The imperatives are based on the indicatives

"The imperatives are based on the indicatives and the order is not reversible"

In June 2009, Bryan Chapell, the President of Covenant Seminary in St. Louis and the author of Christ-Centered Preaching, gave a lecture at the Advance09 conference in Durham, North Carolina titled "Communicating the Gospel through Preaching." Regarding preaching (which also applies to sharing and teaching the Bible), Chapell said, "The imperatives are based on the indicatives and the order is not reversible."

What does this mean?: To those who have not heard this before, it might not be readily apparent. Very briefly, imperatives in the Bible express commands which Christians must do, while indicatives are the basis of the imperatives in the Bible. A closely related statement would be: "What you do is based on who you are and the order is not reversible."

Some biblical imperatives: Just randomly, some common biblical imperatives are: love God (Dt 6:5), love your neighbor (Lev 19:18), fear God and keep his commandments (Ecc 12:13), preach the gospel (Mk 16:15), preach the word (2 Ti 4:2), make disciples (Mt 28:19), deny yourself and take up your cross (Mt 16:24, Mk 8:34, Lk 9:23), feed my sheep (Jn 21:15-17), ask, seek, knock (Mt 7:7), the ten commandments (Ex 20:1-17), repent and believe (Mk 1:15), give thanks (1 Th 5:18), look after orphans and widows (Jas 1:27), etc, etc.

Biblical imperatives are wonderful but ... Incidentally, all of these biblical imperatives are wonderful. But they are not primary. These imperatives are always based on the indicatives, according to the flow, and pattern, and stories through out the Bible, although the indicatives are often not readily obvious. For example, when God gave the Israelites the 10 Commandments, God did not say, "Obey them or you're dead!" Instead, God prefaced the 10 Commandments (imperatives) with an indicative, saying, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Ex 20:2). God did not say, "Obey the 10 commandments, and then I will deliver you from slavery in Egypt." Rather, God said, "I delivered you from slavery (the indicative), therefore, obey the 10 commandments (the imperative)."

Imperatives are primary in all religions of the world except Christianity: As I thought about imperatives and indicatives, I realized that Christians often communicate imperatives rather than indicatives, while thinking that they are being quite faithful to the teachings of the Bible. But if we communicate imperatives rather than indicatives, then we're really no different from any other religion in the world, which all communicate imperatives as the way to be righteous before God, for all religions in the world teach their adherents to be good, to be kind, to be selfless, to be loving and forgiving, to not take revenge, to be morally upright and not be a drunkard, liar, cheat, adulterer, murderer, etc. Only in Christianity is a man not righteous by what he does (or doesn't do), for in the Bible man is saved and is righteous only by faith alone, by grace alone, by Scripture alone, by Christ alone, and for the glory of God alone (The Five Solas). Titus 3:5 says, "he saved us, not because of righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy..." Ephesians 2:8,9 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith...not by works, so that no one can boast."

Our default is always toward imperatives: So how might we communicate imperatives when sharing the Bible? We might say or think, "If you don't shape up, how can God ever bless you?" Or, "If you don't repent, how can God forgive you?" Or, "Unless you obey God, God will punish you." Whether we're consciously aware of this or not, we have just communicated that God's blessings for us is up to us and on what we do (imperatives), and not on God (indicative).

We might even think on the basis of imperatives. We think, "God did not bless me day today, because I did not pray and read the Bible this morning." Or, "I better not give in to sin, so that God will bless my finals and give me an A." Or, "I better pray more and purify my heart more, so that I can preach better." Even if these thoughts seem to play out accordingly, we're still thinking and reasoning in terms of imperatives, and not indicatives.

The difference between the gospel and religion: Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian church in New York, says it best in this way: Religion says, "If I obey, then I'll be accepted by God." But the gospel says, "You're accepted by God, therefore I obey." On the surface, both religion and the gospel look alike, because both believe in Jesus, both read the Bible, both want to obey the 10 commandments, both want to live by the "rules" of the Bible, both want to go to church and Christian fellowship, both want to serve the needy and the poor, etc. But in their hearts, their attitude is quite different. One does so in order to receive God's blessing and approval (religion); while the other does the same thing because they know that they have already received God's blessing and approval (gospel).

Conclusion: Religion, is what we do (or the imperatives we follow and live by), while the gospel is what God has already done for us in Chirst (or the indicative). As Bill Hybels said, "The gospel is done, not do."

