On Sunday night I had the beautiful opportunity to participate in the commissioning of Elders in Village Belfast. Like Peter in the text above, I was able to stand with them as a fellow elder, and to charge them with the task God has called them to.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." - Matthew 5:6
What a stunning statement by Jesus in the opening section of the Sermon on the Mount. What a glorious promise that the hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied. It's a statement that only He can make. We are wholly incapable of achieving righteousness on our own, but Jesus offers His righteousness freely to us. It is for our sake that God made Him to be sin, who knew know sin, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).
Luther said of those who begin to grasp the grace of God shown to us through Christ, "they sense it like a wonderful taste or odor that they greatly desire and pursue and they are amazed that they cannot grasp it or comprehend it as they would like. They hunger, thirst, and yearn for it more and more; and they never tire of hearing about it or dealing with it."
May this be true of us.
Let's keep our hunger and thirst for the lesser desires of this life in check, lest we fill ourselves with that which cannot ultimately satisfy our souls.
Let's stop expecting churches to fill us up so we go away sated, getting increasingly fat week by week, and instead pray that our churches may stir in us a greater hunger and thirst for Jesus so that we may find true satisfaction in Him.
Hunger and thirst for righteousness. In Jesus you will be satisfied.
- The Biblical Rationale
- Ministers of the Gospel
- Gifted for the Body
- Submitted and Responsible
Church as a Spectator Sport
We live in the most individualized and customizable culture in the history of the world. Our music has an endless catalogue, our entertainment is available on demand, and we can purchase anything our hearts desire with a point and a click, confident that it will arrive at our doorstep within 48-hours via free shipping. For too many, church has become a spectator sport. People show up to be entertained and encouraged for an hour each week and then move on with the rest of life. We can make time to get there once or twice per month - as long as church attendance doesn't get in the way of this week's game or this weekend's travel plans - and count that as real commitment.
We even call our searches "church shopping". As we shop in the marketplace of churches we evaluate all kinds of things: the style or quality of music, the length of the preaching, the programmatic menu that seeks to cater to our desires, the friendliness of the people, the ease of accessibility and transportation, and on, and on, and on. At its best, it is important to evaluate theological, ecclesiological, and missional alignment before committing to a church. At it's worst, we fall into evaluating a set of goods to see if they will meet our consumeristic needs, only to disconnect from the church body and move on when it gets stale.
There has to be a better approach.
Ministers of the Gospel
One of my favorite practices at Redemption Hill Church is the way we commission new members. After being trained through our membership class, interviewed by Elders, and affirmed into membership in our local body by the members of the church, we gather around the new members to lay hands on them and pray for them as we commission them to be ministers of the gospel in our city. The picture above captures one of these powerful moments in the life of our church. Membership is not just about alignment, it is about unity in mission. Every member of the church is a leader in the church. In the Reformation, this idea was called the "priesthood of all believers."
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. - 1 Peter 2:4-5
God's house is not a physical structure, it is made up of living stones, His people, built on the ultimate cornerstone, Jesus. As we see in the passage above, there is no spiritual class divide between clergy and laity, minister and congregant, priest and parishioner. Jesus, as the ultimate High Priest, made it possible for all who follow Him to have direct access to God (Heb. 4:14-16). Every follower of Christ, then, is called to be a part of His priesthood.
Trained and Released for Ministry
So often we think about these roles only in terms of authority and hierarchy. Jesus reshapes the idea of leadership for the church. A church ought to function as groups of leaders who are equipped to further God's mission in reconciling people to Himself through Christ. Elders are a qualified team of men who lead the church and train people for ministry. Deacons are qualified men and women who are appointed by the elders to carry out ministry. Members are church leaders who give themselves to the advance the gospel of Jesus Christ through their time, talents, prayer, and financial support.
Church leadership ought to be less about hierarchy than it is about mission. The biblical governance structures turn typical hierarchy on its head. We come together under One Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ (John 10). God calls pastors and elders to equip the people of the church for ministry for the sake of the edification, or building up of the church (Eph. 4:11-12). The New Testament model of leadership places the members on the front lines of ministry, alongside and supported by their pastors and elders. The better-trained members of a church are, the more capable they will be of leading well and engaging in ministry.
On a Mission from God
This is what it means to be "missional". The church must be, at its very core, a missionary body, training and equipping people to live their lives for the sake of the gospel and to the glory of God in their lives. The mission of God is not confined to special facilities, meetings, or days, but invades all of life and every sphere of life as Jesus' Church, made up of His people, scatters each day into their spheres of influence. We gather each Sunday, as Jesus' followers have for nearly 2,000 years, to worship God together and to be reminded of the gospel and equipped to live on Jesus mission in the upcoming week.
