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.

Let Your Light Shine

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“Let your light so shine before others so that, seeing your good actions, they will praise your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 (paraphrase)

I am studying the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. In my studying, I came across a commentary by Scott McKnight. In it, he says, “…reading or teaching or preaching the Sermon on the Mount is evangelism.”[1]

This struck me as an interesting topic, one that keeps coming up in my studies on evangelism.

When we think of evangelism we usually think about preaching the cross, how Christ died to save us from our sins, and those that believe in him will not see the judgment of God but will receive eternal life. This is a very different message than the Sermon on the Mount. What we see in this sermon of Jesus are commands and exhortations about how to live life. But, could living the life we find in Jesus sermon help us to shine our light on the world and draw people to Jesus Christ?

Scott McKnight illustrates a story about a Hindu student of his that warmed up to Christianity in his class. He said, “This Hindu student of mine was attracted to Jesus because of the Story of Jesus she read in the Gospels.”

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes the same idea. He says, “I suggest to you [the Sermon on the Mount] is the best means of evangelism…The world today is looking for, and desperately needs, true Christians…If only all of us were living the Sermon on the Mount, men would know that there is a dynamic in the Christian gospel…” [2]

What these two authors, published in different two centuries are saying, is, if the Church of Jesus Christ started to act like it followed Jesus Christ, the world would see and believe, and they two will follow Christ.

[1] Scott McKnight, The Story of God Bible Commentary: Sermon on the Mount, (Zondervan, 2013) Kindle Location: 841
[2] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, (Inter-Varsity Press, 1960) pg. 18-20

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

Have This Mind

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… Php 2:3–5

I believe the key to the Christian life is found within the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Only when the divine is one with man can man even to think to achieve the abundant life that Jesus promised us.

But, this is not a means to boast, being one with the divine. But, it is a means of humility.

Jesus himself, who is one with the Father, united in substance and holiness, did not count his greatness with God has something to keep. Rather, he humbled himself in obedience.

And Paul tells us to have this same mind.

Pastors teach from these verses exhorting their people not to seek their own glory, their own welfare, above anyone else. As Christians, we are too out not only for our own welfare but also the welfare of others.

It is good that pastors teach these Scriptures, they should be taught more often. However, how pastors usually preach (I am guilty of this myself) is to preach service to those in our immediate local fellowship right along with the world that is lost.

In other words, we preach as if we are the only church in our community – we preach as if we are a monochurch.

But our own fellowship is not the only church in our own community. There are other churches, co-churches for the kingdom of God.

We teach each person represents Christ in the world. The Bible also teaches that the church represents Christ in the world too. Just as multiple individuals represent Christ, so too can multiply churches represent Christ.

Each church is to have the mind of Christ! And what is that mind? Paul tells us here in Philippians.

Do nothing from a selfish ambition. What is the ambition of your church? Do you want the largest church in the city? Do you build it at the expense of other local churches through transfer growth?

Do nothing from conceit. Do you speak ill of other pastors, other churches? Do you live within the idea your church is the only church? The only church worth serving the community? Do you use other churches and community events as a means to build your own church? Your own kingdom?

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Let each church look not only to their own interests, but also the interests of other churches. Some would say this is impossible. You are right. But with God, all things are possible.

In order for churches to live the divine, incarnation life that Jesus Christ has called us to be, we must look to each other, serve each other, in humility and respect.

How Do We Work With Others – Part 1

In a recent post, I pointed to an article on The Gospel Coalition’s website titled, “When Should Doctrine Divide?” I wrote that our different traditions should not keep us from partnering together for the good of our city.
But, the question remains, how are we to partner with other churches of other traditions? Gavin Ortlund gives us four guiding questions to ask as we partner together.

  1. What kind of partnership or unity is in view?
  2. What kind of partnership or unity will best serve to advance the gospel?
  3. Do I naturally lean toward a separatist or minimalistic spirit?
  4. Even when I must formally divide from other Christians, is the attitude of my heart gracious, humble, and inviting toward them?