If we regard what we do (imperatives) as primary, I will either become proud because I think I'm living up to it (and look down on those who are not), or I will despair because I'm failing to live up to it. So I will either become confident and not humble (because I think I'm doing well), or I will become humble and not confident (becuase I think I'm not doing well).

But when we base our Christian lives on the indicative, which is what God has done for us in Christ, then our entire lives will simply be an expression of what Jesus has done for me in spite of all my sins. When Jesus is our indicative, we can always be confident and humble at the same time, confident because it's not up to me but up to Christ, and humble because Jesus loves me in spite of all my sins.

We do not love in order to be loved by God or others. But 1 John 4:19 says, "We love because he first loved us."

Posted via web from benjamintoh's posterous


The way to Love and Serve

To increase influence and trust, give freedom; to decrease influence and trust, maintain control.

Man's agenda is to build himself up, but God is the God of generosity and grace who gives liberally and freely of Himself and to us.

Man's default is to keep some "safe" distance, but the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is fully transparent, trusting and loving.

We pull rank over one another, but Jesus gave up everything, went to the very pit and died, in order to win us back to himself.

"The stairway to the ministry is not a grand staircase but a back stairwell that leads down to the servants quarters." Edmond Clowney

"There is too much autocracy (or oligarchy) in the leaders of the church, in defiance of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, and not enough love and gentleness. Too many church leaders behave as if they believe not in the priesthood of all believers, but in the papacy of all pastors." John Stott

"Jesus is the only Lord who if you receive him will fulfill you completely and if you fail him will forgive you eternally." Tim Keller

Posted via web from benjamintoh's posterous


C.S. Lewis on Pride

"A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you." C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

What a reflective quote from Lewis' chapter on The Great Sin that we heard in the sermon. I found additional meaningful related quotes from that chapter:

"There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves."

"There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others."

"According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison..."

"...if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, 'How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me, or show off?' The point is that each person's pride is in competition with every one else's pride. It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise."

"In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that-and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison- you do not know God at all."

"How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshiping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people..."

"Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good-above all, that we are better than someone else-I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object."

"It is a terrible thing that the worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very center of our religious life. But you can see why. The other, and less bad, vices come from the devil working on us through our animal nature. But this does not come through our animal nature at all. It comes direct from Hell. It is purely spiritual: consequently it is far more subtle and deadly."


A disciple - a whole person in Christ

An incomplete extemporaneous synopsis of Pastor Lincoln's sermon, "Discipleship," based on Matthew 28:19 (delivered at UIUC UBF; on 8/16/2009) by Ben Toh

1st, a disciple as a whole person. We usually think of a disciple as a pupil, student, learner of Christ, which he is. Then we might have a picture of a disciple based on our church experience or expectation, such as being a good preacher or Bible teacher. So, a broader definition of a disciple as being a "whole" person, the person that God intended for us to be (Ge 1:27), is a refreshing definition. When we are whole, we'd become a far better disciple, as a better husband, father, friend, employee, etc, rather than just a good Christian performing good Christian deeds/duties.

2nd, believing is embracing the truth about God & its consequences. When Abraham believed God (Ge 15:6), he accepted what is true about God, & he embraced this truth along with its consequences. His belief was not just mental acknowledgment, but life change.

3rd, God can use us only after adequate humility & humanity education. Moses, though able & well educated, having received 40 years of an excellent palace education, was still not "whole" enough for God to use him. For when Moses faced a situation, he killed an Eqyptian in order to help his fellow Isrealite. Sadly, many a good Christian's default is to "kick" others in order to "help" some others. Without God's molding & chiselling, we might do so all our lives. Like Moses, we are also much more likely to strike the rock in anger, instead of speaking gently to the rock, as God instructed Moses.

4th, Francis Collins, a world renowned scientist, might not be what we expect a disciple to be, since he doesn't preach or teach the Bible the way we might expect of a disciple of Christ. Yet, he shines the light of Christ as a whole person in a highly academic scientific community populated mostly with skeptics, agnostics & atheists.

Thus, being a disciple of Christ is ultimately not one's choosing or doing (to oneself or to others), but it is God's molding & chiselling of us to be the whole persons/disciples that He intended for us to be, as He did with Abraham & Moses & each Christian whom God chooses.


