Signs of the Times?

In all honesty, there are times when I want to scream some things from the rooftops of my theological beliefs; this is one of those times. Of course, there is a bit of tongue-in-cheek to what I am saying here, but another way of putting this is that there is some major misunderstandings of Scripture’s context. This misunderstanding is going to be the core of what follows.

Scripture and Context

I had professors in college and seminary who consistently reminded us students that when we interpret the Bible, we must be aware of context. The context of Scripture basically finds itself nestled into the bigger picture in the story of the Bible. A perfect example of this is Paul’s letter to the Philippians, specifically the fourth chapter.

You see, everyone’s favorite verse in Philippians 4 is verse 13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Many well-meaning believers wear this verse as a t-shirt, or even have it hanging on their wall in their living room, or maybe even wear it on their eyeblack if they play professional sports. Yet, these artistic renderings of such a verse really do not incapsulate the true meaning of this verse in its context. Paul’s place of writing was a Roman prison and if you read the verses before and after verse 13, you will find that Paul’s message was not about Jesus’s concern for your football game or the fulfillment of your own desires, but instead Paul is writing to tell his Philippian brothers and sisters that through Christ, he can endure anything his adversaries throw at him. Only the context of Philippians allows for an interpretation that is not merely focused on Paul’s situation and how Jesus can fix it.

How Does Context Relate to the Signs of the Times?

It does not take long for a student of the Bible to look at passages like Matthew 24 or the book of Revelation as a whole and make the claim that Christ’s return is drawing near – that is, “the signs of the times are evident in our world today.” It seems like I hear this phrase at least ten times per week during this time of pandemic in American history.

But, is this really how the Bible describes the return of Jesus?

Once again, this is the more important question. Many of my professors in the undergraduate and graduate levels, all taught us that context is king. In fact, as one studies the original, biblical languages, one finds that words with multiple meanings are given their meaning essentially by context of the larger pericope from which it finds itself. For instance, the Hebrew word for “day” is yom, which means day or a period of time. A way to illustrate the different meanings is with a sentence like the following: “I will arrive home during the day on Tuesday.” The first use of the word “day” indicates the middle portion of the day rather than a literal 24-hour day. However, the word “Tuesday” does indicate a literal day. Yet, both of these words could be translated as the word “day” in Hebrew. Therefore, it is context that makes the deciding factor for meaning.

The same is true regarding the last days. Now, the term the “last days” could confuse the student of the Scriptures because of the different ways in which the apostles used it themselves. What most people understand this term to mean is the specific time period in which certain events will unfold in order for the return of Christ to commence. In other words, students of Scripture will read verses like Matthew 24:10-12 which says,

"And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold,”

and believe that Christ’s return CANNOT come to fruition until there are at least: 1) a falling away, 2) betrayal for one another, 3) a rise of false prophets, 4) an increase in lawlessness, and 5) a love that grows cold in many.

The problem with seeing Matthew 24:10-12 as a “predictive” text is, once again, the context of the discourse. The Olivet Discourse – what theologians and New Testament scholars call this passage of Scripture – is presumably Jesus’s most famous dialogue about the end of the age. However, in order to understand the context (remember, context is king), the most important questions we must ask are the following:

  • Who is speaking?
  • To whom is the speaker speaking?
  • For what reason is the speaker speaking?
  • How does the message of the speaker relate to the passages before AND after?
  • How does this passage fit within the grand theme of the book?
  • How does this passage fulfill the Bible’s ultimate story of redemption?

If we understand Jesus to be speaking (question 1), and also understand him to be speaking about the end of the age (question 3), then our first main question should be to whom is Jesus speaking about the end of the age? And, the answer is the disciples. Read this next verse carefully with my own added personal emphases:

"Jesus replied to them, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many. You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet" (Matt. 24:4-6).

If you see the bolded words in the above verses, you notice that Jesus is speaking “to them.” Who is “them?” It is the disciples. Verse 3 of chapter 24 tells us that the disciples approached Jesus on the Mount of Olives and privately asked when the end of the age would come. So, the “them” and “you” of these verses are the disciples. Jesus is speaking to the disciples about the end of the age because they have privately asked Him to reveal the time of His return.

Except, Jesus does not do this directly. Jesus does not give them specifics. Jesus does not tell them a time. Instead, He gives them instructions on what to be doing when He comes as King.

So, what about today?

If the disciples wanted to know how the end of the age would commence, I’m sure most of us do, as well. We all want to know how it will happen. But Jesus simply does not tell us.

I believe it would be an unfaithful rendering of the text of Scripture to read a passage like Matthew 24 and make a “checklist” of things that need to happen in order for Jesus to return and take us home to Heaven. I just don’t believe that this is how the end will commence, nor do I believe that this is how Jesus describes it in Matthew 24. For one, it would make no sense for us to examine Matthew 24 and read it as if it was directly spoken to us. The passage clearly indicates otherwise. Jesus was speaking to the disciples and telling them that they would see wars, earthquakes, and so on.

Another reason I believe this does not indicate a “checklist” type of belief is because of what Jesus said after these words. If you continue on down in Matthew 24, you find a parable (the fig tree), Jesus telling His disciples that only the Father knows the time in which He will return, and then, I believe, you find the main theme of the passage.

In Matthew 24, Jesus was telling His disciples that the last days will be replete with lawlessness and evil, and this has been true of the world since the fall of man. Jesus’s message to the disciples was not, “Wait until all of these things happen,” but, instead, His message is “My return is imminent, so you must be ready.” Matthew 24 is not a message of the certain events leading up to the second coming of Jesus, but instead is a direct discourse from our Lord Himself imploring us to be ready.

"Blessed is that servant whom the master finds doing his job when he comes" (Matthew 24:46).

Church Discipline Through the Word | Marks of the Church

We’ve come to our second to last mark of the church today – church discipline through the Word of God. Church discipline is much more than what we really think it to be. When we think of discipline, we often think of how a parent should correctively teach their children how to act. And in some ways, there might be a bit of a correlation there, but in most ways, it is totally different. 

Today, as the fifth mark of the church, we will cover church disciple by defining it, looking at its purpose, and then figuring out its necessity. 

Definition of Discipline

As we approach a very meaningful and important mark of the church today, I would like for us to approach it as if we knew nothing of church discipline for two reasons. First, church discipline is not really how we think of discipline. What I simply mean here is that church discipline does not look identical to parental discipline. Parental discipline is, often times, formative. It is for the child’s formation to becoming a flourishing adolescent and adult. However, church discipline is much different than this, and, of course, we will cover this as we move forward today. 

Second, we probably don’t know as much about church discipline as we think. Let me preface here and say that I do not think anyone in here is incapable of knowing something about church discipline. It is simply my observation that many churchgoers tend to misunderstand the nature and purpose of biblical church discipline. 

So, I want to show you what church discipline truly is from the three most popular New Testament passages of Scripture. 

Matthew 18:15-20

In Matthew 18:15-20, we find a typical lesson from Jesus using a hypothetical situation for teaching the disciples on how to hold His church accountable to one another and the Word. In an effort to save time, this morning, I am simply going to paraphrase these passages of Scripture for our study this morning. 

In this passage, Jesus is showing the disciples the need for church discipline and how to execute the process if the need arises. He gives the disciples a hypothetical situation: if your brother sins, you are to go to him and show him his fault in private. But if he does not listen to you, take two or three people with you, then if it still doesn’t work, you then take it to the church.

Honestly, there are multiple words here showing us that this is, in fact, a church matter. Words like brother or church indicate the corporate nature of this discipline. But do you see the real process here? The process is to first, address the brother’s sin in order that he might be brought back to repentance. However, if there are multiple efforts to do this with a lack of repentance and remorse, the church is to treat him as a Gentile or a tax collector. These were people from whom the Jews kept their distance. 

1 Corinthians 5:1-5

In 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, we find a similar situation. Instead of a hypothetical situation, however, we find a legitimate reason for church discipline that is being ignored. Paul says that he has heard there is one among the church at Corinth who was sexually intimate with his father’s wife. In this passage, Paul actually condemns the church for not taking this process on by themselves. However, he does not allow the Corinthians to respond, but instead decides to “deliver such a one to Satan” (1 Cor. 5:5). One commentator notes, “To be expelled from the church accordingly is to be delivered over into that region where Satan holds sway.”

Galatians 6:1-5

Whereas Jesus (in Matthew) and Paul (in Corinthians) address a hypothetical situation and a legitimate circumstance, Paul in Galatians is simply giving a practical word of advice for the churches in Galatia. If there is anyone caught in sin, the church should be the ones to restore that person by bearing each others’ burdens.

