Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 10: Church Discipline: One Essential of a Healthy Church, Part A

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological 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.

Church Discipline: One Essential of a Healthy Church, Part A

The New Testament has a great deal to say about Church Discipline. Jesus addresses it in Matthew 18:15-20, and Paul does so repeatedly in Romans 16:17-18; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; 13:1-3; Galatians 6:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12; and Titus 3:9-15. This fact alone makes it all the more remarkable that no aspect of church life in our day is more neglected than this one. Indeed the contemporary church’s disregard for this clear teaching of Holy Scripture is perhaps its greatest visible act of disobedience to our Lord. This rebellion is not without significant consequences. John L. Dagg cogently noted, “when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it.” Without Christ at the center, there will be no Great Commission.

For Baptist this neglect is striking when you consider that we have historically viewed Church Discipline as an essential mark, “the third mark,” of the church, right alongside 1) the Word rightly preached and 2) the Ordinances properly administered. And yet, none of our most recent confessions, The Baptist Faith and Message 1925, 1963, and 2000, has a statement on this biblical teaching!

How did we get here? How did we get to a place where the “people of the Book” exercise such a blatant act of disobedience to a clear command of Christ and a crucial component of Church life? Certainly there have been abuses of the practice, though even the memory of this is so far removed from our own day that I seriously doubt one of us can point to a single example. No, we have been infected by a far more deadly disease.

I believe the genesis of the disease is 4-fold: 1) a loss of theological nerve, 2) a compromised morality, 3) biblical illiteracy and 4) practical expediency. In each of these instances the problem finds its origin at the top, with the leadership, with the pastors.

First, we have lost our theological nerve, the courage to confront as well as comfort, to admonish as well as exhort. Out of fear of offending, we have slinked away into the false security of silence.

Second, we have been overcome by moral compromise. Our churches look and act so much like the world we would hardly know where to begin if we did restore Church Discipline.

Third, we are simply and sadly biblically illiterate. Lay this deficiency at the feet of preachers who have jettisoned an expository model of preaching that allows us to avoid and neglect the hard doctrines of Scripture like Church Discipline.

Fourth, practical expediency and, I might add, personal ambition, has played an all too important role. A bigger membership means greater bragging rights. It affords a more attractive platform to make the move to a larger and more influential pulpit or denominational post. I wish I did not believe that there was any merit to this particular observation. However, too many conversations with too many ministers makes the case unavoidable. Furthermore, Southern Baptist’s fascination and fixation on numbers naturally enslaves us to this kind of mindset. It is all but hardwired into our DNA, embedded in the hard drive of our internal logic. Now, I do not wish to be misunderstood. Numbers and an “accurate accounting (!)” of those numbers is important. It is a matter of accountability and integrity. It is biblical (see Acts 2:41). However, their inflation and exaggeration, and our infatuation with them, dishonor Christ, robs us of our integrity, and calls into question our credibility.

Where then do we turn for an answer, a solution, a cure to this critical condition in which we find Christ’s Church? The answer of course is Scripture, and in two following articles I will direct us to the one source we should consult and then obey in this matter, as in all others as well.

Suffice it to say that strange as it may sound to some ears, a restoration of Church Discipline to its proper place in the life of the church is an essential component of a Great Commission Resurgence. Rightly practiced, it promotes health and holiness in the body of Christ. It goes hand in hand with a regenerate church and magnifies the glory of the gospel in transformed lives. It is not optional. It is an essential for a New Testament Church. It is necessary if we are to experience a Great Commission Resurgence.

Assisting Gospel-Driven Churches: A Reminder to Baptist Bureaucrats, Part 2

This is the second post in a two-part article titled “Assisting Gospel-Driven Churches: A Reminder to Baptist Bureaucrats.” The sermon was preached in the weekly chapel service of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina on September 8, 2008. I want to thank the executive leadership of the BSCNC for the invitation to preach and their blessing in publishing the sermon manuscript here at Between the Times. The earlier post can be read here.

