Church Revitalization: Our Moment

I remember sitting in a chapel at The Master’s Seminary listening to John Macarthur informally share about some of the different ministries he had been participating in over the previous few months. He said something shocking that I have yet to find in print: “Some of you have been praying for revival. You want revival? Wake up and look around. We are living through the greatest revival since the reformation.”

Macarthur isn’t a lone voice that’s recognized this. In 2006, Colin Hansen wrote an article for Christianity Today entitled “Young, Restless, and Reformed,” which captured a bit of the flavor of this new resurgence of reformed theology. Mark Dever tells the story of how at the 2006 Together for the Gospel Conference he asked people to stand by ages. He writes “Out of 3,000 we had a few senior citizens. Some guys in their 50’s. A lot in their 40’s. A TON in their 30’s. And even MORE in their 20’s.” These observations were what provoked him to write the 2007 article “Where’d All These Calvinists Come From?” where he traces the resurgence of the recovery of the great themes of Scripture from Charles Spurgeon, through Martin Lloyd Jones, to more contemporary figures such as J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, John Macarthur, and John Piper.

Taking a look around

I’ve been observing this surge as well. A few months ago I was at a weekend ecclesiology conference. You heard that right– an event that addressed the topic of church life, government, polity, and other such topics. There are some who believe this stuff drives young people away from, not toward, the church. But the reality was quite different. The room was packed with young men, many sporting beards and tats, holding their ESV Bibles and filling the pews. These men wanted to spend their Friday night and Saturday morning talking about doctrine.

The secular world took note too: in 2009 Time Magazine put out an article titled, “10 Ideas that are Changing the World Right Now” and third on the list was the “New Calvinism.” As you might expect, the writer at Time had a weird understanding of the “New Calvinism.” Regardless, it’s fascinating that such a movement would be on Time’s radar screen.

What does all this mean? Wherever there’s a recovering of biblical authority, robust biblical theology, combined with white-hot intensity and devotion to Jesus Christ, the church advances. Acts chronicles this – where the Word goes it creates life; and when God is creating new life in the world, there are some inevitable results. One of them is an increase in church planting.

Yes, church planting has erupted in the last decade. When people get ahold of the gospel, and the gospel gets ahold of them, they are emboldened toward work and to risk in the service of King Jesus. Off the top of my head I can list several church planting networks that has been birthed out of this new reformed movement: Acts 29, Grace Advance, Sojourn, Sovereign Grace, Summit, Pacific Church Network. We don’t align with all of these networks on every doctrinal point, but they are undeniably one of the results of the resuscitation of reformed doctrine.

The impact on our church

Many of the men who serve in our church have been caught up into this outpouring of God’s grace. Peruse the bookshelves in our offices and you’ll find Packer’s Knowing God and his Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. For most of us, you’ll see a collection of R.C. Sproul’s works, including The Holiness of God and Chosen by God. We all have an entire shelf’s worth of Macarthur works– his commentaries, Bible studies, and some of his landmark titles like The Gospel According to Jesus and Unashamed of the Gospel. For some of us, it was John Piper’s Desiring God or The Pleasures of God or Let the Nations Be Glad that fueled us to give our lives to serve in the ways we have. In other words, though whatever revival may be taking place is from God’s hand, the men he has used to bring about this resurgence in our time are the very ones we’ve learned from, been shaped by, and owe our ministries to. That is to say, our church and ministry has been profoundly shaped by the recent retrieval of reformed theology.

In our church, before Pastor Jordan there was Pastor John, who rigorously and unrelentingly preached God’s Word to our congregation for thirty years, championing the cause of biblical centrality. His ministry established a Scriptural foundation stable enough to support a faithful transition to a new pastor. The baton was passed to Jordan, and under his leadership God has assembled an company of like-minded and gifted men. As a pastor-friend who serves at a different church in our community once said, we enjoy an “embarrassment of riches” here at Grace. Indeed, God has been good.