Definition of Discipline

So, from what we can gather in these three New Testament passages is that church discipline is defined as… “the process of accountability which yields itself to the authority of the gathered church for the purpose of restoration and forgiveness.”

Purpose of Discipline

As we have seen, the ultimate definition of church discipline is defined in three ways: addressing sin, forgiveness, and restoration. 

Addressing Sinfulness Within the Church

Of course, as with any form of discipline, the ultimate purpose of discipline is to correct wrongdoing. This form of discipline just happens to be in the context of the local church. Paul in Galatians said, “if anyone is caught in any trespass;” in Corinthians, he said, “there is immorality among you;” Jesus said, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault.” 

The purpose of church discipline is to address sin. As Geoff Chang writes, “Church discipline would be easier if the church wasn’t made up of people. But Jesus didn’t come for buildings or institutions or events. He came to save a people for himself, sinners like you and me.”[1] In other words, Chang is implying that the church is not simply a building or an institution. It is God’s people, therefore, we must take discipline seriously and address wrong when we see it. 

Forgiveness

However, there is more to church discipline than simply correcting and addressing wrongdoing. Another major aspect and purpose of church discipline is to aim for forgiveness. This should be an obvious point, yet sometimes the first purpose of addressing sin can be the “fun” part for some. 

It is all too easy to call out someone else’s sin, but it is never easy to forgive someone, especially if you are the one who’s been wronged. Yet, this is exactly what we find Jesus saying in Matthew 18: “if he listens to you, you have won your brother” (Matt. 18:15).

Restoration

Paul, in Galatians, had a similar message but it was discipline for the purpose of restoration. In other words, this is the ultimate purpose for church discipline. Anytime there is church discipline only to address sin and call out wrong, it is not church discipline. Now, we are purposefully not getting into the many specifics of church discipline, but there must be the ultimate goal of restoration and forgiveness. 

Necessity of Discipline

But, I think a more important question is this: why is church necessary?

Addressing Sinfulness

Once again, one of the purposes of church discipline is to address wrongdoing. So, when we talk about the necessity of church discipline, we cannot ignore the addressing of sinful behavior. This is a purpose of discipline that is of the utmost importance. The Lord requires holiness from His people, therefore, when holiness is lacking or a member of Christ’s body is doing something contrary to God’s standard of holiness, it must be addressed. 

Corporate Holiness

The reason for such an emphasis on the church’s holiness is because it is God’s standard of living. It is the standard to which we are all held. Yet, the church is to be a corporate representation of this standard of holiness on earth. 

What I mean by this is that there is a standard of holiness which God has called His people to, and we, as the church, must live by this standard as much as we possibly are able. Of course, this is one of the main reasons why church discipline is so important – the church is called to “avoid all appearance of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22).

So, as the church, we are called to corporate holiness. We are called to be holy, as He is holy. A healthy church is a holy church. And when there’s sin in the church, we must address it for the sake of our corporate holiness.

Progressive Sanctification

Yet, another reason why church discipline is necessary is that our lives, as believers, should be characterized by our Christlikeness. Each and every member of Christ’s body is called to become like him – this is the process of sanctification (becoming like Christ). Another reasons church discipline is necessary is because the way we progress in becoming like Christ is by holding each other accountable for our actions. So, when someone does something contrary to the Bible and contrary to God’s standard of holiness, it must be addressed for the purpose of forgiveness and reconciliation. 

Application

So, how can church discipline be applied to our lives today? I think there are a couple of different ways:

All people are sinful. Including people in the church.

We have to understand that even the most holy and Christlike people are sinners. You and I make mistakes and sometimes, those mistakes are big! But, when we become believers, our minds become like Christ’s mind and we take on a attitude of humility and admit when we’ve wronged someone or done something that needs correcting. 

Though this may seem difficult to do, the purpose of discipline is for your sanctification. It is to progress us forward into Christlikeness. So, when sin is confronted, even if it is your actions, always remember that the first reason is because we are called to be like our Lord. 

Discipline is needed to those who commit sin.

So, ultimately, we need church discipline for our church’s spiritual health. When wrong is done in the church by a member of Christ’s body, it must be addressed and taken care of, because this is what Jesus has commanded. We are to a a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a people of his own possession, and to be this, we must be obedient to His commands. 

Anytime a child does something wrong, we aim to correct it. This is done, not because we love discipline, but because we love our children and we want the best for them. The same is true with church discipline. We must never call out sin for enjoyment, but because Christ has called us to holiness! 


[1] Geoff Chang, “A Step-by-Step Primer for Church Discipline” 9Marks, accessed July 25, 2020, https://www.9marks.org/article/a-step-by-step-primer-for-church-discipline/.

Singing the Word | Marks of the Church

Someone has once said, “You are what you eat.” This, of course, indicates that when you eat nothing but junk food and grease, you gain weight. Yet, when you eat healthy foods and exercise a bit, you become physically fit. Let me ask this question: is there a correlation between this and the church? Is it possible that the church could become what they sing? Bob Kauflin thinks so. 

He writes, “Songs are de facto theology. They teach us who God is, what he’s like, and how to relate to him. ‘We are what we sing,’ one man said. That’s why we want to sing God’s Word.”[1]

So, what does it mean to sing God’s Word? How can we implement the Word of God into the songs we sing and the music we play? That’s going to be our journey today with 3 ways:

Form and Content

Form and content make a immense contribution to many things in this world where a Christian may have difficulty navigating their place in a certain situation. Ken Myers has a great way of describing how many Christians fail in this capacity. 

In his chapter titled, “Of the World, But Not In the World,” he writes, “This ‘Christian’ popular culture takes all its cues from its secular counterpart, but sanitizes and customizes it with ‘Jesus language.’ In its crassest forms, it has simply substituted ‘Christian’ language and imagery for elements in the original version: stealing the Coca-Cola theme, ‘It’s the real thing,’ and using it to mark Jesus (‘He’s the Real Thing’), for example.”[2]

What Myers is explains here is that it is not so appropriate for people to do things that mimic the world in every facet, yet slap the name of Jesus onto their actions. There must be more to the meaning for why we do the things we do as believers. In other words, Myers is claiming that both form and content matter. This simply means that lyric and music matter, when it pertains to music. 

Definition

So, what do we mean by mentioning form and content? Well, T. David Gordon has some great ways in which he explains the notion of form and content. Here is one way Gordon describes it: “Not every tune is a good vehicle for every set of lyrics; some are more fit than others. And in theory, some musical choices could virtually never ben an appropriate form for singing God’s praise (such as accompanying them on a kazoo).”[3]

I hope we understand what Gordon is saying here. He is not condemning someone for not knowing the difference without being taught the difference. Instead, Gordon posits that there are certain songs that are appropriate for God’s praise and some that are not so appropriate. Of course, we see this in the quote above in the illustration of the kazoo accompanying our congregational singing. 

So, essentially what we find in the definition of form and content is the combination of both lyric and music and the necessity for both to be appropriate when it comes to worshipping the Lord through our singing together as a church. 

Why It’s Necessary

So, then, why is anything like this necessary? What is the big deal about form and content? I’m glad you asked! 

Let’s break it down for just a short moment: the reason form and content is so important is because God wants us to minister to each other the way he desires. And when we do things, like sing or pray or preach, in ways that God does not dictate, we do it wrong and God is not pleased. This is the ultimate reason why form and content is so important. Remember, form and content essentially means that there is a certain way which God desires for his praises to be sung. It means that we do not sing Be Thou My Vision to the tune of Folsom Prison Blues. 

Of course, my metaphor is quite exaggerated, but I hope you understand what this means for singing in the church.

How Form and Content Relate to Singing

The reason form and content relate to singing is that God has specific barriers regarding the appropriateness of what is sung and how it is sung, and we must do this by his standards. Form and content relates to singing like a glove relates to a baseball. 

Here’s what I mean: you cannot separate music in the church from their form and content. God does not allow “anything and everything” when it comes to singing. He has prescriptive statements all over the Scriptures regarding how we should sing in the church that deal with what we sing (content) and how we sing it (form). 

So, what we’ve found when it comes to form and content – in our short, short analysis of it – is that the lyrics we sing matter to God and should matter to us. We should not be singing empty phrases that mean absolutely nothing. Instead, we should be singing the truth that comes straight from Scripture. And it also means that our music that accompanies the lyrics must be appropriately applied and thought out. Once again, I refer back to my terrible analogy: we should never sing Be Thou My Vision to the tune of Folsom Prison Blues – it just doesn’t fit. 

Language Barriers

I won’t take long on this point, because I do not want this to be a major focal point for this sermon. However, I do think it needs to be addressed to an extent, and this is the problem of language when it comes to singing in the church. 

