How should we view homosexuality?

In the last post found here  I sought to outline four areas in which the Bible brings clarity on human sexuality. Here I want to discuss one particular sexual issue that has grown increasingly divisive in not only the world but in the church, namely homosexuality. As elders and church leaders one of our main priorities is the protection of our church from false teaching (see Acts 20:28-31). Therefore, one of the obligations church leaders have  before God involves clarifying clearly and directly what the Bible teaches on this important and sensitive topic.The following are 5 points regarding homosexuality that I believe are essential for Christians to unify on.

1. The Bible is clear—homosexuality is a sin against God.

I think it is important to clarify from the outset that homosexuality, like any sin, is wrong, a transgression, and should be rejected as a Christ-follower. We reject any modern connotation that homosexuality is something different than what is spoken of in scripture, and that any sexual activity outside the realm of biblical marriage, which consists of one man and one woman for life, is to be denied. Below are the most prominent passages in the NT that speak to this issue and make it clear that God opposes all forms of sexual immorality, including homosexuality.

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (Romans 1: 24-32).”

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.(1 Corinthians 6:9-11).”

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted (1 Timothy 1:8-10).”

2. Christians are called to love all people, including homosexuals.

It is abundantly clear that many in the church have failed to express genuine Christ-like love to the LGBTQ community. Too many lives have been destroyed by a Christians unloving and judgmental spirit. We have used the Bible as a club instead of a gift. And as a result many who could have found freedom in Christ have been totally turned off by it. This is simply wrong! Many times we have elevated the truth of the Bible above or without regard for our love for people. We must remember that Jesus came full of grace and truth (John 1:14), and Paul said that we were to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We must maintain both truth and love when it comes to how we treat those in the world. 

3. Christians are to speak the truth to all people, including homosexuals.

So, does this mean we are to accept those who live openly homosexual lifestyles without exception ? Absolutely not. On the contrary, we are to show them the love of Christ by calling them to repent of their lifestyle and surrender their lives to Jesus. When Jesus said that true discipleship involved “denying oneself, taking up your cross, and following him (Luke 9:23),” that involved turning away from all sins of the flesh and being “born again (John 3:5);” to “walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).” Loving the world by accepting people where they are without calling them to repent is the opposite of love. True love is telling people the truth, and for those living a homosexual lifestyle it means calling them out of that way of living. The great news we have for those living in sin is that they can be forgiven! As Paul plainly put it in 1 Corinthians 6:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, emphasis mine)

Therefore, we can love someone while  not condoning their behavior. Loving someone is not synonymous with agreeing with everything they do. So, we love all people. Like the good Samaritan we are to help those in need no matter their cultural background or sexual orientation. But Like Jesus and the adulterous woman, we meet the need, but reply “go and sin no more.” We are to  love the broken, the sinner, the outcast but our love moves us to tell them the truth. If we condone their sinful behavior, forsake to tell them the good news of the Gospel, and call on them to trust Jesus with all their brokenness, it would bring into  question our sincere love for them. As Paul said: speak the truth in love, you can’t have one without the other.

4. We must remember that God is both loving and Just

God is love, and God is grace. But, we must never forget that God is also holy, perfect, and righteous. He is a wrathful God. Because God is holy and just it creates a predicament in us as unholy human beings having a relationship with Him. In all reality, God’s justice and holiness demand that we as an unholy people receive death. So, what hope is there for us? This is the good news of the Gospel. Because God is both holy and loving he desired for his creation to be in relationship with him, but it was impossible because of our unrighteousness. Therefore, he sent Jesus, his one and only son, to die in our place. Jesus’ death on the cross is where God’s judgment of sin and love for his creation collide. Jesus as a perfect sacrifice took on our sins so that we could stand justified in the sight of God. It’s not our works that save us, its His!

Nevertheless, we still have a choice to make. We can either except Christ’ sacrifice by faith, or we can deny him by rejecting Christ and remaining in our sin. This is where the rubber meets the road. For someone to stand justified in God’s sight, one must put their faith in Christ, repent of their sins and be transformed. This is the only difference between the open homosexual and the Christian—a change of mind, to repent and trust in Jesus. Christ demands a change of heart. 