Assisting Gospel-Driven Churches: A Reminder to Baptist Bureaucrats
1 Corinthians 1:18-31

II. Gospel-Driven Churches Place their Confidence in the Right Place (1:26-31)

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Having just finished explaining how the gospel seems like folly to the lost world, Paul now turns to Christians themselves and notes that the verdict is not much better; they were not very wise, not very powerful, and not very noble. Try applying for a job at the state convention with that resume!

But God is not hedged in by these limitations. He chooses the foolish to shame the wise and the weak to shame the strong. It is the low and the despised and the nobodies that God uses. I think Paul sounds a lot like Jesus, who teaches us in the Gospels that the world’s hierarchies don’t really matter, because in the kingdom it’s the last who are first.

And why are things this way? Verse 29 tells us: So that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

Instead of boasting on the basis of our own feeble talents and accomplishments, Paul tells us to boast in the Lord because we have believed the gospel and are now in Christ. Jesus Christ is the wisdom from God and he is our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption. This is just another way of saying Christ is the one who has saved us, is saving us, and will save us at the last day.

Brothers and sisters, we have nothing if we do not have Christ. This is true for us as individuals, it is true for our churches, and it is true for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and Southeastern Seminary.

Since we are all family here and we are co-laborers as denominational servants, let me speak very candidly with you: Southern Baptists, including those of us who live in North Carolina, don’t have the best track record when it comes to humility. Since at least the mid-20th century, all you have to do is attend any type of denominational meeting and you will hear some of the most rank bragging on earth:

“We are the largest Protestant denomination in America”

“We have the largest seminaries in the world”

“We have the largest force of foreign missionaries on the planet”

“We have clout with the people in Washington”

The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina is just as bad when it comes to this type of thing: look at this great new program we have launched, look at how big we are, look how many people we had at this conference. We . . . we . . . we . . . we . . . we.

Brothers and sisters, God does not need the SBC or the state convention. Every single person in this room is expendable, our jobs are not necessary, and the churches do not have to have us around to do the work they are called to do.

And to be frank, many of them know this.

So if we are actually going to assist the churches in fulfilling their divinely appointed mission, then we had best remember that we do not exist for our own sake. The Cooperative Program, state missions budgets, programs, conferences-all these things are helpful, but they are not necessary. These things are all temporary, but they are not permanent.

Verse 31 says, Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. This is our calling as Christians, this is our calling as churches, and this is our calling as denominational servants.

Because Gospel-driven churches put their confidence in the right place, denominational servants must guard against falling into the trap of thinking we are essential. We are a means, not an end, and to suggest otherwise, even implicitly, is the height of hubris and a disservice to the churches we claim to serve. Brothers and sisters, only Christ is essential, and we are only valuable insofar as we assist churches in proclaiming him.

Conclusion

I am thankful for almost everything that I hear about the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. I think that God is doing a work of renewal in this convention, just as I trust he is doing a work of renewal in the Southern Baptist Convention. But we need to remember that both the state convention and the SBC were created to serve the churches. Some of the churches out there need some convincing, and the burden is on you and I to prove to them that we want to assist them–and can assist them–in becoming the kinds of churches that God would have them to be.

I am delighted to labor alongside you in serving the churches for the sake of the gospel. May God grant us great grace and abundant wisdom as we seek to assist gospel-driven churches in North Carolina, North America, and the uttermost parts of the earth.online games

Guest Blog by Central Asia RL: Biblical Foundations and Guidelines for Contextualization (Pt 4)

Guest Blog: Biblical Foundations and Guidelines for Contextualization (Pt 4)

Editor’s Note: This guest blog is written by the IMB’s Regional Leader for Central Asia. It is a six part series, giving the biblical foundations and guidelines for contextualization, and making application to Christian ministry in the Muslim world. This series will appear as a chapter in the forthcoming book “Look What God is Doing in the Muslim World.”