Of course, I mean that there are certain things the American church has brought onto the scene regarding what we call certain things and it is completely contradictory to Scripture. For instance, the American church has separated the singing, praying, reading, and preaching from each other in the service so it seems as though they are all different aspects of the service

Yet, when we approach the biblical text on this matter, we find a much different approach. Instead of these elements being different aspects of the worship service, we find them all being elements of one event – the gathering of the believers. 

Does Language Matter?

This is exactly why language matters. It matters because when the correct terms are neglected, they eventually become irrelevant. Paul Jones writes, “One of the problems is that members and church leaders come to think of these musical elements of worship as ‘pre-sermon activities’ – making them peripheral.” [4]

We Must Get It Right

It is for this reason that we must get our language right, when it comes to the singing of God’s Word in our church. When we do not get the language right about what we are doing, eventually our actions will become merely instinctive and habitual. 

And this is exactly why Paul wrote these words to the Colossians and the Ephesians…

Colossians and Ephesians

Essentially, these passages – Ephesians 5:18-20 and Colossians 3:16 – both communicate the same idea: congregational singing is important for the health of the local church. 

Letting the Word Dwell Richly in Us

Listen to the Colossians passage: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). 

In Colossae, there were many false teachers going around and this specific church needed to be reminded of the authority of Jesus Christ as the Head of the church. So, Paul writes that this is Christ’s church and what he says goes. Yet, he also encourages the Colossian Christians here to allow God’s word to dwell in them richly. 

For something to “dwell in us richly,” it must do as the original language implies; it must live in large amounts in our hearts. So, you see, the Bible is for much more than simply guiding your decisions or being your “roadmap” for your life. Please understand me, the Bible can be all of those things at different points in life, but most importantly, the Bible is God’s revealed Word to us! It is his communication to us! Friends, we must not take it lightly! 

Singing (Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Songs)

And because we must not ignore it or take it lightly, we cannot ignore the fact that many things we sing now days has absolutely no Bible in it whatsoever. And once again, all of this returns to the first point: form and content. What we sing and how we sing it truly does matter, friends! This is why Paul encouraged the Ephesians and Colossians to sing to one another with psalms, hymns, spiritual songs. 

Essentially, Paul is saying that singing is so much more than just praising the Lord, and it is definitely this. But singing is also a teaching element, a memorizing element, an encouraging element, a calming element! It teaches us the things of God by the lyrics we sing. It calms our spirits of anger and malice toward others when we sing the Scriptures. It encourages us to press on while we face adversity and trials each day. All while praising the Lord for his goodness and mercy. 

What Does this Mean for Today?

So, the real question, then, is how do we take this and figure out how to apply this to our lives and to our church? Well, here are four ways:

The Bible is Necessary for Teaching in the Church

As we covered a couple of sermons ago, the Bible is the source of authority for the church. You cannot have a church without a Bible because without the Bible, you have no way of knowing what Jesus has said or what he has commanded for his church. So, the Bible is completely necessary for the church. 

God has revealed himself to human beings by his spoken Word. He spoke the world into existence and has also spoken for us to become his children. This should prompt us to turn our attention to the Word of God for direction and teaching. We do this by a second way:

The Bible Should Dwell in Us Richly

Ultimately, the way we teach others the Bible is through the overflow of what we are already learning. This really is the essence of discipleship, because ministry is done out of the overflow of our own spiritual lives. So, if we want to see change in people, we entrust the Scriptures to them. Kauflin, again, writes, “If the Word of Christ is going to ‘dwell in [us] richly’ (Colossians 3:16),  we need songs that explain, clarify, and expound on what God’s Word says.”[5]

Our Worship Reflects Our Hearts

Yet, the issue at hand today is singing. You see, there is a reason that our order of service correlates all singing as “congregational singing.” It is because our worship reflects our hearts. We simply cannot allow our flesh to take over and dictate our gatherings, as the local church. God has spoken to us, friends! Let us listen to what He has said and obey! 

Let us sing His Word back to him. Let us fill our songs with the theology in which we believe. Let us long for the time when our worship will be unending and uninterrupted to a point where Jesus is all we have for all eternity. 

Once again, let us listen to what God says and obey. 


[1]  Bob Kauflin. Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 92.

[2] Ken Myers. All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 18-19.

[3]  T. David Gordon. Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2010), 60.

[4]  Paul S. Jones. Singing and Making Music: Issues in Church Music Today (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2006), 59.

[5]  Kauflin, Worship Matters, 92. 

Praying the Word | Marks of the Church

In this current series of posts, Marks of the Church, I have set out to cover the six different marks of the church – preaching the word, reading the word, praying the word, singing the word, seeing the word, and discipline through the word. These six marks are not anything extraordinary. In fact, they are the exact opposite – the are what we call the means of grace. The means of grace are just that – means to glorify God given to us by God’s grace for our benefit in the local church. Another way of putting it is to say that these means are the ways in which we are to do ministry in the local church. And, historically these means have been named as these three things: the Word, Prayer, and the Ordinances.

As we examine the means of grace, we actually see the reality that every mark of the church is an element of the means of grace. This is because God has not left us in the dark when it comes to how we ought to live our lives and do ministry for his glory. 

Today, of course, we come to a different mark of the church – the praying of the Word of God. In the presence of the gathered believers, prayer is more than simply petitioning requests to God or asking for sickness to be healed. Though these requests can be appropriate at times in the gathered church, more is to be required and experienced in the local church. 

So, today, I would like for us to take a few moments to look at 3 reasons why we pray as an assembled church, then we will see the basis behind praying as the gathered church, and will end with a review and some application. 

We Pray for God’s Name to be Glorified (Matt. 6:9)[1]

The most common place to find how to pray is Matthew 6, where Jesus explains the importance of praying to the Lord and how to do that. Well, also in Matthew 6, we find some instruction about how the church should pray when they gather. Let’s look, then at Matthew 6:9: “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

Hallowed from the Beginning

There is a certain aspect of this first phrase of the Lord’s prayer that we often overlook. The word hallowed here actually means to sanctify, to treat as holy. Now, here we find a bit of a conundrum because if we are to simply read this and define it by how it is read, then what we see is by the text here is that God should continue to sanctify his name and make himself holy. Yet, when we grasp an understanding of the character of God, we actually understand that God cannot become more holy

The better way of putting this is helpful from the original language: let your name be treated with reverence; let your name be kept holy. Of course, this leads us to dealing with God’s holiness.

Holiness is of God

God’s holiness is not a second thought on the character of God. In fact, God’s holiness is his basic attribute. In other words, no other attribute can be measured without the holiness of God. So, we have to understand here, God cannot become more holy. 

So, then, what is the text saying here? If God cannot become more holy, then how can the text mean exactly what we think it means? 

As we saw earlier, the literal meaning of the Greek actually is directed at those praying rather than the One to whom we pray. So, instead of the phrase “hallowed be your name” meaning that God needs to increase the holiness of his name, it means that we are to consistently regard his name as holy because this is who He is

So, this means that we are the ones given the command to regard God’s name as holy, not God. God has no reason to increase in holiness, because he cannot do so. He is holy to the maximum. 

Tense of Phrase

The tense of this phrase here, in Matthew 6:9 makes this meaning all the more important to us, as modern-day Christians. The phrase, “hallowed be your name,” is in what Greek scholars call the aorist tense, which is knows no bounds of time or space. In other words, this is a continuous action on the part of the one to whom the phrase addresses. So, what we find here in the first phrases of the Lord’s prayer is that it is not God to increase in holiness, but the one praying to continually aim to honor God’s name with the holiness in which it possesses. 

But how do we do that? Well, we do this by living out our own personal and corporate holiness.

A Church Called to Be Holy

Of course, personal holiness is a given in the Christian faith. Those who profess Christ as Lord are called to holy living. However, one thing Christians often misunderstand is that the same is also true of Christ’s church – the church is called to be unified in holiness. This is, of course, where we find ourselves today addressing the mark of praying the Word.

How can a church grow in holiness together? Well, in short, we do it by uniting ourselves around the Word of God by preaching, reading, praying, singing, seeing, and discipline. Do you see the trend here? 

Though our lives are to be living representations of how we honor God’s name as holy, we can unite ourselves in the same way through praying together, “hallowed be Your name” in the gathering of believers. 

We Pray for God’s Rule on Earth (Matt 6:10)

Not only does the church pray for God’s name to be be glorified and honored as holy, but we also pray for God’s rule to be made manifest on earth. This has many different implications for believers in Jesus Christ. But let’s look at what the Kingdom of God is before jumping into the implications of how the Kingdom will then affect our lives on this earth.

What is the Kingdom?

In one short sentence, Robby Gallaty defines the kingdom in a great, concise way. He says, “In the Old Testament, God built a Temple for His people, but in the New Testament, God formed a people to be His Temple.”[2]

So, let’s examine what Gallaty means here because he gives us some great realities to think about. 

