A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 8: Church-A Concise Exposition)

A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 8: Church-A Concise Exposition)

Note: This series of posts deals with the relationship between doctrine and practice in general, and between theology and missiology in particular. It argues that sound theology should provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for missiological practice. It seeks a “theologically-driven” missiology both for the United States and international contexts.

Missiology is inextricably intertwined with ecclesiology; one cannot be discussed properly without the other. It is probably for that reason that there are so many controversial issues at the intersection of the two disciplines. In this post, we will give a cursory overview of some of the main themes of ecclesiology. This concise biblical ecclesiology will give us a “place to stand” as the next post will speak to some significant and controversial ecclesiological issues in contemporary missiology.

Being the Church

Scripture does not give us a dictionary definition of the nature of the church. What it does instead is give us images and analogies that help us to understand the nature of the church. The church cannot be defined apart from its relationship to God, which is evident especially in the following three images.

In I Pet 2:9-10, the church is described as the people of God, which serves to remind us that we are God’s possession, and that we are a community rather than a collection of individuals. Second, Paul instructs us that we are the body of Christ. Sometimes he uses the image to refer to the church universal (Eph, Col) and sometimes to the church local (Rom, 1 Cor). This image helps us to understand that we are many members but one body (unity and diversity) and that each of us belong to the other members of the body (mutual love and interdependence). Third, we are told that the church is the temple of the Spirit. Our body is a temple of the Spirit (1 Cor 6:19); we are living stones built into a spiritual house (1 Pet 2:5). This image not only evokes the memory of Christ who “tabernacles” with us, but also the idea of relationship. We are held together by the Spirit.

As the Fathers and the Reformers reflected upon the Scriptures, they came to identify the church with certain marks. The church fathers spoke of the church as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. We are one, in that we are indwelt by the same Spirit. We are holy, in that we seek to allow as members only those who profess faith in Christ and show visible signs of regeneration. We are catholic, in that the gospel is universally available for all people, in all places, at all times. We are apostolic, in that we hold to the same gospel proclaimed by the apostles. Moreover, the Reformers noted that the church is marked by the right preaching of the gospel, the right administration of the ordinances, and a commitment to church discipline.

These marks, however, are not exhaustive. There are many ways we can describe the church. For example, as John Hammett has pointed out, the church (1) is organized and purposeful, (2) is primarily local; (3) is by nature, living and growing; (4) is centered on the gospel; and (5) is powered by the Spirit.

Hammett also correctly and persuasively argues that the church is composed of regenerate members (1 Cor 5:11), that this is the center of Baptist ecclesiology, and is directly linked to the purposes of the church. While, on this side of eternity, we will never know for sure the state of another person’s soul, we may keep diligent watch over the church, discipling and disciplining toward the goal of faithfulness and holiness.

Doing Church

The way that the church functions is a direct outworking of who the church is. Scripture gives us specific guidance as to how we are to live as the church. Among these are four.

Because the church is defined by its relation to Christ, we are actually connected to one another. Our union with Christ connects not only to God but also one to another. This is evident especially in the Eucharist and in the “one another” commands. For example, we must live in harmony with one another (Rom 12:16; 15:5), forgive and bear with one another ( Col 3:13) and must not pass judgment on one another (Rom 14:1). We must admonish and encourage one another (1 Thess 5:14) care for one another (1 Cor 12:25), and comfort one another (2 Cor 13:11). Perhaps all of the many “one another” commands could be summed up in 1 Thess 5:15: “Always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.”

These commands are given to all of the members of the church. It is not just that the leaders are responsible for the church. Rather, we are all responsible to one another, and ultimately to Christ. The church is congregational (Acts 6:3; 13:2-3; 15:22). While recognizing Christ as the ultimate divine authority, we recognize the congregation as the human authority. We follow Christ as he leads the church. This is not at odds with the appointment of pastors, to whose leadership we submit, unless for doctrinal or moral reasons their leadership is rescinded.

As to leadership, Scripture teaches that the church has two offices, that of the bishop/elder/pastor and that of the deacon. The officers are chosen by the churches (Acts 14:23). The bishop/elder/pastor much be able to administrate (bishop), teach and nurture (pastor), must be mature in the faith (elder), and must meet the requirements laid out in Scripture (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). The deacon is a servant (Acts 6:1-6) and must meet the requirements laid out in Scripture (1 Tim 3:8-13). The pastors, in particular, are to equip the saints for the work of ministry. The church’s ministries are manifold and may be summarized in five categories. Hammett points out that these five ministries may be seen together in Acts 2:42-47. Those ministries are teaching, fellowship, worship, service, and evangelism.

