Are deeds “necessary” for raising the dead and freeing the enslaved? From the standpoint of the Spirit’s work, no. From the standpoint of Christianity’s public credibility, generally yes. The Spirit’s work will produce evidence in our deeds. And every good deed becomes one more witness who testifies on behalf of the gospel’s truth and power.
If a church truly loves God and the fame of His name, it is jealous for more and more people to know and praise Him. Every conversion means one more mouth is praising God, and every church planted is a chorus of mouths. Our love for the world is born out of our love for God. The greater our love for God, the greater our desire for others to display God’s glory by enjoying Him.
Here’s the [Gospel] message in four parts:
1. God, who is perfectly holy, just, and good, created us to display His glorious character and rule.
2. We rebelled, choosing to display our own glory and follow our own rule, earning God’s just wrath against such sin.
3. God sent His Son to reestablish God’s rule by living the perfect God-imaging life, dying on the cross to pay the penalty for God’s wrath against sin, and rising in victory over sin and death.
4. We are now called to repent of our sinful self-rule, confess Jesus as Lord, put our trust wholly in His finished work on the cross, and live the obedient and free life He means for us to live.
One thing is definitive for an expositional sermon: It lays out the meaning and purpose of a biblical text clearly. It says, “Here is the point of this text, and it’s relevant to you, no matter who you are, where you are from, or what’s happening in your life right now.” The preacher concentrates all his powers on reproducing the burden of the Bible in the hearts and minds of the people, and he avoids letting anything in his person get in the way of that goal. He’d rather risk boring or offending his congregation than depriving them of the opportunity to hear what God says… He knows that he gives his hearers a chance at true life only insofar as he succeeds in faithfully reproducing what God has already said.
Presenting expository sermons book by book:
1. Allows God and God’s wisdom to set the agenda, not the preacher’s wisdom.
2. Prevents preachers from indulging their hobbyhorses.
3. Allows the preacher to learn along with the congregation, rather than limiting the congregation to what the preacher already knows.
4. Requires a preacher and a congregation to learn about God as God has revealed Himself, not as they want Him to be revealed.
5. Requires a preacher to preach the easy bits and the difficult bits of the Bible.
We should chose clothing that does not draw attention to ourselves and shows respect for others. We should not choose clothes in order to impress.
I don’t know of any reason, from a biblical perspective, to distinguish counseling from discipleship. They are the same thing: helping other brothers and sisters in the church to follow Christ by embracing the Word of His gospel.
A Christian’s new DNA, which he’s received from the Word and Spirit, knows that it now belongs to something larger. And he’s not content to wait for that heavenly and end-time assembly. His new being longs to be gathered to other believers now – on earth. Like his new appetite to “put on” Christ’s righteousness, so there’s a new appetite to put on Christ’s unity with God’s people in a real assembly on earth.
You can measure a person’s opinion of God by his or her opinion of God’s Word. That’s why a person who loves God loves His Word, and the person who hates God rejects what God has spoken. God’s Word is an extension of Himself – His identity, purposes, affections, and power.
Hospitality pictures aspects of God’s generous love in the Gospel.
Removing a person from church membership is what a church must do when the reverberating of God’s Word appears to have grown utterly silent in someone’s heart. Given a choice between obedience to God’s Word and a particular sin, the individual chooses the sin. And he shows no sign of wanting to do otherwise. It’s not any sin, of course. It’s an unrepentant sin. It’s a serious sin. And it’s a sin that can be seen with the eyes or heard with the ears. The Lord has not given us the ability to judge the heart, so a church should not discipline for suspected sins of the heart, like pride or greed. We can only assess by external fruit (Matt. 3:8; 7:17-20). But based on that external fruit, discipline must happen when a person’s profession of faith in God’s gospel Word no longer appears credible.
Strangely, church leaders get caught up in all kinds of power for building their churches… But does any power in the universe match God’s power to breathe out worlds or dismiss death simply with words? “Let there be light!” and “Lazarus, come forth!”? No there is nothing like it. Yet this same power is available to the preacher through God’s Word.