First, he shows us that God built a Temple in the Old Testament. We understand this reality simply from reading the first five books of the Bible, the Torah. God built a physical temple in order that he might create a people for himself. When everyone gathered at the tower of Babel, they were aiming to reach God, but did so in a different way than God had ordained. So, God created a physical place for people to worship him. That is, until Christ comes to earth. 

Second, we see Christ instituting a spiritual temple. Once Christ enters earth and comes in human flesh, his life and death now satisfy the law of God and appease God’s wrath. His life and death now create a new way in which God’s Temple exists. Instead of the Temple now being a physical place, God’s Temple now rests in the hearts of those who repent and believe and place their faith in Jesus as their Savior. 

Therefore, the Temple now rests as God’s Kingdom in the heart of men and women who believe in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Another way of saying this is that the Kingdom now consists of the invisible Church – a term which we have become familiar with over the past couple of weeks. 

God’s Rule – Here and Hereafter

But, the Lord’s Prayer addresses an issue that involves God’s Kingdom. Matthew 6:10: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom of God coming to earth is a phrase Jesus uses to look back into history and to look forward into eternity showing us that God’s rule has always been and will always be. Listen to a lengthy, but weighty quote from R.C.H. Lenski: “This consummation includes all that precedes it in the rule of grace, which finally shall become the rule of glory. It also includes the defeat of the kingdom of that wicked old Pharaoh, Satan, pictured in the escape of Israel from the Red Sea and in the drawing of the pursuing hosts. Note that again the verb is placed forward.”[3]

Placed Forward

Here is exactly what we see here about this phrase in the Lord’s Prayer that Christians must continually be mindful of: God’s kingdom has come in Jesus Christ and we must continually see the sovereignty of God’s rule from the beginning of time till Christ’s second coming. God’s rule has never paused or stopped, but we must acknowledge that this is not our world in which we have the freedom to govern and run things the way we think it should go. No, instead, this is God’s world and we must submit to his sovereign hand that is in control. 

Of course, this also plays a weighty role in the way in which we view the church of Jesus Christ. Instead of viewing the church in a way that we are free to do what we please, we now understand that for God’s kingdom to be established on earth as it is in Heaven is to have God’s rule be present in our lives. This reality, of course, spans even to the way in which we minister in our local church.

So, as the church, we must pray for God’s name to be revered and held holy, but we must also pray for God’s rule to be made manifest in our lives and on earth. This should be our desire. 

But we should also pray in a third way:

We Pray according to Scriptural Priorities (2 Thess. 1:11)

Paul, in 2 Thessalonians, prays some specific prayers for the church at Thessalonica. As he did with all the churches he planted, he was specific in his prayers and was very vocal about how he communicated this to them as a congregation. 

He simply states this in 2 Thessalonians 1:11: “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power.” 

I want to acknowledge just a few observations about Paul’s exhortation here from 1:11:

The Scriptures is Our Lifeline

Paul understood here that the Thessalonians were enduring much persecution but were persevering because of the power of the Word of God in and through their congregation. Simply put, they were faithful people. They had no reserves when it came to the Word of God and the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Boy, can we learn from this! Whatever the gospel requires of them, the Thessalonians were willing to do it. 

God’s Word Guides the Church’s Prayers

The Thessalonians were, no doubt, engrossed in the Word of God so much that their prayers were driven by the Word of God. They were not worried about what the world saw in them, nor were they worried about what others thought, they were worried about their faithfulness to God and His Word. So, instead of trying something new and on their own, they measured themselves by the faithfulness to God’s Word and prayed with Scriptural Priorities.

Scriptural Priorities

So, the natural option when committing yourself to God’s Church God’s way is to pray according to the Scriptures. In other words, what God wants for His Church, we want too! As Jonathan Leeman writes, “Let the words and agenda of the Bible inform your individual and corporate prayer life.”[4]

This of course, is a major observation in which we’ve studied over the past couple of weeks: if we are to have church in God’s church, we must do it God’s way. 

God’s Church = God’s Way

As the name says, this is God’s Church and we do it God’s way. Sometimes, I almost weep at how we must constantly remind ourselves of this truth and reality. Friends, I do not mean to be ugly and arrogant when I say such things, but how in the world do we feel as if it is acceptable to think we can have church our own way and leave God out of the picture? Because this is, in fact, what the American church has done for decades and it is time to stop. 

If we are to continue in ministry and to have a lasting legacy in our community, it is time to start doing ministry the way Jesus instructed the church to do so. 

Building One Another Up

Praying the Word in the gathered church, then, has massive implications as we continually do so. As Don Carson puts it, “What we actually do reflects our highest priorities.”[5] So, I must ask, what are our priorities as a church? 

Are they simply to see sickness healed and more people come into our building? Are they to simply see a bigger budget and modern music? 

OR 

Are our priorities to hear the Word preached, read, and prayed so that we can be unified to one mission as a congregation to make disciples of all nations for God’s glory? 

Praying the Word begins with unifying this congregation to be on mission for the Lord and that in turn will build each other up. 

I want to end today with a quote from John Onwuchekwa in his book on Prayer: “God has always intended that we would know him better through our engagement with others, but we don’t want our engagement with others to eclipse engaging with God…We hear the Word preached, sang, and read. And in response, we pray.”[6]


[1]  These points were used from, Jonathan Leeman. Word-Centered Church: How Scripture Brings Life and Growth to God’s People (Chicago: Moody, 2017).

[2]  Robby Gallaty. Here and Now: Thriving in the Kingdom of Heaven Today (Nashville: B&H, 2019), 119. 

[3]  R.C.H. Lenski. The Interpretation of Matthew (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1961), 267.

[4] Leeman, Word-Centered Church, 154.

[5]  D.A. Carson. A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 19.

[6]  John Onwucheckwa. Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 78.

Reading the Word | Marks of the Church

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13).

The letters known as the pastoral epistles (1 & 2 Timothy; Titus) are some of the most fascinating books in the New Testament. They are written to individual pastors Paul raised up through his missionary travels to shepherd the churches he has planted. Realistically, these three books show us the importance of raising up leaders within our own congregation more than any other books in the New Testament.

However, Paul writes in 1 Timothy to a young pastor who could have possibly had a bit of a problem of timidity (2 Tim. 1:7). It could have been because Timothy was young and did not have the “experience” some might have thought. It could have been a personality trait. It could have been Timothy’s fatal flaw: he was a timid young man. Nonetheless, Timothy was entrusted with the task of leading the church at Ephesus to healthy spirituality. 

1 Timothy, then, is Paul’s doctrinal letter to young Timothy. Timothy needed to be instructed, but Paul could only do this from afar. Yet, even from a distance, Paul gives Timothy some very appropriate words that still ring true for local churches today.

Here are a few reasons why the reading of Scripture is necessary for the makeup of the church.

The Word of God Governs God’s Church

The church must begin and end with God’s Word, the Bible. However, to understand the magnitude of just how important this is, we first need to establish a case for the Bible’s authority, then we will need to see that God desires for His church to be governed His own way. 

The Case for Authority

The Bible as God’s revealed Word must be the starting point for biblical worship in the church. The Triune God has revealed himself to us by communicating within himself to humanity. The Father speaks to the Son, the Son speaks to the Father, and both to the Spirit and the Spirit to both.[1] Peter declares that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), so the process of the Bible being understood as God’s Word begins with God revealing himself to the apostles by His Spirit, then succeeds to how the apostles witnessed the full revelation of God himself in the person of Jesus Christ. In essence, God is a communicator and God’s truth is reality. 

So, then, it should naturally follow in our minds to understand that God’s Word must be of the utmost priority in our churches. The gathered church is to be centralized around God’s Word. Therefore, the Bible must be the foundation of all that is done in our worship services because it is authoritative. But what does it mean for the Bible to be authoritative?

Augustine explains how meaning can sometimes be dependent upon the person when he writes, “What is time? If nobody asks me, I know; but if someone asks me, I don’t know.” In other words, Augustine essentially says that meaning can call our knowledge into question, if we aren’t careful. So, we must be extra careful in how we establish the authority of the Bible, because God acts through his spoken Word. It how the world was brought into existence and also how he gave us His Word altogether. So, then, biblical authority is generated in the church by the gathered people of God in unison proclaiming that the Bible is our standard by which we operate! 

God’s Church = God’s Way

 There is a principle that the Church must latch onto, and that is the regulative principle of worship. The regulative principle simply states that anything done in the church must be done in accordance with Scripture. For example, if Scripture does not permit ______, the church must not do it. 

