Southeastern at the 2014 ETS

Every fall semester, before the Thanksgiving holiday, droves of evangelical professors, pastors, and students descend upon an American city to gather for the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. This year, the meeting will be held November 19-21 in balmy San Diego, CA, with Ecclesiology as the central topic. As usual, many of our SEBTS faculty and PhD students will participate by reading academic papers, or serving as panelists or moderators for various discussions. The table below lists the time, topic, role, and location of each participant. If you live in or near San Diego, or you plan to attend ETS this year, be sure to check out the fine scholarship displayed by SEBTS folk.

Time Topic Person Role
Nov 19       8:30-11:40a Christian Ethics Section Erik Clary Moderator
9:20-10:00 Christian Ethics and the Fair Trade Movement Shaun Price Presenter
9:20-10:00 Matthew 27:52-53 as a Scribal Interpolation Charles Quarles Presenter
9:20-10:00 Believer Baptism: Human Act of Obedience and Divine Means of Grace John Hammett Presenter
11:00-11:40 Panel Discussion on Believer Baptism John Hammett Panelist
2:00-5:10p Christian Ethics: Was the Early Church Primarily Pacifist of Not? Daniel Heimbach Moderator
3:40-4:20 Can War Be Just? The Ancient Church and Pacifism Steven McKinion Presenter
4:30-5:10 Interaction on the Early Church and Pacifism Daniel Heimbach Panelist
4:30-5:10 Interaction on the Early Church and Pacifism Steven McKinion Panelist
2:00-5:10 A Conversation on Origins: BioLogos, Reasons to Believe, and Southern Baptists Ken Keathley Panelist
2:00-5:10 A Conversation on Origins: BioLogos, Reasons to Believe, and Southern Baptists James K. Dew Panelist
2:00-2:40 Does Luke 10:25-37 Echo 2 Chr 28:5-15? The Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Question if Its Historical Vorlage Gregory Stiekes Presenter
2:00-2:40 On Feeding the “Theologically Dead”-Rethinking Robert Rakestraw on the Vegetative State Erik Clary Presenter
2:00-2:40 Rescuing Rahab: The Evangelical Discussion on Conflicting Moral Absolutes David W. Jones Presenter
Nov 20       8:30-11:40a The Dark Side of Evangelical Ecumenism Nathan A. Finn Moderator
10:20-10:40 Respondent to Evangelical Ecumenism Papers Nathan A. Finn Presenter
9:20-10:50 Book Panel on In Search of Moral Knowledge by R. Scott Smith James K. Dew Panelist
3:00-6:10p Molinism Session Ken Keathley Moderator
3:00-3:40 Are there Signs of Late Biblical Hebrew in Isaiah 40-66? Mark Rooker Presenter

John Hammett: What Makes a Multi-Site Church One Church?

[Mondays at Between the Times are devoted to posts from the faculty of Southeastern. Today’s post is by John Hammett, Senior Professor and John L. Dagg Chair of Systematic Theology. Dr. Hammett winsomely and gracefully engages the growing trend of multi-site churches. What do you think?] 

One of the most important movements in the contemporary church is the development of what are called multi-site churches, which describe themselves as “one church in many locations.”[1] Under this model, what makes a church one is not that the members gather at one location. What, then, do they offer as justification for seeing them as one church? Most often, they point to organizational or missional elements. As one book says, “A multi-site church shares a common vision, budget, leadership, and board.”[2] But such a definition of oneness could fit restaurant chains, hotel franchises, or banks with multiple branches, or an association or convention of churches. Surely the unity of a local church involves more.

One additional element of unity would be theological. Members of one church should be united in believing the “one faith” Paul describes in Ephesians 4:3–6.[3] Indeed, many of Paul’s letters to churches included theological instruction and correction so that the churches could be one in faith, both internally and in relationship to other churches.

