Archive for the tag 'church'

Church Membership and Excommunication

November 6th, 2011

So this scan of an excommunication letter has been making its’ way around the internet for the past few days (literally – gone viral in 24-48 hours).

What’s interesting is the responses I’ve read to it. Having been close to most of my pastors in my life, this letter isn’t a big shock to me – but apparently, even to some professing Christian folks, this letter is (supposedly) rude, shocking and unexpected.

I’ve commented a few times: the only people whining and complaining about the letter are people whose churches don’t practice church discipline and/or they haven’t read their bibles.  I have no idea on what has happened on ‘both sides’ of this particular issue, nor am I writing to address that….just to comment on the content of the letter and whether or not it is biblical or not.

It is. Plain and simple.

American individualism and charismatic spirituality have made church-hopping and a low view of church membership commonplace. Don’t like church A ? Disagree  with the pastor ?  Don’t like the music, advertising, marketing of your church and think they could do more ? Leave and find one that fits you. After all, church should affirm you and all that you believe.  The church growth movement (purpose driven church, becoming a contagious Christian, etc….) have only reinforced this mentality into the minds of the culture, even among Christians who appear to be biblically solid in every other area of their polity.

A few questions came up on one message board related to this letter.

1. Usually, when people walk away from Christianity, some people cite 1 John 2:19 and say the person was never really saved to begin with. If this person was never “saved” in the first place and has forsaken the fellowship together with other believers, how can Pastor Shade in his letter, exhort this person to “…turn away from your self-destructive path and turn back to Christ as your Lord and Savior.”

Because that’s what the Pastor’s job is – to call people to repentance (Acts 17:30-31).  The gospel is not just for the unsaved, but for believers as well and a good pastor constantly points his sheep to follow and serve Christ and turn from sin.  A question like this usually treats the gospel as a message only for believers and repentance as a one-time event.  Scripture doesn’t.

2. In your two posts (see 121 and 135) you seemed to intimate that there were three groups of people – the non-elect outside of the church, the unsaved in the church (who might or might not be elect) pretending to be saved and the elect.  Would you say this person to whom this letter is addressed to is “elect”, “almost elect” or “might be elect”? I would think that you’d say this person is definitely not elect since the elect can’t/won’t turn from fellowship with Christ.

I would say it to someone who once associated themselves with the covenant community and made vows before many witnesses and God that they would do all the things contained in the covenant. This isn’t an ‘election’ issue.  A pastor is not called to ‘preach the gospel to the elect’. Further, there is no ‘almost elect’.

As for you saying the person isn’t elect…well….they’re not dead yet, so no one can say this with certainty – hence the call to repent and the invitation and opportunity to return.  I’ll go into detail on this in another answer below.

BTW – this isn’t a ‘reformed’ issue. One of my old churches (which is dispensational and moderately Arminian) and my old pastor would’ve handled this issue the exact same way with virtually the same language. It’s a biblical issue, not a reformed issue. The problem is that the reddit reader who originally posted it don’t understand church membership or church discipline.

3. If he’s not elect, how can he be restored to Christ’s body? Are you saying that Christ has parts of his body that are NOT elect?

In the second link provided above (135) I talk a bit about what happens when a believer hears the warning passages in scripture versus an unbeliever.  An unbeliever hears the warning passages and ignores them, refuses to repent and walks further away from Christ.  A believer hears them, is convicted by the Spirit of God and turns (repents). It may not happen on the first time they hear a call to repentance or the second, but it will happen. 1 John 3:9-10 is a guarantee of this.

4. Pastor Shade said, “By this excommunication, we are declaring that you are no longer part of the company of the saved”

This would hold to what you and Ricky describe as people being a part of the “visible church” but not a part of the “invisible church”? Or do I have that backwards? But then this would again mean that this person is not “saved ” or “elect” in the first place, but only in the “company of the saved” but not “actually saved”, right?

Church has that right (Matt. 16:19, 1 Cor. 5:1-11) given by God. If they repent, great and praise God. But read closely – you are no longer part of the company of the saved (the visible church). Is it possible he’s saved and going through a period of rebellion ? Yep. But scripture only knows of Christians who are part of a visible local body.

Ever seen an arm by itself ? Ever seen a toe live on its’ own ?