The same is true when it comes to the governing of the church. Ultimately, I believe the regulative principle is for much more of Christianity than singing itself. And it must involve how the church is governed. Friends, this is not our church! Therefore, we do not get to say what goes and does not go. This is God’s church and we must abide by His rules! And, in grace and mercy, he plainly lays it out for us in the Scriptures.

But, you see, there is more to reading the Scriptures than just to see how the church is governed. It is a necessary element of our worship service because of this second point:

The Word of God Grows God’s Church

Ultimately, the growth of the church will always, always, always be a result from the Word of God being taught and heard and obeyed. There is simply no substitute for the Word of God in the life of the church of Jesus Christ. You cannot replace it, nor can you ignore it! And, for the illustration of this point, I’d like to take us to 1 Corinthians 3 and see Paul’s exact words about this issue. 

We Plant and Water

As you might remember, the Corinthian church was full of division. They had many people who were spiritually malnourished. In fact, Paul calls them infants in Christ in verse 1 of chapter 3. In this chapter, we find the ever-famous verses showing that the Corinthians are not only divided by whom they follow, but they are divided in loyalty.

We find in verse 6 of chapter 3 Paul giving the Corinthians the explanation to how all of this works. He says, “I planted, Apollos watered” (1 Cor. 3:6). In other words, Paul is telling the Corinthians that they have labored tirelessly for the planting of this church. Paul was on his first missionary journey writing to this church, and he was already needing to correct the lack of unity in which this church possessed. Simply put, this church was plagued with division over who they were to follow because of the church’s success. 

But God Gives Growth

Yet, we find Paul continuing with verse 3 saying, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6). In other words, Paul is simply saying here, “WE DID NOT GROW THIS CHURCH – GOD DID!” 

You see, because of this verse, I tend to look at the church as a garden (follow me for a minute). There is a lot of work that goes into growing a garden, and it isn’t all good. When you plant seeds, you have to water them and feed them. Otherwise, they won’t grow. But there are times when you feed the seed and weeds grow, which demands you pick out the weeds. Yet, what we understand about gardening is that even though there is so much work we must do, there are also many factors we cannot control. 

The same is true within the church. We can work all we want until we are blue in the face, but it is not our work that grows the church – it is God himself! Friends, may I remind us again, this is not our church – it’s God’s! 

1 Timothy 4:16

Paul seems to echo some similar thoughts in 1 Timothy 4:16: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for be so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). 

Paul here is instructing Timothy to devote himself to the Word of God in life and in vocation. Personally, Timothy must grow in faith through a union with Jesus. Vocationally, Timothy must work out of the overflow of that union so that he can be an example (4:12) for those how are under his teaching.

But do you see what’s happening here? Paul knows that the only way to sustain a church is by the Word of God! He says it right there is verse 16: the only way to save both yourself and your hearers, Timothy, is to keep a close watch on yourself and the teaching of God’s Word! This is simply because God works in His people through His Word

God works through His Word in us to grow us, but he also works through the Word to free us:

The Word of God Frees God’s Church

One of the many overlooked aspects of God’s Word pertaining to the church is the fact that it gives us liberty. Of course, I assume we all understand that the definition of freedom here (and mostly everywhere) is not a freedom to do anything we please whenever we please. Instead, the freedom we enjoy in Christ is a freedom that enables us as believers to give up our own desires for the desires of Christ all for the sake of the advancement of the kingdom of God. So, I want to take just a minute and look at a couple of aspects of this freedom:

Freedom From Self

I think it is commonly understood by all of us that our freedom first is a deterrent from our sinful flesh. When we trusted Christ in faith and repentance, Paul says that we are no longer enslaved to sin and we now can desire the things of God! Romans 6 shows us that once we trust Christ, we are freed from the bondage and hold sin had on us and we now no longer have to be held captive by our flesh. 

Freedom to Worship

Of course, we understand the opposite effect of this freedom also. Not only are we freed from our flesh and sinful nature, but we are free to worship. You see, we cannot actually worship God with the freedom the Bible gives us to do such a thing. Unless the Word of God frees us from the desires of our own sinfulness, we cannot worship God at all. The woman at the well is a perfect example. Jesus tells her that to worship God, we must worship him in Spirit and in truth. In other words, we must worship him as born again believers. The Word of God frees us to do this. 

And as we are freed to do this, we can advance the church for the sake of the kingdom of God by our unity:

The Word of God Unites God’s Church

Ultimately, I believe this is the focal point of the reading of the Scripture in the gathering of the local church. Let us not forget: our focus is the necessity of the reading of Scripture in the local assembly of the church visible. To do this, of course, we must unite ourselves around three things:

We Unite Around God’s Word

I don’t want to overemphasize this point, but we must never forget the importance of God’s Word in the mix of all of this. The Word of God must be the central element to our gathering as a local church. The Word must be preached, prayed, sang, saw, and read! Remember: this is not our church – it is God’s church. And what God says goes with his church. So, in order to become a church unified around the Word of God, we must submit to its authority and understand that God’s Word has the final say, not our opinions or our preferences! 

We Unite Around God’s Purpose

And when we devote ourselves to the Word of God and its teaching, we find that God’s purpose for the church is fairly simple, and we find it in the first five books of the New Testament: the purpose of the church is to make disciples of all nations and to bring them into the fold of God in order that the kingdom of Christ might advance in us and through us. 

There is not multiple purposes for God’s church – he has given us his last words in the Great Commission and we must make Jesus’ last words our first work, as Robby Gallaty often says!

Conclusion

So, friends, ultimately here is our takeaways from this message. 

First, we must understand that this is not our church. I know I’ve said it several times and you’ll probably cover your ears if I say it again, but this point CANNOT BE EMPHASIZED ENOUGH. The church of Jesus Christ is just that: it’s his church, not ours. This simply means that we do not get to play God, nor do we get to decide how ministry is to go. We are to submit to the Master and let his Word guide our ministry.

Second, the reading of the Word is necessary to grow the church. “Faith,” Paul says, “comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). We cannot grow a garden by ourselves. You have to have things like rain and weather, otherwise, your garden will not be healthy. The same is true in the church. You cannot grow a church unless God grants you growth. However, the good news is that he has given us the formula for growth: making disciples! 

Application

First, the reading of the Word in the church is necessary. By the simple study we’ve done today, in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians, there is no growth in the church without the Word of God. Therefore, it must be read. Nothing more needs to be said here. 

Second, the Word of God unifies us around one purpose. It is the Word of God that brings people with different personalities and different strengths and weaknesses for one purpose: to make disciples who make disciples. This is the Great Commission. And yet, why is it so hard for us? Honestly, I’m not sure I have an answer to this question. However, an answer is not necessary. The only necessary element for this purpose is obedience. I don’t need an answer that would most likely turn into an excuse for not making disciples. I need to be obedient to my Lord who has commanded me to make disciples of all nations, and this obedience will unify us all together for the glory of God and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom! 

Third, the Word of God commands us to read it aloud. Another rather obvious point of application here is that Scripture commands as much. This is exactly what Paul commanded Timothy: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13). Why does Paul say this? Stanley Outlaw writes that “it is needed to…stress its proper position of authority for both doctrine and practice.”[2]  In other words, the Word of God is our authority. Therefore we must obey and read it aloud publicly in our gatherings. 


 [1] John H. Frame. The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2019), 42.

[2] Stanley Outlaw, “1 Timothy” in The Randall House Bible Commentary (Nashville: Randall House, 1990), 246.

The Preaching of the Word | Marks of the Church

If you were asked, how would you define the church, according to biblical standards?

Many of us, if not all of us, would have difficulty nailing down the definition of what a church is, according to the Scriptures. In fact, many people do not even open their Bibles in order to find the definition of what the church is. So, instead of looking at the New Testament for our definition, we look at what we prefer the church to look like. 

Yet, if we were to look at the 115 times the word ekklesia is used in the New Testament for Church, 100 of those mentions are referring to what we call the visible church, something which we will refer to in just a moment.  

What is a Church?

So, then, what is a church? Well, the question is quite a bit more complicated than simply asking what a policeman is or (if you are my four-year-old) what a T-bone car wreck is. Yet, however difficult it is to define, we must do our best to define it through the lens and content of Holy Scripture. If Christ, the Word, is the head of the Church (invisible), we must define the Church by His Word, the Bible. 

So, we of course, will get to this in just a bit. In fact, this is the entire series of what it means to make-up the Church of Jesus Christ. However, the New Testament does not give us a definition showing us that the church is fill in the blank. So, we have to dig and find out how the Church, instituted in the first century, made themselves to become their own entity of God’s kingdom while on earth. Yet, there are many other men who have done the same thing and given us some great definitions over the course of Christian history. John Calvin defines the Church as those “who profess to worship one God and Christ, who by baptism are initiated into the faith; by partaking of the Lord’s Supper profess unity in true doctrine and charity, agree in hold the word of the Lord, and observe the ministry which Christ has appointed for the preaching of it.”[1] Calvin, then, professes that it is those who are baptized (that is, born again by the Spirit) and those who partake of the Supper and observe the Word of the Lord during the preaching as what constitutes the Church.