5. Those who call themselves Christians have a higher standard than those who are of the world. 

One major area of confusion for many is the difference between the saved and the unsaved. When one becomes a Christian they have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers each Christian to live holy and sanctified lives. This does not mean that when one becomes a Christian they are automatically “perfect,” without sin. But it does mean that one is in a continual denying of oneself, repenting of sin, and a pursuing of Christ-likeness. One aspect that stems from this is that each Christian has a responsibility to help their fellow Christians grow in Christ (e.g. Gal. 6:1-2, Heb. 10:25).

Sometimes this means that when a fellow Christian is living or teaching falsely, it is the responsibility of the church to call them to stop and repent of their actions; this is called church discipline. Underlying this idea is a fundamental difference between those “in Christ,” and those “outside of Christ.” Believers are called to live holy lives. Unbelievers are unable to live holy lives simply because they have not been regenerated and saved by the Gospel. Believers need to live out the Gospel; unbelievers need to believe the Gospel. The best illustration of this is in 1 Corinthians 5 in which the church was openly condoning sexual immorality. The apostle Paul was appalled at such behavior and admonished the Church to remove the offender from membership. He then offers an important differentiation between those in the world and those in Christ:

 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—  not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church[b] whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”(1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

As you can see Paul realizes that inevitably those who are in the world are going to live unholy lives. Thus, we as Christians have an obligation to take them the Gospel. To associate with those of the world does not mean condoning their behavior, but rather,  calling them out of it. However, for those who call themselves Christians, yet live in open and unrepentant sin, they are to be removed until they repent and acknowledge their sin. The reason is because such people are in danger of influencing other Christians to follow their false teaching/behavior. As Christians then, we have a responsibility to hold each other accountable for what we teach and how we live. 

Closing comments

We as Christians are called to love all people as God has loved us. However, sometimes love involves  speaking the truth even though it may sting. Someone who is living a homosexual life or teaches that it is ok to live a homosexual life is in error. Therefore, we as Christians have an obligation to speak the truth in love. For the unbeliever it means calling them to receive Christ by denying their sin and seeking salvation through the blood of Jesus. For the believer it means that we confront them in their error and call them to repent of their sin. If one calls himself a Christian and yet still lives in continual and habitual sin, they are called to leave the fellowship of the church, with the hopes that they will come to their senses and return to Christ. In the end we desire all people to come to know the joy that is in Christ. Amen. 

Pursuing Biblical Sexuality in a Sex-Crazed World

 

Our culture has become enamored with sex; it’s everywhere. From the shows that are deemed popular to the posts on our social media pages–sex is on the minds of a lot of people. But seemingly in an unhealthy way. C.S. Lewis in his popular work “Mere Christianity” suggests:

Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it; the Christian rule is, ‘Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.’ Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong. One or the other. Of course, being a Christian, I think it is the instinct which has gone wrong (Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity, 95.).

If Lewis is correct and our human instincts have led us astray to the purpose and parameters of sexuality then what is the proper understanding of it? I want to discuss four areas the Bible addresses in regards to sexuality: (1) the creation of sex, (2) the purpose of sex, (3) the context of sex, and (4) the corruption of sex. 

The creation of sex

The first thing to realize is that sex, like all good things, was created by God. In his epistle James writes: “all good and perfect gifts come from the father.” Everything we see that is good—the beautiful sights of creation, the gentle touch of a newborn baby, all of the wonderful attributes we share (love joy, peace, kindness etc…), everything good is from God!  This is truly the most fundamental point concerning sex—God created it (and I’m glad he did!). At the very beginning he designed man and woman to participate in the activity of sexuality. In the Genesis account we see this clearly:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”—Gen. 1:27-28

Then the man said,“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.—Gen. 2:23-24

Sex is from God. 

Now because God is the creator and designer of sex, we must conclude that sex, as he intended it, is a very wonderful and marvelous gift. Sex is to be enjoyed by his creation—not to be suppressed or looked down upon.  But why? Why did God create sex? This leads us to our second observation:

The purpose of sex

Why did God create sex? Let me offer four reasons:

1. To create life.

One of the first duties given by God to his creation was to have sex in order to “fill the earth (Gen. 1:27-28).” What is significantly beautiful about this act, is that we as God’s creation, get to participate with God in creating life! This is what I love so much about our father—He has always longed for us to have a relationship with him, and by giving us the gift of sex, we are able to join in with him in the act of creating sacred life. 