In this post, I will talk about the first two.

What kind of partnership or unity is in view?
Ortlund talks about relational partnerships among groups and individuals. But, this works also with churches. When partnering with other traditions, it helps to understand the other traditional distinctions that different churches have. You don’t want to partner in a baptismal service if you disagree on immersion versus “sprinkling.” You don’t want to partner in an “End Times” conference if you differ regarding the Millennial reign of Christ (unless of course it is meant to be a multi-view conference). But, you may be able to partner together for a Good Friday service creating a meaningful experience to highlight a Christian holiday celebrated by most Christians.

What kind of partnership or unity will best serve to advance the gospel?Ortlund rightly says this is a hard question to answer. And even more, that we need the Holy Spirit’s help to answer it. Many churches would first ask the question, “How will this advance my church?” But, the real question is, “How will this partnership advance the gospel?” We need to start thinking in terms of kingdom growth, not church growth. How will our partnership best serve the community? How will they see the light of Christ best in our partnership?

Doctrine Divides

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “doctrine divides,” doctrine has become a bad word. But, pick up a KJV Bible and you will find the word doctrine 56 times. Our modern translations simply translate the word as “teaching.” Doctrine is not a bad word. And division is not entirely bad.

The reason we have differences of doctrine between the many different traditions is beyond the scope of this post. But, at the least, the reason is that the Bible is a hard book to understand. And we are a fallen people prone to error even when reading and interpreting the Bible. In another light, the differences of doctrine are proof we take the Bible seriously, and that’s a good thing.

Gavin Ortlund asks the question, “When should doctrine divide?” over at The Gospel Coalition. He warns of two extremes many people take when partnering with other churches of other traditions: doctrinal minimalism, and doctrinal separatism.

Some would discount doctrine altogether, saying it is too divisive. They would say we should all come together regardless of tradition or creed. But, you would need to draw the line somewhere. There are churches who claim to be Christian but are wholly outside confession Christian of the last 2000 years. The extreme of doctrinal minimalism would lead us to partner with religious traditions that are antichrist or even with secular institutions that have contrary to the gospel of Christ.

Separation of the traditions is often lamented. I’ve even asked the question of why there are so many Protestant churches. But, sound doctrine is important. And sound doctrine separates one from unsound doctrine. For example, the Reformation itself was a separation from what the Reformer believed to be unsound doctrine concerning the nature of how one is saved. But, the extreme of doctrinal separatism would cause one church to fail to partner with other churches in the area to reach those who are in need. The larger issues of the city would be missed because we were too prideful to partner with churches that disagree with our doctrine.

When partnering with other churches, we need to avoid these two extremes. We need to work together in ways that do not minimize our traditions and respects them.

Two Heads Are Better Than One

“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22

The old adage, “two heads are better than one,” is true in most situations. Unless you’re trying to decide what restaurant to go to. But in ministry, this truth runs the whole of Scripture.

God said that it was not good for Adam to be alone.

Moses sought out leaders from the people to help him judge the people of Israel.

The kings of Israel would surround themselves with “wise men.”

Jesus sent out the disciples two-by-two.

Paul never worked alone. And when he was alone he didn’t want to be.

You can see over and over again, in Scripture and history having many advisors often leads to success.

So, let’s take a look at the current monochurch culture that we live in. We have many different churches, with many different types of services, with many different types of organization, leadership styles, and administrations, big churches, small churches, different worship styles…etc.

We live in a culture where you can find any church that will suit your style. You can find whatever flavour you want. The consumer-driven culture as gave us cool churches, cooler churches, and the coolest church to choose from.

And yet, much of the population remains unchurched, unreached, and not interested.

