.[i]

You see, helping someone get saved is not in scripture. Telling them the good news and inviting them to repent and believe is; but a sinners prayer which, if repeated, magically saves one’s soul is really heresy. And unfortunately, that is what the anxious bench became and still is in many churches today that employ the altar call.

Many who come are saved, true, and I would say many were saved before they got to the front. God has already called them to Himself and they had already responded in faith before they whispered in the pastor’s ear, “I need to be saved.”

Even though I still issue an invitation at the end of a preaching service some pastors and preachers won’t do an altar call. Listen to what Jonathan Leeman, the editorial director at 9Marks[ii] and a PhD candidate researching ecclesiology[iii], says about a conversation he had with a man in the church where he served as an interim pastor:

“I told this brother and the rest of the elders that I wouldn't do an altar call. Why not?

Because I think altar calls are wrong? No, I think a pastor is free to give one. It's not a sin.

Because I don't believe that people must make a decision for Christ? No, I think people must decide to repent and believe in order to be saved.

Because I don't think Jesus calls us to make a public profession? No, people must publicly profess their faith, which is why Jesus instituted baptism.

Because I think inviting sinners to repent is inherently manipulative? No, I believe preachers should invite non-Christians to repent and believe throughout their sermons. I did this during the interim pastorate, and I did it just last Sunday when guest preaching at another church. I very clearly invited non-Christians to repent and believe in the middle of my sermon, and then told them to speak with me afterwards, or the pastor, or the Christian friend who brought them.

So why wouldn't I give an altar call? In short, I believe that this particular man-made practice, this 19th-century innovation, has produced more bad than good for Christian churches in the West. The altar call relies on the powers of emotion, rhetorical persuasion, and social pressure to induce people to make a hasty and premature decision. And producing professions is not the same thing as making disciples. Surely a number of factors are responsible for the many nominal Christians that typify Christianity in the West, but I believe that the altar call is one of them.

How many people in the last century walked an aisle, and spent the rest of their days convinced that they were a Christian, never considering how they lived!”

The alternative to giving altar calls is sticking with the practices we see modeled in Scripture:

1.      Invite people throughout your sermon to "repent and be baptized" like Peter did in Jerusalem (Acts 2:38). But when you do, don't just stand there waiting with emotionally charged music playing, staring them down until they relent. Rather, make several suggestions about how and where to discuss the matter further.

2.      Ask people what they believe when they present themselves for baptism, just like Jesus made sure the disciples knew who he was (Matt. 16:13-17; also, 1 John 4:1-3).

3.      Make sure they understand what following Jesus entails (Matt. 16:24f; John 6:53-60).

4.      Explain that the fruit of their lives and persevering to the end will indicate whether or not they really believe (Matt. 7:24f; 10:22).

5.      You might even explain that Jesus has commanded your church to remove them from its fellowship if their life moving forward does not match their profession (Matt. 18:15-17).

Yes, let's pray hard for conversions. But then let's do every thing Scripture requires of us in the long work of making disciples---a work that generally requires lots of teaching, lots of time, lots of invitations, lots of meals together, and finally the commitment of an entire church body. –
Jonathan Leeman

I take a both/and approach. I think inviting someone to Christ at the end of the sermon reinforces the idea that something must be happen in order to be saved. But I steer away from emotional appeals, long extended invitations, and any kind of social pressure to get someone to “make a decision.” I’m not interested in decisions; I’m interested in conversions, changed lives, and making disciples.

So while I do offer the possibility of someone coming to the front who needs counsel or assistance in surrendering their life to Christ, I fully recognize it is the Holy Spirit who does the work or nothing truly happens. Repeating a prayer does not save. No matter how many times you repeat it. Only faith in Christ accompanied by repentance from sin can do that; and only God can do that in a sinner’s heart so that they may be saved.

[i] It may have been more difficult to keep records of names and the number of how many made ‘professions’ of faith.
[ii] This is a ministry of Dr. Mark Dever and Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C.

[iii] Ecclesiology is the study of the Doctrine of the Church.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sinner or Saint? Which One are You?

     Twice in the last few months I've heard a preacher/pastor scold (gently of course) believers for thinking of themselves as sinners. Even as sinners forgiven, or sinners saved by grace. I hadn't heard that in years. I used to hear it all the time back in my charismatic days. But I don't like it! I don't like it at all. It gets my goat and sticks in my craw and I'm not even sure what a craw is or what my goat has to do with it!
I'm NOT saying they're wrong, I'm just saying... you know, I don't like it.
     But "Why?" you ask?
     Because, while YES, we are saints, that is not the whole picture. I mean, how many folks do you know who don't sin anymore? We have been completely forgiven if we have been born again by the sheer Grace of God the Father, through our faith in Christ. And, we have not only had the debt against us cancelled by God, but we have been given Christ's own robes of righteousness, a new heart, a quickened spirit, and new destination. Yes, we are declared saints, Holy, wholly set apart unto God, His own vessels for service in the temple not made with hands. I GET THAT! Its just that the language of talking about ourselves as saints seems to be all about us. But when we see ourselves as sinners, we turn to Christ as Savior and talk of all he has done for us.
     Right now, as the saved in this world, we live in the Kingdom which has come but is not yet made manifest in all the earth. This Kingdom is God's rule and reign. It is the essence of the Good News that Christ came preaching. (Mk 1:14-15) In this Kingdom the Gospel of Jesus Christ rules! That means that Grace Rules, because Grace is the heart of the Good News and of the Kingdom. Grace! Total and complete and free for sinners. Costly to God through Christ, but free for us who have been redeemed.
     This wonderful Amazing Grace reminds me that I am a sinner, poor and needy, lost and greedy, but saved and loved. I'm a sinner, with a conscience enlivened by a Holy god above. I need the Gospel everyday! Everyday I need to know my success as a member of God's Kingdom depends on GRACE!
     Paul asked an important question to the Galatians. "Having begun in the Spirit, did you think you'd be made perfect in the flesh?" One way to look at that question is to say, "Having begun by Grace, did you think you could do the rest all on your own?" We can't. We can't conform to the image of Jesus without grace. We can't be happy by clapping our hands but by grace. We can't be witnesses for Christ but by His grace. WHAT? Are you thinking that I just gave you an out for not witnessing? Do you think you can say, "I just don't have the grace for witnessing, someone else should do that." No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying we should do what we need to do, by the grace and power of God and trusting in His grace and power to take our feeble, lame, good works, and make them powerful through God.
     Some people look at Jesus as if He's a "kinder gentler" Moses. Like He brought in the "Law Lite." Actually , it's the opposite. Jesus raised the bar. The law said don't kill your neighbor, Jesus said don't even hate him. Jesus said to love everyone. Jesus said to go and make disciples. I would submit to you the last three things I said are impossible. we can't do them, yet we are commanded. How does that work?
     We do them In Christ. As sinners forgiven, as sinners saved by grace, as sinners who need the power of god every moment everyday, in order to do the things He has commanded. When we learn to live in that constant state of grace (which is impossible for us, too) then we come to know that His yoke is easy and His burden is light!

Oh Lord, help us to know the same grace that saved us is at work in our hearts to change us and make us what you want us to be. Let us not chafe against the prod, but turn, everyday, and put our head in the yoke of Christ.

Clark D.

PS I really am glad I'm a saint, set apart unto God, for the glory of Christ. just sayin...