NFC II: Andy Davis on “Dangers in Reforming a Church”

Tim Brister —  June 24, 2008 — 9 Comments

About Andy Davis:

Dr. Davis was born in Boston, Massachusetts where he later earned his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT in 1984. He then began his career as a Mechanical Engineer with Eaton-Nova Corporation in Beverly, Massachusetts. He was married to Christine Lee Rogers on Mar 14, 1988, and they have two sons and three daughters. Dr. Davis started his seminary training while working as an engineer and earned his Masters of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 1990. In 1992, Dr. Davis resigned from his engineering position to pastor the New Meadows Baptist Church in Topsfield, Massachusetts. In 1994, the Davis family followed the call of the Lord to Tokushima, Japan, where they were involved in church planting through the International Mission Board. In 1998, Dr. Davis graduated from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, with a Ph.D. in Church History. In October of 1998, Dr. Davis accepted a call to be the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church, Durham, NC.

The greatest display of the glory of God in my life has been the reformation of a local church.

It has also been a time of great difficulties, strife, and depression. At a period of my ministry of preaching book-by-book in Scripture, I was led to Revelation chapter 1 verses 10 through 20. I would ask that you turn there this evening.

Text: Revelation 1:10-20 (click)

I prayed that God would give me a vision for the local church and His glory in it, for the reformation of the church, and the renewal of his people in it. This is a vision that John had of the resurrected Christ in the reformation of His Church.

The seven lampstands represent all churches everywhere in all times. The lampstands represent actual local churches in John’s day, and Jesus is walking through the midst of His churches. The fact that the church is represented as lampstands speaks to the fact that the church is to be a light to the world; the church is the focus of all God’s saving efforts. The church is of immense value and worth to God (the reference to gold).

Jesus holds them in his right hand, a sense of ownership, protection, and authority–the right to rebuke, to correct, and to protect. How awesome is it to consider Jesus’ priestly ministry among His Churches? These seven churches represent Christ’s ongoing work of reformation in the Church. To all, Christ gives words of exhortation, to look ahead to the sweet rewards, to hear all that God is saying to the churches. This is a potent handbook of God’s zeal to bring reformation to the churches. God is at work, and Jesus is at work always.

The immense danger of not reforming the local church is utmost danger. We are out of step with Jesus Christ, who is always rebuking us, correcting us, changing us. Jesus will come and in judgment remove the lampstand from its place. Martin Luther, “The whole life of the believer should be one of repentance.” When the church stops reforming, it is saying that it no longer needs to repent.

We are used to hearing Christ’s word of repentance and rebuke; we yearn for it because of the wretchedness of indwelling sin. I long for the day to be free at last from the struggle and battle against sin. But I have found that non-Christian church members are not used to that call for repentance–they think that is something you do once and for all time and that is it.

FBC Durham was established in 1845, and in 1988 the by-laws were changed to allow women for deacons. The first time I called the church to repent was when the church voted in the first woman as deacon which at that time was a lay elder.

The church that stops reforming is dead.

Some churches are more healthy than others. The call for reformation is going to be different for one at Sardis than one in Philadelphia. For the one that is dead or dying, it will address different issues than others. The real question is how can a church drifting theologically be reformed? A church that has been running off pastors be reformed?

Ten Dangers I Have Learned from My Experience in Church Reformation

1. Forgetting the centrality of God in church reform

The church is God’s, for He bought it with his own blood (Acts 20:28). The blood of God purchased the church. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit completely invested in the owning of the church–it is His alone. And He alone has been there throughout all of history. We need to keep central God’s interest in it, His power over it, and His right to command it. God is zealous over His church.

2. Self-reliance.

The core issue of salvation is this: in whom will you place your trust ultimately. The only two ways of salvation in this world–self-salvation and salvation by faith in Christ alone. This is such a core tendency of the human heart, and it will be to the day we die–we tend to rely on ourselves. The danger is that you are going to look inward to see if the resources are there to meet the challenges. The two sides of self-reliance: side one, you look inward for the resources which you don’t have and murmur and complain and get bitter against God; side two, you look inward for the resources and you find them and results in pride, arrogance, and boasting. You are not the answer, never have been, and never will.