So declaring dude to not be a part of the company of the saved is saying “you’re cut off from the body. There is no life outside of the body. Come back, or die.”

5. Can God’s “elect” be turned over to satan for their destruction? I think your answer would be a definite “no” on that one, but I just want to be sure…

That’s what excommunication is. Why would my answer be a no when that’s the very language used in 1 Cor. 5 to describe the man who was kicked out ? The good thing is that in 2 Cor., we find that he has repented and been restored to the body.

To be more specific, excommunication is both an act of love and of discipline – love for the body to keep them from the leaven of professing brothers and sisters who continue to sin openly (1 Cor. 5). A little leaven, leavens the whole lump.  Being placed outside of the covenant community, outside of the fellowship and accountability of the saints, it is hopeful that the person excommunicated will, like the prodigal son, find himself eating with the pigs and come to his senses and turn.

All that said, the tone and the content of the letter is both serious and loving. It amazes me (okay, it really doesn’t) that folks are up in arms over the fact that:

1. Dude has been repeatedly called and asked to return to fellowship – both in letter and in word (personally).  He has ignored these repeated calls to repent.

2. The session (not the individual pastor) made the decision, not the senior pastor.  For the non-reformed – scripture does NOT teach that ONE pastor/elder/bishop is to rule over a church and everyone falls under him. What scripture DOES teach is multiple elders at each church, all equal in power though differing in role (teaching elders and ruling elders). So that means thatmultiple people made a decision – not one person.

3. Matthew 18 seems to have been followed according to the letter. ‘Let him be as a heathen and a tax collector’ means that you do not treat him as a part of the covenant community.  You pursue him to repent and turn from sin, but you no longer consider or treat him as a Christian.  Look at the passage carefully:

Matthew 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it 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.

Remember the context – a Jew would understand that a Gentile and a tax collector were NOT to be treated as the people of God. Gentiles were outside of the covenant made by God with His people and tax collectors were people who were considered traitors (specifically if they were Jewish tax collectors – robbing their own people to pay the pagans and make themselves rich).  In that aspect, an excommunication ruling (specifically in this case as laid out in the letter) indeed does say ‘based on your actions, we are declaring you not to be a Christian’.  What that entails is not a wish for the man to go to hell.  Rather, there is an open door and opportunity to repent – an encouragement even.

Only American individualism and biblical ignorance can find problems with this letter.  Of course, if someone has a case (a biblical case) against the content of the letter, I am more than willing to both listen and if necessary, retract everything posted here.  Otherwise, this stands.

Pray for the elders at CRC, as I’m betting pastor Shade’s e-mail has been overrun with folks blasting him and their church over the letter.  American Christianity is way overdue for a biblical primer on biblical church discipline. The fact that so many churches have so many morally failing pastors is due in part to the fact that church discipline is not practiced (under the guise of ‘grace’).  This lack of holiness is part and parcel of why the church looks more and more like the world in the US – self-absorbed (and catered to by the Osteens of the church world), self-concerned (and catered to by the Rick Warrens’ of the church world) with little concern for anything else other than making a better ‘me’ and living in ‘prosperity’ (catered to by the Jakes, Myers, Copelands and Hinn’s of the church circuit).

Harold Camping Repents…it seems.

November 3rd, 2011

Harold Camping – one stroke, two bad teachings and three failed prophecies later, has apologized for his rapture predictions.

http://tiny.cc/campingrepents– shortcut to the article on the Christian Post. I also did a quick video on the topic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSCmlPZt-k0

So yeah.  I hope to see him come forward and disavow more stuff.

But part of me is still carefully reading that….is it just me or does it seem like he’s left some ‘open forum’ to come back with another prediction later ?

Pray his repentance is genuine and that more good fruit will follow from it (more repentance).

 

May 22nd Message. For those deceived by Harold Camping….

Food Choices, Church Choices and Their Effect On Your Body

August 9th, 2010

Over at TheologicallyCorrect dot Com, I’ve been threatening, gathering, pondering and chunk writing portions of a new series (which, at this rate, will end up as a book) on reasons to leave your current ‘not-heretical-but-not-really-deep-theologically’ church for one that is. My friends and my own life experiences are continually giving me new source material to write and use as illustrations.

