Friday, May 26, 2006

A Major Reason I Advocate Church Membership

In 1997 I was completely opposed to the idea of church membership. I grew up in a church that did not have official membership. I saw no great value to membership. It seemed like all responsibility and only one privilege—voting—a privilege more likely than not to lead to church problems.

During the summer of 1997, Bob Jones University hired me to write the last in a series of Sunday School quarterlies for their college SS classes. Developing Biblical Interpersonal Relationships was the topic assigned. While researching for the chapter on how to deal with relationships broken by sin, I ran across a true story that ran much like the following.

A church in Colorado had an open-membership policy like I grew up with: if you come regularly and tithe, you’re a member. A young woman, who was a part of the college & career group, decided to move in with her boyfriend. From her perspective, her moral behavior was none of the church’s business.

That wasn’t how the church saw it. Since she had been a regular “member,” the church initiated the steps Jesus laid out in Matthew 18:15-17 for dealing with a brother or sister who sins. First, her friends went to her, but she wouldn’t listen. Then the church leadership went to her, explaining what the Bible says about fornication and Christians, but she wouldn’t listen.

At this point, she decided that since she was being harassed by a bunch of legalists, she would just quit attending that church and go somewhere else. However, the church didn’t look at it quite that way. From the church’s perspective, she was backsliding, and they had to exercise the discipline Christ prescribed in order to bring her back into right relationship with God. So, they took the third step: they brought her case before the church, formally censured her in absentia, and declared her no longer a member of the church.

She sued the church for libel and defamation, and the court awarded her $250,000. The rationale: because she had never made any formal commitment to membership and had told the church leaders that she no longer considered herself a member of their church, the church did not have a legal right to discipline her.

My study of the Scriptural principles for church discipline had lead me to the conclusion that God designed it to function as the immune system for the Body of Christ. A church without church discipline is like a body without an immune system: it will fall prey to every and any disease that comes along. As I pondered the Colorado church’s story, I completely reversed my opinion. Not only am I no longer opposed to church membership, but I see it as absolutely essential for the spiritual vitality of the Church.

The biblical mandate of church discipline and the legal impossibility of exercising it without church membership is one of the primary reasons I am advocating a rethinking of church polity, and especially the way we conceive and practice church membership.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy

This book by John Piper caught my attention because I am unsatisfied with the level of joy in my life. I do desire God. And for that grace I am grateful. Yet, I long to find Him my chief joy.

Verses like the following suggest there is greater joy to be had than I currently have:
  • Hebrews 10:34 For you … accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.
    — Christians accepting the wrongful seizure of their property with joy! Joy because their future inheritance included permanent, unseizable possessions. But that didn’t change the fact that they had lost their property, perhaps all their assets: lands, cash, houses, etc. Why? Because they were Christians. … accepted joyfully!
  • Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy…
    — right after love comes joy!
  • 1 Peter 1:8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
    — sounds like those gospel songs that make poetic flights the supposed substance of everyday living … “waves of glory o’er me roll” … the only problem is, this inspired Scripture. … joy inexpressible and filled with glory! Where’s that in my life?!
Here are some quotes from the first chapter of Piper's book that have been deepening my hunger for God:

> “the truth and beauty and worthy of God shine best from the lives of saints who are so satisfied in God they can suffer in the cause of love without murmuring.” (15)

> Jonathan Edwards argued with all his intellectual might in 1729 that “Persons need not and ought not to set any bounds to their spiritual and gracious appetites.” [Imagine wondering if your appetite for God was getting a little out of hand!?] Edwards continues

“[We ought] to be endeavoring by all possible ways to inflame our desires and to obtain more spiritual pleasures. … Our hungerings and thirstings after God and Jesus Christ and after holiness can’t be too great for the value of these things, for they are things of infinite value. … [Therefore] endeavor to promote spiritual appetites by laying yourself in the way of allurement. … there is no such thing as excess in our taking of this spiritual food. There is no such virtue as temperance in spiritual feasting. (19)

O God, grant me unbounded appetite for You and grace to lay myself in the way of soul allurement to You.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Losing and Regaining our First Love (Rev. 2:4-5)

Revelation 2:4 'But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 'Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place-- unless you repent.

What does it mean that the Ephesians had left their “first love?”

Notice that three actions (not feelings, emotions, or attitudes) are commanded: remember, repent, and do:

1. “Remember” – they are to remember "from where they have fallen." Their current position is one below where they had been. Their current behavior is missing the first deeds that were motivated by their first love.
2. “Repent” – this tells me that whatever it is to “leave your first love” is something that requires repentance, i.e., sin.
3. “Do the deeds you did at first” – Obedience is the perfect expression of love for God (1 John 2:5). The Ephesians’ departure from their first/former love is evident in that they have ceased to engage in the expressions of that love.

I think a fair analogy may be made with courtship and marriage. Many a man, fired by the warmth of “first love,” performs deeds gallant and chivalrous for his bride-to-be/new bride. Due to the nature of the human constitution, the warmth of “first love” wanes. It cannot be helped. Not is it to be particularly lamented, UNLESS with the settling into the routines of married life, the husband no longer does the deeds he did at first. He no longer holds the door, opens the car door, etc. showing his deference and love. The issue is not that he no longer “feels” the same, but that he no longer “acts” the same. It is the action that is the true measure of love. When action is absent, love is absent or soon will be.

This is not to say that emotional deadness is an acceptable condition for a Christian. Scripture will not countenance such a norm.

Yet, Jesus does not call Ephesus (or us) to regain the ardor and fervor of a new convert. He calls us to maintain first love’s deeds, i.e., obedience, regardless of our emotional fluctuations.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Praying with Paul for Discerning Love (Phil. 1:9-11)

Heavenly Father, for those I’m bringing before You, I pray that you would cause their love for You to increase and abound in greater knowledge of You and, consequently, in greater discernment so that they will be able to identify and choose things that are excellent—the things that please You most—so that, from now until Jesus returns, their lives will be blameless in your sight, harmless to others, and filled through Christ’s enablement with thoughts, words, and deeds that are righteous—fully in harmony with Your word—so that their lives will bring glory and praise to You.