3. Failure to rely on the Word alone.

Sola Scriptura is still true in the reformation in the local church. Put all your eggs in this basket. You will be blessed in everything you do because God will bless His Word. Martin Luther, “I did nothing; the Word did it all.” The sufficiency of Scripture–do you believe God’s Word is sufficient to reform a church, to revive a dying church? We don’t need any gimmicks, and reformation out of the box. Reformation does work with handouts and powerpoints. We need to resist pragmatism and gimmickry. Isaiah 55:10-11–God’s Word will not return empty, but will accomplish God’s purpose.

We need to avoid church conference and management techniques. That is not where it is at. 2 Cor. 4:2 – renounced secret and shameful ways . . .. It is not about marshaling enough people in your corner to accomplish reform.

4. Deficiency in prayer or prayerlessness.

Jonathan Edwards, “Hypocrites Deficient in Private Prayer”. That title is enough to bring conviction, doesn’t it? Deficiency is a big danger. We must beg that God would reform His Church. Prayer puts us in the humbling position as beggars, trusting in God’s power to reform the church. It is home base for the church. The most urgent need of the church is a deeper, intimate knowledge of God (Carson on Paul’s prayers). Don’t focus on technique and strategy; get on your knees and ask God to reform His church. Prayerlessness is arrogance, unbelief, and disobedience.

5. Pride toward your people resulting in gossip and slander about you.

Consider the Pharisee and the tax collector. There is a tendency when you have experienced reformation to think that you are better than those who haven’t seen reformation. What do you have that you didn’t receive? (1 Cor. 4:7). God hates slander and gossip–check them in the lists of things detestable in the eyes of God. We should be praying that God would grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.

6. Cowardice or fear of man.

I dealt with this every step of the way. Fear of what man thinks. What will _______ do? Will I be criticized again? What will the deacons think about this? What if I lose my job and can’t take care of my family? It makes a preacher shrink back from preaching the whole counsel of God’s Word. Jesus forces you to make choices–see Paul’s example in Gal. 1:10. One man said to me, “I will fight you every step of the way.” And he did. No matter what I did, he would hate me. The Lord showed me a Scripture, Isa. 51:12-13:

“I, I am he who comforts you;
who are you that you are afraid of man who dies,
of the son of man who is made like grass,
13 and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker,
who stretched out the heavens
and laid the foundations of the earth,
and you fear continually all the day
because of the wrath of the oppressor,
when he sets himself to destroy?

We have to be courageous; cowardice is an enemy to reformation in the church.

7. Mistaking non-essentials for essentials.

Dr. Mohler is concerned about young ministers turning churches upside down. Well, it is not the young people alone, but anyone who seeks to reform a church needs to be careful. You need to be careful where you put the line in the sand. In essentials unity; in nonessentials liberty; in all things, charity. The idea that there are not any “nonessentials” will get you in trouble. Not all doctrines are of equal weight. Not every fight is over doctrine; sometimes it is building programs, budgets, worship screens, etc. We need wisdom. Cowardice is fleeing when you should stand and fight; contentiousness is when you should be patient but act without wisdom.

8. Impatience

2 Tim. 4:2 is a key verse for reform. “With great patience and careful instruction . . .” Give God time to work. Give His Word time to work in the hearts of your people. It is arrogance to think that they must get it immediately. How did God work with you? Give it time. Know your people, and don’t go too fast. Jesus, “I have much to say to you, more than you can bear . . .”. Many agricultural illustrations point to patience. You don’t stick a seed in a soil and come back in an hour to see how it is doing. Martin Luther, “Take care of the idols in the heart, and the idols of the wall will take care of themselves.”

9. Discouragement

Satan is on every street corner selling poison to every minister telling them to “drink this.” Satan sells discouragement because our weapons are irresistible. If we get the full gospel array on us, with the Word of God in our hands, Satan will lose. So what does he do? He keeps you on the sidelines in discouragement. Every servant has fought discouragement and despair. Paul, “sorrowful and yet rejoicing” . . .. Martin Luther, “I am quitting preaching; I not preaching anymore . . .”. For 15 months, he did not preach. Why? Discouragement. Adoniram Judson, when his wife died, he dug his own grave and stared into it for weeks and said, “I believe in him, but I find him not.” (Other examples: Charles Spurgeon, David Brainerd, Martyn Lloyd-Jones). Lloyd-Jones in his book Spiritual Depression: “Stop listening to yourself and start preaching to yourself.”

10. Not developing men as leaders around you

Reformation is led by godly men. There were godly men who stood up for me and had enough of the way their pastor was being treated.

