Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Marks of a Healthy Church Marks of a Healthy Church Mark One: Expositional Preaching by William Klock This morning we’re starting a new sermon series. For the next couple of months, I’m going to be preaching on the marks of a healthy church. So what is a “mark” and what does it have to do with the Church? Well, it was the Protestant Reformers who first talked about “marks” of a church. They were thinking in terms of what defined the church. Up until that point no one had given it much thought. The Church was the Church. But the Reformers realised that there are those groups out there that may be playing at church, that look like a church in a lot of ways, but that really aren’t. And so they came to define the true Church in terms of two “marks” on which they were all in agreement. The German, French, Swiss, and British reformers all came to the same conclusion. Article XIX of our own Articles of Religion puts it this way: The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. We may have our differences from place to place, but every true church is marked by two things: First, the faithful preaching of God’s Word, and second, the administration of the Sacraments – of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Here’s why Word and Sacrament are critical. God’s Word creates his people. You cannot be the Church without hearing his Word. But it’s not enough merely to hear the Word. You also have to submit to it—your have to let it shape and mould you. Jesus ordained two Sacraments as means of grace and commanded us to continue in them. The first was Baptism—the cleansing water that God chose to be the outward sign and seal of our being cleansed from sin and immersed in his Holy Spirit. The second was the Lord’s Supper—the holy meal that serves as an outward and visible sign and seal of the new life we have in Jesus. In both we find the grace of God, but in being faithful to Jesus’ command to continue in both of them, we show the first and most basic steps of obedience to the Word. If the Word is not preached, men and women will never know God. And if they do not participate in the Sacraments, they cut themselves off from the grace of God and disobey him. The two most basic marks of the Church are the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. If either one is missing, you’re only playing at church. Now, those are the two basic marks that identify the Church, but there are other marks that are necessary if we’re going to be faithful to those first two basic ones – marks that help us to be faithful first in hearing the Word and then faithful in doing it. This morning I want to look at the first of these marks: Expositional Preaching. I say this is the most important one, because if you get this one right, then all the others should follow naturally. Now I know a lot of you are probably asking, “What’s expositional preaching?” Expositional preaching is what I have offered you every Sunday morning I’ve been here—ironically, until today. This is a topical sermon that happens to be on expositional preaching. Those are the two basic sermon types: expositional and topical. In a topical sermon the preacher chooses a topic and preaches on it. Hopefully he draws on Scripture to explain and illustrate his point, but that’s just it. In a topical sermon, the point is the preachers—it’s his idea. Now, a topic sermon can be expositional. I could choose to preach on the topic of prayer and then preach through the Lord’s Prayer. I could choose to preach on the topic of church discipline and preach through Matthew 18:15-20. Expositional preaching is different in that the point of the sermon is driven by the Word itself—the preacher submits himself to the point of the text, not to his own ideas or thinking or agenda. Expositional preaching takes a systematic approach to God’s Word and lets the Holy Spirit speak, usually as we go through a passage or a book verse by verse. This is what I’ve been doing in preaching through the Sermon on the Mount and First Corinthians. Bad expositional preaching is often not much more than the preacher’s running commentary on the text. Good expositional preaching is a commitment to hear the Word and to apply it with the goal that we all submit to it. That’s how we grow and mature: we hear, we apply, and ultimately submit ourselves to God’s Word. One of the most significant characteristics of the lowest points of Church history is a dearth of God’s Word. Remember that I said it’s God’s Word that creates his people. If the Word isn’t preached, the Church loses her power and authority and her witness and falls into decline. As I look around me at the Church in the West today I see us entering a new dark age for precisely this reason. The Word is no longer at the centre of our churches. Yes, we affirm the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, but we don’t preach Scripture. Most of the books published today on preaching, and pastoring, and church growth point away from the systematic exposition of the Word and encourage preaching based on felt needs, pop-psychology, and all sorts of other things that tickle the ears. St. Paul warned in 2 Timothy 4:3, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (NIV). Expositional preaching makes sure that the preacher isn’t just telling people what they want to hear. When preaching is not expositional, the sermons tend to be only on topics that interest the preacher. The end result is that neither the preacher nor the congregation are challenged to grow – they hear in Scripture only what they want to hear and only what they thought when they came to the text. There’s nothing new being added to their understanding and ultimately both the preacher and his congregation will stagnate in their growth, because they aren’t being challenged by God’s Word. The church will conform to the preacher’s mind, not to the mind of Christ. In contrast, expositional preaching takes the point of the text and makes it the point of the sermon and allows God to speak something to us that we may have never known was there. I may have some good ideas, but God’s ideas are always better and if we won’t let the Spirit speak through the Word he has inspired for our learning and growth we’ll never truly know him. I don’t want you to be conformed to the mind of Bill. I want you to be conformed to the mind of Christ. That’s why I preach expositionally. I’ve said twice now that God’s Word creates his people. If we can understand that, I think you’ll see why it’s so important for the Word to be at the centre of our preaching, directing it and giving it shape. I want to take a quick walk through the Scriptures so you can see the creative power of the Word. Think all the way back to the beginning—to Genesis 1. It was by his Word that God spoke the world and everything on it into existence. He spoke, and it came to be. In Genesis 3 we read the story of our parents’ sin. They disobeyed God and were cast out of his presence. Literally, they lost sight of God, and yet in his great grace they didn’t lose all hope. Even though God was gone from their sight, he mercifully spoke to them—they continued to be able to hear him and to receive his promises. In 3:16 God cursed the serpent and warned him that one day the seed of the woman would crush him. That little word is what gave hope to Adam and Eve as they lived with the consequences of their sin. But God didn’t stop speaking. In Genesis 12 we read how, by his Word, God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans. God’s Word, in the form of a promise, was used by him as the driving and guiding force in the call of Abraham. God’s people were created—they became visible—by hearing his word of promise and by responding to it—by coming out after it. God’s people were created by God’s Word. And how did it work? Abraham was made the father of God’s people because God’s Word came specifically to him and he believed it. He trusted God for what he said. He believed him. Genesis tells us how Abraham’s family grew, how they eventually went down to Egypt and became slaves. And just at the point when that slavery looked permanent, look at what God did. Once again, he sent his Word. In Exodus 3:4 God called to Moses from a burning bush, calling Moses to himself. Now a burning bush, especially one that wasn’t consumed by the flames, was an amazing thing to see, but the burning bush itself couldn’t communicate much to Moses. The key was that God spoke out of that bush once he had Moses’ attention. He gave his Word to Moses and called him by that Word. But the Word didn’t just come to Moses. God called the entire nation of Israel with that Word – called them to be his people and called them to new life. Then God led his people into the desert, and what did he do there? Again, he came to them in his Word. Through Moses he gave them the Law and it was through that Word that he made them his special people. And we see this process of the Word creating and calling (and even dividing) throughout the Old Testament. The phrase “the word of the Lord came” (or similar phrases with the same meaning) occurs more than 3,800 times. God’s Word came as he created a people for himself and as he led them. His people were those who heard his Word and heard his promises and responded in faith. In the Old Testament God’s Word always came as a means of faith. Consider that God is first and foremost the object of our faith—we “believe in” him. But that doesn’t mean very much if we don’t know who God is or what he wants from us. If we want to know God we can do one of two things. We could make it up, or our God could tell us. Scripture is the record of God telling us—it’s his Word. And because he has spoken it, we know that it’s something we can always trust and rely on. God’s Word creates and leads his people. So can you see why the Word of God is so important in creating faith? It creates faith because it shows us God and his promises. It shows us what to believe and it gives us life. The most remarkable example of this I can think of is Ezekiel 37. You can turn there if you’d like. This is one of my favourite passages in all of Scripture because it so often gives me hope as a preacher. It’s a familiar passage. There’s even song about it. In a vision, God took Ezekiel to a valley full of dead, dry bones. God asked him how those bones could live again. Ezekiel said he didn’t know. Look at verses 4-6: Then [God] said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” And look at what happened when Ezekiel began preaching God’s Word to those bones: So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. Butthere was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. (Ezekiel 37:7-10) God explained the vision to Ezekiel, saying that the dry bones represented the house of Israel who had lost their hope. God’s answer to his hopeless people is in verse 14, “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.” How does God do that? He does it by his Word. Just to make it crystal clear, God tells Ezekiel to start preaching to these dry bones and as the Word comes to them, the bones return to life. It reminds us of the way God spoke into the void and created his world with the power of his Word. But it also points us to the fact that God’s Word came into the world in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. St. John tells us, “…the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” But through the Incarnate Word, God has re-established and is building his kingdom. God told Ezekiel to speak to the dry bones and life came through that breath—the Spirit came through his speech—and as God breathed out his Word he gave life. Jesus calls his people to himself the same way Ezekiel prophesied: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). That’s exactly what Jesus does. He takes our old hard hearts and replaces them with hearts that are soft and ready to be shaped and formed by his Word. That’s how he creates his people—a people who show the life of God as they hear his Word and are moved by his gracious Spirit to respond to it. St. John writes in the opening verses of his Gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. In Jesus the Word of God comes to us in all its fullness. It makes sense that the Word Incarnate would want to preach—to tell out his Word. Jesus knew that his real ministry was going to be giving up his life for our sins, but everywhere he went we see him preaching. In order for people to understand what he was doing in making his great sacrifice for sin, he had to teachthem first. That’s always been God’s pattern. He acts—and his acts are great and mighty—but he always speaks too. He always explains his acts and tells us why they’re important. It makes sense that God speaks. Look at how he’s made us. Consider our human relationships. If you meet someone, how to do you get to know them? You talk with them. Watching someone can only get you so far. At some point you have to open the lines of verbal communication. What’s the number one reason marriages fail? A lack of communication. We stop talking and pretty soon we cease to know our spouse and the relationship falls apart. God made us this way and so we come to know him through his Word. It’s no wonder so many Christians don’t really know God. They don’t know him because they don’t read his Word and they don’t know him because preachers aren’t preaching the Word. If you want to know God and if you want to deepen your faith, immerse yourself in the Word. St. Paul writes in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The church growth books today tell us that we should be building churches around programmes and niches. You build a church by appealing to a certain ethnicity, or an age group, or some other demographic. You build a church with youth groups, choirs, care groups, or service projects. God can use those sorts of things, but in the end none of those can be at the centre of a church. The true Church of God can only be created by the Word of God and that’s what needs to be at our centre. Someone once asked Martin Luther about his accomplishments. He answered saying, “I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing….The Word did it all.” That’s the kind of mindset the Church needs. But the Word not only creates, it also sanctifies. God uses his Word to make us grow. In Matthew 4:4 Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Or think of the Words of the Psalmist, who wrote, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Second Chronicles tells us how, during the reign of King Josiah some workmen in the Temple found the scrolls containing the Law. For generations it had been forgotten as all sorts of idolatry and false religion replaced the worship of God in the Temple. When Josiah read the book, his response was to tear his clothes in repentance and then to have the Word read to all the people. The reading of the Word brought national repentance and a turn-around of the people. God uses his Word to sanctify—to make holy—his people that they might be more like him. This was Jesus prayer in John 17:17: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” And St. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:25-26, “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.” Brothers and sisters, we need God’s Word to be saved, but it doesn’t end there. We need his Word to shape and mould the new life he’s given us. And that’s a never-ending process as we continue living in God’s Word. For our own health we must continue to be shaped in new and deeper ways by God’s agenda in our lives, instead of by our own agendas. God makes us more like himself through his Word, washing over us, refreshing us, and reshaping us. So the Word gives us life. The Word builds and shapes that life on an ongoing basis. But where does the preacher and the sermon fit in? I would suggest that if you ever move on from Living Word, the single most important thing you need to consider in a new church or in a new priest is a committment to the centrality of the Word, especially when it comes to preaching. A while back there was an article in The New Yorker that lamented the “audience-driven” nature of most preaching today: “The preacher, instead of looking out upon the world, looks out upon public opinion, trying to find out what the public would like to hear. Then he tries his best to duplicate that, and bring his finished product into a marketplace in which others are trying to do the same. The public, turning to our church culture to find out about the world, discovers there is nothing but its own reflection.” Friends, that’s the opposite of what should be happening. Preachers aren’t called to preach what’s popular. We’re called to preach the Word of God so that he can bring life. The Word is exactly what the sinner does not want to hear, but at the same time it’s the only thing that will save him! And so notice that in writing to young Timothy, his protégé, Paul never tells him to take polls, form a committee, or survey people. He said, “Preach the Word!” That is the minister’s chief duty. When the day-to-day tasks of ministry like caring for the poor and visiting took them away from preaching the Word, the apostles ordained the first deacons so that the preachers could stay focused on preaching. Our parish is called “Living Word” and we should be living out that name in our priorities. That living Word of God must be at the centre of our congregational life. We need to feed hungry people with the only food that will give them life and transform their lives. We need to be like Martin Luther and put the Word at the centre and let that be our driving force—and watch God work. Again, as Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, you have sent your Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ, to purchase our redemption from sin and death, and you have given your Word written through the inspiration of your Spirit. Remind us always that without your Word there is no life. As we go about the work of your kingdom, let us keep your Word at the centre, that we might be always shaped by it and declaring it’s life-giving power to the world. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate. Amen. This series of sermons is adapted from Mark Dever's book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2004.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Marks of a Healthy Church Marks of a Healthy Church Mark Two: A Biblical Understanding of God by William Klock We’ve all probably had one of those conversations about God where someone disagrees with us and says something like, “Well, my God isn’t like that!” People are prone to creating their own image of who God is and what he’s like. Let’s be honest; people like the loving God of Christmas who sent his Son for our sake. They’d rather ignore the God who sits in judgement on the Last Day. And when we do present a full and biblical picture of God, the response is often, “Well, my God….” Brothers and sisters, “My God”? Yes, if we are in Christ, we do belong to God and we can talk about him as “my” God, but when someone starts throwing around words like “My God is…” or “My God only…” it ought to send off alarm bells. It’s been a rare day when I’ve heard someone start a sentence with those words and haven’t then heard them go on to describe an idol, a false god, they’ve created in their minds. I said last time, that to know God—to know him and his ways and his will for us—we can either look to Scripture or we can make it up. But friends, the made-up images of God won’t save us. Sincerity in your beliefs isn’t enough. You have to sincerely believe in the God and the gospel message presented in the Scriptures. This is the second mark of a healthy church: a biblical understanding of God in his character and his ways with us. This morning I want to look at the main lines of the great story of the Bible so that we can see God more clearly and understand him better. Before I start, let me summarise the main story line of the Bible with five headings; this is what the Bible teaches us about God: that he is creating; that he is holy; that he is faithful; that he is loving; and that he is sovereign. As we look at the Bible’s presentation of these characteristics of God, consider that if any one of them is missing, the gospel itself falls apart and we end up worshipping an idol of our own making. First, starting at the very beginning of Scripture, we see that God is a creating God. He made the universe, the world, and created a special people in the world. The Bible begins with nothing, but by only the third verse, God turns nothing into something. It’s an amazing thing. It violates everything we understand: nothing turned into something. God is a creating God. Only a few verses later he turns that something into the world and fills it with life and eventually makes man and woman in his own image and puts them in the middle of it. The Bible tells us the story of Eden and Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. From there it all goes downhill from Cain to Noah. Then there’s the flood, and after Noah it all goes downhill again to the tower of Babel. But then God calls Abraham and the Bible tells us a story of God creating a special and particular people for himself. Even then, the good times didn’t last. God’s people ended up slaves in Egypt. But God led them back to freedom, he gave them the law, and took them into the promised land. We see God’s people in confusion in the time of the judges, then living under great kings like Saul and David and Solomon. After Solomon’s death there was a civil war and the