2. For pleasure.

God has given us an entire book (the song of Solomon) in order to communicate this point. Throughout the book of song of Solomon we are given insight on one of the main purposes of sex—to have pleasure with our spouse. Here’s a quick sampler:

  • Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth – for your love is more delightful than wine. (1:2)
  • Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies. (4:5)
  • Listen! My beloved! Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills.(2:8)

      3. Intimacy

Sex brings forth an intimate oneness and unity. It’s interesting that the Biblical writers, in expressing the act of sexuality, used the word “to know.” So, for example the Bible says that Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived…” The idea “to know” someone in the Bible carries more than just mental assent. Rather, it carried the idea of intimate relationship with another. 

Sex, therefore, is much more than a physical act—it is a spiritual and intimate act that brings two people together—so much so that the Bible pictures sexuality as the union between two people. When two individuals come together in the act of sex, they enter into a dynamic and supernatural oneness. 

4. An illustration of Christ and the church

This pertains to marriage as a whole, but definitely involves the act of sex between the husband and the wife. One of the most profound teachings concerning sex and marriage is the idea that the covenant union between husband and wife is synonymous with the covenant union between Christ and the church. Paul points this out in Ephesians 5:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Ephesians. 5:31-32).

Therefore, one profound purpose of sexual union and marriage in general is to display and illustrate, in a powerful way, the picture of our relationship with Christ.

The Context of sex.

Does the Bible teach that sex is to be done in a certain context, or is sex open for anyone and at any time? The simple answer is that sex is to be enjoyed solely between one man and one woman in the context of marriage. 

The biblical teaching on this is severely clear from my perspective. For starters, the sexual relationship between a man and a woman is grounded in the Genesis narrative. From the beginning God has defined godly sexuality as being between one man and one woman; and as goes Genesis 1-3, so goes the rest of the Bible. As one sifts through the Biblical story it becomes evidently clear that sex was never to be exercised beyond the boundaries of covenantal marriage. In fact, a good portion of the Bible involves God’s rebuke and correction over the misuse and abuse of sexuality. For example, one of the earliest accounts of God’s judgment was on two cities (Sodom and Gomorrah) who had severely corrupted the purpose of sexuality. 

As one moves into the NT the teaching of sex within the context of marriage becomes even clearer. Jesus taught emphatically about the issue of sexuality stating that for one even to lust within the heart is a form of adultery (Matthew  5:27-30). By saying this Jesus raised the importance of sexuality.  

The apostle Paul dealt a good bit with the issue of sexuality. In 1 Corinthians for example, the church had gone in two extreme directions. On the one hand there were those who were abusing the gift of sexuality to its extreme. They were openly and proudly, having promiscuous sex in every way imaginary (5:1-6:20). On the other hand, there seemed to be those who rejected sex all together, even within the context of marriage. Sex was seen as a bad thing. Paul’s instruction for both these areas is sexual purity—that is, sex within the exclusive context between a husband and a wife. This is seen in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5:

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:1-5)

Many other passages could be mentioned here but suffice it to say that both the OT and the NT communicate that sexuality is to be enjoyed exclusively in the context of the covenant union of marriage. Hebrews 13: 4 summarizes well this teaching:

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous (Hebrews 13:4)

The Corruption of sex

We come now to our final observation, the corruption of sex. In the beginning sex, like all good things, was undefiled and just as God had intended it. However, the Biblical story describes an event we call “the fall.” Because of humanity’s free choice to rebel against God, creation as a whole became tainted and marred. As a result of sin, the world now experiences brokenness. This is also true of sexuality. Sexuality, as we have seen was designed by God for the enjoyment and intimacy of a man and a woman. However, because of the birth of sin we are now prone to abuse God’s good gift and use them for our own pleasures and desires. Whenever we as God’s creation act contrary to the nature and will of God it is called sin. God, in his sovereign plan has revealed to us how we are to live. Unfortunately, enticed by our own desires, humanity rebels against that will and chooses to live out their own ambitions. 

In short, any sexual activity outside of the marriage union of one man and one woman is outside of God’s desired will for us and therefore is sin. The Bible actually has a word that sort of envelopes all of these sexual activities into one, it is called “porneia.” Porneia (usually translated “sexual immorality”, or “fornication”) includes any sexual activity outside of marriage: sex before marriage, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, pornography etc…. To say it concisely, all sex outside of marriage is simply wrong from a biblical viewpoint. 

Grace and the Spirit.