Hindrances in the Ministry of the Word

One great hindrance to holiness in the ministry of the word is that we are prone to preach & write without pressing into the things we say & making them real to our own souls. Over the years words begin to come easy, & we find we can speak of:
  • mysteries without standing in awe;

  • purity without feeling pure;

  • zeal without spiritual passion;

  • God's holiness without trembling;

  • sin without sorrow;

  • heaven without eagerness.

And the result is a terrible hardening of the spiritual life.

From: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Biographies/1466_The_Chief_Design_of_My_Life_Mortification_and_Universal_Holiness/


A mule or a stallion for a church man?

I read this interesting paragraph in an article on church planting (http://www.acts29network.org/acts-29-blog/ten-qualifications-of-a-church-planter/):

We prefer the men in our church to be mules. A mule does not act like a jackass & they are able to carry larger loads & endure longer than a horse. They are tamer than a jackass but do not seem to want to run like a stallion. I think many pastors prefer a mule to a stallion. Stallions are designed to run & not be penned up in a stable. We are generally afraid of stallions because we are afraid of our own masculinity, our leadership, & our "importance" to the Christian community. We are afraid that the stallion will steal our oats & our affirmation by "our" people. Since our own fathers did not affirm us, this is seen as a threat. We value Steady Eddie instead of Daring Dan. Christianity is a radical following of Jesus. The problem with being a mule is that it is almost always sterile.


About preaching

Our people need a God-besotted* man. (*having an irrational passion for a person or thing) ... they need at least one man in their life who is radically & totally focused on God & the pursuit of the knowledge of God, & the ministry of the word of God...they need a true vision of the greatness of God. They need to see the whole panorama of his excellencies.

They need to see a God-entranced man on Sunday morning & at the deacon's meeting. Robert Murray M'Cheyne said, "What my people need most is my personal holiness. That's right. But human holiness is nothing other than a God-besotted* life."

And our people need to hear God-entranced preaching. God himself needs to be the subject matter of our preaching, in his majesty & holiness & righteousness & faithfulness & sovereignty & grace. And by that I don't mean we shouldn't preach about nitty-gritty practical things like parenthood, & divorce & AIDS & gluttony & television & sex. We should indeed! What I mean is that everyone of those things should be swept right up into the holy presence of God & laid bare to the roots of its Godwardness or godlessness.

What our people need is not nice little moral, or psychological pep talks about how to get along in the world. They need to see that everything, absolutely everything - from garage sales & garbage recycling to death & demons have to do with God in all his infinite greatness. Most of our people have no one, no one in the world to placard the majesty of God for them. Therefore most of them are starved for the infinite God-entranced vision of Jonathan Edwards & they don't even know it.

Excerpted from "The Pastor as Theologian" (Life and Ministry of Jonathan Edwards) by John Piper: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Biographies/1458_The_Pastor_as_Theologian/


The Bible Stands Alone

In 1889 a schoolteacher told a ten-year-old boy, "You will never amount to very much." That boy was Albert Einstein. In 1954 a music manager told a young singer, "You ought to go back to driving a truck." That singer was Elvis Presley. In 1962 a record company told a group of singers, "We don’t like your sound. Groups with guitars are definitely on their way out." They said that to the Beatles. Man is prone to make mistakes. Those who reject the Bible should take the time to look at the evidence before they come to a verdict.

1. It is unique in its continuity. If just 10 people today were picked who were from the same place, born around the same time, spoke the same language, and made about the same amount of money, and were asked to write on just one controversial subject, they would have trouble agreeing with each other. But the Bible stands alone. It was written over a period of 1,600 years by more than 40 writers from all walks of life. Some were fishermen; some were politicians. Others were generals or kings, shepherds or historians. They were from three different continents, and wrote in three different languages. They wrote on hundreds of controversial subjects yet they wrote with agreement and harmony. They wrote in dungeons, in temples, on beaches, and on hillsides, during peacetime and during war. Yet their words sound like they came from the same source. So even though 10 people today couldn’t write on one controversial subject and agree, God picked 40 different people to write the Bible—and it stands the test of time.

2. It is unique in its circulation. The invention of the printing press in 1450 made it possible to print books in large quantities. The first book printed was the Bible. Since then, the Bible has been read by more people and printed more times than any other book in history. By 1930, over one billion Bibles had been distributed by Bible societies around the world. By 1977, Bible societies alone were printing over 200 million Bibles each year, and this doesn’t include the rest of the Bible publishing companies. No one who is interested in knowing the truth can ignore such an important book.

