Archive for the 'Church' Category

Does God Need Us?

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.

Rom. 6:18 NLT

God does not need us in the sense that he is lacking something. God is sufficient and complete in himself. Sometimes it is said that God created us because he was lonely. God needed a love relationship, and therefore, God made us for companionship. Yes, our relationship with God is one of love, but that love is an overflow of the eternal love relationship found between the members of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God did not create us because he was emotionally needy for he already had a complete and fulfilling love relationship within himself (John 17:23).

The Bible does not directly answer the question, Why did God create anything at all? but it does let us know what some of the most glaringly wrong answers to that question would be. It would be wrong to say that God created because he was lonely, unfulfilled, or bored. God is free from that kind of dependence.

Fred Sanders, Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything.

God needs us in the sense that we are representatives of his kingdom called to reach out to a hurting and lost world (1 Cor. 12:12-13). God needs us to display in our lives and actions the character and nature of Christ (1 John 4:9). God wants to operate in and through us as instruments of his love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness (John 17:25-26).

“Yield your members as instruments” (Rom. 6:18)–your bodies, your bodily members, your mental faculties. God needs your eyes, through which to look out with compassion upon the world; with a compassion that will care enough, it may be, to go, to speak, or to pray. God needs your feet, to carry the message of His concern and the message of His grace. God needs your hands, to toil, and by their touch reveal His love. God needs your lips to speak for righteousness and truth. God needs your heart, to throb with concern and compassion. God needs you. Where are the instruments in the hand of God?

George E. Duncan, “Responsive Surrender to God’s Will,” Daily Thoughts from Keswick: A Year’s Daily Readings, ed., Herbert F. Stevenson (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1980), 322.


Loving What Jesus Loves (Conclusion)

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

1 Cor. 12: 27

Part One, Part Two, Part Three. Loving what Jesus loves involves loving his church: the Body of Christ. The body of Christ is a fellowship of believers united to Christ, and in Christ, to one another. This fellowship is supernatural being an organism in living relationship with its head, Jesus Christ. The church is subjected to his Lordship, animated by his Holy Spirit, and empowered by his presence.

Upon being born from above, we are incorporated into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12: 13) and thereby, receiving his life, becoming the instrument by which he works. The Body of Christ is filled with all the presence, power, and riches of God in Christ (Eph. 1:22-23). All the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ and we, the Body of Christ, have been given his fullness (Col. 1:19, 2:9). This fullness of divine life is gifted to the church by Christ: he pervades the church with his presence, empowers her with his life, releases his gifts for service, and energizes her for mission into the world.

The Apostle Paul affirms this, “Now all of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it” (1 Cor. 12: 27). The Body of Christ is a society of men and women in union with Christ, led by the Father, bearing the fruit of the Spirit. The Body uses the gifts Christ has granted them for the glory of God and the good of others.

Jesus Christ did not rise alone. He rose as the head of a whole body of people elected to have faith in him, to benefit from him, and to extend his mission in the world.

Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Engaging God’s World (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 81.

Loving What Jesus Loves (Part Three)

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Eph. 4:4-6 NIV

In Part One and Part Two of this series, we established that if we are in love with Jesus, we will love what Jesus loves, and what Jesus loves is his church (Eph. 5:25). However, some Christians claim to love Jesus without want or need for the church. While still others claim to love the church without maintaining an intimate love relationship with the Lord of the Church. It is a false dichotomy, “The Church is in Christ as Eve was in Adam,” wrote Anglican Divine, Richard Hooker. To have one is to have the other: Christ and the church cannot be separated (1 Cor. 12:12-13).

Some individuals claim an personal relationship with God, but are not in covenant commitment with other believers. They roam from local church to local church never establishing themselves in relationships of accountability. They never allow themselves to be challenged, never make a commitment, and never grow spiritually. They claim to be in love with Jesus, but they avoid the church.

Others attend church regularly, they can tell you the history of their building and the development of their denomination. These church goers can recite the doctrinal statements of their communion verbatim. However, they lack a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus. These church historians can tell you about all their preachers and church leaders, yet they are not able to hear the Lord for themselves. They are devoted to their particular church or denomination, but they are not a committed follower of the Lord of the church.

The New Testament demands that loving Christ means loving what he loves and what he loves is his church (Col. 1:18). As Cyprian of Carthage declared, “He cannot have God for his father who refuses to have the Church for his mother.” No matter how flawed her members, or how inconsistent their behavior, or how ridiculous its proclamations, Christ still loves his church.

Christ lives in his church, he operates through her, and changes lives by her. Scripturally, we are called to a living relationship with Jesus and to living relationships with our fellow members in the Body of Christ. As the Greek church father, Origen, stated:

The Church is Christ manifest in the flesh, as Jesus of Nazareth was God manifest in the flesh.