Thomas Grantham, our Free Will Baptist forefather, defines the Church as “A company of men called out of the world, by the voice or doctrine of Christ, to worship one true God according to His will.” [2]

But even still, the question still arises: what does it mean to be a local church? It is not enough to simply say that the church is a people who are gathered to worship God. While this is true, there is much more in the New Testament that is defined as a church. So, let’s look at one great comparison that will be absolutely crucial moving forward in this series.

Visibility/Invisibility

The difference comes between the church visible and the church invisible. And here is what we mean by this: the church visible is the gathered church each single week under one roof. The Church invisible is the “capital C” Church that every believer in the world abides. So, there is a “lower case” church and an “upper case” Church. One represents the church as a gathered body, like Arbor Grove Free Will Baptist Church where I pastor. The other represents the kingdom of God in the hearts of every believer of all time. 

Marks of Visible Church

Therefore, from what we’ve seen so far, this is not a series on the invisible Church, but one on the visible church.  

Definition of Preaching

The local church has one goal in mind for its ministries: to proclaim the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In whatever ministries and methods we apply, the only true mission the local church has is to be a visible representation of God’s kingdom on earth. Of course, this means that the goal of everything we do at this church is about sharing the good news of Jesus

Goal of Local Church 

Yet, the God-ordained means by which the church is to proclaim the gospel is the preaching of the Word of God. In other words, what we are getting at here is that God does not mandate programs and different activities to do the work of sharing the gospel. Instead, God’s way of sharing the gospel for the local body of believers is the preaching of the Word. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). 

Definition (mine)

So, the real question then is: what is preaching? How do we differentiate Preaching should declare God’s message to a gathered church for the purpose of salvation for unbelievers and sanctification for believers. God uses ordinary men through ordinary means to communicate his divine message of salvation to the world. In other words, preaching is much more than simply getting up and making comments about the Bible. Thabiti Anyabwile posits that Preaching is God speaking in the power of His Spirit about His Son from His word through a man.”[3] 

In other words, preaching is a sacred, spiritual act that God has ordained to speak to His people through his chosen messenger, the pastor of the local church

Right Preaching and Its Effects

So, for just a few minutes, I’d like for us to see the necessity of preaching from the New Testament itself. All of these other quotations are well and good, but they do not overpower the authority of the Word of God. Turn with me to Acts 2:42: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). 

Now, let’s recap what has happened so far in Acts 1 and 2. Jesus has ascended and given the disciples the power of the Holy Spirit living within them to be his witness all over the world (1:8), and now the disciples have been given the Spirit “like a mighty rushing wind (2:2),” and Peter begins to preach his famous sermon.

Peter calls on all who are in attendance (mostly Jews) to “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (2:38). Of course, we understand that once we repent of our sins, we receive the Holy Spirit to be the presence of God in our lives (2:38). But, as you continue through the passage here, we come to verse 42. This is the verse of which we find the thousands of souls gathering together to do one thing: devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching.  

Devoted Themselves

Now, in this passage here, we find an interesting word that demands our attention. You see, these new converts simply did not attend church. No, it actually says they continually devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. The Greek word here for devoted actually means that they were “attend constantly or being busily engaged with the apostles’ teaching.” In other words, the apostles’ teaching was not some sort of informality in the lives of these new coverts; it was their new way of life! Their lives centered around the preaching of God’s Word through the apostles. 

Effects

Because the way of life of these new coverts had been drastically changed, there were now some effects which came upon those who had been recently born again under the preaching of the apostles. 

First, the passage says that awe came upon all who were there (v. 43). What Luke records in Acts can sometimes be misunderstood by those of us who read the Bible through western eyes. You see, this was at a time when many Jews would be in Jerusalem. So, there were many in this place that were not believers, and Luke records that under the apostles’ teaching, everyone was filled with awe (2:43). In other words, Luke says that even those who weren’t “converted” were still in awe over what had happened. 

Second, the apostles were performing signs and wonders (v. 43). “Signs and wonders” is often a New Testament way of saying that these were the works of Jesus. The apostles were now performing the same signs and wonders of which Jesus would have performed during his ministry. Of course, we understand that they only did this because the Holy Spirit fell upon them.

Third, all believers were together and held things in common (v. 44). Another aspect of first century culture that we might not understand as people who live in the West is that when Pentecost would come about in the year, often people would stay in other people’s houses in Jerusalem until the feasts and traditions were over. Something else foreign to us is that there were times when multiple families would live in the same house. So, being together and having things in common makes sense when you live under the same roof.

Fourth, they sold their possessions to give to those who had needs (v. 45). Again, this follows the previous point here: when multiple families were living together, there were often more resources available to give to the needy. Luke here seems to indicate here that it wasn’t as if everyone sold everything at once, but possessions were sold as a need was brought about. 

Fifth, every day (EVERY DAY) they devoted themselves to meet in the temple (v 46). The NASB has a great literal translation of this verse. I read the CSB which states in verse 46: “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple.” However, the NASB has a more accurate translation here: “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple.” In other words, unity was the end goal for their commitment to the Temple each day. One commentator notes, “The joy that characterizes these gatherings was no doubt inspired by the Spirit (13:52) and may have been associated with the conviction that the Lord Jesus was present with them.”[4]

As you can see, the experience of the teaching of the apostles had massive effects on those who experienced such an event. 

But, if I were to be completely honest with you, we must address our own souls as we move forward from this place today. Our souls are constantly being tempted and we are consistently battling our flesh. Yet, the only antidote to overcoming our own temptation is the Word of God and how it works to save us from the moment of conversion to the time we meet Jesus face to face by death or his second coming. Yet, until one of those times come, we must continue to proclaim the message with which he has entrusted us. Here are two reasons why:

Preaching is for the Salvation of Unbelievers

The foremost way in which God saves sinners is by the preaching of His Word. Paul writes in Romans that faith comes by hearing the Word of God. So, we understand that preaching is absolutely necessary to save sinners from dying into an eternity of the pouring out of the wrath of God. People cannot be saved without the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ that is only found in Holy Scripture

And you know what, friends? We must do a better job of showing this reality to our friends and family. I know we all have fears and hesitations when it comes to telling others about Jesus. But at the same time, in all honesty, there is an urgency that I think we in American churches often miss about reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have a community in Hoxie/Walnut Ridge full of sinful activity you can imagine, and we have the solution to their problems! Yet, what do we do? We work out here trying to win them over with activities and events, to no avail! Folks, we must do better! 

Christ has called us to much more than this, and we must act. Mark Dever agrees, “When God’s people hear about God and what he requires, they will respond.”[5] This is what it means to be a Christian! It is following Jesus and being in love with him so much that all we know to do is obey what he says do

Preaching is for the Sanctification of Believers

But, friends, reaching our community is not enough. Preaching has more reach than simply saving unbelievers, it also continues to save those of us who have already received the Spirit and have been born again. The preaching of the Word of God will continue to mold and shape us into the image of Jesus Christ as we continue to devote ourselves to its teaching. Of course, when we devote ourselves to the teaching of God’s Word, we find command after command to entrust this same gospel to other people

This means that while we experience the preaching of the Word of God in a local church service and grow in grace from its fruit, it should motivate us to invest it in other people! This was Paul’s words to Timothy: “And what you have heard from me, in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men who will then teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). 

You see, the gospel of Jesus Christ is not meant to discontinue after we trust Christ through faith and repentance. Instead, the gospel should continually be upon our minds every single day of our lives. Don’t we see this in the book of Acts with the early church? Verse 46 of chapter 2 tells us that these new converts were going to the temple EVERY DAY to fellowship with other believers for the purpose of unity!

We complain about having to go three times per week, and these thousands in Acts joyously gathered together in the temple to fellowship with other believers and to experience community with those gathered. Why is it that the American church seems backwards from this? It’s because it is backwards! 

Jesus did not mean for us to hole up in our little buildings and reach people occasionally when they come through our doors! He seeks out the lost and commands us to go to the highways and by-ways and compel unbelievers to come and hear the gospel! He has also meant for us to joyously devote our lives to growing in him by hearing the preached Word and investing the gospel into other people. 

Friends, we cannot ignore this any longer! We must be about obedience to the Word of God that contains the very words of Jesus to us for our good! We are to obey God’s Word which commands us to devote ourselves to the local church. It commands us to take the only message of salvation for all people to all people. It commands us to invest this message into others.  