So you’re at a church that doesn’t teach anything overtly heretical, but the sermons are rather ‘light’ in doctrinal content. The preacher may be content with giving you practical (supposedly) sermons week to week which seem to be ‘how to’ more than anything else. All well and fine. We do need to know ‘how to’ from time to time. But you find yourself a bit ‘critical’ of the sermon week to week – “not enough meat!” So you supplement your church’s sermons with podcasts from people you consider ‘meatier’ – MacArthur, Sproul, Piper, or any number of lesser known but solid biblical and exegetical pastors.

There’s an old saying – if the cook doesn’t eat here, why should you ?

Maybe that’s a bit too strong. Maybe your church is more like this: Not adequately consistent on biblical teaching. The equivalent of eating steak one day, McFood Product 3-4 days out of the week, a McFood Product Apple Pie one day and then one day it’s potluck.

Since we’re running with food illustrations, let me add one more.

My wife and I recently started (maybe over the past 6-8 months) moving the bulk of our diet to being more organic. So we eat at Silver Diner (because they’ve switched over to organic) and Chipoltle as our primary food places if/when we eat outside. The occasional Chic-Fil-A comes in every once in a while (emergency food – but at least we know they serve real chicken) and Arby’s (my wife used to work there, so she knows how the food is prepped – at least the beef).

Since the new food choices have come into play, several things have happened.

1. We’re finding out that processed and non-fresh foods (i.e. canned fruit cocktail versus fresh fruit that you chop up or that is prepared the same day) don’t retain their flavor or their nutritional value. For example, at an event my wife and I went to, my wife (who loves fruit) didn’t finish the fruit cocktail she got (it was one of the healthier choices). She said it didn’t taste like anything. In the past, she used to be able to devour canned fruit cocktail all day….but now…not so much. Fresh fruit tastes better and as you spend extended time around fresh, canned begins to lose its’ appeal.

2. We’re finding ourselves having more energy to do more things. Healthier diet and lifestyle = more energy. The old food choices we used to do (rushing around with little time to cook) tended to ‘fill’ us up, but it left us feeling sluggish and tired afterward. As we’ve learned in researching some restaurants, some of it is because most or ALL of the nutritional value of some foods was pretty much NON-EXISTENT. So your body was working harder to draw nutrients out of something that didn’t have nutrients in it to begin with. Therefore, you’re left tired. Related to that is the additional fact that some of the food which DID have some nutritional value was also high in fat and sodium. So now, the remainder of your body’s energy is spent converting stuff to BAD fat and the sodium content is sapping your body of fluids, dehydrating you. So your body has to work harder to process less and you end up with less energy, altered moods, physiological issues, chemical imbalance, etc… This affects your thinking and communication skills as well. When we switched to organic choices (and added some harder work/regular exercise to the mix), things started to change gradually. At the end of last school year, I did the school yearbook, kept up with the school website and a plethora of changes, did two performances 3 days before the end of the school year and a few dozen other things that normally, I would’ve been completely burnt out to do. I’m not saying I wasn’t tired at the end But compared to last year, I’ve found myself recovering quicker.

3. Overshare time (wife cringing as I type this) !!! We’ve found ourselves more apt to get rid of…stuff. This has also helped with losing weight (since we’re not holding onto stuff in our intestines for extended periods of time) and digestion (good food digests easier).

These three points have great theological significance. Churches that are light on their treatment of theological topics and issues often find their members working harder (whether it be to work themselves into a shout and live off of the emotional high for the next week, or thinking that the various programs and outreaches they get involved in are the equivalent of growth and being spiritual) with diminishing returns (because now they have to involve themselves in ‘more’ over time just to feel like they are ‘doing the Lord’s work’ or ‘serving Him’ or ‘worshipping Him in Spirit and in Truth’).

No real spiritual nutritional value. Just empty spiritual calories to fill you up. ‘How-to’ sermons divorced from their theological and biblical foundations, become morality lessons. Morality lessons don’t transform your way of thinking and they don’t save people. And you can only live off a cliché or morality lesson…until real trials strike.

Good spiritual food (in the form of consistent sound doctrine and good teaching) is like eating steak, organic chicken, fresh vegetables and such….every day. Good food on a regular basis helps your body grow stronger and keeps you free of most diseases. Likewise, good spiritual food will keep you free of most of the pitfalls that some believers constantly face and struggle with (i.e. “Am I good enough now to merit God’s favor beyond Him just saving me ?”). But the key is this: you have to be in the atmosphere consistently. That means you don’t simply live off of podcasts, tapes, CDs and DVDs, but you have people alongside of you who believe the same things, encouraging and strengthening you to move forward. You have a shepherd who consistently teaches and preaches these things every week. Your church consciously is modeled after this line of thought.