kingdom split. Bad king followed bad king. The people fell into idolatry. Through the Assyrians, God destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. and then the southern kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians a century later. We see the Jews exiled to Babylon. But a few decades later we see thenm return to Judah where they rebuild Jerusalem and God’s temple. That’s where the Old Testament leaves off, with the story of this remnant of the Israelites, needy, pitiful, and reduced to complete dependence. In all of that, I hope you see that the Old Testament doesn’t give us an abstract theology about God. It doesn’t just give us a bunch of doctrines or philosophies. No, it’s a very specific, earthly revelation of who God is and what he’s like. In a sense it’s God’s résumé. It’s not just a bunch of abstract truths. It’s an account of what it’s like to live with God and to know him and interact with him. It shows us what it means to be God’s people. It’s critical that we understand the truth that Scripture teaches us about God. Sound teaching in our church has to include a clear commitment to the Bible’s teachings, even if some of those teachings are neglected or ignored by other churches. It means that we have to come to grips with teachings that are difficult or even potentially divisive, but that are key to our understanding God. A biblical understanding of God isn’t just abstract or academic—it’s a mark of a healthy church. One of the things that becomes very obvious even in our quick run-through of God as Creator is that he created and chose a particular people as his own. I hear people say all the time that God’s choosing of certain people isn’t fair. But friends, “unfair” is not a word that we can apply to God. And even if we could, you and I are not the ones to apply it. We have too much of our own self-interest involved to be so arrogant as to determine that we can decide when God, our Creator, is being fair or unfair. The history the Bible gives us shows very clearly that God is a creating God and that he is an electing God. Even if we can’t grasp everything that involves, it is undeniable that this is what the Bible teaches. We may not fully understand all the implications of that, but we have to at least understand that it means that salvation ultimately comes from God, not from we ourselves. It affects how we understand God and how we understand ourselves. We must acknowledge that God is the Great Initiator, the Great Giver, the Creator of the world, the Creator of his people, and the Author of our faith. That is what God is like. Second, the Bible also shows us that God is a holy God. If we’re going to understand the story the Bible tells us, we need to know that our God is a creating God, but we also have to know that he cares about holiness. It’s popular today to think that God doesn’t care what we do. The Bible makes it clear that isn’t true. Consider that Jesus instituted his Supper with those words, “This is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). That language of covenant comes straight from the Old Testament—it’s a language of personal relationship. Think about marriage, the most intimate relationship any of us is likely to experience, is a covenant commitment made before God to love and to care and to give. When we read in the Bible about God’s passion for holiness, it’s in the context of his covenant with us—of his commitment to having a loving relationship with us. We especially see God’s passion for holiness in the problem that sin causes humans in relating to a holy God. This is where the language of atonement comes in. Atonement literally means “at-one-ment”—a means of reconciliation between sinful men and a holy God. Now, this idea of placating a deity wasn’t unique to the Old Testament, but what is unique about the Bible is that it puts it in the context of a relationship. We need reconciliation because sin separates us from God. According to Scripture, all men and women are sinners, and at the same time we also find out that we have no way to deal with our sin ourselves. Sin is an offence against God—against his commandments—and it needs some kind of reparation. In the law, God provided sacrifices as the way to make reparation and restore the relationship. But notice in the Old Testament, it’s not just people trying to placate an angry volcano, but it’s the Living God. And he has spoken and provided a way of reconciliation. This atonement is the way to establish reconciliation. Now, there are all sorts of themes and commands in the Old Testament that have to do with atonement, but I want to look specifically at the sacrifices. Something about sacrifices seems to be innate in God’s people. Even Cain and Abel were offering sacrifices. Think of the Passover Lamb. It was to be slaughtered and its blood used to mark the houses for salvation from God’s just requirement of the lives of the firstborn, who were representative for the whole family, so we read in Exodus 12:13, God saying “…when I see the blood….” The point of the sacrifice was the satisfaction of God. The book of Leviticus emphasises the restoration of the people’s relationship with God. Notice that the offerings had to be voluntary, costly, the offerer’s own, and had to be accompanied by confession of sin according to God’s prescription. And notice that in the Bible, sacrifices were not to be brought by the grateful, but by the guilty. That was very different from the pagan peoples. The offerings weren’t brought by the ignorant, but by the instructed. The life of the animal victim, symbolised by its blood, was required in exchange for the life of the guilty human worshiper. The sacrifices showed that sin was serious and it costs life. In the Old Testament God was implanting in his people’s minds, symbolically, the idea of the innocent being given in place of the guilty. The sacrifices taught that sin was defiling. That’s why the temple was designed the way it was, with no access for the people to the holy of holies. It taught them that sin hinders our access to a holy God. The sacrifices also showed that purification was needed and that sin is so serious that death is needed to atone, so any salvation or forgiveness is costly. God’s passion for holiness is especially seen in the Day of Atonement, which centred on a special sin offering for the whole nation. It served as a reminder that all the other regular sacrifices did not atone for sins. The high priest as representative of the people, entered the holy of holies one day of the year for access to God; and this atonement had to be made in the very presence of God, bearing the blood of the goat, the sin offering. First he made atonement for himself, because he himself had to be clean, then for the people. And consider this: Who could see that blood in the holy of holies? Only God. The second goat had the sins of Israel symbolically laid on it and was then released to symbolies the removal of sin by alienation and estrangement. It’s also interesting that this had to be repeated each year. The pagans only tended to offer sacrifices if things weren’t going well, but the Israelites had to sacrifice annually, regardless of the situation, good or bad. The annual sacrifice showed that the people were in a state of sin and that there was no perfect sacrifice. It emphasised that God is holy and that sin separates us from God and that he provides a way of access back into his presence through the just forgiveness of our sins. What does this mean for us? It very practically raises the question: are people basically bad or good? Do they just need their self-esteem built up or do they need forgiveness of their sins and a new life? Brothers and sisters, we’ll plan our church differently depending on how we answer that question. We need to know that God is a holy God and that we by our nature are dead in our sins and trespasses and justly stand under his condemnation. Our God is a God of holiness. So God is a creating God and a holy God. Third, he is also a faithful God. All this brings up a question that you might say is the riddle of the Old Testament. We find it in Exodus 34:6-7, where the Lord said to Moses: The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty… Those last couple of phrases don’t seem to fit together. How can God be abounding in love and faithfulness, forgiving sin, and yet he by no means clears the guilty? If we want to understand the God of the Bible, we need to understand the promise of hope for redemption of his people. The biblical picture isn’t of an uncaring, grim, and condemning God. No, God is not only holy and just in his unwavering commitment to oppose and punish sin, but he is also faithful to his promises. Throughout history, he planned and promised to reveal his glory to his people; and he did. But if that’s the case how could the Lord forgive wickedness, but still not leave the guilty unpunished? The answer was not in the Israelites, but in God and his promise—particularly in his promised person. You see, in the Old Testament we’ve seen that hope requires an atoning sacrifice, something to satisfy the righteous wrath of God. We see that it requires a substitution of suffering and death on the part of the innocent for the deserved punishment of the guilty. And it would require some relationship between the offerer and the victim. In Jesus day, people knew that their hope was in the coming of the Messiah, the Lord’s anointed one. But when this One came, he took everyone by surprise. Jesus not only came as the king, but he also came as the suffering One who had come to be rejected and to suffer in the place of his people. He brought together the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah king with these other Old Testament prophecies of the Lord’s servant, who would suffer in the place of the people. The Old Testament teaches us that this promise is our only hope at all. And you see, this is the very centre of the New Testament. It is God’s faithful fulfilment of these promises in the coming of Jesus the Messiah. The collection of 27 books that compose the New Testament begins with four books that tell us the life of Jesus the Messiah. That is really what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are doing: presenting the great news that the Messiah has actually come, the one for whom God’s people had been waiting. Where Adam and Israel had failed, Jesus survived temptation without sin. Here is the prophet promised by Moses, the king prefigured by David, and even the “son of man” of Daniel. All these came in Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, our prefigured substitute, the Lamb of God, slain for the sins of his people. Jesus was the faithful fulfilment of God’s promise. Our creating God and our holy God is also an amazingly faithful God. Fourth, God is a God of love and with a special love for his covenant people. God himself, coming in Jesus can display his own image, but you’ll remember that God has made us to reflect his own image to his creation. Earlier I mentioned the covenant language of the Old Testament and how it was the language of relationship. What we find in the New Testament as we celebrate Communion is that Christ came with a purpose—to make a new covenant in his blood, a new relationship for his people with God. We asked a minute ago how the Lord can forgive sin while not leaving the guilty unpunished. The answer is in Jesus. He taught his disciples after the resurrection, as it says in Luke 24: And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:27, 45-47) The Lord through Isaiah had prophesied this: Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6) This is what Christ did in his love. As he taught his disciples, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). St. Paul too, said in Philippians, describing Jesus as the one who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8) On the third day he rose again. As St. Peter said in the first Christian sermon: Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God withmighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan andforeknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.(Acts 2:22-24) So you see, in the New Testament, the promises made have been kept in God’s love for his covenant people. And if we’re Christians, they’re kept in us today too. In all of this we need to know very practically what it means to be a part of God’s covenant people. What happens when someone becomes a Christian? Is it just a matter of making a decision? Do we need to repent and believe? If we do repent and believe, how do we do that if we’re dead in our sins and transgressions? It must have something ultimately to do with love—and not primarily with our love, but with God’s. As St. John wrote, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins….We love because he first loved us.” The God of Scripture is a God of amazing love! Finally, we find that God is a sovereign God and that in his sovereignty, even Creation itself is to be involved in the renewing love of God. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Have you ever stopped to wonder what that means? Some people limit their hopes to the things they can get for themselves, but Christianity isn’t like that. We have a hope that extends beyond ourselves and exceeds anything we bring about on our own. St. Peter wrote, “We are waiting for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). This points to the fulfilment of that final and first hope of the whole world being put right, as God’s sovereign plan in the New Testament extends from Christ to his covenant people to creation itself. This is what we find at the very end of the Bible. The book of revelation picks up the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament, but with some changes. Revelation is the consummation of God’s plans to have a people in right relationship with himself. As the church militant becomes the church triumphant, the heavens and the earth are re-created. We see the climax of the fulfilment of God’s promises to his people. The holiness of God and his people is finally complete. The Garden of Eden is restored. The presence of God is once again with his people. The Holy City is shaped like a cube, like the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament where God’s presence was, only now it includes all of his people, from all times and places. The whole world becomes the Holy of Holies. This is the great news that we as Christians have to offer. In our waiting time, it’s appropriate that the New Testament closes with this book. This book, written by an old man in exile, desperate and dependent, and full of hope in a sovereign God. The promises made of all the earth being filled with the knowledge of his glory, would be kept in his new creation. His promises were made and they would be kept. You see the importance of this is that God completes his purposes and fulfils his promises. If we’re here as Christians this morning, we need to be certain that God will continue to care for us and that his continuing care is not based finally on our faithfulness, but on his. Friends, do you see that all these questions about God are important? And not just for theologians, but for ordinary Christians. If we change our belief about even one of these attributes of God, it changes how we live out our faith and how we function as a church. Faithfulness to Scripture demands that we speak about these issues with clarity and authority. We’ll never understand anything about the Bible if we don’t understand the God it tells us about. God himself is the framework. What he reveals about himself is how we understand everything else. The end result of getting any one of these things wrong, is our thinking that we can somehow go it on our own. It leads us to either downplay our sin or it leads us to think that we can overcome our sins by our own doing. And friends, that’s when we’re at our most dangerous spiritually. We need to know that God is at his most holy in his just and right condemnation of us and our sins. We need to know that God in Christ offers us another way, if we will only rely on his righteousness and not our own. That is when we find the way to peace with God. If we’re honest we know that that kind of trust doesn’t come to us naturally. Like little children in the dark, we cling with all our might to what we have in this world, as if it’s going to last forever. But if we’re God’s children, we know he has something better prepared for us. As good as the best things may be in our lives now, God has something even better waiting for us. If you are God’s child, the end he has in mind for you is unimaginably good. St. John wrote, “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:3-5). This is the God of the Bible—creating, holy, faithful, loving, and sovereign. He’s the one who makes promises, and Scripture shows us over and over how he always makes good on his promises. Those same Scriptures call us to respond by trusting him and his Word. That’s what Adam and Even failed to do, but it’s what Jesus did perfectly. As we hear and believe God’s Word, we begin again to have that relationship with him that he made us for. This is the God whom we can trust and should trust, because his Word will not disappoint. Trust is the only way. Will you believe him? Will you trust him? Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, give us—your Church—a passion for you and a desire faithfully to know you as you really are; as one who is creating, holy, faithful, loving, and sovereign. Let us never distort that image. Let us never fall into the worship of any idolatrous gods of our own making. And as we are faithful to you, shape us and our ministry to conform to your ways. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. This series of sermons is adapted from Mark Dever's book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2004.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Marks of a Healthy Church Marks of a Healthy Church Mark Three: A Biblical Understanding of the Gospel by William Klock Mark Three: A Biblical Understanding of the Gospel We live in a world where news is important. We know the power the press has to influence what and how we think about this person or that issue. And when we get the news wrong, if we mix it up, it potentially has disastrous results. We can see what happens in a light-hearted way from what’s become on of the most famous news mix-ups in history. A newspaper was printing two stories: one about a new pig-slaughtering and sausage making machine and another about a local clergyman, the Rev. Dr. Mudge, who was receiving special honours. The paper’s typesetter had a little problem that day and this is what was printed: “Several of Rev. Dr. Mudge’s friends called upon him yesterday, and after a conversation the unsuspecting pig was seized by the hind leg, and slid along a beam until he reached the hot-water tank…. Thereupon he came forward and said that there were times when the feelings overpowered one, and for that reason he would not attempt to do more than thank those around him for the manner in which such a huge animal was cut into fragments was simply astonishing. The doctor concluded his remarks, when the machine seized him and, in less time than it takes to write it, the pig was cut into fragments and worked into a delicious sausage. The occasion will be long remembered by the doctor’s friends as one of the most delightful of their lives. The best pieces can be procured for tenpence a pound, and we are sure those who have sat so long under his ministry will rejoice that he has been treated so handsomely.” Oops! So they mixed up the news when it came to a couple of stories about a clergyman and a sausage-making machine. In the overall scheme of things, the confusion wasn’t that big of a deal. But, Friends, consider that Christianity is all about news. It’s the Good News—the best news the world has ever heard. And yet that news, sometimes it seems more often than not, gets scrambled just like the stories about Dr. Mudge and the pig. The Good News of the gospel gets confused. It gets made into a very thin veneer covering our culture’s values, being shaped and formed by them instead of by God’s truth. The end result is that we have all sorts of ideas being pushed on people and labelled as “Gospel” that really aren’t the Gospel—that only serve to lead people away from Jesus and the new life they so badly need. This is Mark Three of a church that is healthy and faithful to God and his truth: that we have a biblical understanding of the Gospel. But what is the Gospel? There are churches in town preaching the old “I’m okay and you’re okay” message and calling it the Gospel. There are churches that tell us that the Gospel message is that God loves us or that Jesus wants to be your friend. There are churches teaching that the Gospel is the message that we should straighten up and live right. Are those message the Gospel? We have to ask, what is the Good News of Jesus Christ? You’re all probably familiar with the book that was published back in the 1960s: I’m O.K., You’re O.K. Or as I recently heard some summarise the teaching of one of today’s most popular televangelists: “God’s nice, you’re nice, so be nice.” That’s the “good news” that a lot of preachers push as gospel. The problem with this kind of teaching is that it makes the realGospel irrelevant. It ignores the fall and it ignores the real problem of sin. None of us is okay. The Bible teaches us that in our first parents, Adam and Eve, we’ve all been seduced into disobeying God. None of us is righteous and none of us is on good terms