It is plain and simple. But the question is: will you obey? 


[1] John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2008), 677. 

[2]  Thomas Grantham. Christianismus Primitivus (London: Forgotten Books, 2015), Book 2, Chapter 1, 2.

[3]  Hobert K. Farrell, “Preach, Proclaim,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, electronic ed., Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 626.

[4]  Thabiti Anyabwile, “How Do You Define Preaching,” The Gospel Coalition, November 19, 2012, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabiti-anyabwile/how-do-you-define-preaching/.

[5]  Mark Dever, “The Church” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Danny Akin (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 780.

A (Pandemic) Philosophy of Ministry


The world-wide phenomenon that is the COVID-19 pandemic has really made ministry in the local church rather difficult. Ministry really has always been demanding, but adding a world-wide virus that is more contagious than the common flu presents its own set of difficulties moving forward.

Before COVID-19 settled into the United States, ministry was what we measured as normal. We still gathered for worship every Sunday. We still met for Sunday School before our worship gathering. We still met on Wednesday to have Bible study around a table. We still could visit shut-ins at their homes. But now, all of this has stopped. In fact, our church had never done any sort of streaming in regards to our services. Personally, I had never recorded an entire sermon in front of a camera to an empty sanctuary. Of course, I’d done some short snippet type videos here and there and had a bit of experience editing them. But this pandemic has now brought ministry to a different level.

Since the virus has demanded us to disassemble and has moved all to a virtual type of service online, most churches have had to rethink the beliefs they have about ministry in the local church. Moving forward, we are now no longer able to do home visits, and even now, we are not able to gather for Sunday School, small groups, or do any sort of discipleship endeavors. The same is true for the gathering of believers for a local assembly every week.

Ministry During a Pandemic

Of course, then, the underlying question of everything church-related is the question of how we move forward continuing to do ministry while we cannot come in close contact with others, specifically those within our congregations. Well, first, I believe it to be wise to define what a philosophy of ministry is before moving into how we create it and how it affects our ministries.

Defining a Philosophy of Ministry

A philosophy of ministry can be quite a difficult item to define because there are many churches who make them less important when hiring pastors or other leaders. However, a philosophy of ministry is of utmost importance when thinking of how one is going to lead your congregation. Most churches do not even ask the interviewee what their philosophy of ministry looks like, and, to their dismay, they are unaware once they’ve been hired.

So, a philosophy of ministry is (in my own simplistic way of defining it) an articulation of how you suppose ministry should be enacted and executed by way of what you believe. Your philosophy of ministry, then, essentially is the seeable evidence of what you believe about the visible church. All of us have our own beliefs about how ministry should be done, yet few of us can articulate it into a fully-orbed philosophy of ministry, to our own dismay.

Why Does a Philosophy of Ministry Matter?

As defined above, a philosophy of ministry is simply how you plan to do the ministry which you believe the Bible commands. It is the belief about how ministry should go in the local church. Of course, the real question is not what you philosophy of ministry is, but why your philosophy of ministry matters.

Well, a philosophy of ministry matters because it characterizes what you believe about Christ’s Church. What you believe about Christ’s Church is always realized in how you do ministry in Christ’s Church. If you believe the Church can handle reaching people by events and activities, then you will naturally plan and hold many events and activities in your church. Though this example is quite simple and (maybe) a bit extreme, you get the point. Whatever it is you believe about the church; however you believe ministry is to be done, your philosophy of ministry is made visible by your ministerial actions.

The Pandemic and Ministry

While many churches have already resumed back to semi-normal gatherings, this global pandemic has made each and every pastor (myself included) rethink how we do ministry in the local church. Because nobody is able to visit people in their homes (for the most part) and there is no such thing as visitation ministry at all, really. So, we have to re-evaluate and re-structure how we minister and shepherd in the local church.

Or do we?

Sure, we might have to figure out some different methods by which we are to check up on our shut-ins and congregants – like phone conversations and letters – but the main method of ministry in the local church really should not change. I hope you read that right – our philosophy does not HAVE to change. Here is what I mean in a few statements:

  1. The church is centered on the Word of God. Simply put, if your church ministry does not resemble what the Scriptures require of the church, it might be time to re-evaluate your philosophy of ministry. Why? Because your church is not your church: it’s God’s church. And if this is God’s church, then we must minister God’s way, instead of trying to minister in our own conjured up ways.
  2. Our philosophy reflects our priorities. If we prioritize and facilitate ministries that feed people’s emotions, we will focus our attention toward these types of ministries. However, while these things like different events and music are necessary to an extent for ministry, when they are the sole focus of our ministry, they become our priority.
  3. God has given us our philosophy. Instead of trying to decide how to figure out all of these things, look to the Scriptures for your philosophy. The Lord has not left His church in the dark. He has given us everything we need to do ministry: these are what theologians and scholars call the ordinary means of grace.
  4. The means of grace is all we need. The Bible, prayer, and the ordinances are the sole means through which we minister to our people. Invest the Scriptures into them, pray for them, show them the love of God in Christ through the ordinances. This is God’s plan for the local church.

Conclusion

So, do we really need a new philosophy? I say no. I believe that the ordinary means of grace are sufficient for every church in every city for all time because it is God’s plan A for the church. We invest and entrust the gospel to others. We pray for others, our community, and the nations. We show our congregation, and those who are not members, the love of Christ through his life, death, and resurrection by partaking of the supper. It’s all we need. We don’t need more programs and activities to feed people’s emotions. We need the inspired Word of God to guide our ministries and to grow our people into the image of Jesus Christ.

Book Review: “God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel”

The gospel of Jesus Christ is always a call to come and die. Never has the gospel been any other call to those whom God elects. However, over the course of several decades, the American scene of Christianity fostered the rise of what is now known as the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. This gospel, a false gospel, claims that as long as you will be faithful to God and “give” him your best (in whatever ways that entails), he will reward you with health, wealth, and prosperity.

Costi Hinn, the nephew of prosperity preacher, Benny Hinn, was an heir in a prosperity ministry just a few short years ago. In his book, God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel, he relives the situations in which he found himself as he not only was a prosperity preacher, but was awakened by God’s grace to the truth of the (true) gospel. Here are a few takeaways from his book:

The Truth About the Prosperity Gospel

Hinn (Costi) defines the prosperity gospel in this way:

“The prosperity gospel makes human satisfaction to be material, and Jesus to be the cherry on top.”[1]

The ministry of Benny Hinn began by him being influenced by a woman preacher named Kathryn Kuhlman. Kuhlman was one of the earlier proponents of the prosperity gospel movement in the twentieth century. Costi recounts his uncle Benny following in the footsteps of Kuhlman (and a few others) which would then form his uncle’s own ministry to millions over the next several decades.

Growing up in the Hinn family was no small task, Hinn (Costi) explains. He notes that death was never talked about and every family member simply understood that they were the spiritual elite. The simple reality for those involved in the prosperity gospel movement is that if you were diseased or sick in some way, this was a clear sign that your faith was not amounting up to what was needed for God to bless you. As the spiritual elite, the only way death and disease were talked about was at a crusade when someone would approach the faith healer for healing (like Costi’s uncle Benny).

Over the course of the book, Hinn recollects the many different ways in which the prosperity gospel ultimately distorts the true gospel found in the Bible. And essentially, this is the claim he makes about the PG: it is a false gospel. “The prosperity gospel sells salvation and false hope.”[2] In other words, the prosperity gospel sells a message which says that as long as you will have enough faith or give enough money to the faith healer (like Benny Hinn), God will continually give you health, wealth, and prosperity.

Questioning Everything

For young Costi, however, the questions began while he was on a ministry trip with his uncle Benny in India. He describes the group arriving in India and his uncle refusing to get out because he did not “want to deal with the smell until [he] absolutely had to.”[3] In other words, Benny Hinn was so attached to his ivory tower that even the simple smell of India was too much for him. Costi remembers thinking, “What’s wrong with this picture?” Of course, we know now (from the book itself) that this was the sovereignty of God revealing to him the deceitfulness of the prosperity gospel incrementally.

Yet, it would be a few more years before these thoughts would produce change in Costi. You see, one of the things about the Hinn family is that you never disgrace the family name by challenging its patriarchs, like uncle Benny. However, when Costi continued to find truths revealed in the Scripture (often from a college baseball coach at Dallas Baptist University), he felt as if he had no choice. This mentor of Costi’s led him to challenge much, if not most, of his family’s antics, and eventually led to his conversion.