Before I conclude let me briefly offer a reminder about the Grace of God and the power of his Spirit. I am very aware of the numerous and complicated situations revolving this topic. Furthermore, I understand that while these various biblical principles have been presented, these issues are not abstract; they involve real genuine human beings. I know personally individuals that fight daily the battles of sexual temptations and desires. So, as we discuss these topics, I think it is wise to know that if someone is dealing with sexual struggles, they need to know they are not alone. God is a God full of grace and he longs to fill you with his Spirit. And while it seems almost unbearable to overcome certain desires and temptations, God’s grace can and will give you the power to overcome any difficulty. This is exactly the point of Paul’s words in Romans 6:

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:12-14).

Striving to be a Healthy Church (Part 4)

In the last post in this series I want us to consider specifically “how” we should think about developing a healthy church. In the first two posts (here and here) have tried to argue that the main goal for every church is to “present every member of a local church mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28).” In the last post (here) I shifted our thinking to Matthew 28:19-20. In this text, I suggest, is “how” the local church accomplishes the goal of presenting everyone mature in Christ. As I noted the main verb in Matthew 28:19-20, “Make disciples,” points to the central goal—maturity in Christ. But how do we go about making disciples/presenting everyone mature? Jesus offers three simple steps. 

Go!

The first thing one must do to make disciples is simply to go. Discipleship will never happen if we don’t actually go anywhere! In order to make disciples the first step involves actually going to where the people are—where the harvest is, where the lost dwell, where those who are not Christians are located! Besides, if you do so you’re in pretty good company. It was Jesus, wasn’t it, that acquired the reputation for hanging out with the outsiders, those on the fringes. Luke records for us what the religious leaders thought of him:

And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them (Luke 15:2).”

Going then, has everything to do with intentionality. It involves a desire to reach those who have never made a decision to follow Christ. It involves inviting others to follow Jesus with you. Simply put, making disciples begins with leaving our comfort zones and calling others to follow Jesus with us.

Now admittedly, this aspect of disciple-making seems embarrassingly obvious—I mean going is clearly involved in getting others to follow Christ, there’s really nothing profound about that. But we also must admit that the simplicity of this command to go in no way removes the difficulty of it. It is in the going that I believe we struggle with the most. That said, here are some practical starting points when seeking to obey Christ’ command to go:

  • Begin with your family. Do you have kids? Perhaps you have an unbelieving spouse. Maybe a close cousin has never heard the gospel. Begin sharing the gospel with them. It may be difficult to begin sharing with a complete stranger, but your family can be a great starting point to practice teaching the good news. 
  • Move to your local church context. Are there unbelievers who are attending your church? Perhaps you can invite them to a small group with other Christians. Or, invite someone for a cup of coffee, or out to lunch. 
  • Those in your community. Once you have become acquainted with sharing the gospel with those in your immediate context begin praying for opportunities to share the gospel with those in your community. Your neighbor, or co-worker. I emphasize prayer because Paul exemplifies that for us in Colossians 4:2-6. Begin praying and you’ll be amazed at how many opportunities open themselves to you. 
  • Have a heart for global missions. Finally, begin fostering a heart for global missions. Jesus says “make disciples of all nations. Begin financially supporting those who serve overseas through your local church missions. Then, begin praying to God about how you can further make an impact in areas where people have never heard the good news. 

It is the simple leap of asking folks to follow Jesus that is the toughest. We’re good at discussing the idea of going, but when it comes to actually doing it, an unusual fear begins to set in and we nervously decline the opportunity to ask the individual seeker to “follow.” Our call—our mission however, moves us beyond that fear. Because we desire above all else to follow Jesus we must desire to follow his command to go. Jesus said “if you love me you will keep my commandments.” Therefore, our love for Christ overcomes our fear of going, and so we go! The first step to fulfilling Christ’ command to make disciples is to go! 

Baptize

The next step to making disciples is baptizing people. Why so? Let me offer two primary reasons:

  • Public Display: First, we must realize that in the early church baptism was the act in which identified an individual and his allegiance to the Christian faith. If one was to be baptized it was a clear message to all who saw it that they were completely embracing Jesus and his teachings while renouncing everything else. To be baptized was to identify oneself to Christ. 1 Peter 3:21 alludes to this when he says: Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal(or “pledge,” as in NIV) to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • Private Reality: But there’s more to baptism than just an outward display of one’s allegiance to Christ—there’s a supernatural reality that happens in the individual’s life as well. Notice what Jesus says in our text: “Baptizing them in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit.” The phrase “in the name (or better “into the name”)” carries a significant idea. To baptize one “into the name” means to be baptized into the all that the “name represents.” In other words when one is baptized into the name of the father son and Holy Spirit they are in essence being intimately united with the essence of that person. To be baptized into the name of the trinity therefore means that one is united in a relationship with the trinity. In order to expound this wonderful reality it may be helpful to take a quick glance at Romans 6:1-4 where Paul helps us.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Here Paul says that baptism unites us in the death and resurrection of Christ. As a result, baptism allows us to receive the benefits that come with Christ death and resurrection, namely, “to walk in the newness of life.” Baptism therefore, brings us into an intimate union with God, having removed the stain of sin that previously separated us from Him! 