with God. In fact, according to Jesus, our sin is so serious that what we need is actually a whole new life. St. Paul says we need to be created all over again, because we’re dead in our sins and transgressions. Friends, being dead isn’t “okay” if we’re talking about health. And it only takes one sin to kill us. We tend to downplay out sins or compare them to the “bigger” sins of others. But St. James reminds us that, Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. (James 2:10-11) Paul reminds us in Romans that the wages of sin is death and James explains why sin is so serious. His point is that the laws of God aren’t just a bunch of statues arbitrarily published by some sort of heavenly parliament. No, God’s laws reflect God’s character. They’re expressions of God himself. To break any of God’s laws is to live against God. Even mature Christians rarely seem to grasp this. Take lying for example. Why is it wrong to lie? I’ve asked that question of more Christians than I can count and to this date I’ve never heard the right answer. People usually say something like, “Because the Bible says it’s wrong,” or, “Because God says so.” No. Lying is wrong—it’s against God’s law—because God is truth. To lie is violate the very character of God. Every one of his laws eventually boils down to his character. If we can understand that, we can grasp why sin is such a heinous thing—why even one little lie separates us from God and is deserving of death. It doesn’t cut it to assume that because we haven’t committed the “big” sins, we’re okay. Even those sins we think of as small are violations of God’s character and holiness. For us to think that we can disregard him sometimes, that we can set him and his ways aside when we feel like, is to show that we haven’t understood at all the nature of our relationship with God. We can’t claim to be believers and yet knowingly, repeatedly, and happily break his laws. This is where we find ourselves. We’ve all crossed the line. We’re all guilty. In Romans 3:10-20 St. Paul writes: As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. Forby works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Now this might all seem too much like bad news to part of the Good News, but we have to realize that an accurate and realistic understanding of where we stand now is essential to getting to where we need to be. One of the first things that has to happen when we become Christians is that we become aware of our own sin and our distance from God—and that we become aware that we stand under God’s just wrath, that we each deserve death and spiritual alienation from him forever—all because we have wronged our perfect, holy, and loving Creator God. Brothers and sisters, true Christianity is realistic about the dark side of our world, our life, our nature, and our heart, not because true Christianity is pessimistic, but because this understanding has to be present before we’ll ever be willing to hear the Good News that God has provided a way to be restored to his fellowship. Other times we hear the Gospel represented as the message that “God is love.” Now the message is right. Scripture tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), but is that the whole story? Think about it from the standpoint of parenting. Kids will say things like, “If you loved me, you’d let me…” An awful lot of the time when people present the Gospel as “God is love,” they’re just like the kid who thinks a loving parent should let him do whatever he wants. As parents we know better—that love doesn’t always let. In fact, a lot of the time real love prevents and even punishes. So if we say “God is love,” what are we thinking divine love must look like? But more importantly, is love all the Bible says God is? We saw last week that God is loving, but we also saw that just as importantly, he’s holy and just, he’s faithful, and he’s sovereign. We could expand on that list of what God is and sit here all day. Yes, God is love, but his love is wise, it’s holy, it’s just, it’s faithful, it’s sovereign. God can’t give up any of those other characteristics without ceasing to be God. God loves us, yes, but passages like Hebrews 12:14 also tell us that, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” It’s only as we consider God’s love as part of his totality and in the context of his other characteristics that we can understand the depth of meaning in a statement like “God is love.” It’s only as we contemplate the greatness of God that we begin to realize that his love has a depth, a texture, a fullness, and a beauty that we in our present state can only wonder at. Yes, God is love, but that’s not the Good News itself. How about this? A lot of times the Gospel is simply presented as “Jesus wants to be your friend,” or that he wants to be our example. While these may be true, the Gospel is not just a matter of cultivating a relationship or following an example. You and I have a real past to deal with—real sins we’ve committed and real guilt as a result. What will our holy God do? If he wants us to come to know him, how can he make that happen without sacrificing his own holiness? Would he just tell us that he’s a big God, so our sins are no big deal? That he’ll just forgive and forget? If you read the gospels, you’ll see that the one thing Jesus taught above everything else is that he came to die. That was the centre of his ministry—not teaching or being an example, but, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Why is there such bad news at the heart of the Good News? Very simply because the cross is God’s way to bring us back to himself. Jesus explained the cross before it happened and brought together in himself both the Son of Man spoken of in Daniel and the suffering servant from Isaiah 53. Here’s what we read in Mark 8:27-38: And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in thisadulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Jesus’ death is often presented as a sacrifice, involving his blood. So, for example, we read in Ephesians, “Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (2:13). Jesus chose to die at Passover to make it clear that he was offering himself as an atoning sacrifice. And this all has to do with our being slaves to sin because the Bible tells us that through his death, Jesus redeems us from sin—that he has bought us out of that slavery. Christ’s death was the price paid for our freedom. Christ’s death is how God redeemed us from sin’s slavery. But the Bible doesn’t just use economic language to describe what Jesus has done for us. It talks in terms of relationship too. Through Jesus’ death God has reconciled himself to us—his rebellious creatures whom he made in his own image but who have had a falling out with him and so have destroyed the relationship. Through Jesus’ death, fellowship with God is restored as sin—the root cause of the hostility between God and sinners—is dealt with. The New Testament uses legal language too, telling us that God has justified us through Jesus’ death. He has declared us “not guilty,” because Christ has taken our punishment on himself. The work of Jesus is described as redemption—a purchase by which the liberty of certain oppressed people is secured. The work of Christ is described as reconciliation—where the enmity is resolved between two people. The work of Christ is described as a propitiation—a satisfying of God’s just wrath against sinners and their sin, so that he can deal justly with sinners in terms of his love instead of in terms of his wrath. I hope you can see that Jesus isn’t just our friend. He’s much, much more. By his death on the cross he has become the Lamb that was slain for us, our Redeemer, the One who has made peace between us and God, who has taken our guilt on himself, who has conquered our most deadly enemy and has satisfied the well-deserved wrath of God. Now I think that by now it goes without saying that the message that the Good News is simply that we should live right isn’t the Gospel either. Lot’s of people think this way—that Christianity is all about being a do-gooder, doing religious things, or being involved in community service. If you’ve followed me this far, it should be clear that the biblical Gospel is not fundamentally about doing good works. To be a Christian is not just to live in love, follow the Golden Rule, or practice “possibility thinking”—or indeed to do anything that we can do ourselves. The Gospel calls for a more radical response than any of those things allows for. The Gospel isn’t just something we can “add” to make our already good lives better. No. The Gospel is the message of wonderful Good News for those who know and realise their desperation before God. Good works are a part of Christianity only as they become the fruit of the actual Gospel at work in the lives of desperate men and women redeemed by Christ. So as we start to understand our sense of need, as we come to understand who God is and what Jesus is and what he as done—when all these things come together, how should we respond? According to Scripture, our response should be to repent and to believe. God calls us to repent of our sins, and to rely on Jesus Christ alone. Before we close, let’s look at both of these. In the New Testament, repentance and belief are often mentioned together. When St. Paul was meeting with the leaders of the Ephesian church he summarised the message saying, “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21 NIV). We see this over and over again: once you have heard the truth about your sin and God’s holiness, about his love in sending Christ, and about Christ’s death and resurrection for our justification, then you are called to respond. And how are we told to respond? Notice we’re never told to walk an aisle, fill out a card, life up a hand, say a prayer, join a church, or make an appointment to talk with the minister. Now some of those thing might sometimes be involved as we respond, but none of them is necessary and many of those things have been used and abused to give millions a false assurance because they’ve prayed the prayer or walked the aisle and assumed that that was the response. No. The response to the Good News is to repent and believe. Once we’ve heard the truth about our own sin and God’s holiness, about his sending Christ, and about Christ’s death and resurrection for our justification, then as instructed by the first word of Jesus recorded in St. Mark’s gospel, our response is to “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). But repentance doesn’t stand alone. Belief follows. We must honestly believe that what the Gospel says is true. We must believe it in that sense, but there’s more to it than that. You can believe, for example, that the earth revolves around the sun or that water boils at 100°. You can believe that Stephen Harper is Prime Minster or that Hungary is a country in central Europe. But none of these kinds of believing are the believing that Jesus is talking about. Jesus calls us beyond mere intellectual assent. He’s talking about a believing in and fully relying on the Good News of salvation. It’s the difference between believing that a chair is a chair and actually trusting it enough to support your weight by sitting yourself in it. We have to come to grips with the fact that we are unable to satisfy God’s demands on us no matter how morally we live. We shouldn’t end up trusting a little in ourselves and a little in God; we should come to realise that we must rely on God fully, to trust in Christ alone for our salvation. That kind of true believing and relying on makes a difference, and so this belief demands not only faith but also repentance; it demands that our lives actually change. Repentance and faith are actually to sides of the same coin. It’s not like you can have the basic model (belief) and then, if you really want to get holy at some time down the road, you can upgrade and add repentance to it. No. “Repent” is what you do when you start thinking rightly about God and yourself—belief without this kind of change isn’t real. Bishop Ryle put it well when he said, “There is a common worldly kind of Christianity in this day, which many have, and think they have enough—a cheap Christianity which offends nobody, and requires no sacrifice—which costs nothing, and is worth nothing.” The repentance that Jesus calls for is connected with believing this news, because if it is a new message, it is no surprise that you change your mind when you hear it. The Greek word for “repent” literally means “to change your mind.” And because of your mind change, your life changes too. So I hope, Brothers and Sisters, that you see, real Christianity is never just an addition, it’s not just a cultivation of something that’s always been there. No. It’s in a radical sense a total about-face, a turning around. It’s a turning around that all Christians make as we come to rely on Christ’s finished work on the cross. To say that you trust, without living as though you do, is not to trust in any biblical sense of the word. We change the way we act, but only because we change what we believe. That kind of change is the work of God’s Spirit. We need to really ask ourselves if we’ve heard this Gospel. And if we have, have we believed it with our lives or are we just playing at religion? Do we come to church every once in a while only because we’re feeling guilty or because we enjoy the people, while spending most of our time living first and foremost for ourselves? Friends, to really hear the Gospel is to be shaken to your core. To really hear the Gospel is to change. Have you heard the Gospel—not soothing word about your goodness, or about God’s acceptance, or about Jesus’ inoffensive willingness to be your friend, or even some convicting word about purging some sin from your life—but have you heard the Bible’s great message about God and us? Does it sound like the best news you’ve ever heard? Old sins forgiven! New life begun! A restored relationship with your God, now and forever! That’s the Good News. That’s the Gospel. And that’s what we need to be committed too, each one of us, and all of us together if we want to be a healthy church. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, there are so many messages in our world, and even in the Church, that compete with the Gospel message itself. Help us cut through the lies and half-truths that lead us astray, and come to the message of cross. Shake us to the core with the Good News and work in us by your Spirit that we might be moved to real faith and real repentance. And Father, we ask, as we each commit ourselves to the Gospel, let us place it at the centre of who we are as a Church. Let us set aside everything else, that we might centre our being, our worship, and our ministry as a people on the cross of Jesus Christ. Amen. This series of sermons is adapted from Mark Dever's book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2004.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Marks of a Healthy Church Marks of a Healthy Church Mark Four: A Biblical Understanding of Conversion by William Klock Last Sunday we looked at the importance of having a biblical understanding of the Gospel if we want to be a healthy church. And at the end of last week’s sermon, I stressed that our response to the Good News presented in Holy Scripture is to believe and to repent. You’ll remember I said that in the New Testament those two things always go together. I want to talk more about this today as we address the fourth mark of a healthy church: a biblical understanding of conversion. It’s a necessity that we understand what the Gospel itself is, but just as important is our understanding of how we respond to it and what happens to us when we do. Conversion is all about change. Scripture tells us that the right response to the Good News is to believe and repent. And the Greek word for repentance literally means to change your mind. To convert is to change. Now, there are a lot of people who will say that conversion is about mentally accepting the Gospel. You make a decision, you walk an aisle, you fill out a card, you pray a prayer. The change, as they think of it, might be pretty small. It might mean beginning to have some moral sentiments, or joining a church, or getting involved in some new activities, or volunteering to help people in need. For a lot of people it’s not a whole lot more than a New Year’s resolution. But Scripture says that the great change we need involves much more: It involves a turning from our sins and a turning to God. It involves repenting of our sins and following God. Conversion includes both the change of the heart toward God that is repentance, and the belief and trust in Christ and his Word that is faith. As a pastor, this is where I fear a lot of people go wrong today; and they wrong in two different ways. First, there’s the problem of people who don’t think that they’re converted when they really are. They know that Scripture teaches that Christians are not given over to sin, and so when they do sin they hear Satan’s accusations against them and they believe it. They start to suspect, or even believe, that because of their sin they probably aren’t truly Christian. If this is you, remember the grace God has shown you and the work he has done in your heart. We can pray with Joan of Arc. When she was put on trial, the judge tired to trap her. “Asked if she knew that she was in God’s grace, she replied: ‘If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.’” In fact, that’s a good prayer for all of us. The truly changed, converted, and Christian heart can say with John Newton, “I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I wish to be. I am not what I hope to be. Yet I can truly say, I am not what I once was. By the grace of God, I am what I am.” But what’s far more serious is the problem of people who think they’re converted when they really aren’t. Charles Spurgeon, the great London preacher of the 19th Century, talked about walking down the street one day when a drunk leaning against a lamp-post yelled out to him, “Hey, Mr. Spurgeon, do you remember me?” And Spurgeon replied, “No, why should I?” The man said, “Because I’m one of your converts.” To which Spurgeon responded, “Well, you must be one of mine; you’re certainly not one of the Lord’s.” There are people in every church who have spent enough time around other Christians and around the Bible that they learn to talk differently—to talk the Bible and to talk Christianity—but whose hearts haven’t changed so that they live differently. Spurgeon preached on this problem of people who are sure they have been converted and are happy to talk about it, even though their lives don’t seem to show it. “They say they are saved, and they stick to it they are, and think it wicked to doubt it; but yet they have no reason to warrant their confidence. There are those who are ready to be fully assured; there are others to whom it will be death to talk of it. There is a great difference between presumption and full assurance. Full assurance is reasonable: it is based on solid ground. Presumption takes for granted, and with brazen face pronounces that to be its own which it has no right to whatsoever. Beware, I pray thee, of presuming that thou art saved. If with thy heart thou dost trust in Jesus, then thou art saved; but if thou merely sayest, “I trust in Jesus,” it doth not save thee. If thy heart be renewed, if thou shalt hate the things that thou didst once love, and love the things that thou didst once hate; if thou hast repented; if there be a thorough change of mind in thee; if thou be born again, then hast thou reason to rejoice: but if there be no vital change, no inward godliness; if there be no love to God, no prayer, no work of the Holy Spirit, then thy saying, “I am saved,” is but thine own assertion, and it may delude, but it will not deliver thee. Our prayer ought to be, “Oh that thou wouldst bless me indeed, with real faith, with real salvation, with the trust in Jesus that is the essential of faith; not with the conceit that beget credulity. God preserve us from imaginary blessings!” As I said last, week, conversion involves more than intellectual assent to the truths of Christianity. You must believe, but you must also repent—you must also change. Now, there are lots of others who think that conversion is about living a good life. It’s an effort to be more moral. It’s taking responsibility to craft my own morality, my own goodness, my own righteousness. It means I’ve got to clean up my act and start making myself more acceptable to God. According to Scripture, the real change of Christian conversion involves relying on Christ alone. We aren’t called on to justify ourselves before God, to improve our lives a little bit here and there, thinking that somehow this change will hide our sins from God or will make our hearts appear righteous before him. No, in true conversion we begin to rest in Christ, to trust in him and in his merits before God. Real change is all about realising that we can never go to church enough, we can never teach enough Sunday school classes, we can never give enough money, we can never be kind enough or beautiful enough or happy and contented with our religious lives enough to merit God’s good will toward us. We have to realise that, because of our sin, we are truly desperate before God. Regardless of how good we might look to others, we are truly desperate before God. Our only hope comes in understanding that God has taken on flesh in Christ, that Christ lived a perfect life and died on the cross in the place of all those who would ever turn and trust in him, and that he rose in