State of the Church 2014

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Introduction
It is our custom to have a “state of the church” message every year around this time. Sometimes the message has to do with the church nationally, and other times the point is more local, pertaining to our own congregation. This year I want to focus on this congregation, and the point of this message is to reiterate some of our basic distinctives. What are we about? What are we trying to emphasize?

The Text:
“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe” (Phil. 3:1).

Summary of the Text:
The church at Philippi had particular challenges, and Paul addressed them all by urging them to rejoice. This is a response that is always appropriate because God is always sovereign and God is always good. Not only is it appropriate for Christians to rejoice all the time, it is appropriate to bring repeated reminders to them to do so. To repeat the same exhortations should not be a grief to ministers, and it should be received as a means of keeping us all safe.

Two Kinds of Distinctives:
One kind of distinctive arises from what we believe the Scripture teaches and requires of all believers. We focus on it because we believe that all believers should focus on it. This would be a principled distinctive, coupled with an ecumenical invitation.

A second kind of distinctive would arise from our particular circumstances. These are tactical circumstances, tailored to the life and situation of each congregation. Are we in an urban setting or in a small town? Should we build this kind of building or that kind? Should we build a Christian school or is there already a good Christian school? These are tactical questions.

A third kind of distinctive is sinful. This is what happens when a group tries to separate itself from other Christians through various kinds of doctrinal vainglory or ministry showboating. This is what the disciples were arguing about on the road (Mk. 9:34). We are not immune to this temptation (why would we be?), and so we want to resist it everywhere we find it. The place to look is under your breastbone.

That said, what are our principled distinctives?

Corporate Worship:
We worship God because He is worthy. We do not do it for any of the results that might come about from it. Rather, we do everything else for the results it might have in helping us to glorify God. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Rev. 5:12).

Worshiping God is not a means to another end. Worshiping God is the highest calling that a human being has, or that the entire human race has. It requires no other justification. Whatever you do, it should drive you to this great end. Whatever you do, it should culminate here, in the glorification of God. There is great wisdom in the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism here. This is our chief end.

Dangers: one danger is that you make something you call worship into a great big deal, but it is not spiritual worship at all. Another danger is that of trying to get worship to “do” other things, like evangelism. But this is backwards.

Components: Learning the structure of covenant renewal worship, growing in our musical wisdom and literacy, teaching your families the importance of worship, weekly communion, and practical Bible teaching.

Basic Discipleship in Community:
We want to emphasize basic and foundational issues in our teaching—personal piety as measured by relational piety (1 John 4:20). We want our doctrine to revolve around practical Christianity, Christian living that is meant to be lived. This is why there are recurring themes in the teachings, conferences, books published, and so on. We emphasize things like confession of sin, dealing with bitterness, maintaining relationships, how to read your Bible, the importance of Christian education, and so on.

Dangers: the danger here is that of reducing everything to a moralistic or legalistic approach. But the biblical approach is always credenda before agenda.

Components: Understanding the Apostles Creed, true Christian education for Christian kids, parish studies, having our lives intertwined in koinonia fellowship, and being driven by an eschatological optimism.

Worldview Evangelism, Outreach, Cultural Engagement:
Jesus is Lord, and this means that He is relevant to all things. No area of human endeavor lies outside His authority. Our evangelism is not an attempt to helicopter victims out of a disaster area, but rather is the work of rebuilding a disaster area. Everything is relevant, and everything is related to Jesus.

The Christian faith has cultural ramifications. The Christian faith is political. The Christian faith is public. We have no business taking this light of His and putting it under our own bushel.

Dangers: one danger is the obvious one of calling it cultural engagement when we just drift along with whatever it is the world is dishing up. Another is the cowardice of shutting up because of the pc police. Or that of using a Jesus stamp on all of your personal prejudices.

Components: real Christian education (again), and a willingness to get out of our comfy little ghetto. In order to learn cultural engagement, we have to engage. We must not capitulate, and we must not run away. We must engage. This means knowing, loving, and praying for non-believers—without trying to become like them.

Conclusion:
In the coming year, and in the time after that, there will no doubt be a number of times when we have practical and tactical decisions to make. A good example would be the issues surrounding the building of our new sanctuary. We have been without one since this congregation was established in 1975. We have a church that we planted just ten years ago that has its own building now, and we still don’t, which is the coolest thing in the world.

But when we come to build our own building (or if we do anything else), make sure that everything is brought back to these three areas. How will this help us do that? Unless we make a point of doing it this way, we will be like a crotchety bachelor deciding to get married in his late forties. What could go wrong?

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Tim H
Tim H
9 years ago

Throughout this post, I take it that “we…” is the royal we?
 

Tim H
Tim H
9 years ago

Well sure, but how is what “we” believe determined then? If it is declared, authoritatively, then we are back to the “royal we.”

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
9 years ago

Tim, yours is a good question.  As an episcopal kind of guy myself, I see Doug’s message as powerfully and beautifully Pauline and bishopful.  This is what and how one of His pastors should speak.  What a gift to us!  So the royal we is most appropriate, no?

