Could Denominations Be A Good Thing?

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” 1 Co 12:14 (ESV)

Kenneth Samples at Reasons to Believe has a five-part article answering the skeptic’s question, “Why should I seriously consider Christian truth-claims when Christendom is so deeply divided?”

Our disunity is an embarrassment. It hinders our witness and does not completely represent the image of Jesus Christ. Because of this some will complain and criticize denominations. They have gotten a bad rap through the years. But could there be a good side to denominations? Samples gives us positive reasons for denominations: the fullness of the faith, critique, and protest.

“Fullness of the Faith”

We are fallen human beings. Our thoughts and desires are mired by sin. We are not perfect, therefore, our thinking, our theology, and our interpretation of the Bible are imperfect. This is why we have many denominations. But the positive side to this is with all the churches together we get a more full view of the faith. Where one denomination is lacking the other will fill in. Because we all are different, together, our diversity shows the whole picture of Jesus Christ that no one denomination can full show.

“Diversity Can Provide a Needed Corrective”

Because we are imperfect we need the diversity of the body of Christ in order to give correction when needed. I’ve often seen the blogosphere be ignited in a firestorm over certain issues. There are many voices and several good arguments. They buffet and correct each other. The key in this is humility and the patience to hear correction. By having multiple denominations and traditions we can discuss, challenge, and perhaps even shape each other closer to the image of Jesus Christ.

“Principled Protest Has Its Place”

There are times with denominations do go well outside the realm of orthodox Christianity. When a denomination changes its creed, teaches a different gospel, or denounces essential elements of the faith, they have fallen away. This leaves many faithful people within that denomination no choice but to splinter off. They are separating in protest. Much like the Protestant Reformation, when the doctrines of the faith are lost, we need to seek our reformation, and maybe even separation.

In spite of our differences, we can still be united in the essentials. We can come together, work together, and grow each other in the faith.

Unity By The Spirit

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Eph. 4:1-3

Are you “eager to maintain the unity fo the Spirit”?

We all need to ask ourselves this question. I’ve always heard unity preached through the years. But I wonder if we really want unity in the Church. Do we really want unity with those brothers and sisters we disagree with?

I want to note the translators of the ESV version chose to capitalize the word “Spirit” in verse 3. Most every modern Bible translations follows suit. In other words, verse 3 is referring to the Holy Spirit. This means, the unity of the Church is brought and worked out by the Holy Spirit.

What makes this interesting is the fact many churches are divided when it comes to the Holy Spirit and his work today. How is it that the very means of unity of the Church now has become the means of division?

A recent article on The Exchange speaks of a time after WWII where there was an explosion of missionary agencies that brought together different traditions in hopes of reaching the lost in our world. This brought together Charismatics with Cessationist in efforts to reach the world.

“Mission agencies of all kinds became new voices – InterVarsity, the Navigators, Youth for Christ, Young Life, and Campus Crusade, to name a few – bringing young people together in new kinds of missions and understandings. This generated inter-church activity, mixing those from Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal communities, breaking down walls.” – Brian Stiller

The Holy Spirit brought together people hungry to see lost people saved. Because of their faithfulness God moved in a huge way. A way that many said did not happen and could not happen. People’s doctrines were shook up.

“Into that mix came missionaries returning home and giving accounts of healings, deliverance from demonic oppression and miracles, this often to churches that assumed such manifestations had ceased. Deeply divided churches were about to discover what they had in common.” – Brian Stiller

What they had in common was the power and the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.

It is said, there are no atheist in foxholes. In other words, in the midst of war, in the trenches where the battle is most fierce, everyone begins to pray. When it seems all is lost many being to pray to the god they don’t believe in.

It is the same in the mission field: there are no Cessationists in the front lines of the mission field. In the mission field you will find out you are praying healing and miracles. When faced with a real enemy you will be praying to cast out demons. You’ll want to see God move in a miraculous and supernatural way. In the mission field there are no Charismatics or Cessationists. There are only people of God living out the kingdom in a powerful way.

Paul tells us humility, gentleness, and patience, as we all strive towards unity.

Are you eager for the unity of the Spirit?