So, baptism is crucial in making disciples because baptism identifies those who have publicly confessed Christ as their savior and Lord and inwardly brings each individual sinner into union with Christ! In essence, baptism is the initial time when one comes from outside of the body of Christ to inside the body of Christ. It is the front door of discipleship. Discipleship without baptism is not discipleship. 

This is precisely why church, we need to prayerfully seek folks to be baptized into Christ. Baptisms indicate that we are in fact making disciples. If there are no baptisms then there is no discipleship-making! 

Teaching

These first two steps—going and baptizing— have everything to do with what we call evangelism. This is the practice of going out to folks who have never followed Jesus and asking them to do so by initially being baptized into Christ. But there’s more. Jesus goes on to say that making disciples has to do with teaching. This is the ongoing practice of the church. We never stop teaching. 

But what do we teach? Well Jesus says teach them “to observe everything I have commanded you.” That’s pretty simple. Basically, we are to teach people to be like Jesus—both by the what we say and by how we live. This is the heart of discipleship. And I believe it is appropriate to say that this idea of teaching them to observe everything Jesus commanded extends to teaching each other the whole of the Bible. The OT points to Jesus, the NT reveals Jesus. In it’s entirety the Bible is Jesus! It tells us how to live and act and think like Jesus. 

And may I add, that this does not mean that making disciples requires a Masters in Theology. All that is required is sharing the truth of God’s word as you grow in it with others who have yet discovered that truth for themselves!  It’s being intentional. Grabbing a new Christian and simply meeting with them on a regular basis and pouring into their lives all that you are learning in your own growth in Christ! 

The Ongoing Cycle

So, making disciples is Christ great mission for the church. Here’s the bottom line: the main mission of disciples of Christ is to make more disciples of Christ! And making disciples is simply going, baptizing, and teaching. And that’s really the flow and life-cycle of the church. SonRise this is really all we need to concentrate our efforts on. There needs to be a constant cycle of going out, baptizing, and ongoingly teaching others about Christ.  And in order to keep the cycle going we must all constantly be motivated to go back out and reach new individuals for Christ. If we stop going, then we are simply discipling the same faces every day. That unfortunately turns Christ great commission into the great omission. 

The Hopeful Promise

 As I come to a close may I add a final word of hope for anyone feeling discouraged or overwhelmed by the idea of making disciples. For you who really desire to make disciples but feel inadequate or unqualified. Take a quick glance at the final verse in our text: And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Those final words from Jesus prove why in fact we can actually accomplish this. Jesus, the one with all authority in heaven and on earth will be with us every step of the way! And He is. After Jesus descended into Heaven he left us with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit guides, directs, and empowers us to fulfill Christ’ command to make disciples of all nations! Two passages that I’ll leave you with:

God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (12 Timothy 1:7).

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21). 

Striving to be a Healthy Church (Part 3)

In the two previous posts found here and here, I have sought to layout what the local church is called to do—what makes a healthy church? In those essays I have argued that the number one goal for every church leader is to present every member mature in Christ. That is, the goal, the purpose, the concentration of the shepherds God has placed over his flock is to seek to lead each member in that church to Christ-likeness. 

Now, I would like to shift from answering the “what” question (what makes a healthy church?) to the “how question (how do we go about pursuing this goal of maturity for every believer?). In answering this question I would like to turn our attention to Matthew 28:19-20. Here I suggest is the formula for developing a church with members seeking maturity. Allow me to cite the passage under consideration:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).

If the Goal of every local church can be summarized by Paul’s words in Colossians 1:28—“present everyone mature in Christ,” then the best way to go about accomplishing that goal, I humbly suggest, is Jesus’ words in the Great commission. In this article I want to focus solely on the main verb of the passage, “make disciples,” and then in the next post deal with the three qualifiers that describe how we go about doing that. 