But most often, the oneness of a local congregation in the New Testament seems to be relational, rooted in the relationships among the members. So, in Acts 2:44, we read that “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” Acts 4:32 continues, “All the believers were one in heart and mind.” The image of the one body with many members in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 emphasizes equality in value and honor despite diversity in gifts, and is given as an incentive to mutual care. In fact, one of the major themes of 1 Corinthians is Paul’s appeal to all the members there “to agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor. 1:10). Similarly, the Philippian church is exhorted to make Paul’s joy complete “by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Phil. 2:2). Unity seems more much a matter of the quality of face-to-face, shared relationships among members than with organizational matters among budgets and boards.

The challenge facing multi-site churches is how to foster such relational unity among believers scattered over a geographical area meeting at different times in many locations. Even churches that meet in one location face a similar challenge, for as they grow larger they will soon have too many members for any one member to know all the others. This makes the development of genuine fellowship across all the membership a matter of concern, not just to multi-site churches, but to all churches that grow beyond a very small size. Somehow the New Testament churches, even the very large church in Jerusalem, managed to live out relational oneness. Their example calls us to deeper commitment to the brothers and sisters with whom we covenant in local church membership.

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This article is adapted from John S. Hammett, “What Makes a Multi-Site Church One Church?” Great Commission Research Journal 4, no. 1 (Summer 2012): 95-107. Bruce Ashford let readers know about this article in 2012. See the post here.

[1] Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird, The Multi-Site Church Revolution (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006). The sub-title of this book is “Being One Church in Many Locations.”

[2] Ibid., 18.

[3] Theological unity is given both primacy and greatest prominence in the list of five areas of church unity advocated by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears in Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 137-140. In addition to theological unity, they highlight relational, philosophical, missional, and organizational unity.

Church Membership: Do I Stay or Do I Go Now?

[Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on September 11, 2013.]

One of the topics I  teach on regularly at Southeastern Seminary and in local churches is the nature of church membership. When teaching on membership, I’m frequently asked two questions: 1) What criteria should I use when deciding whether or not to join a particular church? 2) What criteria should I use when deciding whether or not to leave the church of which I’m a member? I answer by sharing four criteria for each question. I list them below, in the order that I personally prioritize them.

Criteria for Joining a Church

1. Doctrine: What does the church believe about primary, secondary, and tertiary doctrines? How clear are they in their doctrinal commitments? Do you share the church’s core beliefs? Are you willing to submit to the teaching ministry of the church when it comes to (presumably minor) doctrines where you might disagree?

2. Emphases: Does the pastor (or pastors) emphasize text-driven preaching and teaching? Does the church emphasize discipleship, accountability, and spiritual formation for all its members? Does the church emphasize personal evangelism and global missions?

3. Geography: Do you live close enough to regularly worship with this particular body of believers? Do you live close enough to regularly serve alongside the members of this church? If you live more than 20 minutes away from the church’s gathering place, are you willing to either drive frequently or relocate closer so that you can be vitally involved in the body life of the church?

4. Preferences: Are you comfortable with the church’s approach to music and worship? Are you comfortable with the church’s approach to age- or gender-specific ministry? Are you comfortable with the general ambience or atmosphere that is being fostered by the church?

Criteria for Leaving a Church

1. Geography: Have you relocated far enough from the church’s gathering place that it is no longer possible to be meaningfully involved? (e.g. you move across town)

2. Doctrine: Has there been a change in the doctrinal convictions you hold or those espoused by the church’s leadership that makes continued membership difficult? (e.g. the church changes its position on female pastors, baptism, speaking in tongues, or eternal security)

3. Emphases: Has there been a change in the church’s emphases that makes continued membership difficult? (e.g. the pastor has abandoned text-driven teaching and preaching or the leadership refuses to emphasize evangelism and missions)

4. Preferences: Has there been a change in how the church handles some of your preferences that makes continued membership difficult? (e.g. the music style has changed, the children’s ministry strategy has changed, church gatherings have become more or less casual than they were)

I am convinced that one of the reasons we have so much church-shopping and church-hopping in American evangelicalism is because we tend to join and leave a church based more upon our preferences rather than other matters that are more important. Perhaps better ordering our priorities will help us to be more discerning in pursuing and/or ending church membership.

Some of you may quibble with me over where I rank some of these matters–there is room for debate. Nevertheless, I hope you find these lists helpful.