Origen cited in Thomas C. Oden, Life in the Spirit (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1992), 293.

Loving What Jesus Loves (Part Two)

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Eph. 1:22-23

Yesterday, we discussed loving what Jesus loves. We saw what Jesus loves is his church. Often, we think that church is an option; an add-on for our benefit and convenience. Pick and choose, come or go, it is one of many things that we can do or not do. Yet, the church is the Body of Christ. Jesus Christ is its head. We can know the head, but we will not be able to stand, walk, or run without the body. According to Scripture, church involvement and participation is not an option, but a necessity for communing with the eternal Christ (1 Cor. 12:27).

Many hurt believers and confused outsiders decide that they do not need the church. They remark, “I will follow Christ, but I don’t like the church.” The New Testament does not give us that option. Without the church, we do not grow in Christ, mature in relationships, or deepen in worship. Without church, we do not minister effectively, we are not challenged, and we do not learn covenant commitment.

We continue with our story of a young German theologian who learned what it meant to love Christ and his church:

Four years later, on July 29, 1928, this same young man, now a pastor in Barcelona, was preaching to a congregation of German expatriates. He related from his time in Rome, this life-changing observation:

“There is a word that, when a [Roman] Catholic hears it, kindles all his feeling of love and bliss; that stirs all the depths of his religious sensibility, from dread and awe of the Last Judgment to the sweetness of God’s presence; and that certainly awakens in him the feeling of home; the feeling that only a child has in relation to its mother, made up of gratitude, reverence, and devoted love . . . .

And there is a word that to Protestants has the sound of something infinitely commonplace, more or less indifferent and superfluous, that does not make their heart beat faster; something with which a sense of boredom is so often associated . . . . And yet our fate is sealed, if we are unable again to attach a new, or perhaps a very old, meaning to it. Woe to us if that word does not become important to us soon again. . . . Yes, the word to which I am referring is Church.”

So spoke Dietrich Bonhoeffer to a small German congregation in Barcelona. So spoke a German theologian who was no longer a German Protestant, but a Reformed (or Evangelical) Catholic. This future theologian would no longer be myopically concerned with the affairs of the German state church, but open to the Holy Spirit’s directing and leading throughout the worldwide Body of Christ. Bonhoeffer would not only fall in love with Christ, but also, he would fall in love with Christ’s church. Now, Bonhoeffer was a son of the Reformation ministering in the Catholic tradition in a fascist world gone mad.

Sources: Dietrich Bonhoeffer cited in Timothy George, “What I’d Like to Tell the Pope About the Church,” Christianity Today, Volume 42, Issue 7, (June 15, 1998) and Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 2010), 49.

Loving What Jesus Loves (Part One)

Saturday, October 20th, 2012

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Eph. 5:25-28 ESV

If we are in love with Jesus, then we will love what Jesus loves. What does Jesus love? He loves his church. No matter how ugly she acts, how sinful she behaves, or how hurtful her attitude, Jesus still loves his church. The Bible gives us no other option, if we desire to grow in Christ, then we must attend, serve, and worship in his church.

We may want to leave out of disappointment, distance ourselves out of embarrassment, and retaliate out of anger. However, we are called to stay and walk in the Spirit no matter our frustration or disillusionment. In the 1920’s, a young German theologian discovered the church and learned to love Christ and his church.

During April of 1924, a young aspiring theologian visited Rome for the first time. With his brother, he visited the ancient ruins and toured the great cathedrals and parish churches. Unplanned, his visit fell during Holy Week and guided by a young knowledgeable Roman Catholic priest from Bologna, they attended the great Holy Week services of the Roman church. The depth, gravity, and beauty of the ancient rites affected his spirit drawing him into the beauty of ancient catholicity.

As a state church German Protestant, he had experienced very little of the Roman Catholic Church: its people, its ancient liturgy, and its spirituality. This young man was greatly impressed by the sincere devotion and heart-felt conviction of the laity as they stood in line to partake of the sacrament of reconciliation. After receiving the sin-cleansing absolution of the young priests, guilt and shame was noticeably removed from their faces as they walked away. This young theologian continued with his Protestant objections to Roman Catholic doctrine, but was forever affected by the Roman Catholic laity’s deep and abiding love for the Church.

Edwin Robertson, The Shame and Sacrifice: The Life and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (New York. MacMillan, 1988), 41.

Body Life Church and Ministry

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

1 Cor. 14:26 ESV

Be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.

Eph. 5:18–19 NLT

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.

Col. 3:16 NLT

[emphasis mine]

A Body Life Church is a fellowship of believers who seek to minister to each other by calling everyone to faith in God, love of Christ, and service to others. Body Life is about relationships: a growing, deepening love affair with God and mutual concern for one another. This mutual concern is reflected in a quick response to spiritual and physical needs, frank and open discussions, and forgiving and selfless attitudes.

