An Embassy of the Kingdom

This week I read two books on the exciting topic of Church Membership. Yesterday I told you about book number one and now I will tell you about book number two:

Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus by Jonathan Leeman

churchmembership

 

Like Rainer’s book, this one is also small (postcard size, 139 pages), which again is helpful to me. It is part of the new 9Marks books on building healthy churches, all which fit into this unburdening size. But don’t let it fool you, Leeman’s brevity does not keep him from painting a complete and winsome picture of church membership. To compare, in my opinion Rainer’s book aimed to take the ordinary church attenders/members and shift their attitude toward the church resulting in growth for them and their church. However, it is conceivable that an attending person could engage with Rainer’s book, commit to his 6 pledges and still not retain an official status as a “member.” Leeman’s book, on the other hand, helps the pastor, elder, layperson see the importance of the entire structure, founded in the biblical text and with specific Gospel oriented purpose for our world whereas you will immediately run to your pastor and ask “What must I do to become a member?!” Where Rainer’s book wants you to become a better member, Leeman’s helps you see the glorious purpose of the church, God’s design in its uniqueness, and practical ways for membership to facilitate a greater representation of Jesus to the world (even in our flawed churches).

I think that the primary gift that this book brings its readers is to make a big deal about church membership. In Leeman’s introduction he makes some grand statements regarding church membership and his purpose for writing this book:

My primary purpose is to show you what church membership is, because it’s not what you think it is. I’m not going to defend it, not directly anyhow. I’m going to present a vision for it. And here’s my prediction: if you grab hold of how the Bible views church membership, it just might change the shape of your Christianity. (p 18)

Pretty bold, isn’t he. But can I tell you, having finished the book… he did. At least for me. At least my vision of Christianity was altered, and I hope as I continue to work through these ideas that it will change its shape too.

What kind of changes are we talking about? It begins with viewing the church as the primary human authority on earth to affirm and give shape to your Christian life.

Just as the Bible establishes the government of your nation as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your citizenship in that nation, so the Bible establishes the local church as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your discipleship to Christ and your citizenship in Christ’s present and promised nation. (p 25)

Well, that sounds pretty different from something that I go to once in a while, duck in, get “fed,” talk to a few people about sports or the weather, eat a donut and duck back out. It honestly sounds a little scary because it might change how we live our lives. Jesus gave authority to the church, but does that mean we have too? We are so used to thinking about the church in terms of optional engagement that performs a service for us (like a country club, or gym membership). But Leeman, while address the many other metaphors describing the church, wants to help us begin by thinking through the church as an embassy of Christ’s future kingdom.

What’s an embassy? It’s an institution that represents one nation inside another nation. It declares its home nation’s interests to the host nation, and it protects the citizens of the home nation living in the host nation. (p 27)

If you lose your passport while on foreign soil, an embassy doesn’t make you a citizen, but it will affirm what you don’t have the authority to declare yourself – citizen of the United States. Similarly the local church functions to recognize people publicly as Christians. Leeman again:

Jesus didn’t leave us to govern ourselves and to declare ourselves his citizens. He left an institution in place that both affirms us as believers and then helps to give shape and direction to our Christian lives. (pp 29-30)

If we say “I’m with Jesus,” its through the local church that we get to show it to be true, which then gives the world somewhere to look to see what Jesus’ people are like.

Let me finish this review/recommendation with Jonathan Leeman’s “Twelve Reasons Membership Matters.” I hope you’ll check this out, and if it intrigues or upsets you, then please, by all means get the book and read the rest for yourself. The church is worth it.

“Twelve Reasons Membership Matters” by Jonathan Leeman

  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 prerequisite 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 flag that makes the church team visible to the nations.
  4. It’s how you officially represent Jesus. Membership is the church’s affirmation that you are a citizen of Christ’s kingdom and therefore a passport-carrying Jesus representative before the nations. And you want your representation to be authorized. Closely related to this…
  5. It’s how you declare your highest allegiance. Your membership on the team, which becomes visible when you wave the flag of the Lord’s Supper is a public testimony that your highest allegiance belongs to Jesus. Trials and persecution may come, but your only words are, “I am a Christian.”
  6. It’s how you embody and experience biblical images. It’s within the accountability structures of the local church that Christians live and 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 you 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 you follow Christian leaders. Membership helps you 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 Pet. 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 your 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). ItIt’s God’s discipling program.
  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 Pet 2:9-12). The very boundaries, which are drawn around the membership of a church, yield a society of people that invites the nations to something better. It’s God’s evangelism program.  (pp 79-81).