If the church is to succeed, maybe we should look to Scripture (Pr. 22:15). Maybe, the “two heads are better than one” adage can be used to succeed in reaching the lost in our communities. If we put our collective heads together, with our years of experience in ministry, it is possible we could reach our communities with the gospel more effectively.

A multichurch culture brings together multiple perspectives about how to meet needs, reach goals, and solve problems. A multichurch provides alternative views that can be more insightful, and deeper than a monochurch culture offers.

 

All Things In Common

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Ac 2:44–45.

As I have said before, the passage in Acts 2:42-47 moves people today to ask the question, ““Why does the Church today look so different than the Church of Acts?”

I think verses 44 & 45 are the ones that make people believe the First Church is very different than our churches today.

Today, the only thing local churches have in common is the fact many of them have a building, with a pastor, who comes together every Sunday morning to sing songs, listen to a sermon, and then go home.

The monochurch culture has lead to many weak, poor, and ineffectual churches in our communities. Church buildings are in disrepair. Fellowships are scraping by just to pay the bills. Even within our congregations, there are people who struggle to feed their families.

This is where I believe the multichurch culture can shine.

Imagine people selling possessions to give to the needy, not just in their own church fellowship, but to help others in other churches – the homeless would have shelter, the hungry fed, the naked clothed.

Imagine if a larger church set aside resources in order to help a smaller church – buildings could be repaired, technology updated, and resources shared for the gospel.

Ask yourself, what would it look like for churches to have all things in common?

A multichurch culture involves more people, which brings together more resources, ideas, and energy than would monochurch culture.

The First Church

Acts tells the story of the beginning of the Church. The first church grew from 120 people to over 3000 in one day. Reading Acts 2:42-47 we see a mega-church united in body and spirit.

Many read these passages and ask the question, “Why does the Church today look so different than the Church of Acts?” In Acts, they had “all things in common” and no one had need. Looking at the Church today, we are all divided, and we are all in need. The devil has done well to divide and conquer us.

How do we recover from our divisiveness, come together and help each other? I believe the answer lies within these passages in Acts.

Read Acts 2:42-47. Then answer these two questions:

  1. Where is the church building?
  2. Who is the head pastor?

Now, these items are not bad or unbiblical. Buildings and pastors are needed. One point I am making here is this: head pastors and buildings don’t make a church. What makes a church are believers that are devoted to the teachings of Jesus Christ, to fellowship, communion, and prayer.

How the First Church functioned was this: meeting in homes to fellowship and being discipled by the Apostles and the other 108 souls that were filled with the Holy Spirit. They were one church, with one message, meeting in multiple buildings. If each house could hold 120 people, that would mean 25 house-churches was required for the First Church.

Incidentally, there are about 25 churches in my home city. Could we be one church, meeting in multiple locations, having the one message of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Can we have all things in common and have no one church, or one family, in need?

One Church

Unity. What every church preaches, and yet, never practices. Sure, each church loves to come together and fellowship within their own buildings, their own congregations, their own traditions. But, hardly ever do they work with other churches or other traditions in the community. If it wasn’t for Good Friday community services I don’t think churches would come together at all.

This has been a burden of mine for a long time. Since I was young I wanted to see churches working together to see our communities changed for Christ. Then, I believed that God called me to bring unity in our community. Big hopes I know. Today, I think God is pulling me in that direction once again.

Why should we not come together to see the kingdom of God work in our communities?

So, a few weeks ago I invited several local pastors I know to come together in one room to discuss how we can work together to see our community evangelized in 2018.

Last Thursday, from two churches, and one local discipleship ministry came five leaders showed up. We discussed the population stats versus the number of churches. We discussed if these churches were effective and why. We discussed our hearts for ministry and the desire to see God’s kingdom advance in our county.

Much was discussed, but so much more needs to be said and done.

As we move through this endeavor I will be writing here about our meetings, our discoveries, and our actions. I also will be writing about why, how, and the need for local churches to partner together for the kingdom of God.

After all, we are one church trying to reach one harvest.