I Want To Say I’m Sorry

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So I want to say I’m sorry that I drew the line
I built the wall, the fault is mine
And maybe now the only way to find some peace
Is just to give it time and trust in grace

So this is my communion hymn
I want to sit beside you at the feast, my friend
Again, again and again
And again
~Andrew Peterson

This video was played at our recent Solemn Assembly. It was played during communion, as a communion hymn.

The last few lyrics, I think, are the most profound. What divides many people are walls that we have built up around ourselves. These can be grudges, hurts, guilts, and jealousy.

For followers of Christ, we build different walls around ourselves. Walls of law, doctrine, and liturgy. When we build these walls around us we think we are protecting ourselves, protecting tradition, protecting the faith. But really we are separating ourselves from the very people that God wants us to love, to be unified with, and to grow with.

Perhaps it’s time we say we are sorry. We are sorry for allowing our beliefs and convictions to separate the body of Christ. We are sorry for treating our fellow brother and sister in Christ as less-than us. We are sorry for destroying reputations of other churches and their people. It is now time to unite.

How can we do this? The lyrics give us a hint. We are to give it time and trust in grace.

Give it time. This will not happen overnight. Hostilities have been high, people hurt and abused in the past, it will take time to be able to trust one another and understand one another.

We need to trust grace. Grace, first, for ourselves. For without grace we would not have the favor of God in our lives to live this godly life. We need his grace to sustain us and to move us forward. Second, grace for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The same grace God shows you, in spite of your sin and shortcomings, is the same grace God shows your fellow believer. It is the same grace that we are to give to them too.

Sprinkle a little grace, a little forgiveness, into your conversations and interactions with other Christians and see what happens. Perhaps we can all sit at the same communion table in the future.

Church Unity Is More Important Than ‘Being Theologically Correct’?

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“Father…I do not pray just for these disciples only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word. I pray that they all may be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one with us. This way the world may believe that you have sent me.” ~ Jesus (John 17:20-21 Paraphrase)

The Christan Post came out with an article quoting Andy Stanley, “Church Unity Is More Important Than ‘Being Theologically Correct.‘” Using the verse from John 17 where Jesus prays his disciples would be one, as he and the Father are one, so that they may one together.
Stanley said it is significant Jesus prayed for unity for his disciple above other things, for example, being theologically correct. But I am wondering if Andy Stanley has read the previous verses where Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in your truth…” I think Andy Stanley massively downplays having the right doctrine here. Each church needs to strive for the right teaching of Jesus and to continuously reform to achieve it. Even though I thinking Stanley goes a little too far, I do understand his sentiment.
What usually divides us is not the core of the faith. It is usually peripheral doctrines concerning baptism, communion, the work of the Holy Spirit…etc. Others are divided by worship styles, liturgy, and style of preaching.
I am not saying we shouldn’t have diverse practices or even diverse beliefs. What I am saying, is, these should not divide us when it comes to our mission in this world.
Notice Jesus’ prayer. He says in essence, “Father, I pray my disciples will be united in us so that the world may see and believe in me.” In other words, our unity should be a sign to the world of Jesus’ ministry and kingdom on earth.
I’ve often heard from skeptics about the plethora of churches that exist in our culture. Which one is right? Who is wrong? Why does this church belittle that church? Why are Christians always fighting?
Our disunity has damaged the image of Jesus in our churches. When we no longer live out the unity that is found within the Godhead, we no longer bear the image of that Godhead. Our witness falls apart.
My suggestion for churches that differ in the secondary doctrines of the faith, that we agree to disagree, charitably, and work together to rebuild the image of the unity God in our communities.

Test For Revival

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1 (ESV)

If you haven’t guessed from my posts I am a Charismatic, or better, a continueist. This means I believe the gifts and the signs of the kingdom of God can still be practiced and seen today; for example, healings, miracles, prophecies, and those “nefarious” tongues.

But, just because I am a continueist, does not mean I cannot learn from my cessationist friends. These friends don’t believe these gifts and signs are for today, rather, they ceased when the last Apostle died almost 1900 years ago (some believe the gifts ceased when the canon was completed).