The Scriptures speak of churches that meet in houses (Rom 16:5) as well as house churches that were connected to one another as city churches (Acts 13:1). Further, the Scriptures speak of these churches, together, as a sort of regional church (Acts 8:1), and of the church universal (1 Cor 1:2). The universal church includes believers both living and dead, is not synonymous with any one institution, denomination, or network of churches, and is not entirely visible at any time.

Conclusion

It is difficult to overstate the significance of ecclesiology for Christians in general and for missiologists in particular. We must agree with Mark Dever, who writes in A Theology for the Church: “The enduring authority of Christ’s commands compels Christians to study the Bible’s teaching on the church. Present-day errors in the understanding and the practice of the church will, if they prevail, still further obscure the gospel. Christian proclamation might make the gospel audible, but Christians living together in local congregations make the gospel visible (see John 13:34-35). The church is the gospel made visible.” May we not obscure the gospel by neglecting the church.

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 3: A Compelling Vision Grounded in Confessional Identity

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

In 1991, in the heat of the Conservative Resurgence, Paige Patterson authored an important and visionary article, in what was at the time Southern Seminary’s journal, the Review and Expositor (Vol. 88, 1991; 37-55). The title was “My Vision of the Twenty-First Century SBC.” Filled with wisdom and insight, Patterson called for theological renewal based upon complete confidence in the Bible as the Word of God, seminaries that are “breeding ponds for ardent evangelist” (39), theological parameters “which will guide convention life doctrinally” (41), missiological renewal, “innovative strategies” (42), ecclesiological renewal, socio-political renewal (e.g. a biblical response to racism, abortion, church and state, feminism and the sanctity of the home) and spiritual renewal rooted in prayer, holiness, word and witness. Patterson also challenged Southern Baptist to look and learn from other brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we might not see eye to eye on every point of doctrine. Learn from the “spontaneity and participation” of neo-charismatic friends (45), just stay away from “their experienced-oriented epistemologically defective theology and their topical and overly emotional preaching. . . .” (A good word indeed!). The vision Patterson articulated was comprehensive in scope and compelling in its attractiveness for those who love Christ, the Church, the Word and the lost. In a real sense his vision provided more than a decade and a half ago the contours and impetus for a Great Commission Resurgence that, of logical and spiritual necessity, should grow out of a Conservative Resurgence committed to the truth of Holy Scripture and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One aspect of this vision came to fruition with the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This was a revision of the 1963 statement. Baptists have always been marked by confessional identity. Such confessions, based upon our understanding of the Word of God, provide a witness to the world of “these things we believe.” They also provide a consensus for our coming together for cooperation in obedience to the Great Commandments (Matt. 22:37-40) and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20). The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, like prior confessions, addressed particular theological issues with a long doctrinal history, as well as more relevant questions being debated in the current contemporary context. Thus one finds, for example, clear and unequivocal statements on the truthfulness of the Bible; the exclusivity of the gospel; penal substitution; God’s complete and total omniscience (no “open theism”); baptism by the Spirit at conversion; the sins of racism, homosexuality and pornography; the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death; and a complementarian view of the home and church. It is a point of historical interest that the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 committee was appointed by Paige Patterson and chaired by Adrian Rogers.

All of us recognize that as a human confession this statement is not perfect. Furthermore, it is not exhaustive. Still, it can serve as a sufficient guide providing good, solid parameters for ecclesial and missional cooperation among Southern Baptist. It is instructive to note that all six seminaries have pledged to teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. In addition, Southeastern Seminary and Southern Seminary also teach in accordance with and not contrary to the Abstract of Principles penned by Basil Manly Jr. in 1858. Finally, and uniquely, Southeastern Seminary also requires each and every faculty member to affirm “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” and “The Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” These latter statements are in perfect harmony with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 in my judgment, and taken together, provide a healthy and robust standard of confessional identity and conviction. Thus there should be no question about what we believe or where we stand. There should be no doubt as to our vision or our mission. When other denominations are in retreat, apparently seeing how little they can confess, Southern Baptists are headed in a different direction all together. We desire to be clear and transparent in what we believe, preach and teach. There is no biblical gospel without theological content. There is no Great Commission to pursue without doctrinal conviction. This is who we are. This is where we stand. This is what we believe. This is why we go!mobile rpg games

Some Reasons I Believe in Seminary and Theological Education

I am convinced that the most important characteristic or qualification of a minister is personal integrity. I address this several times every semester at Southeastern Seminary. Paul says in 1 Tim. 3:2 that a leader in the church must be blameless or above reproach. Personal integrity is foundational to everything else that one does in ministry. Second, I believe compassion and love for those we serve is crucial. Jesus said that love would be a distinguishing mark by which men would know that we are His disciples. Therefore, a genuine love and compassion for our people is absolutely essential. Third is biblical fidelity and conviction. A minister of Jesus Christ should live a Bible saturated life. If a minister does not believe in the inspiration and complete truthfulness of Scripture, in the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Bible, in my judgement he is not qualified to be a minister of the gospel. Our view of the Bible should be the same as that of the Lord Jesus and it is clear that He did not doubt a jot or a tittle (Matthew 5:17 & 18). Fourth, a minister must have a passion for the souls of lost men and women, boys and girls. Jesus came “to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). We, like our Lord, must be about the task of sharing the gospel, and do so as the Puritans said, “promiscuously.”