But I thought it was just a gathering of God’s people? Yes, it is, and much much more. And it is for our good, and God’s glory.

Not a Country Club

I love the church. I know you’re thinking, “Really, Derick? You, as a pastor, love the church, so surprising.” Surprising I know, but true. The more I study the Bible the more I become amazed at all the church is to do and be. God has set up the church to be a wondrous and God-glorifying gathering of those who love Him. But I also work at a church, and I’m part of a church, and I have friends and families at other churches, and I read the news about churches and with all this I know that we aren’t all doing such a bang-up job all the time. There are a lot of reasons for this, and the purpose of this post is not to get into all of those reasons, but I do think that one reason we are able to find amazement in the words of Jesus and Paul about the church and yet find disappointment in our own experiences is simply because of our own mis-understanding of the church and how we belong.

We don’t tend to have a good idea WHY we are part of the church. Do you? What does that even mean to be a member or to belong?

I read two small books this week on the idea of church membership, and so in this post and the next I’d like to share them with you:

I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference by Thom S. Rainer.

churchmember

Now, this book is little. About the size of a postcard and only 79 pages long, and I love that. It’s hard for me to find time to sit down and read a book, but this one was incredibly inviting, so I had too. Inviting is exactly how’d I describe Thom’s style of writing. You are easily invited into a discussion that could easily be a top-shelf theological discussion, but he makes it plain without making it any less biblical.  Probably the most unique aspect of Thom’s book is that he places your attitude toward the church at the fore-front. He isn’t trying to get you to help your pastor organize the best church structure or get you to infiltrate the elder board so you can make some real changes. Instead he wants you to read these six chapters and make six pledges that will begin to change how you look at your church, are committed to your church, pray for your church, serve your church and through it all, as you change, he believes that your church will begin to change to.

Here’s an (inviting) excerpt:

Join me on this journey of discovering or rediscovering the privilige and joy of church membership. And before you get caught up in the meaning of church membership take time to read the next brief chapter. Let us then take six steps carefully and prayerfully. And at the end of each step, let us be willing to make a commitment, a real commitment to our church.

When this journey is over for you, two things will likely take place. First, you will likely have a new or renewed attitude about your church. You will learn the joy of being last instead of seeking to be first. Instead of being a whiner complaining about what’s wrong with your church, you will be a unifier seeking what’s best for your church.

Second, your church will begin to change. It will become healthier because one of its members is healthier. And as the church gets healthier, it will have a greater impact on its community and the world. (pp 6-7)

And another:

Their view of membership is more aligned with country club membership. For them, membership is about receiving instead of giving, being served instead of serving, rights instead of responsibilities, and entitlements instead of sacrifices. This wrongful view of membership sees the tithes and offerings as membership dues that entitle members to a never-ending list of privileges and expectations, instead of an unconditional cheerful gift to God. So, what does the Bible say about church membership? I’m glad you asked. (p 11)

It’s a perfect book for the ordinary church-goer who is ready to stop treating the church like a country club, soccer team or a volunteer organization and start embracing it for what God created it to be. It can begin with you, and with me: I am a church member.

 

Stay tuned for a brief look at “Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus” by Jonathan Leeman.

 

resources: Marriage, Submission & Headship

Like I said yesterday, I don’t have a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw from with topics like marriage (or parenting this week), but I do have the Bible and I have some great resources. In case you are one of the two people who listened to my sermon on-line or the one guy who downloaded the PDF (because he thought it was a link to something else) here are the resources that helped influence me and various stats, stories or tid-bits that I out-right stole. If you are interested in discovering out what some smarter people or just what other people think on these matters, please click a few of these links. You won’t be disappointed as there is great some great depth here.

Ephesians Commentaries:

The Letter to the Ephesians (Pillar New Testament Commentary) by Peter T. O’Brien [FAVORITE]

Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary by James Montgomery Boice [PASTORAL]

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon by Frank E. Gaebelein, A. Skevington Wood, Homer A. Kent and Curtis Vaughan

Mark Driscoll (Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA):

Sermon – Headship (Eph 5:22-33)

Article – Do You Need a New Marriage? (Washington Post)

Article – Why Men Need Marriage (W.P.)

Article – How’s Your Friendship with Your Spouse? (W.P.)