Tim H
Tim H
9 years ago

Eric — as an episcopal kind of guy, I suppose that some form of apostolic succession through ordination is important to you. This Douglas lacks, however. Thus “pastor” must be used with scare-quotes. Or, “Pastor Eric,” it is a term that applies to everyone.  — “Pastor Tim”

Robert
Robert
9 years ago

What could possibly go wrong with being in you late forties and marrying the first time? By that point, you know who you are.

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
9 years ago

Robert, that IS what could go wrong — the sense that you have nothing to learn and no need to change — that “who you are” doesn’t need any major adjustment in light of becoming one flesh with someone else. Of course no reasonable Christian would hold that view consciously or very strongly, but the tendency for such inflexibility would be much greater in a 40 year old than a 20 year old.

Sean Carlson
Sean Carlson
9 years ago

Jane D – 20 yr olds can be as obtuse to their need as any 40 yr old. Married 4 days shy of 20 yet somehow still together after 4 decades. It wasn’t my wife who was inflexible. My general observations after 40 yrs. Wives get anxious over their role. Husbands don’t because they think they’re fulfilling it. Husbands, by & large, in great need of being brought down a notch or two. Blessings

Robert
Robert
9 years ago

Jane, I was tongue in cheek. Doug knows me. I am in my late forties and unmarried
 

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
9 years ago

Tim & Doug – covenantal, for sure, but that’s the foundation for the episcopacy that Doug couldn’t duck if he tried! And Tim, it’s a succession reaching farther back than the Apostolic brothers.  And I have it on good authority that pastor Doug’s pedigree is verified.

Tim H
Tim H
9 years ago

Eric, would you mind sharing the info? What is needed is date, place, ordaining body, and name of officiating minister/bishop. “Good authority” stubs its toe on simple facts.

Tim H
Tim H
9 years ago

Eric — could you please share the info then? Date, place, ordaining body, and officiating pastor/bishop? “Good authority” stubs its toe on simple facts.

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
9 years ago

Sure, anyone “can be” inflexible and obtuse at any age. But do we really want to argue that there isn’t any generalized tendency for someone who has been on his or her own for 40 years to be a bit stiffer in the adjustment levers than a younger person who is still figuring out what he’s going to be like?                                                                                                                                                                   I’m certainly not offering any proscription against marriage at any given adult age, I’m just pointing out what I thought was a universal given that older people are on the whole more set in their ways than younger ones.… Read more »

rob howard
9 years ago

Tim, why so anxious to pick a fight? Maybe you didn’t notice the bit at the beginning where Doug said, “This year I want to focus on this congregation,” which would have clarified for you what he meant by “we,” as it did for me.

Robert
Robert
9 years ago

I know and to a point, you are right. Just a particular temptation to be aware of, that’s how I look at it. Blessings Fair Lady

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
9 years ago

Tim,
Doug is of Appolos.  Western Melchizidekian wing.

Steve Perry
Steve Perry
9 years ago

And what a great state the churches are in that believe in apostolic succession.

Tim H
Tim H
9 years ago

Eric — haha! You’re no episcopalian!
Rob — no fight desired. But I hate other people presuming to speak for me, and I suspect some at the moscow fellowship do also.

Jon
Jon
9 years ago

There can be no apostolic succession because the apostolic gift ended with the apostles in teh first century.  We are called to follow in their traditions–in their teaching.  But no more apostles can exist.  So how can we have apostolic succession?  All we can have is faithfulness, to a greater or lesser degree.  And I think that’s the Protestant argument (excepting Episcopalians).  I never understood the apostolic succession theory of Rome.  Can anyone shed light on how such a thing can even exist?

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
9 years ago

Jon,  Apostolic Succession is defined differently by different folks.  But most don’t take it to indicate a relay race of Apostles produced and handing off to each other down the ages.  Rather it is understood to be about continuity and community connection.  Our friend Tim here, with a lot of Romans and quite a few Anglicans, take it to be an unbroken (but sometimes not) line of authoritative ordinations (symbolized by laying on of hands in prayer) from one bishop or more to the next generation of bishops.  Those bishops can change denominational horses, but then at least one of… Read more »

Tim H
Tim H
9 years ago

And right after I said, “I hate other people presuming to speak for me.” Must be something contagious if you hang around here too long.
Eric — do you believe laymen have the power/right/whatever to ordain? Or is it that you think there is no ordination?
 

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
9 years ago

Hi Tim —  the sheep (laymen) do and should have input into who could be / should be and is a good shephard.  For example, the potential pastor’s reputation amongst the sheep should be considered by the candidate and bishop.  So do the sheep have the “power/right” to ordain — no.  But in that “whatever” you add — that we should put some meat on.  But what I think you are assuming is that once a bishop “ordains” a fellow, that fellow has the power / right / whatever to be a shephard.  Not the case.  Not Biblical.

Tim H
Tim H
9 years ago

Your thesis seems to be that being ordained is necessary but not sufficient. That may be. However, in this thread the question is simply whether, being necessary, it has taken place. Rather than “having it on good authority,” the simpler yet more effective response would be to list place, date, name, and ordaining body.