The main verb in Matthew 28:19-20 is the phrase “make disciples.” Everything else in these two verses simply explain how one goes about accomplishing this task. Now, it seems that the term “make disciples” can be viewed synonymously with what we have already discussed thus far—that is, presenting everyone mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28). To strive for maturity is to be a disciple; to be a disciples is one who strives to be mature. Making disciples is the goal of the church! And let us remind ourselves what the goal is NOT:

  • Build big beautiful buildings
  • Create really cool worship services
  • Feed the poor
  • Get financially stable
  • Develop awesome programs
  • Have a lot of church potlucks

As admirable, well-intentional, and effective these things may be they are not what Christ gives as the mission of the church. These may be results, or means to that mission, but they are not the mission! 

So what is it? What does Christ call us to do? We are to simply make disciples, period. Our number one and primary mission of the church is to develop disciples of Christ. 

And may I add that this is not the great suggestion, but a great commandment! “Making disciples here is in the imperative mood—that is, it is a command. It has an exclamation behind it—Make disciples! Based on Christ’ authority over everything he commands us to make disciples! This is not optional for the Christian, but binding. You can’t be a Christian and not make disciples. 

So, what’s a disciple…? I’m glad you asked! 

Making disciples, generally speaking, involves following the teachings and behavior of another person. As mentioned here in our text, it has to do with getting others to follow the life and teachings of Christ himself—Discipleship is becoming like Jesus! 

I like how popular writer Francis Chan describes it in his book “Multiply:” 

It’s impossible to be a disciple or a follower of someone and not end up like that person. Jesus said, ‘a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40).” That’s the whole point of being a disciple of Jesus: we imitate him, carry on his ministry, and become like him in the process.

“Yet somehow many have come to believe that a person can be a “Christian” without being like Christ. A “follower” who doesn’t follow. How does that make any sense? Many people in the church have decided to take on the name of Christ and nothing else. This would be like Jesus walking up to those first disciples and saying, “Hey, would you guys mind identifying yourselves with Me in some way? Don’t worry, I don’t actually care if you do anything I do or change your lifestyle at all. I’m just looking for people who are willing to say they believe in Me and call themselves Christians (Chan, Francis. Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples, 16-17.) 

A simple example is in Matthew 4:18-22:

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus’ first disciples simply dropped everything and followed after him! They let go of their desires and replaced them with Christ’ desires! 

Romans 8:29 tells us that this idea of becoming like Jesus is actually at the heart of God’s will for each of our lives. To look like Jesus—to believe and live what he taught. 

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

So, making disciples is simply calling others to live and believe exactly like Jesus. Each of us are called to be little imitations of Jesus. We live, behave, talk, act, think….like Jesus! That’s making disciples! In our next post we will flesh out “How” we go about accomplishing this goal. 

Striving to Be a Healthy Church (Part 2)

In my last post I presented the main concern I believe every church leader should have for the local church. I suggested that it should not be primarily focused on breaking attendance records, as exciting as that can be. Nor is it about implementing the right method of programming, as helpful as this can be. These areas are important but they are not the main focus. The most important concern for every church leader can be summed up by this question: what makes a healthy church? As I sifted through the New Testament one passage in particular impressed upon me in a great way. In it I see summarized beautifully a definite point in the right direction. Allow me to quote the passage in its entirety:

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face,(Colossians 1:24-2:1).”

As I reflected on this passage I saw three areas every Church leader should concentrate on in seeking to develop a healthy church. 

Hard Work

Notice first of all Paul’s emphasis on struggling hard for the sake of the church. Three times he mentions his toil and struggle to see the church mature. 

  • Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Col. 1:24)
  • For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me (Col 1:29)
  • For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face (Col 2:1)

In order to pursue health in the church it begins with godly leaders digging deep and working hard for those within the local church community. For Paul it included prayer (see 1:9ff) and teaching the word of God (see 1:28). Interestingly, this is the same pattern that was established in the early church (see Acts 6:4). This is not everything that church leaders are called to do as they work diligently for the health of the church but at least these two areas must be pursued. For a church to become healthy and mature there must be godly leaders striving daily to accomplish this goal. 

Serving the Word of God

Secondly, a healthy church is going to be one that places a priority on the word of God preached. Notice what Paul says in verses 25 and 28:

of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known. . Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.(Col 1:25,28)

Paul says he became a minister. The word is where we get our English word “deacon.” It simply means “to serve.” A Healthy church is one whose leaders are servant leaders. The apostle Peter wrote concerning elders: “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3).” 