Body Life is about coming to the primary Sunday worship service ready to minister whether one is the pastor, a worship team member, or a parishioner. Body Life is coming to church services prepared to give life as well as receive it. Body Life is not sitting passively sitting in the pew, but outwardly looking for opportunities to bless others.

True Christian ministry is the overflow of the Life of God in us. Ministry is not a position, but a relationship with a person, Jesus Christ. We spend time with Christ, Christ reveals himself afresh to us. The overflow of that experience is life, that life encourages and blesses others. Ministry is not a title, but the release of our love of Christ for others. When all of us engage in true ministry as overflow to one another, we are walking in Body Life.

Body Life ministry begins with each parishioner attending services ready to bless, encourage, and exhort others to greater trust in Christ. Body Life ministry is a celebration of spiritual gifts; all members of the body are encouraged to discover and trust the Holy Spirit with the use of their giftings. Body Life says that every member is valuable, every member is is a conduit for God’s grace, every member can be used by God to bless others.

Body Life ministry is a recognition that all believers are ministers, not just the clergy. The purpose of the ministerial priesthood is to build up and equip the entire body of believers to be ministers in the church and for the world. Body Life ministry is a pervasive spirit of love and unity, resulting in an attractive, persuasive evangelistic witness to the world (Eph. 4:11-12; John 13:35).

Every Sunday at Lamb of God: A Three Streams Church, we take time in our worship service to minister to one another in the Spirit of Christ (1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16) We come prepared to share a word of prophecy, release a word of knowledge, explain a scripture text, or share a devotional thought during an allotted ministry time. We pray that each week God graces us with his Holy Spirit that we might do the words and perform the works of Jesus.

In Colossians, the Apostle Paul includes Body Life as a true mark of Christian worship and devotion (Col. 3:15-17). In Ephesians, fullness of the Spirit is linked to encouragement, inspired singing, and thankfulness (Eph. 5:18-20). In First Corinthians, mutual ministry is encouraged for the building up of the church. Peter encourages us to maintain an urgency in our worship relying on Christ to empower us to minister to one another because the second coming of Christ is imminent (1 Peter 4:7-11).

The church is a living organism. In the physical body, the hand moves when the brain says to. So too the members of Jesus’ spiritual body takes direction from Him as our Head. Jesus gives each member gifts and talents, making himself alive within his church. He equips his people to love one another, and to serve in unity his kingdom. This is Body Life.

Ray Stedman, Body Life

If You Love Jesus, You Will Love His Church

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

1 Cor. 12:27

Biblically, the Church is the people of God, the body of Christ, the fellowship of the Spirit, and the household of God. If is true that, “the church is the fulfillment of the purpose for which God created the world” [Fisher Humphreys, Thinking about God: An Introduction to Christian Theology, 210.] That purpose is to have a people who are God’s own possession, a people who love and adore him. “Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10 RSV).

In addition, the Church is the body of Christ, Origen stated, “The Church is Christ manifest in the flesh, as Jesus of Nazareth was God manifest in the flesh.”  Paul affirms this truth, “Now all of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it” (1 Cor. 12:20 NLT).

Third, the Church is to be Christ on the earth and reflect the character of its redeemer, then the Holy Spirit must be present to make these truths actual. Theologian Thomas Oden proclaimed, “The fundamental requisite of the church is the presence of Christ.” Thus, it is necessary, that the Holy Spirit be resident not only in individual believers, but also with the assembly of God. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16 NIV).

Last, the Church is the household of God, an ongoing institution, which is called to guard the deposit of faith. Missionary Bishop, Lesslie Newbigin affirmed that the Bible regards the Church as a living vibrant fellowship made real in a visible community existing throughout history. “If I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15 RSV).

Therefore, the Church is God’s own possession, the life of Christ on earth, animated by the Spirit and a visible on-going community of believers. The Church is God’s creation, led by the Lord Jesus Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. To love Jesus is to love what he loves and what he loves is his Church.

The Church is the vineyard of the Lord, his heritage, his temple and his bride; even more she is his body, for which he has shed his precious blood and outside which there is no salvation. If one is not concerned for the church then martyrdom has no crown, charity is no longer a good work, and religious knowledge brings no wisdom. The person who does not love the Church does not love Jesus Christ.

Johannes Oecolampadius cited in Timothy George, Reading Scripture with the Reformers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011), 41.

How to Destroy a Church

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

1 Corinthians 1:10

The historic church is the people of God who are redeemed by the blood of Christ, justified by faith in him, and are equipped by the Holy Spirit to do the words and works of Christ and it is a visible community made known by the bishops in apostolic order who by the grace of God minister the sacraments of Christ to the people of God.