Blog Post – How to Honor Your Wife

John Piper (Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN)

Sermon – Husbands who Love Like Christ and the Wives who Submit to Them

Sermon – Lionhearted and Lamblike: The Christian Husband as HeadPart I / Part II

Sermon – Jesus Is Precious as the Foundation of the Family

Jen Smidt (Deacon at Mars Hill Church in Ballard, WA)

Blog Post – Submission Is Not a Dirty Word

Blog Post – On a Sub-Mission from God

(more posts from Jen)

Mary Kassian (Author of Girls Gone Wise)

Blog Post – 7 Misconceptions about Submission


Additional Resources:

Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism edited by John Piper & Wayne Grudem [I specifically used chapters 1, 8 & 10] – Free Download of PDF


Easy Steps to Digging Deeper into the Bible

An easy assumption to make when it comes to reading our Bibles is that if you want to go deeper into the text then you need to purchase a bunch of scholarly resources: commentaries, introductions, lexicons, study Bibles, etc. Now, while these are all great resources and will help expand your understanding of the text, too often we move to these far too soon, or we are simply intimidated into inaction because we don’t own these already.

The truth is that pastors and Bible study leaders are served well to do their own thinking through and analysis of the text prior to moving to other resources… it is also true that anyone wanting to go deeper or be more prepared for receiving a sermon or participate in a Bible study would also do well to tackle the text on their own.

So, how? Well, there are a lot of different methods and ways, but I wanted to share some simple steps that make up the beginning of my sermon preparation. (This isn’t necessarily the best possible methodology, but it has worked for me thus far, and it’s pretty simple).

  1. Prayer. Thank God for His Word and your ability to study it. Repent of sin which can cloud your thoughts and the work of God in your life. Ask the Spirit illuminate your time of study.
  2. Big Picture. Now, we have been in a continuing study of Ephesians and I have constantly tried to place each week in the context of the whole book and point out its individual relationship to the previous week’s text. If you have been part of a study like this then you may already feel good about seeing where it fits in the big picture of the book. If not, then this is a step that you can put a lot into (read the whole book, give a summary to each chapter) or a less (read the paragraph before your section and after to see if it modifies how you might read your section).
  3. Read it. Read the section over a couple of times and write down your first impressions of it (what stands out, what seems important, what do you want to know more about).
  4. Line by line. Go verse by verse down a sheet a paper writing out your own paraphrase of each. If some verses or statements have a specific relationships or connections to others, make some visual note (arrows, or indent) to show those relationships.
  5. Group. Group paragraphs together and by looking at your paraphrases of the individual verses, come up with a general title or paraphrase of each paragraph. Then give the whole section a title if you can.
  6. Interrogate. Grab a different color pen and start marking things that seem important (repeated words, emphasis), write out questions you have that you hope to find answers to and write down other verses in the Bible that these make you think of.

Now you should have a good idea of what you think this section of scripture means, what’s important and what things you’d like to find answers to either in further study (resources) or from the sermon or Bible study you’re attending.

Now, this doesn’t always mean that you have it all figured out… many times I’ve moved onto the next step of checking with how scholars understand certain things and I’ve found myself to be way off, but at least I knew that I wrestled with it. Other times I’ve been pleasantly surprised that I actually had some good thoughts that I shared with smarter people.

I hope you’ll take some effort to try even a few of these steps and work it into some of your regular time of study. If you’ve already figured out what works for you to get deeper into the text, great! Keep with it! But if not, try these; it will take a little longer than just opening your Bible, reading, and shutting it… but it is worth it to not only wrestle with the text, but to let the Word of God wrestle with you.

My notes from Eph 5:3-20 (teaching at Remix on Jan 8).

My notes from Eph 5:21-33

Let the Word of God wrestle with you!

resources: suffering for what?

This weekend as I was preparing my sermon for last night (Sunday, 10/30/11), the direction of my message took a very different turn than I had expected. Due to some conversations I had had this past week and just a general knowledge of a lot of pain going on in the lives of people in our church (and even my own small group), I began to look at Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (and other readers) as one that not only encouraged and brought confidence, but also one that points us to what God may be doing and desiring in our life even when we might be desiring something different (specifically how does our suffering correspond with an Almighty God who loves us, tells us to pray to Him and is able to do something about our situations). Tomorrow I will post the sermon audio (thanks to Randy Taylor) and a few corresponding thoughts from the night, but for now I wanted to point you in the direction of some better writers and thinkers regarding this idea of suffering in the Christian life. How do we respond to it? How do we continue on? How do we view God accordingly?