I came across this article, “Jonathan Edwards and Why I am a Cessationist,” written by Jeff Robinson. Though, he does not really describe why he is a cessationist, other than him being creeped out by a Charismatic service he attended. But, he goes on to describe how Jonathan Edwards handled the revival he encountered, and the working of the Spirit upon men and woman.

One of the “neutral signs, as Edwards put it, is bodily effects. Our body can do some strange things when encountering the Spirit of God: fainting, shouting, tongue talking etc… But, because these bodily effects happen does not mean they are evidence of the Spirit. The effects can happen without the Spirit. One only has to visit a sporting event to know this.

But, there are five things that Edwards lists that are marks of true revival. I’ll list them here without comment – I want to comment on Jeff Robinson’s comments.

1. A deep and aiding love for the person and work of Christ.

2. A desire to kill sin and break the bonds of worldliness.

3. A deep love for and desire to feast on God’s Word.

4. An unshakable conviction of sound doctrine.

5. An increased love for God and man.

These are positive signs that God is moving in the heart of people when revival comes. Edwards was no continueist, but, what he gives us here are tools for us to use to “test the spirits” when the Spirit does come.

The author of the article does on to ask, “How might Edwards advise us to approach today’s claims of revival?” He goes on to list out 4 items for us to consider.

1. We must beware of accepting everything as from the Lord. The fault of my tradition is the fact we have not tested the spirits. We have not filtered our experiences, and our prophecies, against the Word of God. We went with whatever happened because of tradition, leadership, or because we saw bodily effects as a sign of God moving on people.

2. Not all spirits are holy. This is very true, especially when there is a move of the Spirit of God. The enemy is always outside looking in, seeking how he can penetrate into the kingdom to do damage. He will enter through unsuspecting people willing to grasp hold of any spirit that will give them the experiences they are witnessing. Without sound doctrine to guide us, and to guide the people, they can fall into error and seek the experience instead of the Spirit behind the experience.

3. We should be skeptical of any movement that draw attention away from the local church and its preaching ministry. I believe the goal of a Spirit initiated revival is to make disciples of people. While parachurch organizations, revivalists, and traveling evangelists may be involved with a revival, they cannot replace the local church.

4. Such movements often foster what I call a “lightning-bolt spirituality.” I haven’t seen what Robinson describes here. What he describes are revivals that are person centric that promotes encounters where you are “struck by a spiritual lightning bolt and become instantly more sanctified.” He goes on to say that sanctification is a progressive through God’s grace. While I agree with him, I do believe one can surrender more to God, so much more than they have before, in one life changing event. The revival can be such one event. What Robinson does say is any revival needs to point people to Jesus, and not an event or certain teachers at the revival. The goal is for people to become followers of Jesus Christ – saved, discipled, and working for the kingdom.

Who Are We?

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“How will they call on Jesus, the one they have not believed. How will they believe in him when they have not heard? How will they hear without someone to tells them? Who will go tell unless they are sent?” Romans 10:14-15a Paraphrase

I had the opportunity to be trained and to be a part of an evangelistic team this past Saturday. It was an interesting experience, one that I will not forget.

The day began with worship and prayer. Then we went through training for street evangelism, something I have never done before. After, we split up into groups and went to different areas of the city to pray for people and speak about the kingdom of God.

I was partnered with a within a group of three: two people who have done street evangelism before, and me, a novice observer. We went to a local “big box” retail store to do our evangelism. As you can imagine, doing a “cold” approach to someone at the store to pray and speak to them about Jesus is way out of most people’s comfort zone. I was moving into unknown territory.

We had a few hits and misses as we moved through the store. Our time was running out so we went for one more approached. In came a woman on a motorized cart.

We approached and asked if she would like to pray for her. She gladly said yes and took our hands! I could tell this woman knew God and believed in the power of prayer. What she asked us to pray for was her pain. She has fibromyalgia, a disease that causes pain all over the body. So we prayed.

Now, I don’t know how you feel about healing, whether healing is for today or not, nonetheless, we ALL still pray for God to move in our lives.

So we prayed.

And her pain went away.