But what are the leaders of a church to serve? According to Paul it is the word of God. Paul said I became a minister to “make the word of God fully known.” He said I “proclaim Christ warning everyone and teaching everyone…” This is the number one task of the Pastor/Elder. They are to be men who preach the word. As Paul told Timothy “preach the word in season and out of season… (2 Tim. 4:2).” 

Present Everyone Mature

Finally, the third concentration is to present everyone mature. This is the goal of every church. Church leaders do not struggle for the sake of the church to preach and teach as an end in itself. Rather, the hard work and dedication of every church leader should be for the purpose of moving each member to be more like Christ—this is the essence of spiritual maturity! If a church has many people filling its seats and yet there is not a drive to present each member mature there is a lack of health. If a church has amazing programs and yet there is no intentionality to present each member mature in Christ there is a lack of health. The goal of every church, I submit, is to intentionally present each member mature in Christ. 

This goal implies then that every member, no matter their maturity level, is to be intentionally cared for. Paul told the Ephesian Elders in Acts 20 to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (Acts 20:28).” This is a huge responsibility. One that will take a lot of struggle,  and diligent service of the word of God. But in the end our goal in doing so is to present everyone mature in Christ. 

Striving to be a Healthy Church (Part 1)

As a local church pastor I am immersed in the Christian subculture on a daily basis. All of my podcasts are church and Bible related; my colleagues are mostly pastors or Christian workers; my reading is almost exclusively Christian based—so questions pertaining to the local church and her purpose are always at the forefront of my mind. The question: “what is the role of the local Church,” is paramount for me. 

If you were to peruse the literature, go to church growth conferences, talk with certain church leaders, you may discover that for many (including myself!) there is a very strong temptation to view success in the church with regard to how many attend on a weekly basis. Success equals numbers. A church is successful when the church grows exponentially. Besides, you never hear advertised at church conferences—“come here Joe Smith, the pastor over first church—the church that has sustained steadily 100 members for the past 10 years!”

This emphasis on numbers equaling success however, has evoked a philosophical change in how many view church ministry. Words like “seeker sensitivity,” “attractional,” and “entertainment driven” are used to describe many church’ view of how to go about organizing their ministerial programming. 

As a result,  the attender becomes the consumer. A family visits the church and their decision to stay or leave is based on a checklist of approved preferences. How was the music? The children’s program? How were the church aesthetics? did the preacher keep my attention? etc… But, is this what Jesus meant when he said “I will build my church?” 

Before I go on allow me to make two qualifications: First, In a society like ours here in the U.S. it is somewhat inevitable that the local church will look much like it does today, with various denominations and styles of ministry. I heard Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, say convincingly: “Religious freedom plus theological conviction equals denominations.” In other words, motivation for our country’s desire for religious freedom has produced an inescapable outcome of denominations. Hence, there will be a natural tendency to find the local church that suits our various pragmatic and theological preferences. 

Secondly, numbers are not bad in and of themselves. Obviously each number represents a person who has come to know christ. And as one Pastor I heard put it: “If God doesn’t care about numbers why did he name a whole book with that title?” The problem is not numbers itself but the temptation to view numbers as an end in and of itself . Numbers are simply a by-product, and both healthy and unhealthy churches can have a lot of people attending them. 

So, what’s the problem? I submit that what Pastors should be concerned with is not so much questions regarding attendance, or programs, but asking this simple question—what makes a healthy church? What are we seeking to do that transforms a church that is, as Paul put it, “straining toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14)?” I suggest that the answer is not found in programs, or in maintaining large attendance numbers, but something deeper, more long-lasting, and ultimately biblically driven. In the next post we will consider three concentrations each church leader should focus on in order to develop a healthy church. 

Going back into the water?—Why re-baptism is an unbiblical idea.

A while back the following announcement came across my Facebook page:

“I accepted Christ when I was seven years old and was baptized shortly after; 27 years later, my relationship with Jesus has grown stronger than I ever knew possible.
August 2018 God lit a fire in my heart and I knew it was time to make my way back to the water. Words will never do justice to the way I felt at this moment.”

“And I knew it was time to make my way back to the water?” While undoubtedly the actions of this individual were well-intended, I can’t help but scratch my head over the misunderstanding this quote places on one’s understanding of Christian baptism. Unfortunately, I am seeing a trend among many evangelicals where “going back into the water” is happening more and more. Indulge me if you will as I briefly lay out why I think this trend is not only unhelpful, but unbiblical.