Churches should practice discipline for love’s sake: love for the sinner, love for weaker sheep who can be led astray, love for non-Christian neighbors who need to see a holy Christian witness, and love for Christ and His reputation.
Yet I dare say that, for Americans, greed is to sin what North Dakota is to U.S. states – it’s easy to forget that it exists. We confess lust, anger, maybe pride, maybe self-righteousness. But greed? It’s whitewashed. It’s camouflaged. We use words like “lifestyle” or “ambition” or “the American dream.”
Greed is idolatry. Greed is worshiping, trusting, loving, and obeying worldly treasures rather than God. Greed is breaking the first two commandments. Greed is placing your faith in money rather than in Jesus (Matt. 6:24).
How do we flee greed? We flee, for starters, by recognizing that the idolatry of greed is rooted in a diminished view of God. That’s why we love and worship the idols of gold instead… We flee greed by looking to the liberally giving God of the Gospel. We have received all we need in Christ! To the extent then that we find our joy and rest in this God of the Gospel we are able to give liberally with love (see 1 Cor. 13:3). Just as greed defines pagans, increasing measures of liberality defines Christians (see Matt. 25:31-46).
When Christians preach, every command, every exhortation, every “how to” must be grounded in the gospel…any and all challenges must be placed within the context of announcing what God has done or promises to do. It’s the very opposite of self-help teaching.
The speaker’s authority does not derive from himself; it derives from the Word. It’s tied to his faithful presentation of it.
Christians possess a special power and corporate identity when formally assembled. Paul writes of when the Corinthians church is “assembled…and the power of our Lord Jesus is present” (1 Cor. 5:4). Later in the letter he refers to when they “come together as a church” (1 Cor. 11:18), as if they are somehow more “a church” when together than apart.
The American brand of cultural Christianity results from well-intending adults handing out the candy of cheap grace to five-year-olds and twenty-five-year-olds alike. You ask them if they want to be with mommy and daddy in heaven or pressure them into walking an aisle. The point is, you play on their fears, emotions, or appetites to get quick, unconsidered professions of faith. Then you immediately affirm those professions.
Must Membership Look the Same Everywhere? by Jonathan Leeman taken from Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman, copyright (2012), Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org, p. 122.
Look for the ones who are poor in spirit; who mourn their sin; who aren’t entitled, always insisting on their own way, but are meek; who are sick to death of sin and all its nonsense and so hunger and thirst for righteousness like it is water. When you find people like that, make sure they know who Jesus is. Make sure Jesus is the one who fills their impoverished spirit, who has forgiven their sins, who receives their life and worship, and whose righteousness they depend upon and pursue. When you find such people, tell them to join!
What are the Standards for Membership? by Jonathan Leeman taken from Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman, copyright (2012), Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org, p. 88.
It’s not a person’s moral perfection that qualifies him or her for church membership. It’s just the opposite. It’s his or her recognition of a lack of moral perfection coupled with a hunger for it. It’s not the people who never sin; it’s the people who fight against sin. A church’s judicial work is to affirm not the righteous but the unrighteous who thirst for righteousness – the righteousness only God in Christ can give.
Baptism does not save a person, but Jesus means for His saved individuals to publicly identify with Him and His people. It’s one piece of how His citizens become official. It’s how they wave the flag.
If you want to identify yourself with Christ’s people and expect them to identify with you, you need to first identify yourself with Christ, which is the purpose of baptism.