Contextualization Guidelines

How do we apply these principles to the work of the Gospel in the Muslim world? Based on years of wrestling with the task under the authority of the word of God, here are guidelines for our work in the Muslim world, founded on these Biblical principles. The guidelines are grouped under three headings: The Messenger of the Good News, the Message of the Good News, and the Church.

The Messenger of the Good News (with primary focus on us, the foreign workers)

We must openly identify ourselves as followers of Jesus. Hiding our identity is out of bounds. Jesus made it clear that we must not deny Him before men. Security concerns are real, and we need to take them seriously. However, we must never let security concerns drive us into hiding our identity as disciples of Christ. To be known as His is worth getting kicked out a country, and even dying.

We should work hard to become part of the community we are trying to reach. We need to build relationships and put down roots among the unbelievers of our focus people group. We must beware of our team becoming our primary focus and primary community. Team is a means to an end, but it must never become an end in itself. In an age of email, SMS and Skype, we also need to beware of excessive communication with the US. It is simply too easy to move overseas and yet never bond with the people we are trying to reach, due to the possibility and comfort of maintaining our primary community with English-speaking loved ones. We must consciously invest in relationships in the community we are trying to reach, and that community needs to become our primary community, as much as possible.

We should be lifelong learners of language and culture. Those who know the language best are those who want to keep on learning. Beware of getting stuck at a survival language level, and beware also of getting stuck in initial, superficial impressions about the culture. We communicate most effectively when we communicate in their heart language, and when we understand what they think and how they hear what we say.

We should voluntarily give up freedoms that erect barriers to the Gospel.

We should choose our housing and decorate our homes in ways that are comfortable to those we are trying to reach, even if it is less comfortable for us.

We should dress in ways that show respect for our host culture. We need to be appropriately modest, even if the weather makes us uncomfortable in the process. At the same time, we should be attentive to changes in the culture. Our aim is to be unremarkable in our attire.

We should act in ways that show respect for our host culture. Find out what is and is not appropriate for anyone in that setting. Find out what is and is not appropriate for someone your age, gender, occupation and station in life. Dig deep, and do not be content with superficial answers or with exceptions made for you as a foreigner. Things that might never occur to you as significant can have great significance in another culture. Watch closely, listen carefully, ask lots of questions, and ask lots of different people.

We can, and should, distance ourselves from forms of cultural Christianity that dishonor God or that cause unnecessary stumbling blocks to our host culture. Christianity is often seen as a cultural or ethnic thing, and it is associated with colonial conquest and exploitation, or with the worship of images and drinking alcohol, or with the immoral behavior seen in movies and TV programs from the “Christian” west. It is perfectly appropriate that we NOT identify ourselves with that image! We should, instead, explain our identity in ways that point to Jesus and not to the unfortunate legacy of cultural Christianity.

In this context, the word “Christian” can be particularly problematic. To much of the Muslim world, America, Europe and Russia are “Christian” nations, and whatever is true for those countries is true of Christianity. Thus, when a Central Asian Muslim asks me if I am a Christian, what they mean by “Christian” is an alcohol-drinking, pornography-watching, sexually promiscuous, picture-worshipping Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic person who is part of the culture that has attempted to conquer and oppress them for centuries. Therefore, I never simply say yes. However, since Christian is a Biblical word, neither do I say no. I define who I am in Biblical terms apart from their historical experience.

We should serve our host community. We should look for ways to be a blessing, on their terms and according to their understanding of their needs.

At the same time:

We must never give the impression that we have converted to Islam.

We should not deny the label Christian – we may simply need to redefine it in a Biblical way.

We should not contextualize ourselves more than the host culture itself. We need to understand where a culture is going as well as where it is, and make sure that we don’t adapt ourselves to the past instead of the present.

We must not adopt any local cultural practice or attitude that violates Scripture. In this context, we need to especially be careful about attitudes. We can unconsciously pick up ungodly attitudes from our host culture (toward women, for example, or toward other ethnic groups).