victory over our sins and now offers to pour out his Holy Spirit into our hearts. Beginning to have this reliance, this trust in God alone, is the nature of the great change that takes place in conversion. We must repent of our sins and trust in Christ. Conversion is about change, but we need to ask: How does this great change of conversion happen? Jesus tells us, right from the start of his ministry, the conversion we need is to turn away from our sins and to turn instead to God. Scripture tells us to make this decision—and to encourage everyone we know to make this decision for themselves. But is that all it is? A decision? If it’s just about making a decision, should we persuade others to make this decision—or even manipulate them into making that decision? Ironically, even we “evangelicals” seem to think of the great change of conversion as sort of a religious self-help. But if we read our Bibles, we know that Christianity doesn’t preach self-salvation. Friends, that’s the difference between Christianity and every other religion on earth. But here’s the puzzle for a lot of people. The Bible says that the change we need is a matter of our character—a change of heart. That’s the change we need. But the Bible also teaches that that we will not begin making these right choices if God doesn’t first change our heart. We can’t do it ourselves. He has to renew our hearts first. Scripture tells us this is exactly what God has promised to do. He said through Ezekiel, “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh” (11:19). This is the idea throughout the Bible. God gives us a heart transplant. And he is the one who has to work this change in us if we’re to accept the spiritual truths of the Bible. As Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). Literally the Greek says, “unless the Father…compels him.” We can’t come to him without him first changing our heart and its desires. We also talk about being “born again.” This was the image Jesus used when Nicodemus, one of the Jewish religious leaders, asked how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus didn’t say he should keep up the good work. No, Jesus told this very upstanding man that even he needed a whole new life—he had to be born again. And when Nicodemus asked Jesus how that could happen, Jesus said that only God could give it, and so Nicodemus must simply believe in Jesus and live by the truth. Jesus clearly taught that we must act, but he also taught that we can act only if God’s actions are behind our own. In teaching that he simply taught what the Old Testament teaches. Look at Joel for example. He prophesied great judgement, but he also offered hope when he said, “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (2:32). Paul quoted that same verse in Romans 10 and if you’ve ever shared Christ with someone you might have quoted it too. Now, Joel had just spent two chapters prophesying the judgement that was coming on the Israelites for their unbelief. So why would such unbelievers call on the name of the Lord in this saving way? The answer is in the rest of that same verse: “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.” Who calls on the name of the Lord? Those whom the Lord calls! In 1 Corinthians 1:18-24, we hear St. Paul explaining that it’s God’s call that makes the difference. Paul says that most people consider the Gospel foolish, But he says, “those who are called, both Jews and Greeks” consider the Gospel to be “the wisdom of God.” Look at the vows taken when we are baptised. They affirm these two things necessary to conversion: repentance and belief. “Dost thou renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires…and the sinful desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them?” “Dost thou believe in Jesus Christ…dost thou accept him, and desire to follow him as thy Saviour and Lord?” But Article XVII also affirms that we cannot do either of these things on our own power or initiative: “Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby…he hath constantly decreed by his counsels secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called according to God’s purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.” Notice, we turn from sin and receive Christ, but that change only happens because we have been first “called according to God’s purpose by his Spirit.” The Prayer Book echoes the words of Ephesians 2:8. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Again, the Bible teaches us that repentance is a gift of God and faith, too, is a gift of God, given not because of our merit but because of Christ’s merit. If you would have the gift of repentance and faith, simply turn from your sins and turn to God in Christ. Now one of the main things the Bible says about this great change of conversion, is that it normally comes through the study of God’s Word. Hear Psalm 19:7: “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.” Over and over Scripture tells us that conversion comes through the preaching of and attentive listening to the Word of God. God promised it would work this way. In Isaiah 55:10-11 he says: For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Think about that. God wouldn’t promise this, if he weren’t the one ultimately responsible for bearing the fruit, for our conversion, for our response to him. That’s why we read in Acts that, as the Gospel was proclaimed in Antioch, “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). Neither we who have been converted nor those who shared the Gospel with us can take any credit. If any have come to know God as a result of our proclamation of the Word, we have no business putting notches in our belts, because we know that the One who converts is not the preacher. The one who converts is God himself. Brothers and sisters, let me be clear. We are called to proclaim the Gospel message. We arecalled to tell people that they must turn to God. But we have to remember that in doing this, God is calling us to talk to a bunch of corpses. That’s how the Bible describes our natural state: We are spiritually dead, as we saw in Ephesians 2. So how can those who are dead ever turn to God in faith? They can do so only as God gives them life. And how does God give them life? We find through both the Old and New Testaments that God has chosen to give life to the spiritually dead through our proclaiming his Word to them. We saw this a month ago when we looked at Ezekiel 37, the vision of the valley of dry bones. God gave Ezekiel a vision of going and preaching to a valley full of corpses, but through that preaching of his Word, his Spirit goes out and brings life. Look at the example of Cornelius, the Roman centurion in Acts 10. God wanted to bring Cornelius to himself. You might think that the sovereign ruler of the universe could simply appear to Cornelius or “zap” him and change his heart. But no. For some reason God decided to work as he has worked throughout the Bible. He would not convert Cornelius without someone who knew God’s Word himself going and preaching the Good News to him. So God gave Cornelius a vision and prompted him to send his men to go find St. Peter. Then God sent another vision to Peter, to convince him that it was okay to share the Good News with a gentile and got Peter to go back to Cornelius with his men. It seems like the long way around, but that’s how God works, and we see him working like this throughout the Bible. When God would bring life, he always does it through his Word—through men and women who already know him sharing his Word, his Gospel, with those who haven’t heard it yet. God could have saved Cornelius in a more direct way, but instead he worked through is Word and through human agents, sending visions, and sending men on long journeys to proclaim his Word. Peter himself later observed, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, throughthe living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). In his sermon on Pentecost Peter preached about God’s calling making sure his promise of salvation. We’re told in Acts 16:14 that Lydia responded to the Gospel specifically because “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” And think of St. Paul. He certainly knew something about God’s initiative in salvation. God knocked him off his horse as he was on his way to hunt down and arrest Christians. In his great love, God took the initiative with Paul. Scripture is full of examples like these. Again and again God shows the truth of what St. John wrote: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). We all understand the importance of God’s initiative in salvation when we pray that he will bring about the conversion of a particular person—that he draw that person to himself and change their heart. We know that it is God who saves, so we pray that in his great love he will pour out his Spirit that the Gospel will be faithfully preached and that people will hear and receive it. So can you see why understanding this is so important for your own spiritual health and for the spiritual health of our church? If our conversion, if the change we have to make, is something we do ourselves instead of being something God does in us, then we misunderstand it. Conversion certainly includes our own actions. We must make a sincere commitment. We must make a conscious decision. But even so, real conversion is more than that. Scripture is clear in teaching that we are not all journeying toward God. No, Scripture presents us as needing to have our hearts replaced, our minds transformed, and our spirits given life. We can’t do any of this for ourselves. The change each man or woman needs, regardless of how we may appear outwardly, is so radical that only God can make it happen. We need God to convert us. Friends, eternal souls are at stake when we get this wrong—and the Church often has. Our own founders in the Reformed Episcopal Church were concerned that many people were led astray and given false assurance by the idea that they were “saved” simply because they had been baptised. That was the concern of most Evangelicals at that time. But today Evangelicals have fallen to an opposite extreme and many modern and otherwise biblically orthodox churches are full of people who have been given a false assurance of salvation, having made some kind of commitment at one point in time—filling out a card, raising a hand, walking and aisle, praying a prayer—but who have never experienced the radical change that the Bible calls conversion. According to a number of surveys in the past two decades, those who identify as “evangelical” or “born again” Christians are just as likely to divorce as non-Christians. Our children are engaged in sex just as much as the children of non-Christians are. And one survey showed that “evangelicals” are actually more likely to have an abortion than those outside the Church. Why? Why do people call themselves Christians and never experience any real change in their lives. In large part because the pastors in our churches have not preached the truth about conversion and in many cases, by their practices, have undermined the very nature of biblical conversion. The end result is that our churches are more like Elks Clubs or the Legion Hall than they are like real churches of the truly regenerated. And so is it any wonder that our churches don’t attract people. The early Church grew because it was full of people who had experienced the radical change of real conversion. They were new and completely different people full of joy in Christ. Their churches weren’t just another club. The people in those churches demonstrated truly changed lives and a vibrant joy that drew others to them. Brothers and sisters, that’s how evangelism happens. And as we share the Good News with our friends and family, God changes their hearts, they join us, and they start the whole process over again. But that only happens when we grasp what the Bible teaches about conversion—when we insist that it actually mean something and when we understand that the repentance and faith involved are gifts of God to us and that it requires a great change that happens only by God’s grace. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us your Spirit, who takes our hearts of stone and turns them into hearts of flesh. Remind us always, we ask, that the work of conversion never happens by our own initiative, but as a result of the gracious change of heart you work in those whom you have called. Help us to grasp what this means for us as a Church. Let us never lead men and women astray, giving them false assurance in a new life they don’t really have. Let us never fall into manipulative and coercive evangelistic practices as we forget that changing the heart is not our responsibility, but yours. And Father, remind us always that true conversion is not merely belief nor is it merely good works, but is rooted in a combination of both belief and repentance that brings a truly changed life. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. This series of sermons is adapted from Mark Dever's book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2004.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Marks of a Healthy Church Marks of a Healthy Church Mark Five: A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism (Part One) by William Klock I want to start this morning by telling you about a man named John Harper. He was born in Glasgow in 1872. When he was about fourteen he became a Christian and from that time on, when he wasn’t working at his job in a factory, he devoted his time to preaching up and down the streets of his city and pouring out his soul in passionate pleading for men to be reconciled to God. A few years later he was taken in by E.A. Carter, pastor of the Pioneer Baptist Mission in London. This allowed Harper to devote all his time and energy to the work that was so important to him—to evangelism. In 1896 he started his own church, which started with a small group of 25, but when he left 13 years later had grown to 500. Harper attributed much of his zeal for evangelism to his own near brushes with death. When he was two, he had fallen into a well. When he was 26 he was caught in a riptide and swept out to sea and barely survived. When he was 32 he had a brush with death on a sinking ship in the Mediterranean. But all these near disasters confirmed the urgency of his message and the need for others to hear it. He became a popular speaker at evangelistic meetings. The Moody Church in Chicago invited him to America to speak and it went so well that they invited him back a few years later. And so it was that Harper boarded a ship one day with a second-class ticket at Southampton, ready to voyage to America. His wife had died not long before, but his six-year-old daughter travelled with him. What happened on that voyage we know from two sources. His daughter, Nana, died in 1986 and relates how her father woke her up one night, about midnight, and explained that the ship had struck an iceberg. He said there was another ship on the way, but in the meantime—just to be safe—she needed to get into one of the lifeboats. He said he’d wait for the other ship to arrive. Of course we all know the rest of that tragic story. Young Nana was saved from the sinking Titanic. We know the rest of the story because a few months later at a prayer meeting in Hamilton, a young Scotsman stood up and in tears told the amazing story of his own conversion. He had been on Titanic too. The sinking ship had left him hanging onto a piece of floating debris in the icy water. “Suddenly,” he said, “a wave brought a man near, John Harper. He, too, was holding a piece of wreckage. He called out, ‘Man are you saved?’ ‘No, I am not,’ I replied. He shouted back, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.’ The waves bore [Harper] away, but a little later, he was washed back beside me again. ‘Are you saved now?’ he called out. ‘No,’ I answered. ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ Then losing hold on the wood, [Harper] sank. And there, alone in the night with two miles of water under me, I trusted Christ as my saviour. I am John Harper’s last convert.” That’s an amazing story. I can’t help but contrast John Harper with myself—and I think if we’re honest that goes for all of us here. If I found myself floating in the icy North Atlantic, having just survived the sinking of Titanic, and knowing that if help didn’t come soon I’d freeze to death…well, honestly, the last thing I’d be thinking about is whether or not the people around me were saved. I’m a reluctant evangelist—and sometimes no evangelist at all. I’m usually a pretty forward person, but when it comes to evangelism, I can suddenly become very respectful of other people’s space. I know I ought to share the Good News, but at that moment that person becomes a witness-stopping, excuse-inspiring spiritual challenge. And I know I’m not alone. There are people who are gifted with the charism of “evangelism” and John Harper was probably one of them. Not only do they see everyone around them as a sinner doomed to hell, but they’ve been given the boldness to proclaim the Gospel. And yet even if it’s not our particular spiritual gift, as Christians we’re all called to evangelise. We know we’re called to share the Gospel, but we don’t. And then we struggle with guilt. Often times we excuse ourselves because we’re pretty sure we just don’t know how to do it. Or we cop out, saying, “I’ll leave it for the professionals—I’ll just find some way to get my friend to church and let the preacher do it.” Or, “I’ll just quietly give them this tract or this book and hope he’ll read it.” We might even excuse ourselves saying something like, “Well, it’s just not kosher to push my faith on someone else. We live in a pluralistic age. Religion is personal and I’m just going to keep it to myself.” I know that we all identify with these sorts of attitudes on some level, so for the next two Sundays I want to look at the fifth mark of a healthy church, and that’s a Biblical understanding of Evangelism. If you remember back to the two weeks before I was on holiday, I said we’d be looking at the Gospel and how we understand it. We looked at the Gospel itself, then last time we looked at the Gospel from the standpoint of having a biblical understanding of conversion. Now I want to look at it from the standpoint of how we share it. I want to consider four questions: First, “Who should evangelise?” Second, “How should we evangelise?” Third, “What is evangelism?” And then, finally, “Why should we evanglise?” This morning we’ll look at the first two. So, first, who should evangelise? We might be uncomfortable with the idea of evangelism, but as you read the Bible, you can’t avoid it. Evangelism is everywhere in the New Testament and even in the Old, the Jews might not have been entrusted with the same task we have been, but over and over they were told to be a light to the Gentiles. In Romans 1 St. Paul writes about what was not only his duty to spread the Gospel, but also that he was eager to preach it. Was that just his calling? Or does it apply to all of us? At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus gathered his disciples and said to them: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. We call that the “Great Commission” and the consensus is that Jesus gave it to all his disciples. And the disciples took this commission to heart. Read through their epistles or read through the book of Acts, and over and over we see them doing the work of evangelism. They evangelised constantly. Some people ask, “Who is supposed to evangelise?” Is it just the clergy—just preachers or just people with the specific spiritual gift of evangelism? Is the only time we evangelise on Sunday mornings when the “professional” gets up to read the Bible and preach? Is the Great Commission only for professional religious types? Or does it have something to do with all of us? Scripture is pretty clear that Jesus’ commission is for all believers. It wasn’t just the apostles sharing the Gospel. Look at Acts 8:1-4: And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Notice it was “those who were scattered” that we’re told went about preaching the word—evangelizing. And note that Luke tells us that it was all those except the apostles who were scattered. Who was evangelizing? Everyone! Not just the professionals, not just the teachers and preachers—everyone was. The rest of Acts 8 tells the story of Philip’s evangelistic efforts—not an elder, not a bishop, not an apostle, “just” a deacon—one of the men appointed to wait tables and help with the poor. Acts 11:19-21 continues this story of “lay-evangelism” by those who had been scattered: Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. Again, we see “ordinary” Christians going out to spread the Good News. We should remember St. Peter’s admonition: “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Peter wrote that to all of us, not just to the professional clergy. All of us are called to spread the Good News. And remember too that, part of our evangelistic activity has to do with the way we relate to each other as believers. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). If you aren’t expressing true Christian love to every member of the church, you’re in disobedience to God and you hinder the evangelistic work of your brothers and sisters. But if we’re honest, often the main reason we want to shift responsibility for evangelism to others is that we’re not really sure how to do it. And that’s our second question this morning: How should we evangelise? Obviously the most basic answer is that we need to share God’s Word. I said in the first sermon in this series: God’s Word creates God’s people. We need to spread the Word, but practically speaking, how do we do that? Back in the ‘70s Joseph Bayly wrote a book of modern Christian parables called The Gospel Blimp. The title parable was about a group of Christian friends, who realising that they need to evangelise their card-playing and beer-drinking neighbours purchase a blimp to fly around town, towing banners with Bible verses on them. Of course, the blimp doesn’t accomplish much so they modify it to drop bundles of evangelistic tracts periodically. When it still doesn’t have the impact they want, they install a loud speaker so that the blimp can sail over the city blaring Scripture. The end result is that the blimp was sabotaged by the townspeople. It was a total failure. And yet those friends were spreading the Word. Why didn’t it work? Probably most importantly, their evangelism lacked personal relationship. But it’s also true that we need to present the Word rightly. This morning I want to give you six biblical guidelines for how we should evangelise. First, tell people with honesty that if they repent and believe they will be saved—but that it will also be costly. We need to accurately present the whole message. Sometimes were afraid to present the parts of the Gospel that we think might be too awkward or too hard to explain. We’re afraid to include anything negative in our presentation of the Good News, and so talking about sin and guilt and repentance and sacrifice disappear from our message. About ten years ago Robert Schuller had this to say: “I don’t think that anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality, and hence counter-productive to the evangelistic enterprise, than the unchristian, uncouth strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition.” It leaves you wondering what Gospel he preaches, because Scripture is clear that it is only as we realise that we are lost and sinful that anyone will understand his or her need for the Good News of Jesus Christ. He came to save lost sinners! If you read the summaries of St. Peter’s sermons in the beginning of Acts, one thing that comes through loud and clear is his message that we need Christ precisely because we are sinners. We can’t pretend that everyone is out there honestly looking for truth. The Bible teaches us that men and women are by nature estranged from God and at enmity with him. We have to be honest about that. It might not be “polite” to say, but it’s true and if we’re going to be faithful, we have to say it. Holding back important but difficult parts of the truth is manipulative and when we do it, we’re selling a false bill of goods. Second, tell people with urgency that if they repent and believe they will be saved—but they must decided now. We need to make clear the urgency of our message and that those with whom we’re sharing it can’t waste time waiting for a “better deal.” Everyone’s always looking for the better deal. I just got back from California. It took me a month or more to book my flight, because I was checking the internet every day to find the best deal. I have a brother-in-law who has been saying he’s going to buy a new computer for the last two or three years. He’s researched everything so that he can make an educated purchase, but every time he makes up his mind what to get, they announce the next generation of big, better, more powerful computers is just around the corner…and then he starts all over again. Years later he still hasn’t bought one, because he’s waiting for a better deal. But brother and sisters, we should know that when it comes to the Gospel, there’s no better deal. The Bible tells us over and over that Jesus is the only way to God. How else would you suggest that sinners and our holy God be reconciled? There is no other way than Christ, and if Christ is the only way, then what are we waiting for? As Scripture warns, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 4:7). Jesus was urgent in his teaching. Consider this parable that St. Luke records for us: A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ (Luke 13:6-9) It’s not manipulative or insensitive to bring up urgent warnings like this—it’s the truth. None of us has an unlimited amount of time to decide whether or not we’re going to follow Jesus. The time we have is limited, which is why St. Paul tells us to make the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:16). We’re prone to being content with the idea of being selfish today and then turning to Christ just before the end. No. We should know, as St. Paul knew, that, “The appointed time has grown very short…those who deal with the world [should deal with it] as though they had no dealings with it. Forthe present form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29, 31). What situations are you in right now that you won’t always be in? How are you using those situations in obedience to God? Trust him to use you in those situations instead of always looking for new situations. Trust the Lord to use you here and now, instead of waiting for some other time and situation. Remember, you have no idea when or if that next situation may even come! “The days are evil,” says Paul in Ephesians 5:16, meaning that they’re dangerous, they’re a fleeting opportunity, and so we need to redeem the time, we need to cash it in now, making the most of every opportunity. So we say with Paul that, in view of certain judgement, Christ’s love compels us to proclaim the Good News (2 Corinthians 5:10-14). Third, Tell people with joy that if they repent and believe the Good News they will be saved—that however difficult it may be, it’s all worth it! Think of Hebrews 11 where we read the accounts of those who suffered hard things for the faith and yet endured. In Hebrews 12 we read that Jesus himself endured the cross for the joy that was set before him. Some of you may have heard the famous statement of Jim Elliot, the young man who was murdered by the very South American Indians he went to evangelise. He wrote in his journal: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Think about that. What do we gain in coming to Christ? We gain a relationship with God himself. We gain forgiveness, meaning, purpose, freedom, community, certainty, and hope. Being honest about the difficulties when we’re sharing the Gospel doesn’t mean we have to mask the blessings. Nor does it mean we have to pretend that the Christian life is difficult simply so that people will think we’re being honest. No, we need to be fully honest; that means telling people that we have great news in Jesus Christ. For all the difficult things there are, it’s infinitely more than worth it to make the decision to die to self and to follow Jesus. Fourth, use the Bible. Learn the Bible for yourself and share it with others. There’s a host of Scripture memory programmes out there and most of them include scriptures to use when sharing your faith. But however you learn or memorise Scripture, what you’re doing in using the Bible for evangelism is showing people that you’re not just sharing your own thoughts and ideas. In Acts 8 we see Philip going to share the Gospel with the Ethiopian eunuch. He started, Luke tells us, with the Old Testament and used it to tell him about Jesus. Again, when we use the Bible in sharing the Gospel, we help people to realise that we’re not just talking about our own ideas, but about the very words of God. Fifth, realise that the lives of individual Christians and of the church as a whole are a central part of evangelism. Our lives, as individuals and as a congregation, should give credibility to the Gospel that we proclaim. This was driven home to me this past week when a non-Christian friend pointed out that we Christians are often our own worst enemies, because we rarely seem to live out the message that we preach. This is one of the reasons why church membership is so important. We as a church bear a corporate responsibility to present to the world what it means to be a Christian. We should understand clearly what church membership means and should help our brothers and sisters to understand it too. God is glorified not only by our speaking the message, but by our actually living it out consistently. That doesn’t mean we have to be perfect. That’s impossible, but we can at least try to live in a way that commends the Gospel. Remember Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). That’s talking about your life. Your life can be lived in such a way that it brings glory to God as others who see it begin to believe to the Gospel. And remember, this involves more than just your individual life; it involves how believers live together too. Again, remember the words of Jesus: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Live a life of committed love to the other members of the church, as a fundamental part of your own sanctification and of your evangelistic ministry. This is why Jesus stressed that our loving each other is even more important than our worship of him. “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). If you’ve got unfinished business with a brother or sister, if you’re in any way not at peace and living in love with them, you’ve got no business coming to the Lord’s Table or even bring your offerings to God without first taking care of that business, without first being reconciled. If we are not at peace with each other, we make a mockery of Jesus and the Gospel and shame ourselves before the world. Our individual lives alone are not a sufficient witness. Our lives together as a church are the confirming echo of our witness. We need to make sure our corporate witness is pure. And finally, sixth, remember to pray. Remember in all of this that God is sovereign in the work of salvation. We are called to proclaim the message, but it’s the Holy Spirit who turns the heart and converts the sinner. Pray for opportunities to share your faith. Pray that your witness, both your words and your life, will be faithful. Pray that God will open your eyes to the opportunities he gives to share your faith. And pray that he will be at work in the hearts of those who hear our message. That’s as far as I want to go this morning. We’ll look at the questions of “What is evangelism?” and “Why should we evangelise?” next week. In the meantime remember: When we ask who should evangelise? The answer is that we all should. When we ask “How should we evangelise?” Remember present the Gospel in full: that it is costly, that it is urgent men and women receive it, and that it is immensely worth the cost. Use the Bible. Make sure that your life and the life we all live together back up the message we proclaim. And remember to undergird all of our evangelism with prayer. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, on this Passion Sunday we remember that you sent your Son to die for us, that he might redeem us from sin and death and restore us to fellowship with you. Father, remind us each day of the significance of your costly gift of new life that we might with great joy take it to all those around us. Give us opportunities to share our faith with others, give us boldness to overcome our fears, give us the sense to prepare and equip ourselves for the task, and most of all we ask that your Holy Spirit would be at work preparing the way before us that our work might bear fruit for the Kingdom. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. This series of sermons is adapted from Mark Dever's book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2004.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Marks of a Healthy Church Marks of a Healthy Church Mark Five: A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism (Part Two) by William Klock This morning I want to continue where we left off on Passion Sunday in our look at a biblical understanding of Evangelism. You’ll remember that I said we’d look at four questions. The first was “Who should evangelise?” Do you remember who should evangelise? Yes! Everyone! And the second question was “How should we evangelise?” We need to share the whole message of the Gospel. We can’t leave out the hard or challenging parts. We need to communicate the urgency of the message. We need to use the Bible as we share with people. We need to realise that our lives, both individually as Christians and corporately as the body of Christ are central to our evangelism. And finally, remembering that God is sovereign in turning hearts to himself, we need to pray. The third question I said we’d look at is “What is evangelism?” and in a sense this directly ties into the question of how we should evangelise, because what we understand evangelism to be will always influence how we do it—which is why it’s so important we understand this. There are lots of instances when we share the Gospel wrongly because we misunderstand what evangelism is. Let me answer the question first by saying what evangelism is not. First, one of the most common objections to evangelism today is that it’s an imposition of our beliefs on someone else. Frankly, the way evangelism is often done leads to this kind of understanding, but when you understand what the Bible presents as evangelism, you understand that it’s really not a matter of imposing our beliefs. First, understand that the things you believe as a Christian are facts. They aren’t just beliefs or opinions—they are facts. Second, these facts are not yours in the sense that they pertain only to you or your perspective or experience. And they’re not facts you made up. This is why I stressed last week that you use the Bible when you evangelise. These aren’t your ideas; they are God’s. And so remember that when you evangelise, you are presenting the facts of the Christian Gospel. And of course, in biblical evangelism we don’t impose anything. In fact we really can’t. The Bible tells us that evangelism is simply telling the Good News; it does not include making sure that the other person responds to it correctly. It would be great if we could make people respond, but we can’t. According to the Bible, the fruit of evangelism comes from God, not from our clever techniques or our personal passion. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:5-7: What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. This is something we really need to understand. Neither you nor I can ever make someone a Christian. To become a Christian requires a change of heart that only the Holy Spirit can make. We are simply charged with the task of proclaiming the message and demonstrating the love of Christ. We are to present the message freely to all; we cannot manipulate anyone to truly accept it. Truly biblical evangelism is never an imposition. Second, we have to be careful not to mistake personal testimony for evangelism. Without a doubt, sharing what God has done in our own lives can be a very effective part of sharing the Good News with someone, but we can’t simply stop with what God has done for us. There have been a lot of times when I’ve shared with someone how much Jesus means to me, but in hindsight I’ve realised that I never included the Gospel message itself in what I shared—and that seems to be the common problem with testimony sharing. I’ve had people try to evangelise me by telling me their story, but they never actually shared the Gospel. Stories and testimonies have become very popular in our Postmodern, “that’s-good-for-you” world. Not many people object to hearing ours story, but they often do object when we include the Gospel message. We need to be careful not to assume that simply because we’ve shared our testimony, that we have also shared the cross at the heart of the Good News. Third, we often mistake social action and political involvement for evangelism. When our eyes fall from God to humanity, it’s not surprising that social problems replace sin as our concern. We see horizontal problems—problems between people—and they distract us from the fundamental vertical problem between us and God. We get involved in crusades for public virtue and mistake it for evangelism. It’s not that crusades for public virtues are all wrong—a lot of the time they are often good and necessary—but remember that stopping a same-sex couple from getting married or stopping a girl from getting an abortion isn’t going to save them from eternal damnation if they don’t know Christ. In a lot our social crusades we end up putting the cart before the horse. We’re upset because people aren’t living like Christians, but we forget that people can’t live like Christians until the Holy Spirit has first renewed their hearts. When we do engage in political action we need to be sure we do it in such a way that we still express our concern for the souls of those are involved in sinful activities. Brothers and sisters, evangelism is not declaring God’s political plan for the nations. It’s not recruiting for the church. It’s not combating social ills. Evangelism is the proclamation of the Gospel to individual men and women. Societies are challenged and changed when, through his Gospel, the Lord brings individual men and women together in his Church to display his character in the interactions and relationships of those whom he has redeemed. Fourth, we sometimes mistake apologetics for evangelism. Apologetics is the activity of answering questions and objections and defending the faith. Now, it’s not to say that as we evangelise we don’t sometimes need to answer questions and defend the faith, but apologetics is not the same thing as evangelism. Defending the virgin birth or the resurrection is very important, but it’s not evangelism. You can believe in the virgin birth or the resurrection, but there’s more to the Gospel message than these individual doctrines. Apologetics is driven by someone else’s agenda. Evangelism is following Christ’s agenda and telling the Good News about him. Evangelism is the positive act of telling the Good News about Jesus Christ and the way of salvation through him. One of the best modern examples I can think of is Josh McDowell. He’s written a number of very popular volumes that defend the faith against secularism and cults, and while I often think he’s wrong on a lot of issues, I can’t think of a better example of someone who defends the faith for the purpose of sharing the Good News with others. He is first and foremost an evangelist. His apologetics work simply backs up his work as an evangelist. Finally, fifth, one of our most common and dangerous mistakes is to confuse the results of evangelism with evangelism itself. Friends, evangelism must never be confused with the fruit of evangelism. We get into especially dangerous territory if we combine this misunderstanding with false understandings of the Gospel and conversion, because we end up thinking that not only is evangelism the same as seeing others converted, but thinking that it’s within our own power to convert others. This kind of thinking leads to manipulation more than it does real evangelism. The Bible tells us that evangelism can never be defined in terms of results or methods, but only in terms of faithfulness to the message preached. Consider how Acts tells us that there were times when St. Paul preached the Gospel and received a terrible response. John Stott spoke at the Lausanne conference on evangelism twenty-five years ago and said that “To evangelise…does not mean to win converts…but simply to announce the good news, irrespective of the results.” Sharing the Gospel is our role. Converting hearts is the Spirit’s. Consider 2 Corinthians 2:15-16: For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Now Paul isn’t saying he preached two messages or that he could look at a crowd and say, “Okay, I can see who the elect are. I’m going to preach one message to you, and then let me preach another message to all those who aren’t becoming Christians.” No, Paul preached the same Gospel everywhere and to everyone, and yet, he was to some an aroma of life and to others the smell of death. His one ministry had two different effects. Think of Jesus’ parable of the sower. The sower went out and scattered seed that landed on different kinds of soil. He didn’t change his method because some soil was good or some was bad or because he was sowing seeds on the road. The point of the parable is that some people will respond to the Gospel and some won’t, even though they all hear the same message. We can’t judge the correctness of what we do in evangelism by the immediate response that we see. Brothers and sisters, we have to understand this, because failure to get this can distract well-meaning churches into pragmatic, results-oriented work and it can transform pastors into neurotic people-pleasers and people-manipulators. We make a terrible mistake when we misunderstand evangelism so badly that we think we can tell from the immediate results whether we are evangelising properly. As Christians we should know that, even if we’re faithful in sharing the Gospel, people still may not respond. Their lack of acceptance of the Gospel does not necessarily mean our technique was wrong. Misunderstanding at this point often cripples individual Christians with a deep sense of personal failure and, ironically, often makes us scarede and hesitant about evanglising. I’ve known Christians who felt horribly guilty because the person they’d been evangelising for thirty years still wasn’t a Christian. They thought it was their fault. But remember that Scripture teaches us that conversions don’t come just because we’re good at sharing the Gospel and that rejection of the message isn’t necessarily because we’re bad at sharing