In light of the blessings we’ve enjoyed and the grace we’ve experienced, our desire is to continue the advance of the gospel. Our desire isn’t necessarily to plant or revitalize churches. Rather, our aim is to train up men who can be faithful to train more men who will train others also (2 Tim. 2:2). These men, we pray, caught up in the plan of God and the mission of the church, will be sent to a variety of places: overseas missions, established churches, new locations where church plants are needed, and, as we’ve been experiencing over the last couple months, to church revitalization projects.

As we reflect on the church revitalization in Rancho, let’s remember that Jesus is building his church. It is easy to look around at the state of the American church and despair. Some of the critiques of modern American evangelicalism are well-deserved. Too many churches have traded the transcendence of God for pragmatism, convenience, and entertainment. Others have blemished the name of Christ by moral failure and scandal. Outside the church the temperature rises. American politics and policies continually remind us of their bankruptcy. Hollywood is a trainwreck. All of this is sad. What we must not forget is this: that the church, in many places, is surging. The gospel is moving. The church is advancing.

A small part of the larger story

What we are hoping to do in Rancho is a small paragraph in a larger story; one that has its roots in an ancient promise to Adam about a Man crushing a serpent, a story where weak people slay giants and desert nomads defeat Egypt’s armies. This is the Great Story we have been written into, not by our choice but by our Author’s; and to appear in print, even as a footnote, as a servant of the Great Hero, the Great God-Man, the Lamb who was Slain, is a man’s highest calling.

Jesus is building his church. We all have been swept into this incredible plan for such a time as this. And we have work to do.

Three Aspects of Sanctification

Anthony Hoekema defines sanctification like this: “that gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, involving our responsible participation, by which He delivers us as justified sinners from the pollution of sin, renews our entire nature according to the image of God, and enables us to live lives that are pleasing to Him.” Or, more simply, the process that believers are made more like Jesus.

There are three aspects of sanctification.

Positional sanctification happens immediately at salvation, and is the washing and cleansing of the new believer where God sets him apart as his own. Paul writes of believers who were sanctified at a specific time in the past: “but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified…” (1 Cor. 6:11). When a person gets saved, he is considered positionally sanctified. He is a saint. He is holy.

Progressive sanctification happens after salvation and is the process by which the believer is transformed into the image of Christ. Romans 6:19b reads “so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” Believers are to strive for holiness “without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).

Permanent sanctification happens at glorification, when believers are finally “not able to sin.” This will only come when we die and go to be with the Lord. “When we see him, we will be like him” John says (1 Jn. 3:2), ;and Revelation 21 makes clear that all sin and struggle and pain will be eradicated. In that state of glorification, there will be no possibility of sin destroying anything.

His speaking calls the church into existence

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In 2 Timothy 3:14-15 we see that God’s Word is sufficient to save. Paul writes “But continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able (sufficient) to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Timothy is described as having “learned” the word, “firmly believed” the word, because he was taught the word at a young age he is described as being “acquainted with” the word. What is the result? What is the word able to do? The word is able to “make you wise for salvation.” The word works.

A protestant Bible believing preacher was having a conversation with a Roman Catholic scholar. They were talking about how the Bible came together. The Roman Catholic scholar said, “We all know that the church created the Bible”- he said this to emphasize that the Bible was a human, not divine, book. The protestant pastor replied, “That’s ridiculous. The church never created the Bible. The Bible created the church.”

It did. It does. God’s Word is sufficient and able to build the church. If Jesus said “I am going to build my church,” how do you think he’s going to do it? He’s going to do it the way he’s always done it: by speaking. He spoke creation into existence, he speaks to bring dead souls to live, and his speaking calls the church into existence. The Scriptures are totally sufficient, and so we preach them.