3. It is unique in its translation. The Bible has been translated into over 1,400 languages. No other book even comes close.

4. It is unique in its survival. In ancient times, books were copied by hand onto manuscripts which were made from parchment and would decay over time. Ancient books are available today only because someone made copies of the originals to preserve them. For example, the original writings of Julius Caesar are no longer around. We know what he wrote only by the copies we have. Only 10 copies still exist, and they were made 1,000 years after he died. Only 600 copies of Homer’s The Iliad exist, made 1,300 years after the originals were written. No other book has as many copies of the ancient manuscripts as the Bible. In fact, there are over 24,000 copies of New Testament manuscripts, some written within 35 years of the writer’s death.

5. It is unique in withstanding attack. No other book has been so attacked throughout history as the Bible. In A.D. 300 the Roman emperor Diocletian ordered every Bible burned because he thought that by destroying the Scriptures he could destroy Christianity. Anyone caught with a Bible would be executed. But just 25 years later, the Roman emperor Constantine ordered that 50 perfect copies of the Bible be made at government expense. The French philosopher Voltaire, a skeptic who destroyed the faith of many people, boasted that within 100 years of his death, the Bible would disappear from the face of the earth. Voltaire died in 1728, but the Bible lives on. The irony of history is that 50 years after his death, the Geneva Bible Society moved into his former house and used his printing presses to print thousands of Bibles.

The Bible has also survived criticism. No book has been more attacked for its accuracy. And yet archeologists are proving every year that the Bible’s detailed descriptions of historic events are correct.


Christ-centered (redemptive) preaching

How do you preach & teach the Bible?

  • Look at people & see Swiss cheese. They have holes in them. They are incomplete.
  • Fill the holes. How?

It's easy to become moralistic/legalistic in preaching & Bible teaching: "Do this. Don't do that." While there's nothing wrong with preaching morality, it is legalistic, & it ignores the grace of God & replaces the work of Christ with self-help. Such preaching leads to a lack of recognition that "there's no merit in keeping God's commands," since all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), & that after doing everything we're told, we are unworthy servants who have only done what we should have done (Luke 17:10). We should not communicate that God loves me more because I do more than the next person. Rather, God loves me simply because of the work of Christ. Thus, Christ must be at the heart of every sermon preached. If not, we are assuming the gospel, rather than preaching the gospel.

All Scripture is intended to complete us in some way (2 Timothy 3:16), by leading to salvation or advancing sanctification. The implication is that we’re incomplete. We’re fallen creatures in a fallen condition, & God’s redemptive work in Scripture is making us whole in ways we cannot by ourselves. For preaching, it means that we look at people & see Swiss cheese. They have holes in them. They’re incomplete. So, in preaching & Bible teaching, what are you going to say to fills the holes?

Many preachers approach a text with only 2 thoughts in mind: (1) right doctrine to believe, or (2) right acts to do. If that’s all I’m saying, if the way I’m saying to fill the holes is either to accept & know this doctrine or do this right behavior, you must recognize that both of those are merely forms of human legalism. It’s saying that either what you know or what you do makes you right with God. Even though what you do may be right, & what you know may be right, you must know that it’s not you who make things right with God.

If all that is in my brain is “I’m supposed to be feeding these people in right doctrine or instructing them in right behavior,” then something will still be missing. There'll still be a hole in our own preaching.

Just as every Scripture echoes our incompleteness, it is also in some manner signaling the Savior’s work that makes us whole. Our goal in redemptive preaching is to decipher these signals. Until we do so, we do not truly understand our text. It’s possible to say all the right words & send all the wrong signals.


A Bible tract rejected by the prosperity gospel

Here is a picture of a failed tract.

"All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved." (Mark 13:13)

"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." (1 Peter 4:12,13)

"The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name." (Acts 5:41)


Unity Amid Differences (Ephesians 4:3)

This is what John Piper said to his pastoral staff during their annual pastors and wives retreat after Easter 2009. He said:

The aim is to deepen and strengthen our marriages and our unified vision for ministry at Bethlehem.

My happy job is to serve that goal in ministering the word on our first afternoon together. What I chose to talk about was being “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

The reason for this focus was, negatively, that if this pastoral staff disintegrates in disunity, the damage to the church will be great; and, positively, if God would keep us unified around our mission, the Christ-exalting scope of the impact would be worth dying for.

Our focus was on . . .