 

Kevin DeYoung – When You Feel Like Death (Part two) – Blog

(Taking a different approach to the same topic, I think you will find he ends in the same place)

One morning I will not wake up.  Or one evening I will not go back to sleep.  I’ll die.  You’ll die.  You will be at the moment as helpless as you were when you were born.  Will you and I learn before that point that it is folly to rely on ourselves?  Will we be able to say like the Psalmist, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes”?  We will also suffer.  We will all die.  We will all watch others die.  But, I pray, we will not grieve like those who have no hope.  We confess and we sing and gather to remember that Jesus rose from the dead.  A new body.  New life.  No more death.  As it was for Jesus, so it will be for us.  Encourage each other with these words.

We can have hope in the midst of affliction because our God raises the dead.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/10/27/when-you-feel-like-death-part-2/

 

D.A. Carson – How Could a Good God Allow Suffering – Video

(Long, but thorough and very intellectual)

Christians ought to learn how to die well and to live now.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2011/10/11/how-could-a-good-god-allow-suffering/

 

John Piper – Making Known the Manifold Wisdom of God Through Prison and Prayer – Video/Audio/Summary

(Piper is actually looking at the specific section of Scripture we just looked at: Ephesians 3:14-21)

When Paul was willing to go to prison for the sake of Christ, he showed the nations that Christ is more precious than freedom. When he was willing to suffer for Christ, he showed the nations that Christ is more precious than comfort and security and prosperity.

In other words, the infinite value of the unsearchable riches of Christ shine brightly not in Paul’s prosperity, but in his imprisonment. With his suffering, he draws the nations to the glory Christ and displays the wisdom of the cross.

http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/making-known-the-manifold-wisdom-of-god-through-prison-and-prayer

 

Mark Driscoll – How to Image God through Suffering – Excerpt

(Incredibly brief, but poignant)

Every moment is a sacred opportunity to be captured for his glory, our joy, and others’ good.

http://theresurgence.com/2010/04/28/how-we-can-image-god-through-suffering

 

 

John Piper & Various Authors – Suffering and the Sovereignty of God – Book

(This great and free resource can be downloaded as a PDF. It is vast, but covers many different topics from both theological and personal viewpoints of pain.)

The ultimate purpose of the universe is to display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. The highest, clearest, surest display of that glory is in the suffering of the best Person in the universe for millions of undeserving sinners. Therefore, the ultimate reason that suffering exists in the universe is so that Christ might display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God by suffering in himself to overcome our suffering and bring about the praise of the glory of the grace of God. – John Piper, p 89

PDF Download

http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/online-books/suffering-and-the-sovereignty-of-god

resources: on election

Ephesians 1 has a lot to say about God choosing a people and carrying out a plan. While I tried to do my best to tell you what I think the Bible teaches (in my message Sunday night… sorry if you missed it, we’ll start recording the audio next week). Here are some links to some other (smarter) minds that do a great job dealing with the issues of election and predestination. If you only read one, choose John Piper’s sermon on Romans 9:6-13, it is fantastic (you can read, play the audio, or download it to listen to later).

John Piper – Sermon on Romans 9:6-13 – “Unconditional Election and the Invincible Purpose of God” (incredibly rich)

Before we can be justified we must believe on Jesus Christ. But before we can believe on Jesus Christ we must be chosen and called. God does not choose us because we will believe. He chooses us so that we will believe.

http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/unconditional-election-and-the-invincible-purpose-of-god

Kevin DeYoung – Blog Post – “What is the difference between election and predestination”  (short and sweet)

And yet this notion of divine superintendence is not meant to undercut personal initiative and responsibility.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2010/08/13/what-is-the-difference-between-election-and-predestination/

Joe Thorn – Blog Post – “Like a Man on Fire” (in case you worry that God choosing/electing takes away the importance of evangelism)

Man’s total depravity moves me to preach Jesus Christ because I know that there is no hope for a man to find his way to God, accidentally or intentionally, on his own.

http://theresurgence.com/2011/09/14/like-a-man-on-fire

RC Sproul – Video Series – “Chosen By God” (6 college level lectures – I have only seen a part, but I trust him throughout)

I know God is under no obligation to save anybody, and I know that God does save somebody. God is God. And God reminds His people of one crucial principle of divine sovereignty… the divine principle… ‘I will have mercy upon whom I have mercy.’

http://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/chosen_by_god/