The problem is that frequently, we do not act like God’s own blood-bought people. We allow hurt feelings, personal agendas, misunderstandings, false expectations, etc., to deter us from our unity found in Christ. We forget that we are all sinners redeemed by the precious blood of the Lamb and that none of us are better than any one of us.

The ways of destroying the church are many and colorful. Raw factionalism will do it. Rank heresy will do it. Taking your eyes off the cross and letting other, more peripheral matters dominate the agenda will do it-admittedly more slowly than frank heresy, but just as effectively over the long haul.

Building the church with superficial ‘conversions’ and wonderful programs that rarely bring people into a deepening knowledge of the living God will do it. Entertaining people to death but never fostering the beauty of holiness or the centrality of self-crucifying love will build an assembling of religious people, but it will destroy the church of the living God.

Gossip, prayerlessness, bitterness, sustained biblical illiteracy, self-promotion, materialism-all of these things, and many more, can destroy a church. And to do so is dangerous: ‘If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple (1 Cor. 3:17).” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31).

D.A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993), 83-84.

HT: Justin Taylor

The Disease of Individualism

Sunday, September 11th, 2011


All Members of Christ’s Body 

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13 ESV

Individualism in the Christian life is a destructive force. Individualism says that I can live the Christian life without the joy of fellowship, without accountability, encouragement, guidance, and the sacraments. An individualistic mindset avoids authority, responsibility, and community. It says that I can live the Christian life without you, the body of Christ. I don’t want to be challenged. I don’t want my blind spots exposed. I don’t want to minister to needy people and serve others. I want to do my own thing  just me, my Bible, and God.

Individualism says that I am not answerable, responsible, or obligated to anyone including friends, family, and church leaders. It is a form of self-deception, masking itself as a “leading from God,” but portraying an attitude of rebellion toward God and his delegated authorities.

Individualism fails to understand that the day we were baptized, we were ushered into the Body of Christ and placed in covenant relationship with other believers (1 Cor. 12: 12-14). Individualism refuses to acknowledge the biblical truth that we cannot grow in our relationship with Jesus without the help and assistance of other believers (Eph. 4:11-13).

The Christian life is a “new community: a new family, a new pattern of human togetherness which results from the unity of the Lord’s people in the Lord, henceforth to function under the one Father as a family and a fellowship.

J. I. Packer, “The Gospel and the Lord’s Supper,” in Serving the People of God: Collected Shorter Writings of J.I. Packer, 4 vols.  (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 1998), 2:44

By becoming a Christian, I belong to God and I belong to my brothers and sisters. It is not that I belong to God and then make a decision to join a local church. My being in Christ means being in Christ with those others who are in Christ. This is my identity. This is our identity. . . . If the church is the body of Christ, then we should not live as disembodied Christians.

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church (Wheaton, Ill, Crossway Books, 2008), 41.


Reformed Catholicity

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Catholic Not Roman Catholic

If I delay, 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.

1 Tim. 3:16

Catholicity was and is a mark of both the true church and the embodiment of truthful doctrine, both catholicity and the church catholic are considered one and the same. The church catholic is not confined to a particular location, but every local church is a full expression of the entire church. The church catholic is not limited by time: it indestructibly moving through the centuries by the power of the Spirit defeating all its foes. The church catholics’ membership is comprised of those who have trusted in Christ: both those who have died in Christ and those who are currently serving Christ in this life.

Distinctive doctrines of the church catholic include apostolic succession, episcopacy, Eucharistic life, liturgical worship, Trinitarian faith, sacramental worldview, and creedal commitment. Catholicity is Spirit empowered, Christ exalting, and liturgically centered: thereby, charismatic, evangelical and sacramental.

Patristics scholar, D.H. Williams defines further, “Genuine catholicity is that which pertains to everything necessary for the justification and sanctification of the believer. It is a wholeness of faith that offers the complete counsel of God to all people in all times and places.” [D. H. Williams, Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 225.]

What would it look like to restore the Trinitarian core to Reformed Christianity? Such a Christianity would understand that the gospel itself has a Trinitarian logic: as sinners, it is not until we encounter Jesus Christ that we know that God is a gracious Father who pardons our sin; by faith, we are united to Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, who forms us deeper and deeper into the image of Christ. When we come together for worship, we are not simply giving God his “due,” or acting in obedience to the divine command (though we are also doing that), we are encountering life as it really is: we are sinners who find ourselves gratuitously adopted, freely taken by God, filled with the Spirit, participating in Christ. We confess our sins, receive the nourishment of the Word and Sacrament, and go out to love God and neighbor in gratitude. In all of these, we are empowered by the Spirit to partake of Christ, to encounter a gracious, pardoning Father and simultaneously go and serve the neighbor and the stranger.

J. Todd Billings, “The Promise of Catholic Calvinism”