Six Biblical Guidelines for Loving Each Other Amid Differences

1. Let’s avoid gossiping.

The New Testament warns against gossiping. The Greek word translated “gossip” means whisper or whisperer. In other words, the focus is not on the falsehood of the word but on the fact that it needs to be surreptitious. It is not open and candid and forthright. It has darkness about it. It does not operate in the light of love. It is not aiming at healing. It strokes the ego’s desire to be seen as right without playing by the rules of love.

For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find...that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. (2 Corinthians 12:20)

2. Let’s identify evidences of grace in each other and speak them to each other and about each other.

The church in Corinth was deeply flawed. But Paul found reason to thank God for them because of “the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:4). The most flawed pastor on this staff—and we are all flawed—is a work of grace. It honors Christ, and keeps criticism in perspective, to see it and say it often.

3. Let’s speak criticism directly to each other if we feel the need to speak to others about it.

The point is not that we will always agree on everything, especially the practical application of shared principles. Paul’s word in Romans 12:18 is, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” It may not be possible, but we should try.

4. Let’s look for, and assume, the best motive in the other’s viewpoint, especially when we disagree.

When Paul deals with disagreement in Romans 14, one of the things he appeals to is that those with opposite practical convictions have identical heart-motives. “The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Romans 14:6). Christ-honoring passions, Paul says, can unite us in spite of differences of application.

5. Think often of the magnificent things we hold in common.

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!” (Psalm 40:16)

To mention a few things we hold in common: the Elder Affirmation of Faith, the sovereignty of God, the supremacy of his glory in all things, the majesty and meekness of Christ, the all-sufficiency of his saving work, the precious and very great promises summed up in Romans 8:28 and 8:32, the value and sweetness of the Bible, the power and patience of the Holy Spirit in transforming us, the hope of glory, a profound biblical vision of manhood and womanhood, a common global mission to see the nations know Christ...

6. Let’s be more amazed that we are forgiven than that we are right. And in that way, let’s shape our relationships by the gospel.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.... And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. (Ephesians 4:32-5:2)

“The one who is forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47). In other words, think more of your own sins and how amazing it is that God saved you than you do about the other person’s flaws.

Managing Our Differences, Moving Forward Together

Then I pondered with the staff some implications for managing our differences as leaders of Bethlehem. A team of leaders does not have the luxury of all going their own way. We must lead the people with a common vision, not different visions. “If the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8).

Therefore, our job as a team of leaders is together to talk and write and argue and debate and refine our positions until we reach as large a consensus as we can on the major issues.

Then over time we revisit the implementation of these positions and continue the process of refining. And we recognize that the position that we reach may not perfectly satisfy anyone’s preferences. And so we resolve to support the consensus for the greater good without ongoing criticism, but with public support.

I closed by saying that God has given us a great work to do at Bethlehem. The impact that we all have through this church for the glory of Christ is beyond our estimation. It is worth all our efforts and all our lives to preserve the great things we stand for and move forward together.

Please pray for us.


How to know God?

Adapted from "Knowing God," chapter 3, by J. I. Packer

Knowing God is more than knowing a lot of Bible knowledge and theology (the study of God).

Knowing God is an emotional relationship, as well as an intellectual and volitional one. The psalmist said, "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Ps 34:8).

This is the hard part: The initiative of knowing God is with God (not I), since God is so completely above us and we have so completely forfeited all claim on his favor by our sins.

We do not make friends with God: God makes friends with us, bringing us to know him by making his love known to us. Grace always comes first, and remains fundamental to our salvation. We know God by faith because He first singled us out by grace.

Knowing God points to God's initiative in loving, choosing, redeeming, calling and preserving us.

All my knowledge of God depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. I am never out of his mind. There is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.

This is momentous knowledge. There is great cause for humility in the thought that God sees all the twisted things about me that my fellow humans do not see. (Thank God for that!) He also sees more corruption in me than which I see in myself. Yet for some unfathomable reason, he wants me as his friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given his Son to die for me in order to realize this purpose.

In brief, to know God is to know that He knows us, and that He wants to make Himself known to us, despite our mountain of sins.


(3+1) Purposes of the Church

Edmond P. Clowney (pastor & theologian), explained the purposes of the church in terms of:

1) Ministry to God
2) Ministry to believers
3) Ministry to the world

1) Ministry to God: Worship. In relationship to God the church's purpose is to worship Him, for God has destined us in Christ "to live for the praise of his glory" (Ephesians 1:12). Worshiping God fulfills the major purpose of the church with reference to God. I was surprised to hear/learn that Worship means to ascribe worth (ship) to God (Isaiah 6:3; Romans 11:33-36).