The Ten Dangers Turned Positive

1. Keep the glory of God central in all things.

2. Rely on God and God alone.

3. Unleash the power of the word of God through faithful exposition of Scripture.

4. Saturate your efforts through prevailing prayer.

5. Humble yourself continually before God and others; see the grace of God in your own life.

6. Be strong and courageous, fearing God more than men.

7. Keep clear on essential issues; spend your strength on them.

8. Be patient. Don’t expect reformation to come overnight.

9. Never be discouraged; Christ will most certainly build his church.

10. Build a strong group of godly men in your church who will encourage you in the work of reformation.

Join me in prayer for reformation of our churches.

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  • D.L. Kane

    AMEN! My heart is filled with joy as I read these words. How the TRUTH replenishes and refreshes a parched soul. What a blessing you must be experiencing as you type.

  • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

    D.L.,

    Indeed, tonight’s message was powerfully convicting and incredibly encouraging. This is the kind of message that you want to download and listen to over and over again and pass on to your friends. In my estimation, this one message was worth the trip, but the good news is that there is much more to come!

  • wesmith

    D L and Timmy,

    This is one of the Greatest Sermons on who and what Jesus Christ is all about.After all these years I have started to read A W Pinks Books that I’ve had on my Computer for years and never read any. What a blessing I’m getting from reading the Books written by A W Pink;

    Timmy thanks for your efforts in posting all of this for God’s Glory.

    Wayne Smith

  • Wayne Roberts

    I think I picked up the sermon about point 5 but even so it was wonderfully encouraging. I know some pastors who have gone through at least part of what Dr. Davis endured. I think I will get copies of this sermon to pass on to them.

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  • http://gracecrossingchurch.org Jeremy

    Extremely encouraging. Thank you for posting this.

  • http://boerseuntjie.multiply.com/ William du Plooy

    I struggle as a layman with how I can or should Reform a Church leadership which has aquired a pragmatic and Inter-denominationl (As opoosed to Non-denominational) love over the weaker brother (Romans 14 & 15).

    I have bennifitted greatly from this sermon, but still find it hard to know if I should return to the “local” Church where a love of our own power (Chariots and Horses; Arm of flesh) is predominant and where “works salvation” organisations are loved over the brethren who are in grace.

    Any ideas please do e-mail:
    charlesh.spurgeon@btinternet.com

    I am in the UK which lacks much of a Biblical backbone, even in the Evangelical Church… I believe that is one of the reasons that some who are on “the narrow way” are willing to accept any organisations over Christ’s Body. But what concerns me is that there are even fewer who trust Trust the LORD of our salvation (Isaiah 12:2) for the work of the Spirit of truth in love.

    Do I have to flee from city to city until Christ returns to find a Church (Albeit all have their flaws) and or do I compromise and attempt to draw myself and my family into a “Works salvation” acceptant Church and stand as a hated Watchman prophesying Scriptures’ declaration of impeding judgement within the Church against the Elder/s?

    I know that few Elders would be willing to comment on this issue, but the lay people are mezmirised and are truly left without shepherds, apart from the One True Shepherd… Does that warrant us to start our own “House Churches”? I would hope not…

    BUT WHAT MUST we do or attempt to continually Reform the Church and to have a continual attitude of Repentance, when the Elders have forgotten the GIFT of grace and the cost thereof?

    I am truly asking these questions with a broken and contrite heart, because we are not able to attend a Fellowship as regularly as we would like, due to medical and family complications… Must we settle for a Once a Month attendance at Church or compromise to serve in a Compromising Church against the pervasive winds of doctrines that compete with teh Truth and Love of Christ’s gift of merciful grace?

    Any ideas: Please SITE SCRIPTURAL command or Principle with SCRIPTURE refrence, so as to authenticate the commentary with the Sufficient Word of Almighty God.

    Thank you all and may the grace and mercy of our LORD God and Jesus our Messiah be found to be working in and through you as you commit to serving His Body.

  • Jane

    Be CAREFUL. The Great Commission is not to take Calvinism into other churches…see 2 Pet 2:1-3…damnable heresies. Be thankful that at least the other cults aren’t trying to come into our churches to reform them…..

  • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

    So Jane,

    Calvinism is a cult and “damnable heresy”? Nice. The challenges of engaging both your vitriol and historical ignorance are too great to address, and for that matter, please carefully select the blogs and websites that have the sign posted, “We welcome anyone throwing up in our front yard.” Thanks.