Church discipline has at least five purposes. First, discipline aims to expose. Sin, like cancer, loves to hide. Discipline exposes the cancer so that it might be cut out quickly (see 1 Cor. 5:2). Second, discipline aims to warn. A church does not enact God’s judgment through discipline. Rather, it stages a small play that pictures the great judgment to come (1 Cor. 5:5). Third, it aims to save. Churches pursue discipline when they see a member taking the path toward death, and none of their pleading and arm waving causes the person to turn around. It’s the device of last resort (1 Cor. 5:5). Fourth, discipline aims to protect. Just as cancer spreads from one cell to another, so sin quickly spreads from one person to another (1 Cor. 5:6). Fifth, it aims to present a good witness for Jesus. Church discipline, strange to say, is actually good for non-Christians, because it helps to preserve the attractive distinctiveness of God’s people (see 1 Cor. 5:1).
Formal church discipline from the entire congregation is reserved for sins of such significance that the church no longer feels able to affirm a person’s profession of faith. The person continues to call himself or herself a Christian and a Jesus representative, but his or her words are no longer believable because of the nature of the sin… I believe we can say that formal church discipline is required in cases of outward, serious, and unrepentant sin.
The underlying purpose in every act of discipline, of course, must be love: love for the individual, love for the church, love for the watching world, love for Christ. God, after all, “disciplines the one He loves”; and “He chastens everyone He accepts as His son” (Heb. 12:6). By abstaining from discipline, we claim that we love better than God.
It’s true that a Christian must choose to join a church, but that does not make it a voluntary organization. We are, in fact, obligated to choose a local church just as we are obligated to choose Christ. Having chosen Christ, a Christian has no choice but to choose a church to join.
1. Members should formally affirm their pastors. 2. Members should honor their pastors. 3. Members should submit to their pastors. 4. Members should pray for their pastors. 5. Members should bring charges against disqualified pastors. 6. Members should fire gospel-denying pastors.
How Does a Christian Submit to a Church by Jonathan Leeman taken from Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman, copyright (2012), Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org, Summarized, p. 104-106.
1. It’s biblical. Jesus established the local church and all the apostles did their ministry through it. The Christian life in the New Testament is church life. Christians today should expect and desire the same. 2. The church is its members. To be “a church” in the New Testament is to be one of its members (read through Acts). And you want to be part of the church because that’s who Jesus came to rescue and reconcile to himself. 3. It’s a pre-requisite for the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is a meal for the gathered church, that is, for members (see 1 Cor. 11:20, 33). And you want to take the Lord’s Supper. It’s the team “jersey” which makes the church team visible to the nations. 4. It’s how to officially represent Jesus. Membership is the church’s affirmation that you are a citizen of Christ’s kingdom and therefore a card-carrying Jesus Representative before the nations. And you want to be an official Jesus Representative. Closely related to this. 5. It’s how to declare one’s highest allegiance. Your membership on the team, which becomes visible when you wear the “jersey,” is a public testimony that your highest allegiance belongs to Jesus. Trials and persecution may come, but your only words are, “I am with Jesus.” 6. It’s how to embody and experience biblical images. It’s within the accountability structures of the local church that Christians live out or embody what it means to be the “body of Christ,” the “temple of the Spirit,” the “family of God,” and so on for all the biblical metaphors (see 1 Cor. 12). And you want to experience the interconnectivity of his body, the spiritual fullness of his temple, and the safety and intimacy and shared identity of his family. 7. It’s how to serve other Christians. Membership helps you to know which Christians on planet Earth you are specifically responsible to love, serve, warn, and encourage. It enables you to fulfill your biblical responsibilities to Christ’s body (for example, see Eph. 4:11-16; 25-32). 8. It’s how to follow Christian leaders. Membership helps you to know which Christian leaders on planet Earth you are called to obey and follow. Again, it allows you to fulfill your biblical responsibility to them (see Heb. 13:7; 17). 9. It helps Christian leaders lead. Membership lets Christian leaders know which Christians on Planet Earth they will “give an account” for (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). 10. It enables church discipline. It gives you the biblically prescribed place to participate in the work of church discipline responsibly, wisely, and lovingly (1 Cor. 5). 11. It gives structure to the Christian life. It places an individual Christian’s claim to “obey” and “follow” Jesus into a real-life setting where authority is actually exercised over us (see John 14:15; 1 John 2:19; 4:20-21). 12. It builds a witness and invites the nations. Membership puts the alternative rule of Christ on display for the watching universe (see Matt. 5:13; John 13:34-35; Eph. 3:10; 1 Peter 2:9-12). The very boundaries which are drawn around the membership of a church yields a society of people which invites the nations to something better.
