Gospel Centrality: A Vital Kingdom Mindset

In Ray Anderson’s book, An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches, he writes,

In so many places right polity takes precedence over the gospel. Violation of polity may be our modern form of heresy.
[Ray S. Anderson, An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches (Downers Grove, IVP Books: 2006), 78.]

In my off day reading, I enjoy reading different theological works, biographies, practical ministry helps, and a variety of other material. But I am always drawn to theology, and in particular, theology in practice.

When I came across this thought I was struck at both its truth and the inherent danger of which us are at risk. First, the statement is true. I personally have experienced it in churches. The way a church functions, the way things have always been done, seem to be an unbreachable barrier to growth and change. We are creatures of habit, to be sure. But we must not allow the comforts of our habits to prevent us from changing and growing. And certainly we should not change simply for change’s sake. Our changes must be one of calculated research, drawing from Scripture and tradition to make positive changes in the lives of our churches.

Secondly, we must always be careful to watch our own lives for this danger. In working with other churches and denominations (which is Scripturally good and commanded) we run the risk of avoiding certain people, groups, or even whole denominations simply for the fact that they do church a little differently than us.

In our efforts to see the Kingdom of God continue to grow in our lives and communities, let us not let polity (or whatever else may come in the way) take precedence over the gospel.

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Helpful Tips from the Banner of Truth

I am a subscriber to the Banner of Truth magazine. It is a great blessing, as many of the articles come from sermons preached. They challenge my thinking, warm my heart, and draw my attention and focus to God.

While catching up on my reading of them, I thoroughly enjoyed the July 2016 copy, issue 634. The article is titled, “Evangelising [sic] Muslims: Five Points of Entry” by Peter Barnes.[1] I do not want to review the article; rather, I want to share some of the insights that I gained. I also would like to draw attention to some of the ideas that I have been pondering but have yet to put to paper.

The introduction to the article was perhaps the best portion. Barnes writes, “In seeking to make the gospel known to Muslims, we will struggle if we simply follow the guidelines in the book of Acts.”[2] In my opinion, some Christians overemphasize the Scriptures. Now, before you write me off as a heretic please read my explanation. It is possible to follow the Scripture to such an extreme that it violates proper interpretation. For example, the Bible teaches that witches should be executed (Exodus 22.18). Some people attempt to place this command to the nation of Israel on followers of God today. Of course there is a lengthy discussion that should take place on why believers do not follow this practice, but many pick and choose what to follow from the Tanakh. Some people follow marriage advice from the Torah (such as the teaching on divorce and remarriage- see Exodus 24.1-4), or dressing advice (specifically the Scripture that commands men not to dress like women and women not to dress like men- see Deuteronomy 22.5), but they fail to follow the command to execute witches. On the same line, some people desire to strictly follow the teachings of the New Testament on the church. An example of this can be found in the first chapter of C. Douglas Weaver’s book In Search of the New Testament Church: The Baptist Story.[3]

In accordance with this desire to be Bible-based and Scripture-laced, people want to follow the ‘New Testament guide’. While I definitely believe that Scripture is the foundation of faith and is to be sought and practiced, I also see the truth that it is a book with historical grounding in a specific time and culture. This has profound implications on what we practice and how we practice. Zuck clarifies this thought when he writes, “In approaching the Bible it is a self-evident truth that the Bible is a book. Like other books it is written in languages spoken by people for the purpose of communicating ideas from the writers to the readers.”[4] This seems to have been forgotten by many individuals in the church today.

To bring this circle to a close, let us return to Barnes’ statement in his opening paragraph. “In seeking to make the gospel known to Muslims, we will struggle if we simply follow the guidelines in the book of Acts.”[5] It is helpful to remember that the main method of spreading the Gospel initially (see Acts 2-9) was primarily to and through Jewish individuals. Thus the preaching focused on the Messiah and the teaching of his suffering and death.[6] If we were to strictly follow the practice of the early believers found in Acts, our evangelistic efforts, specifically to the Muslim people, will be borderline impossible. My point is not to delve into the methods of evangelism to the people of Islam. Other writers have done an excellent job at this.[7] My point has more to deal with the need for creative and a freedom for believers to engage in different methods of evangelism. Barnes notes Paul’s various methods as referenced in 1 Corinthians 9.19-23.[8] We need to rely on God’s Word for everything. But we also need to realize that there is freedom within that.

Another part of the article that really impressed me was Barnes’ call for peace in discussions. He writes, “We must be kindly interest in them. We ought not begin with a frontal assault on the character of Muhammad or the integrity of the Qur’an.”[9] Since 11 September 2001 the treatment of Muslims has been poor at best and borderline hate crime at worst. And while Barnes’ article focuses on interactions with the Muslim community, the application can be made broader. People of different faiths, genders, sexual orientations, etc., are all treated with contempt and degradation. Paul encourages us to address people “in love”.[10] We commanded to love one another.[11]

Believers should be incredibly careful in their discourse, both personally and digitally. Disagreeing on an issue is not the problem, it is our demeanor. It is no wonder that people do not have a positive view of Christianity when its adherents are so demeaning, arrogant, and rude. Here are some helpful suggestions that I have utilized and have found to be helpful.