This is what makes membership so important, and why we make such a big deal out of membership at RHC. Our gatherings on Sundays are beautiful and essential, but we need to remember that the mission of the church does not end with the benediction. The benediction sends the members of the church out with grace and peace to be ambassadors and ministers of that grace and peace (2 Cor. 5:20-21). We leave our gatherings each week refreshed and unified on mission together. Each member is commissioned as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let's get beyond consuming and move forward on Jesus' mission together.
- The Biblical Rationale
- Ministers of the Gospel
- Gifted for the Body
- Submitted and Responsible
I have often heard it argued that the New Testament nowhere tells us to have formalized, signed membership agreements or covenants. That's the tactful way to put it. Usually it sounds a lot more like, "I'm not signing your piece of paper." While it's true that there's no mention of signed documents, there is certainly the expectation of committed life together in community, connected to a local body of believers. So, are our current approaches to church membership biblical?
Admittedly, this takes a little explanation and teaching. In our cultural context membership is much more transactional. In fact, all of life seems transactional. Typically membership means that an individual pays dues or fees in order to secure rights of access and use. We become members of a Costco so we can buy stuff in their warehouses. We join country clubs so that we have rights to the golf courses. We join unions and trade associations so that our rights are protected and our voices can be unified. None of these are the portrait of biblical church membership. Biblical membership is not about paying dues to gain access and rights, it is about giving ourselves up to serve others as we are connected to Jesus' work in and through His Body, the church.
Membership - In a Body, Not a Club
Membership is not just a made up term for churches, and it's not borrowed from our culture. It is a biblical concept and biblical language. There is a massive difference, though. Biblical church membership is about being part of a Body, not gaining access to rights in a club. Churches use all kinds of different language for membership as they try to get past these connotations. While there is nothing wrong with using language like partners, investors, etc., at Redemption Hill Church we have chosen to stick with "membership" because it is the most direct language of the NT.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
(1 Corinthians 12:12, 27)
Jesus is the Head of His church (Col. 2:19). Local churches are each an expression, or manifestation, of the Body of Christ. No one of us can independently claim to be part of His Body. It is only when we are joined together that the individual members make up the Body of Christ. We are joined, knit together, by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12-13). This imagery - that we are individual members of a corporate Body, gifted by One Spirit to serve one another, encourage one another, and build up that Body through the gospel of Jesus Christ - is beautiful and worthy of our pursuit. Biblical
Why a Formal Process and Agreement?
This brings us back to the argument about a formal process and agreement. It is true that the NT doesn't prescribe a system for membership classes or list signed membership covenants. That doesn't mean that there is not biblical rationale for these things. It is clear that the NT is concerned with maintaining clarity in who is and is not a part of a local church for the sake of discipline and purity of the church (1 Cor. 5), developing leaders (1 Tim. 3; Tit. 1), bearing one another's burdens (Gal. 6:1-10), and in unity of purpose and mission (Eph. 4:1-16).
In the NT era people faced dire consequences for following Jesus. Christians needed to cling to each other in the face of persecution. In our culture this is simply not the case. It is too often the case now that people approach church life and involvement transactionally rather than familially, evaluating the level to which their desires are being met and gracing the church with their presence and giving proportionally. If the church involvement is transactional, individuals will balk at the idea of submission to leaders and preservation of unity in the body. Instead, they will fight for their autonomy and rights.
We have addressed our cultural context with a two-pronged approach. First is membership class. At RHC we call this "Foundations". The Foundations Class gives us an opportunity to teach what biblical church membership truly is, addressing the cultural baggage associated with that terminology. It also provides opportunity to talk about our doctrinal commitments and church distinctives so that individuals can asses their alignment with us as a local Body. Providing an opportunity for teaching and dialog on who we are and how we function provides for and preserves unity within this local church.
The second of our two prongs is a membership covenant. Hebrews 13:7 says,
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
We need to seriously consider how we can know how to identify the leaders to whom we are submitted, and our leaders need to know which souls for whom they are responsible before God to give an account. The cultural platform by which we make commitments is to sign our name to documents. We do this in countless ways, from daily credit card transactions, to gym memberships, to permission slips for school field trips. Signing our name is our culture's way of saying, "Yes. I understand these things and I am committed to fulfill this agreement." RHC's membership covenant includes expectations of the church and church leadership as we commit to each member, as well as commitments of the individual to the church. It is a reciprocal commitment that we believe applies biblical principle to our cultural setting, which is the calling of every church.