Twitter Me This: 4/18/16

When a Pastor Falls
Russell Moore asks a good question: what should we do when a pastor falls? Here’s my favorite line:
The reason I am so frustrated is because of my inadequate doctrine of sin. It doesn’t matter what I confess in creedal documents or teach from pulpits; when I am surprised by the irrationality of a particular sin, I am demonstrating that I’m a latent Pelagian of the heart. All sin is irrational and self-destructive. If we don’t get that, we don’t know what sin is. My reaction is a reminder to myself of how much I need the sanctifying presence of the Spirit.
After You Preach 

Here’s a short, memorable resource from Dave Harvey to help preachers in  what can often to their most vulnerable moments: after they preach.

Live Smart, by Dan Dumas

I am thankful for anyone who writes strong, robust books aimed at teenagers. There aren’t many, but I think Dan Dumas put together a good one. I picked up a few for some of my guys. Here’s a link: http://www.livesmartbook.com

College Kids Say the Darndest Things

Watching this is half hilarious and half heart-breaking. Ladies and gentleman: higher education!

Twitter me This (4/11/16)

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A collection of tweets that deserve a second look. With some comments if I feel like it. Enjoy.
 
Al Mohler (@albertmohler)
The power of parents reading aloud to children. Majority of kids say parents stop too soon. Read or listen here.
 
Most children can read independently by the first grade, but still kids want to be read to.  Parents, listen up!
 
Steven Lawson (@DrStevenJLawson)
We are not just dogmatic about the gospel, we are bulldog-matic.

Classic Lawson. Wonder how long it took him to think of that one.
 
Jonathan Leeman (@jonathandleeman)
Ah, how proficient we sinners are at sinning when we’ve been sinned against! Victims becomes perpetrators, creating new victims #cyclegoeson
Helpful to remember when counseling people. 
 
Kenneth R. Samples (@RTB_KSamples)
“Religion is a fairytale for those afraid of the dark.” -Stephen Hawking
“Atheism is a fairytale for those afraid of the light.” John Lennox
Stash that quote away for future use.
 
Mark Dever (@MarkDever)
The victory we are often granted is not the shortening of the trial but the lengthening of our faith. (see Luke 22:32)

 

People are the raw material of heaven

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I have watched men catch the vision of reaching the world for Christ. I have caught this vision, and have dedicated my life to this grand and glorious aim. But I have seen some men become so goal-oriented that to achieve their goals they roughly shoulder their way past people who need help and encouragement.

But what is our objective? What are our goals? When we all get to heaven it will all be vividly and pointedly clear. We will find only people in heaven. There will be no committee notes, no scholarly papers on intriguing themes, no lengthy studies, memos, or surveys. People are the raw material of heaven. If we become enamored with projects, goals, and achievements, and never lend a hand to people along the way; and if we say, “Doing this will not help them accomplish my objective,” what are we really thinking about? Self! Exactly opposite to the lifestyle of Jesus Christ.

Leroy Eims, Disciples in Action

Aren’t we like Cain?

“We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.”

Why would John say that? He’s talking to a church. He’s talking to a group of believers who were in danger of false teachers. He wasn’t talking to a bunch ex-gangbangers and thugs, who had a history committing the high crime of murder. He’s not speaking to inmates. He’s talking to church folk. Why does he warn them about murder?

The answer is because there’s something else going on here. Something deeper. John knows that while we may not ever murder something, the murderous motivations that compelled Cain to kill his brother are inside us all.

John knows that we have a problem. We are more devious than we often think.

Look at what motivated Cain: “And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.”

This passage is for you and me. It lends great insight into the tendencies of the human heart. It’s written because we are prone to act like Cain.

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Aren’t we like Cain when we compare ourselves with others? Remember, it wasn’t Abel who disapproved of Cain’s offering. It was God. But Cain’s hatred broke against Abel. Why? He lost the comparison game, and it made him angry. How often do you compare yourselves with others, only to grow in silent anger because you envy them?

Aren’t we like Cain when we secretly despise the successes of others? How do you feel toward the Golden Child whose life seems to prove that God loves him more than you? And people ooze with praise and compliments for the other guy? How does it make you feel toward others when they get the recognition and you don’t? Abel did nothing to Cain, yet Cain hated him–for nothing other than God approved of Abel’s worship and not his own.