  • Never be rude- while this may seem simple, it is profound. I have seen posts referring to those who are voting for Hilary Clinton suggesting that they raise their hands and slap themselves because they are idiots. How in the world is this helpful? Does one actually think that a supporter of Hilary Clinton will see that and suddenly change his or her views? That is almost as ludicrous as posting such a mean-spirited image.
  • Ask questions- generally speaking, questions are much more helpful in interactive dialogue than statements. Of course, it is possible to be rude when asking questions. But assuming we are starting from that point, questions help further mutual understanding. It implies incomplete understanding, and it takes humility to acknowledge that. It also encourages questions from the opposite party, and thus differences and misunderstandings are greatly reduced.
  • Treat that person like you would Jesus- I do not mean bow down and worship them. I do mean that each person you interact with, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, race, age, height, weight, favorite band, and so on, is created in the image of God. That means that every human being you interact with in person or digitally is an image bearer of God Almighty. Treat them that way. Oh, and by the way, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. That is a hefty pill to swallow.
  • Study other people, faiths, etc.- Ignorance means “a lack of knowledge, understanding, or education.”[12] Ignorance is forgivable, but only for a time. If you are attempting to dialogue with another individual, learn as much as you can from that individual’s perspective. If you want to learn more about the Democratic Party, do not go to Fox News. Look into the original sources. Educating yourself on issues, beliefs, and practices will help you understand where the individual is coming from and will help to alleviate misunderstandings.

[1] Peter Barnes. “Evangelising Muslims: Five Points of Entry.” The Banner of Truth, Volume 7, Issue 634, 2016, 7-15.

[2] Barnes, 7.

[3] https://books.google.com/books?id=shbpTq7wqAIC&pg=PA9&dq=new+testament+churches&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjssOya0P3PAhVCGz4KHSugAY8Q6AEIRzAI#v=onepage&q=new%20testament%20churches&f=false. Accessed 28/10/2016.

[4] Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth (Colorado Springs, Cook Communications: 1991), 59.

[5] Barnes, 7.

[6] Simply peruse through the chapters referenced above and it will become painfully obvious what materials the early evangelists used to spread the good news.

[7] See Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross (Grand Rapids, Baker: 2002) and Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press: 2012).

[8] I preached a message on this titled “Pauline Advice on Blessing Your Block”. You can access that here under that title: http://tnova.org/media.php?pageID=22. Accessed 28/10/2016.

[9] Barnes, 8.

[10] Ephesians 4.15, NIV

[11] 1 John 4.7-21

[12] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ignorance. Accessed 28/10/2016.

Evaluating Malphurs…

*The below article was a post on evaluating Aubrey Malphurs’ book Advanced Strategic Planning. It has been left in its unaltered state, but covers Malphurs’ contribution to a specific aspect of strategic planning, that of researching the church and the community. I hope it may be helpful to my fellow ministers and seminarians.

 

The most influential aspect of the reading requirements for the class for the author of this post was the questions to ask about the church congregation as well as the community. The first step Malphurs suggest accomplishing is that of understanding the church’s boundaries. He recommends understanding how many members live within twenty minutes as this will indicate 40% of your membership. (Malphurs, 2013: 179-180)

The next beneficial aspect of this that the author found most helpful is that of the specific questions. Malphurs breaks it down into community questions (Malphurs, 2013:181-184) and congregation questions. (Malphurs, 2013: 184-186) This information is incredibly beneficial as it provides a better understanding of the community to be reached as well as the members who will do the reaching. Gary McIntosh, a church growth guru, writes, “Often well-intentioned churches make mistakes that keep them from experiencing biblical church growth, and one of the major mistakes is to fail to do adequate research to understand the people they are seeking to reach with the Gospel.” (McIntosh, 2003: 136-137) McIntosh really aptly describes the problems of most churches’ evangelistic efforts. The research aspect is a necessary aspect of planning for outreach, and Malphurs provides the church with a good head start for questions. Of course other information could be added or subtracted, depending on the specific outreach plans of the church. However, the questions offered by Malphurs also produces excellent results for a focused effort of evangelism.

Besides reaching the community the church’s function is to teach and make disciples. This involves the members of one’s church and their own spiritual growth and development. Unfortunately many churches fail to adequately train and raise up volunteers and so the few that do contribute often experience burn out. (Marshall and Payne, 2009:13-14) Understanding who makes up the congregation will enable the leadership to focus on training specific people with regards to their own unique and diverse backgrounds and cultural influences. In order to be more effective in the outreach of the community it is necessary to build up the people within the church. Marshall and Payne describe this, writing, “If we want our strategy to be people-focused, we should concentrated on training, which increases the number and effectiveness of gospel communicators (i.e. people who can speak the good news both in personal conversations and in public settings).” (Marshall and Payne, 2009: 19) Thus, understanding who is in one’s church will enable the church leadership team to more effectively train the individual members.  Marshall and Payne offer a chart that enables leadership to plug members into sections to determine the spiritual maturity of each one. (Marshall and Payne, 2009: 110) With the understanding that this list is a general idea rather than specific information, the leadership team can take the information garnished through the research and then handpick one another for more specific development.

The combination of understanding the community and the congregation will enable the church to make disciples and thus fulfill the Great Commission. Malphurs’ contributions to this area of church theology and practice will prove, in the estimation of this author, to be of unrivaled benefit for generations to come.

Gary L. McIntosh, Biblical Church Growth: How You Can Work with God to Build a Faithful Church (Grand Rapids, Bakerbooks: 2003)

Aubrey Malphurs, Advanced Strategic Planning: A 21st Century Model for Church and Ministry Leaders (Grand Rapids, Bakerbooks: 2013)

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything (Kingsford, Matthias Media: 2009)