Reaching the Deceived

Without giving away the main premise of the book, one of the most important sections within it is chapters ten and eleven. Hinn not only gives his major critique of the prosperity gospel off and on throughout, but he also offers a biblical approach to health and wealth (chapter 10), and ways to reach those who are deceived by the prosperity gospel (chapter 11). These two chapters are honestly the climax of the book, for they show the depths of genuine love and affection that Costi Hinn has for those who are deceived by the prosperity gospel. He not only has seen it, but has lived it and he wants others to be brought to the truth.

Conclusion

If you want an easy-to-read book that is very detailed regarding the prosperity gospel, this book is for you. If you are interested in Costi’s story, this book is for you. If you are struggling with the promises of the prosperity gospel yourself, pick this book up. You will not put it down.


About the Author

Costi Hinn is a pastor and author whose passion is to preach the gospel and serve the church. He provides ministry resources on a variety of topics at www.forthgospel.org, and his work has been featured on media outlets like CNN, Christianity Today, and ChurchLeaders.com. Costi and his wife has four young children.


[1] Costi W. Hinn. God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), 174.

[2] Ibid., 155.

[3] Ibid., 72.

Virtual Lord’s Supper: Biblical or Unbiblical?


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about so many different what-if thoughts within the republic of the United States. I know there are many who are out of work and, if you live in Arkansas (as with other states), the schools will no longer hold a session for the 19-20 school year. Many churches (like yours and mine) have been faced with the challenge of now moving to a fully online church *for now.* Instead of being able to gather together and worship the Lord, we are having to post sermons to Facebook and YouTube in order for our people to see them and continue to stay connected to our churches.

Yet, another aspect of this age of virtual church are the virtual ordinances. Many churches have been trying to perform a virtual Lord’s Supper and have familial washing of the saint’s feet (for those of us who are Free Will Baptists). There are a few specific biblical components to church ordinances that I would like to note here, hopefully (and prayerfully) for our benefit:

  • First, let’s clarify these two ordinances[1]. Of course, it is fairly obvious what these two ordinances are and how they are enacted within the church. Yet, it is vitally important to understand what they are. As for the ordinances, there are three main passages from which the church takes its reasoning to approach the Lord’s table and to wash the saint’s feet: Matthew 26, John 13, and 1 Corinthians 11 (Lord’s Supper), and John 13 (Washing of the Saint’s Feet). The Lord’s Supper is meant to be taken ” as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup” (1 Cor. 11:26). Though some might be, I am not convinced the Bible gives a certain number of times per year or per period to approach the table. I do, however, believe that we should not neglect observing the Lord’s Supper. Yet, the number of times per year a church does this can be a bit contingent upon the church itself. As for the Washing of the Saint’s Feet, I believe this ordinance should be observed every time the Lord’s Supper is taken.
  • Second, the ordinances are, in fact, Church ordinances. The most important feature for the ordinances is that they are the ordinances of the Church of Jesus Christ. This truth has one main implication of which I would like to focus: the ordinances are only for the gathered church. I understand why this may not settle well with some folks, and that is fine. But we must understand that the ordinances of the church are only meant to be carried out in the context of the assembly of believers. Why? They have been instituted by our God for the edification Christ’s body, the Church. 1 Corinthians 11 shows us (on multiple occasions) that the Supper is meant to be taken together as a body of believers.

“The ordinances are only for the gathered church.”

  • Third, the ordinances should only be done in the context of a local church. Once again, this is another biblical principle that may upset some folks, especially during the COVID-19 quarantine. However, even in specific circumstances that prevent us from gathering as believers, we must not forget the biblical mandates in which we have been given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And one of the principles we find regarding the Lord’s Supper and the Washing of the Saint’s Feet is that every time these are mentioned, they are mentioned in the context of a local church gathering. Bobby Jamieson writes: “The Lord’s Supper enacts the church’s unity. It consummates the church’s oneness. It gathers up the many who partake of the same elements together, in the same place, and makes them one.”[2] In other words, the Supper and the Washing of the Saint’s Feet are both means by which the Lord has ordained in order to promote and breed unity within his Church.

Biblical or Unbiblical?

Of course, this question is a bit more difficult than a simple yes or no regarding biblical centrality. In my honest opinion, I don’t believe the question is as simple as one can make it. In other words, I don’t think there is a way to simply say yes or no to a virtual Lord’s Supper and Washing of the Saint’s Feet as biblical or not. It’s just not that simple.

I don’t want to come across as haughty or arrogant by saying a virtual Supper or Feet Washing is unbiblical. However, I do want to stay as close and true to the Bible’s perspective on how we should partake in the Supper and the Washing of the Saint’s Feet. From my perspective, though, and my reading of the text, I cannot look at Matthew 26 and 1 Corinthians 11 and conclude that the Lord would permit us, as His church, to approach His table and Wash the Saint’s Feet anywhere else BUT our local churches. In 1 Corinthians 11, we find the phrase “when you come together” no less than three times, implicitly showing us that the Supper is not meant to be taken apart from the assembled body of believers. 1 Corinthians was written to the church at Corinth. So, Paul is showing his readers the reality that the Supper has only been instituted by the Lord Jesus for the purpose of building one another up in unity and accountability.

Concluding Thoughts

More than anything else, I know everyone wants to follow the Lord and be as faithful as they can to Him during this pandemic. However, while we are choosing faithfulness, we must also not neglect exegetical faithfulness. According to all of my findings in the Bible, I don’t find a reason to support a virtual online Lord’s Supper or Washing of the Saint’s Feet. Here are a few concluding thoughts:

  • First, I don’t believe the Bible is affirmative of doing anything that should be done in the local gathering of believers. I know this may be a difficult truth to take in, but there is more to church than simply gathering together and worshipping. Church is for unity, accountability, building one another up, singing to one another, and more.
  • Second, the ordinances are to be taken in the church. I see no clear evidence for any allowance of something different within Scripture. The only affirmative situation is “when you gather together.”
  • Third, we must do what we believe is the most faithful biblically. Ultimately, this issue is about faithfulness to God and His Word. I understand that there is much room for disagreement here. So, this goes with my next concluding thought…
  • Fourth, I cannot say a virtual ordinance is unbiblical. Though I cannot say it is unbiblical, I will say it is unwise and unfaithful to the biblical text, according to my interpretation.
  • Fifth, I understand these are difficult times. Living through this pandemic has done a lot for me as a local church pastor. This pandemic has made me rethink so many things, including things like Church Ordinances.
  • Sixth, and most importantly, we must do what is the most faithful action biblically. Ultimately, I want my life to be known by how faithful I was to the Lord and His Word, and I pray and hope you do, as well.

Is it unbiblical? No, probably not. Is it the best option? No, probably not the best option either. When our local church leadership gathered in the middle of March to evaluate what to do regarding the virus, we decided then and there that we could reschedule our Supper and Feet Washing without any breach of conscience. Friends, there is nothing wrong with not having ordinances on Easter or waiting to partake together. However, I believe it to be most wise if we wait until we can all gather together again to approach the Lord’s table and wash each others’ feet.


[1] I mention only two ordinances because the church ordinance of Believer’s Baptism really is not an issue when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic of our day.

[2] Bobby Jamieson, “Can Baptism and the Lord’s Supper Go Online?” The Gospel Coalition, accessed April 14, 2020, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/baptism-lord-supper-online/.

Introducing, Haddon Charles Campbell

The quarantine decided to get to our pregnant mommy and our second little bundle of joy determined to make his arrival a couple of weeks early!

Haddon Charles Campbell was born on Monday, March 30, at 10:50 in the evening. His birth was at a record time for us Campbells. Kaylee had just returned home from work on Monday and was in the floor playing Candyland with Beckett. Beckett was begging her to go outside, but mommy was tired and he deemed Candyland an appropriate counter-activity. Yet, as the game ended and mommy was cleaning up the game, her water broke.

In the other room, I was two minutes away from starting our virtual leadership meeting for our church. Needless to say, that was a no-go for me. Instead, we packed up our things, took Beckett to my parents’ house, and headed to the hospital.

We arrived at the hospital around 6:30 to become aware that Kaylee was already dilated to a 6 – which is over half-way to delivery time. And by 10:50, after three simple pushes, Haddon was born!

Super-Woman

Listen, I cannot begin to tell you just how much of a superwoman my wife is. She was a trooper in the delivery room! But not only in the delivery room…at the hospital…at home…as a mother of two. She is the most tremendously determined woman I know! It is absolutely God’s grace on my life to have her as my partner for life.

The Name

Haddon Charles Campbell has a name that is very near and dear to my heart and my wife’s family. Of course, if you know me at all, you know that I have a preaching hero in Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He was the fiercest preacher in the history of Baptists and also the most biblically-centered pastor-theologian – I want to be like him. Yet, my father-in-law has a first name of Charles. So, we have killed two birds with one stone, if you will.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Haddon Charles Campbell