As other members of your community are being transformed by the preaching on Sunday and teaching throughout the week, they, in turn, pass that on to you as you interact with them. And as you find yourself being transformed, you pass that back to them. This ‘mutual edification’ gives you the spiritual strength necessary to endure all sorts of trials as they come.

Your view of God changes in a sounder atmosphere. God goes from being a benevolent grandfather up in heaven looking down at you and smiling and waiting to give you all sorts of gifts (because He’s nice and loving) to being the Almighty Creator of the universe, before whom, you deserve nothing but wrath and death, but who instead chooses to give you love, blessings and salvation. Realizing your condition makes God appear as He should – much bigger, much more awesome and then it hits you…. His love for you doesn’t depend on your performance. He didn’t save you because of something you did or would do. He didn’t “see the best in you” and then save you based on that.

It’s easy to think of yourself as being ‘worthy’ of a certain kind of love and knowing that your mate or another human being loves you because you’re you. There’s even a song out about it now (The Best In Me by Marvin Sapp). But knowing that God loves you when the best of ‘you’ is filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and coming to realize that it doesn’t depend on you at all…well…that’s humility-producing.

It also produces a different kind of sanctification. You’ll find yourself more apt to self-examination (per 2 Cor. 13 and all of 1 John) and find yourself jettisoning as much ‘waste’ in your life that weighs you down from running toward the goal of Christlikeness.

Now I hear, on regular basis, people say things like “well, maybe some people are built up by things from this style of preaching versus that ‘theological’ stuff.” That, to me, falls in line with thinking that “ Well, maybe some people are built up by eating unhealthy food versus all that ‘organic stuff’.”

Objectively speaking, there’s only one meaning to the text of scripture. It cannot mean one thing and the exact opposite of that one thing at the same time. Objectively speaking, only ‘real spiritual food’ brings real spiritual growth. In other words, if what gets taught is false doctrine, no matter how the person feels about it, they are not being built up in the faith. They may be built up in habit, tradition, feeling, thinking and experiencing, but these things are not the Christian faith as taught in scripture.

In food analogy terms: one cannot say that McDonalds builds up people in a healthy fashion and that real beef from one cow builds up people just as well. Both statements are mutually exclusive (if you know how McDonalds’ meat gets mushed together from several different animals in varying shades of health). One is good for you and provides more nutrients for your body.  One is not and provides little nutrients for your body, gives you unwanted antibiotics, possible disease contamination (because those cows aren’t in the healthiest of shape and they eat a lot of filler).  Both taste differently.  So although both might fill you up, don’t mistake being full for being healthy. Both are having different effects on your body over the long haul.

I’ve encountered people who, after eating so much fast food for so many years, really don’t have a taste for real food. They have a taste for food…but not healthy food. And like children, over time, they must be weaned off of the bad food in order to develop a taste for the good.

A few ramblings of a man determined to nudge folks on to better ‘food choices’. I already know that some people will be moderately offended by it because they know that their church has good food. I teach middle school kids who think that McDonalds’ is good food too. But I’ve also been humble enough to sit and watch Super-Size Me and follow up on that with personal research. I also realize that middle school kids don’t necessarily have the maturity and capacity to think at the level of ‘what is this doing to my body over long periods of time’ because they’ve been trained up (by culture, society, media and parents) to have everything ‘now’ and focus on ‘now’. Likewise, there are many believers who have been trained up to not think critically and use their minds to the glory of God (Deut. 6:5).

The thing with good food, though…even if your palate has been trained to love fast food, you can be weaned off of it and moved over to real food. You can grow teeth that will bite into and rend steak. You can develop a taste for fresh fruit so that canned longer appeals to you. It takes time, work and the same way you would reprogram your muscles with daily workouts to grow stronger, you’d need to reprogram your appetite with good foods.

All that said…move somewhere with fresh, real, healthy, nutritious food. Nothing scripture says that you should remain at a place that is malnourishing you. You have friends at these places ? Instead of staying for their benefit, why not bring them with you to your new place of eating ?