Church membership is biblical. It isn't an optional concept in the New Testament. For Christians, pursuing membership in a local church is a matter of obedience, not preference. It's a matter of commitment and service rather than accessing rights through transactional alignment.
The posts that follow will dig more deeply into all of these things. Stay tuned!
The most restorative thing for you to do on Sunday is not to take a nap. Don't get me wrong on this, I'm a huge advocate of naps. Sometimes the most holy thing we can do is to sleep because it is a reminder that the world doesn't stop when we rest. Naps during the early afternoon lull can do more to boost our mental acuity and productivity than any amount of caffeine. Physical rest is important but, just like physical discipline, it is not the most important thing (1 Tim. 4:8).
Sabbath is not about doing nothing, though, and it is certainly not about self-indulgence. Let's do a quick look through Scripture to see what we can learn about Sabbath.
Sabbath in Creation
"So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation" (Genesis 2:3). It makes some sense to start at the beginning on this. If you read the creation narrative in Genesis 1-2, you may notice that the seventh day is the only one that did not have an explicit end. The phrase, "and it was evening and it was morning, the _______ day," just doesn't occur. The argument can be made that we were created to live in an ongoing state of God's rest and presence, including even our work. Let's keep that in mind as we continue to look ahead.
Sabbath in the Old Covenant
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8). As Israel came out of Egypt and headed toward the ultimate promised rest in the land God would lead them to, the Sabbath was included in the Law. While it is clear that farming and vocational labor were to cease on the Sabbath, it's also clear that Temple worship and the assembly of God's people was an important part of the Sabbath. In Leviticus 23:3 it says, “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places."
Jesus and Sabbath
Jesus shook things up, claiming to be the Lord of the Sabbath when He and His disciples were confronted for doing too much work, like healing people (Luke 6). That's right, the religious leaders were angry because Jesus healed people on the Sabbath. Let that soak in a bit. He also claimed to offer the true and ultimate rest when He said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus doesn't just offer a day off, He offers to us a restoration of the 7th Day, restoring us in relationship to God as our Father and offering rest for our souls.
Sabbath in the Early Church
When we look ahead to the Early Church, Christians started gathering on Sundays rather than Saturdays to celebrate Jesus' resurrection, which happened on the first day of the week (Luke 24). For many, this was still a work day. The idea of Sabbath was redefined by Jesus. In Hebrews we read, "For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God (Hebrews 4:8-9), and then a few verses later, "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession" (Hebrews 4:14). The earliest of Christians knew that Jesus had brought true rest for them and they gathered each week to celebrate and to be reminded of His finished work.
Sabbath in the New Creation
Revelation 21 gives us a beautiful portrait of a restoration of the 7th Day for all of eternity, as we get to live in God's presence and experience true rest. It says, "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God" (Revelation 21:3). Our Sunday gatherings are a foretaste of this eternal future. We gather with God's people to worship Him through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Spirit. As a church family, we are a living, working family that comes together to serve one another out of love, gifted by the Holy Spirit for the building up of Jesus' Church. It's in light of this that the author of Hebrews, who knows how we can find ultimate, restorative rest, wrote, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:24-25).
The most restorative thing we can do is gather together to worship Jesus.
Sabbath is not synonymous with inactivity. Seeing the church gathering as an inconvenient break in your otherwise self-focused day misses the true idea of Sabbath. You will never experience restorative rest while your eyes are fixed on yourself. We will experience true rest when we get our eyes off ourselves and regain perspective on our lives and this world by focusing on Christ. It breaks my heart when Christians refuse to serve their church on Sundays and hide behind the excuse of Sabbath because they are missing so much.
Sabbath is a gracious gift from God to break our routine. Coming together in loving community, breaking routine, serving one another, being reminded of the gospel - these things lead to restoration and re-creation in Christ's image. Serving the others around us as an overflow of Christ's love for us will be better for your soul than simply coming to consume music and preaching because you will see God use your gifts to encourage and build others up. We have a whole day each week that we can focus on Jesus together. What a great blessing from God!
So, go ahead and take a nap. Physical rest is important. God created us with a a constant reminder that we do not hold the whole world together and that we need to sleep. Just don't limit your view of Sabbath rest to laying on the couch. You'll miss out on weekly opportunities to get your focus outside of yourself and to experience true restoration. You'll miss out on true Sabbath rest.