it. Evangelism is not fundamentally a matter of our methods, but of our faithfulness in proclaiming the cross. Some of you are Christians today despite a terrible presentation of the Gospel. The person might have been scared, stuttering, forgetful, confused, or even obnoxious or pushy. But somehow the truth was there amid the errors, and the Holy Spirit used it to bring you to repentance and faith. Now that’s not to excuse being scared, confused, pushy, or obnoxious as we evangelise. We should to work to be prepared and to do it right. That’s our responsibility, but we can be thankful that God is a big God. He can even use our mistakes as he overlooks and works around our faults for his glory. So, what is evangelism? It’s the proclamation of the Good News of salvation in Christ and a calling to repentance. It’s not persuading people to make a decision. Again, our part is proclamation. The Holy Spirit does the work of regeneration and conversion. Remember that we don’t fail in our evangelism if we faithfully present the Gospel to all. If we can remember that evangelism is the sharing of the wonderful truth of the cross, then the obedience to the call of evangelism becomes a joyful privilege. And that brings us to the final question I want to ask: Why should we evangelise? It might seem like a funny question to ask, but it’s important. What is our motivation for evangelism? Some people might not think this is an important issue but it is, because there are all sorts of wrong motivations for evangelism. Some of us evangelise for selfish reasons. One of the greatest dangers as a church is that we do evangelism simply because we need more people filling the pews in order to pay the bills. As individuals we can evangelise simply because we want to be right or because we want to win an argument with someone. I knew a couple of guys in university who always talked about their gifts as evangelists, but we also noticed they only ever engaged in evangelism when the cute girls were around. They wanted to look spiritual. Some people just want to have a reputation as successful evangelists. Not long ago I read an interview with one big-name pastor. He was asked how his church was able to have 200 or more baptisms every year. He said he has two interns on staff and it’s their job to each bring at least two new converts forward for baptism each week at the altar call. He was asked, “Well, what if there aren’t any new converts that week?” The pastor said, “Then I’ll hire a different intern who will make two converts every week. They don’t invite you to speak at conferences unless you’ve got at least 200 baptisms a year.” This was a common attitude amongst the Revivalists. I was reading about a guy named Smith Wigglesworth who pledged that he would make at least one convert every day. He wrote about one night realising that he hadn’t done his “duty” so he ran out to the street at 11:30, grabbed the first guy he saw, and convinced him to become a Christian. I wish that we all had that kind of zeal for evangelism, but friends, that’s not evangelism. The Revivalists were the pioneers of manipulation because they were convinced that conversion was the responsibility of the evangelist. Sadly, the end result has been innumerable people headed who are still headed to hell, but happily traipsing there with a dangerous false assurance that they’re heaven-bound. This idea that we—that you and I—can change hearts, persuade minds, and bring people to Christ has become a very common attitude in the Church today and it takes everything I’ve been saying and turns it upside-down as it removes the Holy Spirit from his role as the one who brings our evangelism to fruit. So what are the right reasons to proclaim the Good News? First, it was what Jesus commissioned us to do before he ascended to heaven. As Christians we ought to desire to be obedient. As I said last week, obedience is one of the signs of true faith. Second, we should be motivated by a love for the lost. As Christians the Spirit works to turn our hearts away from love of self to a love for others and when we see that the people around us will be eternally damned without hearing this message, love should motivate us to tell them. And most importantly, our love for God should motivate us. Love for God is the most important motive. John Cheesman in his book on evangelism writes this: “Love for God is the only sufficient motive for evangelism. Self-love will give way to self-centredness; love for the lost will fail with those whom we cannot love, and when difficulties seem insurmountable. Only a deep love for God will keep us following his way, declaring his Gospel, when human resources fail. Only our love for God—and, more important, his love for us—will keep us from the dangers which beset us. When the desire for popularity with men, or for success in human terms, tempts us to water down the Gospel, to make it palatable, then only if we love God will we stand fast by his truth and his ways.” Ultimately our love for God leads to a desire to see him glorified. Throughout the Bible, God makes himself known to his creation. We share his Gospel to glorify God as the truth about him is made known to his creation. The call to evangelism is a call to turn our lives outward—from focusing on ourselves and our needs to focusing on God and the world that he has made. And that includes loving people who are made in God’s image and yet are at enmity with him, alienated from him, and in need of salvation from sin and guilt. We give God glory when we come on Sunday morning and sing praises to him and declare our love and devotion to him in our songs and in our prayers. But, brothers and sisters, we rob him of that glory when our songs and prayers and declarations of love are nothing more than words we sing or pray on Sunday morning. We give him the greatest glory when we demonstrate our love and devotion to him in our obedience to him and in our love for others as we tell the people around us about the great things God has done in Christ. Evangelism isn’t the only way to give God glory, but it is one of the most important and if we don’t do it, we make all the things we sing and pray on Sunday morning lies. Friends, when the message of the cross has captured our hearts and our minds, our tongues, as stammering, halting, awkward, sarcastic, and imperfect as they may be, won’t be far behind. Remember, Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34 NIV). What is your heart full of and what do you spend your words on? The more we let Jesus capture our hearts, the more he’s also going to capture our tongues and use them to his glory. Please pray with me: “Heavenly Father, we thank you for the grace you have offered us through your Son when he died for us on the cross. We thank you that at some point in time, whether it was a parent, a friend, a priest—whomever—that you shared with each of us the Good News of the cross of Christ and that your Holy Spirit was at work in our hearts, turning them to you. Father, for many of us, our first love has grown cold. Life and the world around us distract us from the supremacy of your love and grace and mercy. Kindle the fire again in our hearts and as our hearts are once again full of love for you, let our mouths overflow with the Good News, that we might be part of the work as you grow your kingdom. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen. This series of sermons is adapted from Mark Dever's book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2004.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Marks of a Healthy Church Marks of a Healthy Church Mark Six: A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership by William Klock Mark Six: A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership For the past few weeks we’ve been looking at what it means to have a biblical understanding of the Gospel, and of conversion, and of evangelism. The logical next step is church membership. But this is a place where a lot of churches struggle, because we live in an age of commitment-phobia. We’re all looking for the bigger, better deal, which means we all hesitate to commit to anything. What if I commit and a better deal comes along tomorrow? In the last few years it’s been popular for many churches to simply do away with formal church membership. The bigger problem is probably the fact that in many, probably most, churches today, membership doesn’t really mean anything. In the average Anglican or Episcopal church the membership rolls usually have two or three times the number of people who actually show up on Sunday morning and participate in activities. Neither of those situations is right. Membership is vitally important. As I said when we looked at what the Gospel is: there is no bigger or better deal than God offering his Son on the cross in our place. The same goes for church membership. So this morning I want to ask—and answer—three questions: First, What is a church? Second, Why should we join a church? And third, What does Church membership mean? So what is a church? Notice that it’s more than just an organisation. The Legion Hall or the Rotary or the curling club aren’t “churches”. And notice that the church is something unique to Christians. We don’t talk about Buddhist churches or Jewish churches or Muslim churches. A church is Christian—or at least it should be. And by “church” we aren’t fundamentally talking about a building. We do refer to buildings as “churches” but we do that because the building is typically where the church itself meets. This is why some Christians choose to call their buildings “meeting houses” and things like that, because they don’t want anyone to confuse the meeting place with the actual church. The New Testament tell us that the church is a body of people who have put their trust in Jesus Christ and in the grace he offers at the cross and who, in obedience to his command, have been baptised as the outward sign and seal of the new life they have in him. This is what a New Testament church is. It’s not a building. In fact, in many cases those early churches didn’t even have buildings. No. The collection of people committed to Christ in a city or town were a church. All those local bodies together make up the Church—with a capital “C”—the universal church. But most of the time the New Testament talks about the church in terms of local, living, and loving collections of people who are committed to Christ and committed to each other. That’s what the word means over and over in the New Testament. And it’s a body from which you can be excluded, therefore it first has to be a body in which you can be clearly included. Think about it: If there is no way for you to be excluded from the local church, it may be because you have never formally included yourself in it as the Bible tells us to do. So, again, what is a church? A church is the collection of people committed to Christ in a local area, and we see their commitment as they live out the Gospel and are obedient in preaching God’s Word and administering the Sacraments he commanded us to celebrate. Question Two: Why should we join a church? Let me start by asking: If you are a confessing Christian, what does it mean to live the Christian life? Do we live it alone? Is it just a matter of you, your Bible, and Jesus? Is just you alone being a good person alone? Maybe you know that the Christian life should include others, but who are the “others”? Are they people you work with or family or the other people in your Bible study? Which Christians are we called to relate to? The Church is for everybody who is a Christian, not for a certain ethnic or socio-economic group, not for a specific ministry or mission. The Church is for everyone. So let me give you five good reasons to join a Church that preaches the Gospel and models Christian living. (And that’s not to say there aren’t other good reasons too.) First, joining a church helps us to be sure of our salvation. Now, I said a couple of weeks ago that church membership does not save you…and it doesn’t. But being a church member can help us to be sure we are saved. Let me read some of the things that St. John tells us Jesus said: Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him….If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love….You are my friends if you do what I command you….If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 14:21; 15:10, 14; 13:17) We could go on and on with quotes from Jesus where he teaches us how he wants us to follow him in obedience and that if we are being willfully disobedient, we’re deceiving ourselves. When we join a church, we put ourselves in a position where we ask our brothers and sisters to hold us accountable to live according to what we say with our mouths. We ask our brothers and sisters to encourage us, sometimes by reminding us of the ways God has been working in our lives and other times by pointing out where we aren’t obeying him and can do better. By our baptisms we are all members of the universal Church, but membership in the local church isn’t just an optional add-on to that. Membership here is a witness to our membership in the Church. Membership here doesn’t save you, but it is a reflection of the salvation we have in being part of the Church Universal—and if there is no reflection of our salvation, how can we be sure we are really saved. St. John tells us, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). When we join a church, we are grasping hands with each other to know and be known by each other. We’re agreeing to help and encourage each other when we need to be reminded that God is at work in our lives or when we need to be challenged because our walk doesn’t match our talk. Second, we should join the local church for the sake of evangelising the world. Together we can do a better job of spreading the Gospel. A local church is, at its core, a missionary organisation, and we back up this missionary outreach with our actions as we show God’s love by meeting the needs of others. We promote the Gospel by cooperating to take it to the people who haven’t yet heard it, and as we make the Gospel visible to the world by the lives we live together. Even as imperfect as we are, if God’s Spirit is at work among us, he will use our lives to show unbelievers the truth of the Gospel. Third, we need to join the local church for the edification and building up of other believers. Joining a church helps counter our proneness to spiritual individualism and helps us realise the corporate nature of Christianity. A real Christian has a vital relationship with Jesus that is life-changing and that changes the lives of the people around them. Being part of the church helps us to see whether or not we’ve got that life changing relationship. Ask this question: Do you understand your following Christ fundamentally to involve how you treat other people, especially the ones who are members of your church? Have you convenanted together to love them, and do you give yourself to that? Or have you claimed that you know the love of God in Christ and yet live in way that makes that claim a lie? Do you claim to know a love that knows no bounds, and yet in loving others you have set boundaries, basically saying, “I’ll go this far, but no farther”? That kind of claim of love, without a life that backs it up, is a bad sign. And yet if you just hang out by yourself and refuse to join a church, other Christians can’t help you. You’re sailing your own little ship your own little way. You’ll come to church when you like the sermons or when you like the music or when you like some programme or activity, then you’ll sail on out to wherever else you may go when you want something else. Brothers and sisters, if you commit yourself to a church, you commit yourself to a local body of people who will try to help you work through those kinds of problems. So for example, if you’ve got a problem with gossip, your brother and sisters will try to talk to you about that. If you’re discouraged and falling away, your brothers and sisters will try to encourage you. That’s what the New Testament shows us over and over: following Jesus means having care and concern for each other. That’s part of what it means to be truly Christian, and though we do it imperfectly, we should be committed to doing it. A few years ago I took my car in for service and while I was waiting I got to talking to a lady who was also waiting for her car. I was in clericals and so she started talking about faith. She said she was a Christian, but when I asked where she went to church she said that she didn’t go. I asked why and she said with great disdain that she tried every once in a while, but she was spiritually so far above the people in the churches she knew, that they’d just drag her down from her spiritual peak. Of course, my first thought was that talking that way was really a demonstration of her lack of spiritual maturity, but I asked her if she’d ever considered that maybe God wanted her to be part of a church so that she, in her maturity, could help them grow to greater maturity. That’s God’s plan when it comes to our life together in Christ. We all bring something to contribute and we all bring our problems, but the Holy Spirit is alive and at work in each of us and as we live together the gifts and Spirit-filled attitudes that you bring go to work on me and help me to overcome my problems and vice versa There is no room in Christ for a self-centred and individualistic faith. There’s no such thing as a Christian “loner”. Christians cannot be self-centred, even in the name of Christ. God is just as concerned about how you treat others as he is about what you do in your devotional times—and that includes how you treat others with whom you having nothing in common aside from Jesus. That’s why you need to invest your life in others and allow others to invest their lives in you. Being a member of a church should give you a concern for others. Growing as a Christian is not just an individual thing, it’s something that concerns the whole church and it’s something we all do together. Look at Hebrew 10:19-25. This a good passage to meditate on in light of our very individualistic age: Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Church membership is our opportunity to grab hold of each other in responsibility and in love. By indentifying ourselves with a particular church, we let the pastor and the members know that we intend to be committed to attendance, giving, prayer, and service. We let our brothers and sisters have greater expectations of us in those areas, and we make it known that we are the responsibility of this local church. We assure the church of our commitment to Christ in serving with them, and we call for the commitment to serve and encourage us as well. We see this in St. Paul’s use of the body imagery when he writes about the local church and we see it in all the “together” and “one another” passages in the New Testament. Joining a church increases our sense of ownership of the work of the church, of its community, of its budget, and of its goals. It turns us from being pampered consumers to becoming joyful proprietors. We stop coming late and complaining that we don’t get exactly what we wanted; instead we come early and try to help others with what they need. We stop thinking about what we “don’t get out of it” and what we don’t like, and start focusing on adding our gifts, our enthusiasm, and our love for God and each other for the benefit and growth of our brothers and sisters. We went through 1 Corinthians pretty recently. Remember St. Paul saying that the purpose of spiritual gifts is to build up the church? As Christians, using our gifts to build up the body should be one of our main goals in life. If you’re thinking there’s nothing for you to do as a Christian, you’ve completely missed this one. According to Paul, this applies to all of us. Are you looking for ways to help your brothers and sisters? In the church we can hold each other accountable in times of temptation. We can study God’s Word together so that we’ll be prepared for spiritual warfare. We can sing praises together and pray together. We can encourage each other’s joy and share in each other’s burdens. As Jesus told us, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you….These things I command you, so that you will love one another (John 15:12, 17)” John wrote, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Fourth, if you’re a Christian, you should join a church for the glory of God. The way we live can bring glory to God. St. Peter wrote, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12 NIV). That’s an amazing thing to think about, but Peter was just restating what Jesus said: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). So if this is true of our lives as individuals, it’s all the more true when it comes to our lives together as Christians. God intends that the way we love each other will identify us as followers of Christ. Think of Jesus’ words in John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Our lives together mark us out as his and give him glory. Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). If Jesus is committed to the church, how can we be any less committed? How can we profess love for Christ and yet forsake his body? If you call yourself a Christian, but neglect or refuse to commit to the church, your profession of faith has little, if any, credibility. Finally, let’s look at the question: What does Church membership mean? Well, at it’s most basic, church membership means living a life of repentance and belief. The church is the community of those who have been born again. God’s grace in our life, granting us repentance and faith, is signalled by two thing: First, it’s signalled in action by baptism. Baptism is the first step for the Christian, and the New Testament assumes that all Christians have been baptised, because Christ commanded baptism in his Great Commission. The book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament show us that baptism is the first act expected of every new Christian. I’ve met a lot of people over the years who claim to be followers of Christ and yet refuse to take this first step that he clearly commanded. What’s even more disturbing are the groups that call themselves churches, but reject baptism (not to mention the Lord’s Supper). We cannot reject the clear commands of Scripture and call ourselves followers or disciples of Christ. But baptism itself doesn’t necessarily affiliate us with a local church, and so as a second step we formally covenant with a local group of fellow Christians. That covenanting means that we are committing ourselves to a common life with our brothers and sisters, so let me give you a few of the more important things that life together involves: First, it means that we regularly attend the services in our church. Hebrews 10:25 reminds us not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together.” It means that we ought to have a desire to gather with our brothers and sisters, because we love them and because it’s our great joy to gather with them to express our love for God in praise. Again, if you claim to love God, but forsake his body, you’re a liar. Second, it means that we partake of Communion with our brothers and sisters when it is offered. In our case that’s pretty much at least every Sunday. I’ve been asked in the past why I don’t do altar calls. Friends, we have an altar call every Sunday here. When Jesus invites you to his Table you receive the greatest altar call ever—the only one that’s the real deal and the only one that really matters. Anything else is a cheap caricature of the commitment you make to him and to your brothers and sisters when you come to the Table. And remember, that to come to the Table regularly means that you’re taking care of business with your brothers and sisters, confessing yours sins to them and asking forgiveness, exhorting them, and loving them as Christ loves us. Third, it means that we’ve each pledged to support the local church. It means we pray for each other and for our ministry here. As you pray each day, pray through the phone list for a few names each day—and get to know those people so that you can know what to pray for. It means coming to the meetings we have, like the AGM, not only so that you can stay informed about what’s going on, but so that you can give your input. The church is by no means a democracy, but it does require input from each of us. It means putting your God-given gifts to use for the building of the Kingdom. Your gifts may not be “Sunday morning” gifts, but that doesn’t mean that God hasn’t gifted you for ministry. As you use your gifts here, in your work, in your family, or some other way in the world, you support the work that the body is doing. And it means giving regularly and generously for the financial support of the church. Friends, if the church is a building, its made up of bricks; if it’s a body, it’s made up of body parts; if it’s the household of faith, we’re each part of that household. Sheep are in a flock. Branches are on a vine. Biblically, if we are Christians we must be members of a church. Church membership means being incorporated in practical ways into the body of Christ. It means travelling together as aliens and strangers in this world as we head to the New Jerusalem. Finally, let me say that joining a particular church is an outward reflection of an inward love—for Christ and for his people. And, just as we see in other aspects of life, the greatest love isn’t usually spontaneous; it’s more often planned, premeditated, and characterised by commitment. In Ephesians 5:25 we read that, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Acts 20:28 reminds us that he “bought his church with his own blood.” If we are Christ’s followers, we too will love the church that he gave himself for…and love it more than anything else. So, don’t just attend church (which you should), but join. Link arms with other Christians and do it so that non-Christians will hear and see the Gospel, so that weak Christians will be cared for, so that strong Christians will use their energy to build the Kingdom, so that church leaders by encouraged and helped, and so that God will be glorified. It’s as we commit to showing our love for each other, that God’s love is seen by the world and he receives the glory that is his due. Please pray with me: Father, thank you that by your Spirit you have made all who trust in your Son for eternal life one in his body. Forgive us for the times when we fall into a self-centred and individualistic attitudes that undermine the unity of your church. Remind us that if we are to love you as you have loved us, we demonstrate it by loving our brothers and sisters, exhorting them and holding them accountable as they do the same for us. We ask that you would instil in each of us such a love for the body of Christ, that there would be no question in our minds of forsaking our brothers and sisters, and that in loving them as you do, the world might give you glory and be drawn to your love. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen. This series of sermons is adapted from Mark Dever's book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2004.
Bible Text: John 15:1-11 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Marks of a Healthy Church
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Marks of a Healthy Church Marks of a Healthy Church Mark Seven: Biblical Church Discipline by William Klock Almost a decade ago now, a small group of people left a church body that had become apostate and gathered to form Living Word Church. Most of that group is still with us. Those people understood that a church that tolerates sin and false doctrine can never be a faithful witness to the saving work of the Lord Jesus. As a result of their faithfulness, many of the rest of you are here today. We looked at the issue of membership in the church two weeks ago and saw how there’s no such thing as a loner Christian—that as Christians we’re obligated to commit—or better to covenant—with each other for mutual support, exhortation, and growth and that as we do that, we make ourselves witnesses of the love of Christ. That means that our covenanting together is going to naturally include accountability, discipline. And that’s something that we almost never hear about in the Church anymore and when we do, it’s almost always in a negative light. We live in an age when the church growth experts tell us we’re not supposed to talk about sin and repentance because it’ll scare people away. These guys never even get close to addressing discipline, because of course, if sin isn’t important, then there’s no need for accountability. Maybe we’ve seen churches enact some kind of discipline at some point, but it was done so wrongly, so unloving, so unbiblically that we’ve been turned off the whole idea. For a lot of people the words “church discipline” conjure up images of Hester Prynne wearing her scarlet letter A around Nathaniel Hawthorn’s nightmarish caricature of a New England Puritan town. So for the next two Sunday I want to talk about church discipline and about what it means for us to be accountable to each other, and hopefully put aside the false ideas of what it is and show you what Scripture has to say about it, because discipline really is a vital part of every healthy church. Brothers and sisters, if we’re honest with ourselves, we shouldn’t hesitate to admit that we need discipline—that we need correction and shaping. None of us is perfect. We need to be inspired, nurtured, and healed; but at other times we need to be corrected, challenged, and even broken. Whichever form it takes, we have to admit that we need discipline. We’re lying to ourselves if we think that we’ve reached perfection or if we think that God’s finished with us. Now, if we’re ready to admit that much, consider that a lot of discipline is actually positive. There’s nothing negative about the stake you put in the ground to help your newly planted tree grow straight or the training wheels on your bike that teach you how to keep it upright. Even the braces on your teeth, while they might hurt at times, are a good thing to get your teeth where they ought to be. The comments your mother made to chew with your mouth clothed or to be careful with your words are positive formative discipline. Discipline shapes us as we grow emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually and these are all examples of the basic shaping that takes place in our relationships, in our families, and even in our churches. We’re taught by books and lectures at school and by sermons and classes and Bible studies at church. All of this is a part of discipline. It’s positive, shaping, formative discipline. Every truth you’ve ever heard someone talk about is formative discipline. What I’m doing right now as I preach this sermon and you take it in is discipline. So not all discipline is negative; in fact, most of the discipline we experience is positive. The problem is that we can be prone to get defensive when it comes to the negative side of discipline. Especially when you talk about the church exercising discipline, I’ve heard people throw out Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” And indeed Jesus warns us about judging, but consider that in that same gospel, not to mention the others, Jesus also clearly calls us to rebuke others for sin, even rebuking them publicly if need be. So whatever Jesus meant by not judging in Matthew 7:1, he wasn’t ruling out the kind of judging he commands us to do in, for example, Matthew 18. Remember that God himself is a Judge, and in a lesser sense, he calls us to be judges too. In quite a few places the New Testament tells us to judge ourselves and in other places it specifically tells us judge others within the church. Now let me be clear: there’s a difference between God’s judging and the judging he tells us to do, and that’s what Matthew 7:1 gets at. God is the judge who determines the final state of a person’s soul. His judgement means eternal life with him for some and eternal damnation for others. When he calls us to judge, he calls us to lovingly confront our brothers and sisters when their walk doesn’t match their talk in order to keep the witness of the church pure and to exhort our brothers and sisters to work out their own salvation—to make sure it’s real. It makes sense that we as a church would be told to judge. If we can’t say how a Christian should not live, how can we say how a Christian should live? When Living Word Church was formed, one of the things the founders understood was that their former church had slid downhill because there was little or no accountability. Seminary professors, priests, bishops, and even laypeople were teaching false doctrine and were never held accountable. Members of the church were engaged in sin and many of the leadership were even proclaiming as virtuous what the Bible says is evil—and again, not being held accountable. And so the leadership of our church set some basic standards for membership. They wrote a statement of faith and they required that anyone wanting to be a member agree with that statement, attend regularly for at least three months, and demonstrate a faithful witness to Christ and a commitment to support the church with their time, talent, and treasure. That, my friends, is church discipline. But we can’t stop that discipline once someone joins and just hope for the best. Just as we want to be sure someone is truly a Christians before they join, we need to remain vigilant in order to keep our corporate witness pure. We need to be able to show that there’s a difference between the church and the world—that it means something to be a Christian. If someone who claims to be a Christian refuses to live as a Christian should live, we need to follow what St. Paul said and, for the glory of God and for that person’s own good, we need to exclude him or her. Paul deals with this in 1 Corinthians 5. He was correcting the Corinthians as they dealt wrongly with an instance of unrepentant and gross sin in their church, and in doing that he makes an assumption we need to consider. Look at what he writes in verses 9-10: I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters,since then you would need to go out of the world. Notice how Paul makes a very clear distinction between the Church and the world. Now ask yourselves if we make that same distinction today. Do we assume that the Church is different from the world? Not that the Church is full of perfect people and the world is full of sinners, but do we assume that there’s a fundamental difference between the lives of people in the church and people in the world? Paul makes a sharp contrast. Membership in the local church should be a reflection, as best we can tell, of true membership in the body of Christ. That means that as we take in new members, we need to consider whether or not they are living Christ-honouring lives. Do we understand the seriousness of the commitment we’re making to them when they join our church, and do they understand the seriousness of the commitment they’re making to us? And are we willing to continue living out this accountability in our life together instead of forgetting about it once they’ve joined us? Certainly, if we’re cautious about membership, we won’t have to exercise discipline as often as if we simply allowed anyone to join with no questions asked, but we can’t drop the commitment to accountability once someone has joined. Now, if you’ve got your Bible with you, let’s look at what God has to tell us about discipline within the Church. The place to start is with Hebrews 12. Let me say: notice that here discipline is fundamentally a positive thing and that God himself disciplines us: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:1-14) The point of that whole passage is that discipline is the result of love. God disciplines us, because we are his children and he loves us. If we’re not somehow experiencing his discipline, it’s because we’re not his children. God himself lovingly disciplines us and, as we’ll see in the following passages, he commands us to do the same for each other. The local church body has not only a special responsibility to do this, but God has specially equipped us to do it. Now, let’s move on to Matthew 18:15-17. This is the most important passage in terms of telling us how to exercise this duty. Ask yourself: What do you do when someone sins against you? What does the Bible have to say about how we respond? Do you say something once and then refuse to talk to that person anymore if they don’t make it right? Do you let it fester and do you become resentful? Do you just ignore it? Here’s what Jesus tells us to do: [Step 1] If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, [Step 2] take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, [Step 3] tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, [Step 4] let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Notice that the goal is to restore a relationship that is damaged by sin. No Christian is allowed to simply write off a brother or sister because of an offence. If you can truly forgive and forget, that’s always an option, but if you can’t do that or if correction is really needed so that this brother doesn’t continue in his sin, offending others, then we must deal with it. We don’t deal with it by gossiping about it to others. We go directly to the person who offended us. And we don’t just sound off once. If the brother or sister won’t listen, we go back with a witness or two. Even then, if he doesn’t respond in a Godly way, we still don’t write him off. Jesus says then that the church goes to him to correct him. Only then, if he still refuses to show obedience to Christ do we put him out—and at that point we put him or her out because their lack of repentance and their contentious attitude disrupts the peace of the body, damages our witness to Christ, and calls into question the faith they profess. And remember that our goal in excluding some is to bring them back to repentance. Anger and revenge have no place here. It’s all about love for our brother or sister who is straying and about a desire to restore them. Look at 1 Corinthians 5:1-11: It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you areto deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, sothat his spirit may be savedin the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters,since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyonewho bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. Notice, St. Paul wasn’t motivated by hate or self-righteousness. This man sleeping with his step-mother was deceived. He thought he could be a Christian while at the same time disobeying the Lord. Or maybe he thought—and the church allowed him to think—that there was nothing wrong with it. Paul says that a person like that is deluded, and that in order to truly serve such a deluded person and to glorify God, the church needs to show him just how ludicrous his profession of faith is in light of the way he’s living. In other places Paul tells us how this process of loving confrontation should happen. Look at Galatians 6:1. Paul tells us how to restore a brother or sister who has been caught in sin: Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him ina spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. We need to remember that the point isn’t revenge or lashing out in anger; the point is restoration that is ultimately motivated by love. We model the same kind of restoring discipline that God so often shows us. In 1 Timothy 5:19-20 Paul gives instructions for what to do when the leaders in our church are caught in sin: Do not admit a charge against an elder [in the Greek it refers to a priest or presbyter] excepton the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. Paul also wrote to Titus to advise him how to deal with these problems. Titus was struggling with people in his church who were causing divisions over things that weren’t important. In Titus 3:9-11 Paul writes: But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, forthey are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. But it’s not just disobedient behaviour. As we’ve already seen, Paul warns us about the leaven of sin and disobedience in the church. Leaven spreads and can eventually corrupt the whole body. For that reason we have to watch out too when it comes to doctrine. St. John warns in his second epistle that there are many deceivers who don’t abide in the teaching of Christ. He tells us in verses 10-11: If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. That’s a strong warning aimed how we deal with false teachers. False teachers and prophets are insidious and we’re warned over and over in Scripture how their teaching spreads easily and corrupts. John doesn’t say to go ahead and listen, then filter out the bad and keep the good. He says not to associate with them—not even casually—because their danger is so great. We could sit here for another couple of hours looking at more passages that deal with these issues, but these are the main ones and as we take them all together, I think you can see that God really does care about both our understanding of his truth and how we live it out. He especially cares about how we live together as Christians. All kinds of situations mentioned in these passages are, according to Scripture, legitimate areas for our concern—areas in which we as a church should exercise discipline. But one last thing: Did you notice how serious the consequences were that these Scripture passages laid out? “removed from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:2); “deliver this man to Satan” (1 Corinthians 5:5); “…not to associate with… not even to eat with such a one” (1 Corinthians 5:9, 11); “keep away from” (2 Thessalonians 3:6); “take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed” (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15); “handed over to Satan” (1 Timothy 1:20); “rebuke them in the presence of all” (1 Timothy 5:20); “Have nothing to do with them” (2 Timothy 3:5); “have nothing more to do with him” (Titus 3:5); “do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting” (2 John 11). We might be tempted to ask: Are Paul and John—not to mention Peter, who has some similar things to say— are these guys unusually harsh and mean-spirited? But consider what Jesus himself said about the person who refused to listen even to the church: “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17). In other words, stop treating him as a brother, put him out of the Church, and evangelise him, because by his unrepentant behaviour, he’s effectively giving witness that he’s not the Christian he claims to be. Friends, holiness is important. It’s becoming increasingly popular in the wider Church today to talk about grace without holiness. In the last few months I’ve even come across some groups that are active locally, preaching that because we’re saved by grace, we can do whatever we want—that holiness is not only unimportant, but that it’s actually a unneeded and unhealthy burden to place on people. And yet that kind of teaching ignores everything the Bible has to say about God’s call to us to be holy. Our holiness and our love for each other are at the centre of who we are as a church and it’s as we show the world our holiness and our love that we witness Christ to them. And if our corporate witness is that important, it means we must be accountable to each other. If we desire to give God glory by how we live and if we desire to have an effective witness to our community, we need to start by being lovingly accountable to one another, because, brothers and sisters, a church without discipline is only a few short steps from being a church without Christ. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we thank you for the love, mercy, and grace by which you have made us your people, but let us not forget that your desire is to make us into a holy people who will reflect your own holiness to the world. Help us to see the importance of being faithful to your Word when it comes to accountability, and as we lovingly hold each other accountable, let us ever more and more be the salt and light that the world around us so desperately needs. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen. This series of sermons is adapted from Mark Dever's book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2004.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Marks of a Healthy Church Marks of a Healthy Church Mark Seven: Biblical Church Discipline (Part Two) by William Klock Last Sunday we started our look at biblical accountability or church discipline by looking at what Scripture tells us. If you weren’t here last week, I encourage you to read or listen to that sermon. It’s on the website or I can get you copy. Today I want to continue by looking at the practical applications of what Scripture tells us. You’ll remember from last week that the purpose of church discipline is to preserve the Church from the corrupting influence of sin and false doctrine, because if either or both of these are left unchecked they fester and grow and will eventually destroy a church from within. That was why the founders of Living Word left the Anglican Church—without discipline it had lost Christ altogether and no longer had any real witness to offer the world. What’s remarkable is that something like church discipline that is so clearly commanded in Scripture and that is so obviously needed has come to be almost completely ignored. I expect that for some of you, this is probably the first time you’ve ever heard it preached on—which itself points to the dire need in the wider church for expository preaching that systematically teaches the whole Word of God. And that points to what happened: the Church has not been as faithful to the Word as it once was and as it should still be. Discipline dropped out of practice for a variety of reasons. If we look at the history of the Church over the last century-and-a-half, the drop in discipline corresponds directly to the church’s growing interest in reforming society. St. Paul warned the Corinthians about this. The more the church focuses on the sin in the world, the less she worries about the sin in her own body. He told them in 1 Corinthians that the church needs to remember that the world is dead in sin and that the world’s only hope is the Church and the purity of her witness. But other factors contributed too: Churches started putting their bottom line above accountability. We began to fear that discipline might lead to a loss of income for the church. And as modern culture strayed further and further from the life Scripture tells us to live, the instances where discipline was needed grew and more and more people refused to submit. And like dominos the churches started falling. If one church stops exercising discipline, then those who refuse to submit to the discipline in their own church simply transfer their membership to the church that doesn’t hold them accountable and as churches compete to hold onto their members, pretty soon everybody stops holding their members accountable. And it’s not just a matter of the whole church and her leaders holding members accountable for “big” sins or for major doctrinal errors. It’s led to a church culture in which the system breaks down at every level. Remember, we’re supposed to take care of business between ourselves and our brothers and sisters, first one-on-one. It’s only when we’ve exhausted every effort to restore our brother or sister ourselves that the issue goes to the church—only in the extreme cases. But today it’s common that petty offenses and personal differences result not in brothers and sisters going to each other to resolve their differences lovingly and in the way Christ commanded. Instead we simply ignore the offender, or worse, we gossip about the offense to others and creating divisions within the body of Christ. What does it communicate to the world when you and your brother or sister in Christ are at odds with each other? When instead of lovingly reconciling with the person who used to sit right next to you, you’ve parted ways and now sit on opposite sides of the church—or worse, one of you has moved on to another church to avoid the problem entirely. What does it communicate to the world about the love of Christ when Christian husbands and wives can’t resolve their differences and have a divorce rate in the church that is the same, or according to some statistics, slightly higher than the rest of our society? The Church used to judge how well she was doing based on the spiritual growth and discipleship of her members and how they were coming to conform to God’s standard of holiness. Once we toss discipline out the window we start losing ground in those areas. It’s no wonder that in the last century we’ve started judging how the Church is doing by numbers. If the church is big, it must be doing everything right and everybody starts copying what the big churches are doing because it’s all about numbers. But imagine this: The church is huge. It’s still growing. People like it. The music is great. The people are welcoming. There are lots of programmes to meet every need. People gladly sign on to give their support. And yet, the church, in trying to look like the world in order to win the world, has done a better job than it ever intended, and now we have a church that fails to display to the world the holy characteristics that the New Testament says it should be showing. Imagine a vigourous church being truly spiritually sick, with no immune system left to guard against wrong teaching or wrong living. Imagine Christians up to their eyeballs in recovery groups and sermons on brokenness and grace, being comforted in their sin but never confronted. Imagine those people, made in the image of God, being lost to sin because no one corrects them. Can you imagine a church like that? Frankly, it shouldn’t be hard, because I’ve just described much of the Church in the West. It was interesting that a couple of years ago, Bill Hybel’s Willow Creek ministry published a book after doing a thorough study of where their understanding of ministry has gotten them after thirty years. Willow Creek was sort of the first mega-church and Hybel’s has been one of the big proponents of what’s called the Church Growth Movement and of being “seeker sensitive”. In their book they noted with sadness that after thirty years, their approach to church and to evangelism hadn’t really made many real disciples. Some baby Christians maybe—who’ve never grown. But in fact they realised that many of the people they had attracted were converts to the programmes offered by the church, instead of being converts to Jesus Christ. And yet this failed approach at “doing church” dominates mainstream evangelicalism today. And now that we’ve changed the standard, it seems like an impossible task to return to the biblical standard. We’ve instilled in our people a self-centred religion that cares only for what “I can get out of it” and that cares little for the church as a whole. As a result, if we do try to return to the biblical standard, more often than not people will simply run to the church down the street that isn’t faithful to Scripture in this area. Without accountability, the church will never be healthy, even if we’re talking raw numbers. Just ask what those numbers mean and you start seeing the trouble. Alan Redpath has said about the membership of the average North American church that 5% don’t exist, 10% can’t be found, 25% don’t attend, 50% show up on Sunday, 75% don’t attend prayer meetings, 90% have no family worship, and 95% have never shared the Gospel with others. It’s critical that the church return to God’s standard when it comes to discipline. Now there are some reasons not to practice church discipline. We should never practice it to be vindictive. St. Paul reminded the Romans, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” (Romans 12:19). Corrective discipline is never to be done in a mean spirit, but only out of love for the offending brother or sister and the members of the church, and ultimately out of love for God himself. This may be one reason why discipline fell out of use. About a hundred years ago there was a disturbing trend amongst many evangelicals to exercise discipline vindictively and often simply over differences of opinion on minor issues with the pastor. Discipline should never take place out of the mistaken notion that we have the final word from God on a person’s eternal fate. Corrective church discipline is never meant to be the final statement about a person’s salvation. We don’t know that. That kind of pronouncement is not our duty. It’s beyond are ability to determine. We are to practice church discipline because, with humility and love, we want to see good come. We looked earlier at Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1: “Judge not lest ye be judged.” He went on to say, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2). When we talk about church discipline today, this verse comes to mind for a lot of people. But Jesus isn’t forbidding being righty critical. What he’s forbidding is doing that which isn’t in our authority to do. Personal revenge is wrong, but final justice is right. It’s wrong to ask people to measure up to your whims and wishes, but it’s completely right for God to require his creatures to reflect his holy character. We don’t in ourselves have the right or ability to condemn finally, but one day God will ask his followers to pronounce his judgements on his creation. What has happened in much of the Church is that we’ve used Matthew 7:1 as a shield for sin and we’ve prevented the kind of congregational life that we see in the churches of the New Testament and down through history right up to a hundred years ago. Discipline isn’t about a holier-then-thou judgemental attitude. That kind of attitude is evidence of a heart that’s ignorant of its debt to God’s grace and mercy. But likewise, people who aren’t concerned with sin in their own lives or in the lives of those they love are not showing the kind of holy love that Jesus had and that he said would mark his disciples. We don’t exclude someone from fellowship because we know their final state will be eternal separation from God. No, we exclude someone out of a concern that they are living in a way that displeases God. We do not discipline because we want to get back at someone. We discipline in humility and out of love for God and for the person disciplined. I know it goes against our grain today, but we should want to see discipline practiced this way. Let me give you five reasons why: First, we discipline for the good of the person disciplined. The man in Corinth who was sleeping with his step-mother was lost in his sin, thinking that God approved of his affair. The people in the churches of Galatia thought it was fine that they were trusting in their own works instead of in Christ alone. Alexander and Hymenaus thought it was all right for them to blaspheme God. But none of these people were in good standing with God. Out of love for people like this, we should want to see church discipline practiced. We don’t want our church to encourage hypocrites who are hardened, confirmed, and lulled in their sins. We don’t want to live that kind of life individually, or as a church. Second, we need to practice discipline for the good of other Christians, as they see the danger of sin. St. Paul told St. Timothy that if a leader sins he should be rebuked publicly. That doesn’t mean that anytime I, as the pastor, do anything wrong, you guys should stand up in the service and say, “Hey, Bill, that was wrong.” It means that when there’s a serious sin—especially one that isn’t repented of—it needs to be brought up in public so that others can take warning by seeing the serious nature of sin. Discipline is a teaching a tool for the rest of the body. When I was growing up, I was very observant every time my older brother got into trouble; I learned from the discipline that was dished out to him. Church discipline works much the same way—it serves as a warning to the whole church. Third, we need to practice church discipline for the health of the church as a whole. St. Paul pleaded with the Corinthians that they shouldn’t have boasted about having such toleration for sin in the church. He asked rhetorically, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” Yeast represents the unclean and spreading nature of sin. So Paul says: Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:7-8) Remember that for the Passover meal the lamb was slaughtered and unleavened bread was eaten. Paul tells the Corinthians that the lamb (Christ) had been slaughtered, and that they (the Corinthian church) were to be the unleavened bread. They were to have no leaven of sin in them. They, as a whole church, were to be an acceptable sacrifice. Now that doesn’t mean that discipline is to be the focal point of the church. Discipline is no more the focal point of the church than medicine is the focal point of life. There may be some times when you are because of necessity consumed with discipline, but most of the time it shouldn’t be more than something that allows you to get on with your main task. It’s not the task itself. Fourth, discipline is important for the corporate witness of the church. Brothers and sisters, our being disciplined is a powerful tool in evangelism. I was reading Greg Wills’ history of the Southern Baptists and he points out that in the 19th Century the average Baptist church excommunicated 2% of her membership every year. Today we’d say, “You can’t do that! Nobody would want to come!” And yet during that same time the evangelistic efforts of those churches made them the fastest growing denomination in the US, growing at twice the population growth. Friends, people notice when our lives are different and especially so when there’s a whole community of people whose lives are different—not people whose lives are perfect, but whose lives are marked by genuinely trying to love God and to love each other. When churches are seen as conforming to the world, it undermines all our evangelistic efforts. We become so like the unbelievers that they have no questions they want to ask us. Instead, we need to be living in such a way that it makes those around us constructively curious! But finally, the most important reason to practice church discipline is for the glory of God, as we reflect his holiness. Friends, that’s why we’re alive! God made humanity to bear his image and to carry his character to his creation. It’s no surprise that throughout the Old Testament, as God created a people to bear his image, he taught them what it meant to be holy so that their character would better reflect his own. That was the basis for correction and even exclusion in the Old Testament, as God created a people for himself; and it was the basis for shaping the New Testament church too. Christians are supposed to be conspicuously holy, not for our own reputation but for God’s. Jesus tells us to be the light of the world, so that when people see our good works they’ll clap us on the back and say, “Good job”? No! So that they’ll see our good works and give glory to God. St. Peter says the same thing: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). This is why God has called us and saved us and set us apart (Colossians 1:21-22). What else should we look like, if we bear Christ’s name? St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) Right from the beginning, Jesus taught his disciples to teach people to obey all that they had been taught (Matthew 28:19-20). God wants a holy people to reflect his character. The picture of the church at the end of the book of Revelation is of a glorious bride who reflects the character of Christ himself, while, “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:15). With 1 Corinthians 5 as a model, the Church has always known that church discipline is one of the boundaries that makes church membership mean something. The assumption is that church members are people who can come to the Lord’s Table without bringing disgrace on the church, condemnation on themselves, or dishonour to God and his Gospel. Consider the New Testament passages that tell us the requirements for leaders in the Church. We see in those passages that we as Christians bear much more actively the responsibility to have a good name than do people in the world. In our secular courts we require a significant burden of proof in order to charge someone guilty. We presume innocence until we have the hard evidence of guilt. But in the Church, our responsibility is slightly but importantly different. Our lives are the store-front display of God’s character in his world. We can’t finally determine what others think of us, and we know that we are to expect such strong disapproval that we may even be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. But so far as it lies within us, we are to live lives that commend the Gospel to others. We actively bear a responsibility to live lives that will bring praise and glory to God, not dishonour and shame. Now our biblical theology may explain church discipline. Our teaching and preaching may instruct about it. Our church leaders may encourage it. But, brothers and sisters, it’s only the church that may and must finally enforce discipline. Biblical church discipline is nothing more than obedience to God and a simple confession that we need help. We cannot live the Christian life alone. Our purpose in exercising church discipline is positive: for the person disciplined, for other Christians as they see the real danger of sin, for the health of the church as a whole, and for the corporate witness of the church to the world. Most of all, our holiness is to reflect the holiness of God. It should mean something to be a member of the church, not for our pride’s sake but for God’s name’s sake. Biblical church discipline is a mark of a healthy church. But what if we don’t practice church discipline? What does it mean to be a church if our church refuses to obey Scripture on this? Because, you see, this is really a question about the nature of the Church. Professor Wills, who wrote that history of the Southern Baptists, very rightly points out that for Christians living during most of the history of the Church, “A church without discipline would hardly have counted as a church.” Consider what I mentioned in my first sermon in this series: that virtually every definition of a true church that we find in the formularies of the Protestant Reformation included not only the faithful preaching of Scripture and the Gospel, the faithful administration of the Sacrament, but also the faithful administration of church discipline. One denomination’s Book of Church Order puts it very frankly: “When discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it.” Those who formed Living Word Church understood this principle well. They left a denomination that had long ago ceased to discipline even the most serious of sins or the most heretical of doctrines—and the end result was that Christ had left. Maybe not so much because Jesus had chosen to leave, but because what had once been a great church turned its back on Jesus. Friends, we need to live lives that backup our profession of faith. We need to love each other. We need to hold each other accountable because all of us will have times when our flesh wants to go in a way that’s different from the way God has revealed in Scripture. And part of the way we love each other is by being honest and establishing relationships with each other and speaking in love to each other. We need to love each other and we need to love those outside our church—the people in the world who are impacted by our witness—and we need to love God, who is holy, and who calls us not to bear his name in vain, but to be holy as he is holy. That’s an amazing privilege, but it’s also a great responsibility. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we thank you for the love, mercy, and grace by which you have made us your people, but let us not forget that your desire is to make us into a holy people who will reflect your own holiness to the world. Let us love each other enough that we will be willing to stand up to the challenge of being accountable to each other, and as we hold each other accountable, grow our love for each other, make us increasingly holy, and root us in sound doctrine that our witness to the world might be ever more pure and beautiful, and attractive to a world lost in sin. We ask this in the name of Christ our Lord. Amen. This series of sermons is adapted from Mark Dever's book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2004.