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You know you are living in gospel community when . . .

  • believers practice confession instead of trying to make an impression
  • people are defined by a lifestyle of repenting rather than pretending
  • you embrace truth at all costs, not agreeing for each others approval
  • light exposes & wounds and love covers & heals – both/and not either/or
  • people are happy to be holy not content to be comfortable
  • you own your mess because of His mercy instead of hiding them because of your shame
  • functional saviors & heart idolatry are lovingly confronted & challenged by Christ’s reign & rule
  • unbelieving sinners & believing sinners together look away from themselves & look to Jesus
  • the pleasure of God in Christ to save you liberates you to passionately serve others
  • hospitality is given to those on the margins & those not like you are welcome in your world
  • individual preferences take a back seat to community purposes of loving God and neighbor

[these were some personal reflections posted on twitter last week]

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When it comes to the Great Commission, there are basically three responses a church can have. A church can do nothing, something, or one thing.

Doing Nothing

A church that does nothing believes the Great Commission does not apply to them. In other words, they make the argument that the command of Jesus to His disciples then was for a particular people in a particular time and has no direct implications to Christians today. Therefore their church members are off the hook, so to speak, when it comes to making disciples. The exceptions to this principle are the “great” Christians who obey the command of Christ to make disciples. The “great” aspect of the Great Commission refers to the elite special forces of the Christian faith which, of course, excludes most, if not all, of us.

This response also attempts to use seemingly good theological arguments to make their case. God is sovereign, and He’s got the whole salvation thing under control. He does not need our help. If He wants more disciples, He will make it happen. This argument, although is partly true, actually does not really appreciate the sovereignty of God as it is revealed in Scripture. God is not only sovereign over the ends but also the means as well. God will make it happen, and He will do so by making it happen through means—through His people who are called to join Him on mission. Playing the sovereignty card on doctrinal table is an ungodly way to justify disobedience to the commands of Christ.

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Previously:
* On Civic Engagement

The Calling of the Church

“If the new man is eclipsed in present daily life, and the new society is but a future vision, then contemporary alternatives to the Truth will rush in to fill the yawning gap of a plummeting world. Like a street corner observer, the church will be only watching the passing parade instead of leading and directing the rescue.”

– Carl F. H. Henry, “The New Man and the New Society” in God, Revelation, and Authority: God Who Speaks and Shows. vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1979), 541.

“The church which bears his name is already called, now, to challenge and contain powers of evil: as the living Body of its living head the church is now to resist the Evil One, not to indict rampant injustices and support the afflicted and oppressed, now to sensitize moral conscience against wrong and for the right, now to exhibit the purpose of God in a new life and a new community while it proclaims the revealed truth and will of God.”

– Carl F. H. Henry, “Good News for the Oppressed” in God, Revelation, and Authority: God Who Speaks and Shows. vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1979), 545-46.

“As never before the church needs to exercise her total witness to the world in the context of the truth of revelation and of the reality of redemption.”

– Carl F. H. Henry, A Plea for Evangelical Demonstration (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1971), 123.

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Very well done.

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InterconnectednessYesterday in my disciple-making class, we focused on developing a relationships investment plan for the new year. We plan for a lot of things. There’s financial planning, educational planning, vacation planning, retirement planning, etc. But one of the most important plans you could make as a disciple of Jesus is planning your relationships.

Jesus planned his relationships. He entered into relationships with a specific group of people with a purpose in mind. Those relationships were meaningful and intentional. Those relationships also had a stewardship to them, meaning that the exchange (giving and receiving) of life would carry on into the lives of others. Just a cursory look, for example, in the life of the Apostle Paul you see how sweet and endearing his relationships were with the people of whom he invested his life.

Relationships is the interconnected superhighway for gospel advance. The stronger the relationships in gospel community, the greater the success of the mission. When relationships are not strong (or nonexistent), substitutes attempt to fill in, such as programs, events, or classes. I am not saying those are bad things in and of themselves, but they are inadequate replacements for life on life and handicap the mission of the church when they do.

When making your relational investment plan, I am not talking about adding a superstructure to your life and schedule. Rather, the goal is to integrate your life in the fabric of community so that your relational investments can be intentionally leveraged for gospel growth and missional advance. It is living skillfully (walking with wisdom as Paul puts it) and seeing all of life along as a classroom to make, mature, and multiply disciples of Jesus.