She stood up out of her cart and walked around it pain-free, walking like she has not walked in weeks. Tears came to her eyes as she walked around astonished.

Then, she asked a question I won’t forget, “Who are you guys? Are you Jehovah’s Witnesses?”

The question made me chuckle. But in hindsight the question saddens me.

You see, this woman had prayed for Jesus to take her pain away earlier that day. She did not plan to come into the store that day but decided on a whim to come in. Then out of all the people walking into the store we approach her to offer prayer. This woman believed in prayer. Believed Jesus could heal her.

But, she thought we were Jehovah’s Witness.

Why?

Because, as a Christian, she knew this is not what Christians normally do. Christians don’t go out of their churches to pray for people, to speak to people about Jesus. WE don’t do that. WE let the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons do all the one-on-one, public evangelism.

I believe this needs to change. When we read the book of Acts we see that everywhere the Church went it turned the city upside down. In some cities there were riots!

But now, we are content to live our churchy lives, comfortable, not “rocking the boat,” and allow other pseudo-Christian sects to do the work that Jesus Christ has called his Church to do.

Who will go tell unless they are sent? I tell you, we have been sent my friends.

Praying in Unity

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“After Peter and John had been set free they went to their fellowship and told them what the chief priests and the Jewish elders had said to them. All who heard their story were moved, and in one mind prayed together…When they had finished, the place where they were together was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to tell God’s message fearlessly.” Acts 4:23-24, 31 (paraphrase)

Peter and John were arrested by the Jewish religious leaders. God had done a miracle through them in healing a lame man. All the people who saw were amazed and were eager to know how this could happen. Peter and John went on to preach Jesus Christ, who not only has the power to heal but to save. They were arrested for preaching Jesus Christ. Finding no way to keep them or punish them due to the public miracle they let them go.

After hearing the story the people, having one mind, began to pray. They praised God for his works, they prayed the Scriptures, they prayed about their situation, and they prayed for boldness to preach the message of the gospel, and the power to heal with signs and wonders.

We read the books of Acts in one of two ways. Either we read the book of Acts as history seeing all that God had done in the past through the apostles and disciples. We see all that happened as being in the past and “not for today.” The book of Acts is only information about what happened and not a mirror to compare our lives, or our churches, to. As a consequence, many churches remain dead and powerless.

Another way we read the book of Acts is with a longing for God to work like he did before. We sit in our pews and wonder why God is not moving like he did in the book of Acts. Why people aren’t being saved. Why we see no miracles, signs and wonders. Why we remain in disunity, faithless, and powerless. Why are our churches empty. The consequence of being “pew sitters” is the same as reading the book of Acts as history: dead and powerless churches.

Our acts don’t match the acts of the disciples in the book of Acts.
Peyton Jones said, “If we want to witness kingdom expansion like the apostles did, it’s not enough to know what they knew. We need to do what they did.” [1]

From our passage today we see a glimpse of what the disciples of the early Church did: they prayed.

Not just any type of praying, but, praying together in unity. The Scripture says, “they lifted their voices together to God…” (ESV). They prayed with one heart, one focus, and one mission. They wanted the power of God in their church, not for protection, but for power and boldness to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the act, the first act, any church, or group of churches, should take in winning their community to God.

When the Church comes together in unity there is power in our prayer. Jesus promises his presence, especially when we are gathered together in his name. And when we pray as one, we shake the community, and we become bold to speak his message fearlessly.

[1] Peyton Jones, Reaching the Unreached Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art, (Zondrvan, 2017) pg. 23

A Solemn Assembly is Needed…

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Recently, a pastor friend of mine gave me a document called, “A Solemn Assembly is Needed…”. It was a list of conditions, or symptoms, of a local church that when observed, a solemn assembly of repentance and renewal needs to be called.

Inspired by such a list I’ve adapted my own for the local Christian community. These symptoms point to the need for a community-wide solemn assembly. Read this list and see if you can relate to some of this symptoms. I know I do.