At Southeastern Seminary we are committed to training Apostle Pauls. We want men and women with keen minds and theological conviction balanced with a passion for missions and evangelism. Theology and missions should never be divorced. Indeed, each will be impoverished without the other.

Theological preparation can assist a minister in each of these areas. Of course it is the case that one can be competent without theological education, but theological education can take each of these four vital areas and assist the minister in his growth and development. Is theological preparation, then, the most important qualification or even a necessary qualification? No. But it certainly can be a great benefit for those who take the opportunity to pursue it.

I am convinced that tremendous problems will arise in a church as a result of a lack of theological education among its leadership. Our churches overall are grossly anemic in their basic knowledge of biblical and theological truth. The blame for this must lay at the feet of the ministers who are responsible for preaching the Word and also for committing biblical truth to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2). Many of our churches are vulnerable to the latest theological fad or “wind of doctrine.” False teachings like open theism, salvific inclusivism, and even universalism can slip in unchecked if pastors are not instructing and exhorting their people in sound doctrine and refuting those who teach error (Titus 1:9). Theological education can assist a minister in knowing both what he believes and why he believes. It can help him understand the great theological debates throughout the history of the church (think divine sovereignty and human responsibility!) and to more readily recognize theological danger and error when it appears. Grounding ministers in biblical and theological truth can help them do the same for their church and enable a church to stand strong for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

I believe the minimum requirement in terms of theological education to be the master of divinity. Again, there are always exceptions to the case, but by and large this three year 90 hour program of study is what I would expect minimally for the minister who would pastor my church. Of course, more education is better. In fact, I encourage every minister that attends our Seminary to go as far in their theological education as they possibly can. Furthermore, I tend to throw down a gauntlet, but one that I believe is true, and say to them that anyone who has the ability, calling and opportunity to go all the way to the highest level and does not do so sins against God and prostitutes the gifts that the Lord has given them. It is a matter of Christian stewardship that we hone and refine the gifts that God has given us for His honor and His glory. Indeed, God deserves excellence in everything we do (1 Cor. 10:31). This includes our loving Him with our mind (Matt 22:37).

At Southeastern Seminary we seek to address the full orbed expectations of the minister of the Gospel. We begin by laying a strong foundation in biblical and theological studies. We continue to be committed to the original languages of Greek and Hebrew, and we believe that they are absolutely essential for the faithful preaching of the Word of God. We do not, however, want our ministers to become ivory tower theologians who are “no good” to the common people. Therefore, we balance our curriculum with strong emphases in missions, evangelism, leadership, biblical counseling, and expository preaching. We have developed “interim partnerships” with local churches who teach our students what they can learn only in the context of a local church. We want to expose our students to various models and approaches to ministry, critiquing all that we examine in light of Scripture.

Southeastern Seminary believes there is really only one valid model for preaching for an effective ministry. That model is exposition. We recognize that exposition can be done in different ways, however, the faithful preaching of God’s Word, book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, and word by word cannot be neglected if the church is to be dynamic, vibrant and alive.

Far too many seminaries have compromised in the area of biblical and theological conviction, and as a result they have adopted a more therapeutic model when it comes to educating their ministers. A pastoral care model or a cooperate CEO model too often dominates rather than a pastor-teacher model (Eph. 4:11) which is true to Scripture. The good shepherd of a local church will feed and lead, preach and protect his flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4). To do this effectively he must be convicted of biblical truth and grounded in biblical truth. At Southeastern Seminary we place a premium emphasis on the classic disciplines of theological education, and we are convinced that this is absolutely necessary for the health and vitality of the church in the 21st century.

The single most important reason that someone who believes that God has called them to ministry should pursue theological education is because it will enable them to be a better minister. Billy Graham has often said that if he could add anything to his ministry, it would be a seminary education. He believes that the ministry that God has given him would have been even more productive had he availed himself of seminary. That is a strong word from a very well respected voice. I believe all persons who are considering vocalional ministry would do well to heed the counsel of this great servant of God. I don’t think they will be disappointed, and neither will the people they serve.