Aren’t we like Cain when we try to steal credit for every good thing in our lives? Deep in his heart, Cain wanted credit for his act of worship, even though it was corrupt. But don’t we all? Don’t we all want take credit for all the good things we do? Don’t we want to get the glory for any success that we have? Don’t we try to trace every blessing’s origin back to our own goodness, our own efforts, our own power? We are credit thieves.

Aren’t we like Cain when we make excuses for our shortcomings but are hyper-critical of others? Cain hated Abel’s offering; didn’t think it should be approved. But he apparently saw nothing wrong with his own sacrifice. We critique others with incisive tenacity, but expect everyone else to extend grace. Double-standard much?

Aren’t we like Cain when we want recognition and approval so badly that we will trample on whoever gets in our way, or we will be infuriated by those who hinder us? Cain wanted to be approved, get recognition, get noticed—in all the wrong ways. When Abel got in his way, he killed him. We do the same thing. Think about the times you got angry this last week. Was it not because someone or something got in the way of what you wanted?

We have a sin-problem. We have a Cain-like heart. We love ourselves way too much, and self-love dams up our love from flowing to others. Our hearts become a stagnant pool of self-absorption, rather than a flowing river of life-giving love.

We need a Savior. The Savior breaks the dam of self-love and releases the flood of God’s love. Springs of life start flowing. Our Savior’s love transforms our self-love into genuine love. But first, we must recognize our weakness, and cling close to Jesus, and depend entirely upon him to work in us.

 

Pastoral ministry is war

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Perhaps we have forgotten that pastoral ministry is war and that you will never live successfully in the pastorate if you live with a peacetime mentality. Permit me to explain. The fundamental battle of pastoral ministry is not with the shifting values of the surrounding culture. It is not the struggle with resistant people who don’t seem to esteem the gospel. It is not the fight for the success of the ministries of the church. And it is not the constant struggle of resources and personnel to accomplish the mission. No, the war of the pastorate is a deeply personal war. It is fought on the ground of the pastor’s heart. It is a war of values, allegiances, and motivations. It is about subtle desires and foundational dreams. This war is the greatest threat to every pastor. Yet it is a war that we often naively ignore or quickly forget in the busyness of local-church ministry.

Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, pg. 98

Twitter me this

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Notable tweets:

What’s the main reason why our young people leave the church? It’s because they were never converted. Their youth pastors were far more concerned with entertain than discipleship. The ones who stay are the ones who were drawn to the Word by the Spirit.

That’s when you know you’ve gone too far. Yes, there’s more under the hood. But that you don’t need to know it to drive it.

I liked that. A matter of perspective, I suppose.

I always enjoy good one-liners that I can tuck away and save for later. I’ll come back to this one again, I’m sure.

A definition of church membership

I like Jonathan Leeman’s definition of church membership. It’s a bit clunky, but if we can unpack it I think it’s pretty helpful.

Church membership is a formal relationship between a church and a Christian characterized by the church’s affirmation and oversight of a Christian’s discipleship and the Christian’s submission to living out his or her discipleship in the care of the church.

A few things stand out to me.

First, it’s formal. Formalizing membership is simply saying out loud “I’m with you, and you’re with me.” We need not fear it as a slope that leads us into institutionalism. A formal recognition of a spiritual reality is helpful communication.

Second, it’s relational. Formal doesn’t negate relational. Church membership ought to be carried out in the context of loving relationship. It’s not about signing papers and taking classes. It’s about getting to know and care for one another.

Third, it clarifies.  Membership declares the responsibility of the leadership to oversee and provide direction to the member. The leaders give oversight while the members proactively submit themselves to the church in their discipleship. For both, responsibilities are clarified.

And for these reasons (and many more unpacked in Jonathan’s book) I’d recommend that every Christian become a church member. It serves the leadership. It clarifies your role. It strengthens the relationship. It’s an altogether healthy move.

And if you’re looking for an introduction into the subject, read his book Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesusit’s only 132 pages.