A Community Solemn Assembly is Needed…

  • When we find ourselves walking by sight instead of walking by faith
  • When prayer is the last resort instead of the foundation of our community
  • When events for evangelism are preferred over one-on-one evangelism
  • When our passion to build the biggest church overshadows our passion and pursuit of God’s kingdom in the community
  • When the ministry of God in our community does not include the poor, the widows, and the fatherless
  • When there is a greater emphasis on pleasing people, looking good in the community, and having the greatest influence, than pleasing God
  • When we find ourselves being more excited about building our own church than the health of our community
  • When the pastors of our churches do all the evangelism and discipleship in our community while our people spectate from their chairs
  • When we seem to be producing “converts” instead of “disciples” in our community
  • When growing our attendance is more important than the spiritual health of the community, and the spiritual health of other churches
  • When most growth in churches today is transfer growth
  • When there is disunity among the churches or ministries in the community
  • When there is no community vision, and no cooperation to see that vision through
  • When we see the other churches as competition, instead of partners in the kingdom of God
  • When each church exists as an isolated island unto itself, and we work within the community as if we are the only church

Which symptoms resonated with you? What would you add to the list?

Why Have A Solemn Assembly

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Consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly.
Gather the elders
and all the inhabitants of the land
to the house of the Lord your God,
and cry out to the Lord.
Joel 1:14

The term “solemn assembly” comes from the verse in Joel 1:14. A calamity had befallen Israel—an invasion of locusts. Locusts are a grasshopper-like insect that can be devastating to a region. Swarms can contain millions of locusts. They eat every form of vegetation, including all the crops that people are meant to feed on. Locusts leave behind a barren land: famine, hunger, and devastation. In Joel, God is calling upon Israel to repent. But if they continued in their idolatry, another invasion will come into Israel: a great army. In its wake will be complete devastation.

Therefore, God asked Joel to call a “solemn assembly” in order to gather together in unity, to turn from their wicked ways, and return to God.
In our area, there is another type of calamity: having a plentiful harvest but with a famine of laborers.

Many in my region are unaffiliated with any religion. In the 2010 census, 69% of the people in Lapeer County are unaffiliated with any religion. We have a harvest. The Lord said, “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”

With so many churches in our area, I wonder, are we truly being effective in our ministry?

The call for a solemn assembly is not a “so we can judge each other” on the lack of action in our county. But it is a call to the Church, and individuals, to pray, repent, and re-consecrate ourselves to the Great Commission Christ has called us to.

It will also be a time of encouragement. When we see each other, multiple churches come together, we will see that we are not alone in our work for the kingdom of God. We will be like-minded, partnered together, striving side-by-side for the gospel. Together, we can impact our communities in ways we could not do it alone. We can work together, to put a dent in that 69% in our county.

I pray you will be there on March 11!

You can find the Facebook event page by going here: www.onechurchlapeer.org

You can download a flyer to print for your church here: Flyer

Solemn Assembly

Towards the end of last year, I was burdened for the community of Lapeer. Looking at the demographics of our city and county, I discovered that many in the population do not attend church. A staggering 69% of the people marked they had no religious affiliation.

With 88,373 people in our county, that means almost 70,000 people are unreached. 6,000 unreached souls live within the Lapeer city limits alone. The harvest is huge; the harvest is white. We need to pray and get to work.

So, I met with local pastors and leaders to discuss how we can work together in order to reach the lost in our communities. We felt the need to call an assembly, a solemn assembly. One in which the churches and the people would come together for prayer, for repentance, and for consecration. Just as our Lord has said, “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

We will pray for God to send laborers. We will pray that He will prepare the hearts and minds of the lost to receive His gospel. We will repent of our inaction in evangelism. We will consecrate ourselves to being fishers of men as the Lord has called us to be.

There will be worship, prayer, and scripture reading throughout the service, all relating towards evangelism.

We are inviting every Christian in Lapeer County to this solemn assembly. It will take place on Sunday evening, March 11 at 6:30 pm. Hillside Discipleship Church has graciously offered their building for this assembly.

HILLSIDE Discipleship Church
4025 North Lapeer Rd.
Lapeer, Michigan 48446

You can find the Facebook event page by going here: www.onechurchlapeer.org

You can download a flyer to print for your church here: Flyer