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Along with the resurgence of Reformed theology and gospel centrality, I believe there is a resurgence of biblical ecclesiology taking place as well. I’m grateful for the influences of organizations like IX Marks, and even more churchmen and practitioners who are bringing reformation to local churches according to the Word of God.

One of the practical benefits of examining our ecclesiology is being more deliberate and intentional in what we do as a body of believers. What is the nature of the church? How should a preacher handle a text? What should covenantal membership entail? These are questions reflecting a pursuit of a healthy, robust ecclesiology.

Being intentional not only means that we consider the practices or marks of a healthy church, but we also need to examine structures and systems to best accomplish the purposes as well as honor the marks of a healthy church.  In this post, I want to consider the need for structure for maximum edification.  Let me explain.

When Paul addressed the church in Corinth, there apparently was confusion and selfishness when it came to the exercise of spiritual gifts.  Some were given special recognition while others were devalued. The improper exercise led to further division instead of unity. Some were used for self-promotion instead of building up the church.  So what Paul does is lay out five overarching principles for the church to understand and implement:

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Mark Dever:

“Many Protestants have begun to think that because the church is not essential to the gospel, it is not important to the gospel.  This is an unbiblical, false, and dangerous conclusion.  Our churches are the proof of the gospel.  In the gatherings of the church, the Christian Scriptures are read.  In the ordinances of the church, the work of Christ is depicted.  In the life of the church, the character of God himself should be evident.  A church seriously compromised in character would seem to make the gospel itself irrelevant.

The doctrine of the church is important because it is tied to the good news itself.  The church is to be the appearance of the gospel.  It is what the gospel looks like when played out in the lives of people.  Take away the church and you take away the visible manifestation of the gospel in the world.  Christians in churches, then, are called to practice ‘display evangelism,’ and the world will witness the reign of God begun in a community of people made in his image and reborn by his Spirit.  Christians, not just as individuals but as God’s people bound together in churches, are the clearest picture that the world sees of the invisible God and what his will is for them.”

Mark E. Dever, ‘The Church” in A Theology for the Church, edited by Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2007), 836.

The gospel is absolutely essential to the church.
The church is incredibly important to the gospel.

Therefore, the recovery of the gospel is essential to the health of the church, and the importance of the local church is crucial to the advance of the gospel.  May God gives us a passion for churches to be driven by the gospel, and may God grant churches an unrelenting ambition to make it unmistakably visible in our world for the glory of Jesus’ name.

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The new Socialnomics video . . .

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10 excellent reasons to under-program your church from Jared Wilson. Check them out:

1. You can do a lot of things in a mediocre (or poor) way, or you can do a few things extremely well.
2. Over-programming creates an illusion of fruitfulness that may just be busy-ness.
3. Over-programming is a detriment to single-mindedness in a community.
4. Over-programming runs the risk of turning a church into a host of extracurricular activities, mirroring the “Type-A family” mode of suburban achievers.
5. Over-programming dilutes actual ministry effectiveness.
6. Over-programming leads to segmentation among ages, life stages, and affinities, which can create divisions in a church body.
7. Over-programming creates satisfaction in an illusion of success; meanwhile mission suffers.
8. Over-programming reduces margin in the lives of church members.
9. Over-programming gets a church further away from the New Testament vision of the local church.
10. Over-programming is usually the result of un-self-reflective reflex reactions to perceived needs and and an inability to kill sacred cows that are actually already dead.

Be sure to read his additional commentary on the points as well.  These points are so important to consider that I cannot recommend them highly enough. Seriously, one of the most basic ways of undergoing local church reformation is considering the ministry design and labor to “under-program” your church.

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I’ve been “tweeting” lately pictures of gospel transformation in Scripture (see here, here, and here for examples).  But earlier today I came across the video below on Bill Streger’s blog that powerfully depicts gospel transformation in contemporary context.  If you were to ask me what church life should be all about, I believe this video does an excellent job of summing it up.  Grace Community Church is a church plant in the heart of San Antonio, TX where the gospel is apparently conquering hearts and transforming lives.  Check it out.

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