There is no such thing as a “re-baptism.”

Many like to talk about how they were “re-baptized.” The logic behind this practice, from conversations I have had, involves one’s deep conviction that their initial baptism was done with wrong motives (e.g. they saw others doing it and thought it was a cool idea), or perhaps they felt their baptism was premature because of their lack of knowledge. But, for whatever reason one decides to get baptized again, if their first baptism was done without true repentance, then the first baptism was no baptism at all! All that occurred in that first ceremony was purely physical—nothing spiritual took place. In reality there is no such thing as a “rebaptism.” Why—because baptism is a one time event wherein the repentant believer submits to the Gospel, and has his or her sins washed away (e.g. Acts 2:38, 22:16). To speak of “rebaptism” is actually a contradiction in terms. Baptism by its very definition is a singular event. No wonder the apostle Paul speaks of “one baptism” in Ephesians 4!

But, some get baptized multiple times for more concerning reasons. Rather than being “rebaptized” because the first baptism was done with improper motives, others do so because, as one person put it to me, “I wanted to rededicate my life to the Lord.” Or as the person above put it, “God lit a fire in my heart…” In other words many are getting baptized 2, 3, 4 times because they come to a place of conviction and use baptism as a way to “have a new start,” or to “have a fresh beginning.”

The problem with this idea is that this was never the purpose of Baptism as taught in the NT. Baptism is not an event to be repeated every time one feels convicted of sin. Baptism is a one time event done for the purposes of having ones sins forgiven and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:38). It is daily repentance and confession of sin which is the proper action to be taken under these circumstances (e.g. 2 Corinthians 7:10-12, 1 John 1:8-10).

Re-baptism as a rededication blurs the purpose of baptism.

I recall a number of years back when I baptized a gentleman in his 40’s. He was previously an atheist, but through many conversations he came to accept Christ and desired to follow him; it was a wonderful and exciting day! A couple weeks later this same fella came running into my office in a frantic state. “I think I need to get baptized again! “He said. “ I have been studying the scriptures and I never knew all of this stuff about baptism, I don’t think I got baptized for the right reasons!” After I calmed him down I simply asked my friend, “when you were baptized did you do so because you knew your sins had separated you from God, and that the only way to be saved was through Christ’ work on your behalf?” He replied, “well yeah, I knew that, but not much more!” I then responded: “All that tells me is that you are bearing the fruit of your baptism!”

The point here is that many seem to think that when they are baptized they have to have the whole Christian life figured out beforehand, and when they discover new things from scripture, especially in regards to their baptism, another baptism is needed. But this doesn’t seem to be what Paul taught about the purpose of baptism. In fact, Romans 6:1-5 seems to show that if baptism is needed every time we are convicted of sin, or that we come to understand baptism in a deeper way, then the Roman church should have all been re-baptized!

But, this is not what the apostle teaches. When he tells his readers that they are not to “sin so that grace may abound (Romans 6:1),” he REMINDS them of their baptism; he doesn’t tell them to get baptized again! When we are tempted to indulge in our sinful nature, Paul tells us to remember our baptism! Baptism was the occasion in which you died and began to walk in the newness of life! Rather than being “rebaptized” we need to “remind” ourselves of what happened at our baptism!

Biblical precedence over personal pragmatism.

Finally, some may respond: “but what does it matter? Rebaptizing people isn’t going to hurt anyone. In fact, isn’t it prudent to be “better safe than sorry?” Let me briefly conclude with the following:

  • First, as discussed above, there is no such thing as a “rebaptism.” Therefore, if the reason one desires to “go back into the water” is based on the fact that their initial baptism involved merely getting wet, then a proper-one time-baptism, based on a true repentant heart, in true saving faith, should be done.
  • Second, those who desire to be “rebaptized” for the reasons stated above (i.e. as a rededication), should be reminded what happened at their initial baptism as taught in Romans 6:1-5, rather than going through the baptismal ceremony again. Repentance and confession of sin should be the encouragement for those desiring to rededicate their lives to God.
  • Finally, just because being rebaptized “doesn’t hurt anyone” it doesn’t make it right. As Christians we should desire to be biblical, and seek to do what the Word of God says. For church leaders this should be a double caution. I know that for some rebaptisms are actually an effective way to increase conversion stats! Lord forbid that this be the motive for encouraging rebaptisms! We need to be biblical rather than pragmatic in this regard.