We’re strangers and aliens. Christians must look forward to their homeland… But hold on. There is a place on earth where citizens of heaven can, at this moment, find official recognition and asylum: the local church. Churches represent Christ’s rule now. They affirm and protect his citizens now. They proclaim his laws now. They bow before him as King now and call all peoples to do the same.
What is a church membership?… It’s a declaration of citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. It’s a passport. It’s an announcement made in the pressroom of Christ’s kingdom. It’s the declaration that a professing individual is an official, licensed, card-carrying, bona fide Jesus representative.
Church membership is a formal relationship between a local church and a Christian characterized by the church’s affirmation and oversight of a Christian’s discipleship and the Christian’s submission to living out his or her discipleship in the care of the church.
What is the local church? It’s the institution which Jesus created and authorized to pronounce the gospel of the kingdom, to affirm gospel professors, to oversee their discipleship, and to expose impostors.
A local church is a group of Christians who regularly gather in Christ’s name to officially affirm and oversee one another’s membership in Jesus Christ and his kingdom through gospel preaching and gospel ordinances.
Once you choose Christ, you must choose His people, too. It’s a package deal. Choose the Father and the Son and you have to choose the whole family – which you do through a local church.
How do you recognize abusive leadership? Abusive churches and Christian leaders characteristically: Make dogmatic prescriptions in places where Scripture is silent. Rely on intelligence, humor, charm, guilt, emotions, or threats rather than on God’s Word and prayer (see Acts 6:4). Play favorites. Punish those who disagree. Employ extreme forms of communication (tempers, silent treatment). Recommend courses of action which always, somehow, improves the leader’s own situation, even at the expense of others. Seldom do good deeds in secret. Seldom encourage. Seldom give the benefit of the doubt. Emphasize outward conformity, rather than repentance of heart. Preach, counsel, disciple, and oversee the church with lips that fail to ground everything in what Christ has done in the gospel and to give glory to God.
What Happens When Members Don’t Represent Jesus? by Jonathan Leeman taken from Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman, copyright (2012), Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org. p. 118-119.
[In the Bible] to be a Christian is to belong to a church. No one gets saved and then wanders around by him or herself, thinking about whether to join a church. People repent and then are baptized into the fellowship of a church. Looking to Christ as Lord means being united to Christ’s people.
The local church enables the world to look upon the canvas of God’s people and see an authentic painting of Christ’s love and holiness, not a forgery.
[Wrongly regarding church involvement]: Christians can think it’s fine to attend a church indefinitely without joining; Christians think of getting baptized apart from joining; Christians take the Lord’s Supper without joining; Christians view the Lord’s Supper as their own private, mystical experience for Christians and not as an activity for church members who are incorporated into body life together; Christians don’t integrate their Monday-to-Saturday lives with the lives of other saints; Christians assume they can make a perpetual habit of being absent from the church’s gathering a few Sundays a month or more; Christians make major life decisions (moving, accepting a promotion, choosing a spouse, etc.) without considering the effects of those decisions on the family of relationships in the church or without consulting the wisdom of the church’s pastors and other members; Christians buy homes or rent apartments with scant regard for how factors such as distance and cost will affect their abilities to serve their church; Christians don’t realize that they are partly responsible for both the spiritual welfare and the physical livelihood of the other members of their church, even members they have not met. When one mourns, one mourns by himself. When one rejoices, one rejoices by herself.
It’s essential, moreover, to get the doctrine of God right before moving on. Either God will be the center of one’s doctrinal solar system or something else will. What we believe about God determines what we believe about everything.