2) Ministry to Believers: Nurture. According to Scripture, the church has an obligation to nurture those who are already believers & build them up to maturity in the faith (Colossians 1:28), and not just to an initial saving faith.

3) Ministry to the World: Evangelism & Mercy. Jesus said, "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). This is the primary ministry the church has toward the world, together with a ministry of mercy even toward those who are ungrateful, wicked and selfish (Luke 6:26).

4) Keeping these 3 purposes in Balance. All 3 purposes must be emphasized continually in a healthy church. A strong church will have effective ministries in all 3 areas. Attempts to make 1 of these 3 purposes primary will always result in some neglect of the other 2. For example:
  • emphasizing worship results in inadequate Bible teaching, shallow understanding of Scripture, immature believers
  • emphasizing edification of believers results in spiritual dryness due to little joy in worshiping God or telling others about Christ
  • emphasizing evangelism results in immature Christians who emphasize growth in numbers but with less genuine love for God and others
Don't you think this is a short simple explanation of the purposes of the church?




The Earliest Model Church (Tim Keller)

Tim Keller, lead pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, NY offers church planters insights to help clarify the purposes of the church based on the example of the early church in Acts 2:42-47.

Worship & Prayer

The worship of the early church had corporate form. In Acts chapter 2, verse 42, Paul literally says that "they devoted themselves to the breaking of the bread and the prayers ". This is almost certainly a reference to 'liturgy'-- to the service of the Lord's Supper and to a discipline of praying called "the prayers." It was not random. There was an order to it. It had both an informal and formal aspect. It happened both in homes and in the temple courts (v. 46). This surely means that there was both informal worship in the small group and more formal worship in the large group.

It is unlikely that Christians continued to offer sacrifices at the temple, but they evidently continued to go to the prayer services and they supplemented the worship there with their own meetings in the courts. Their worship was both joyful and reverent. Notice that in the small group worship, the emphasis is more on joy and gladness (v.46) but in the large group, there is an emphasis on awe (v.43). This means that both awe/reverence and joyous praise are to be the marks of our worship.

Learning & Edification

It was intense. They "devoted themselves" (v. 42). This means that there was a high commitment to learning. Spirit-filled is not set over against the intellect! It was completely centered on the "apostolic teaching." It was not learning in general, but rather the study of God's revelation as it came through the apostles. Today, of course, the apostles' teaching is in the Scriptures. It was accompanied by "apologetics." They were not just taught what to believe but given evidence for why to believe it.

This point is missed unless we realize that verse 43 is not an isolated statement--it follows verse 42. The apostles teaching (v.42) was validated and verified by their miracles and wonders (v. 43). These miracles were not naked displays of power, but were signs. Heb.2:3-4 show us that the purpose of miracles in the early church was to show listeners the truth of the gospel message the Apostles brought. A survey of the Bible reveals that miracles are not distributed randomly and evenly throughout history, but they come in clusters, when God sends a new set of messengers into the world with a new stage of revelation. We must realize that the principle of v. 43 was that people were shown evidence of the truth of apostolic teaching, so they would devote themselves to it.

Fellowship & Community

Fellowship was also intense ("they devoted themselves ... to fellowship" v. 42). It was therefore not something that just happened. They worked at it. This implies accountability with one another, a sense of responsibility to care and support and guide each other. It was daily ("every day "v. 46). They did not just see each other on Sundays, but were involved in each other's daily lives. It was economic as well as spiritual ("had everything in common "v. 44). They recognized not only that other brothers and sisters had a claim on their time and heart but also on their resources.

It was very small group/house church based, "they broke bread in their homes" v. 46. This statement as well as the one found in Acts 20:20, "teaching you in public and from house to house" and greetings to "the church that meets in their house" in I Cor. 16:9 and elsewhere-we can see the importance of small group community in the early church. They had regular meetings where this same set of ministries--learning, loving, worshipping--was conducted at the mini-level, so as to supplement what was happening at the "maxi" large group level. Their fellowship and community was extremely sensitive. They knew immediately who had "need" (v.44).

Outreach & Evangelism

The outreach and evangelism was dynamic. They experienced conversions "daily "v. 47. Their outreach was based on demonstration through community. One reason that people were saved is that the love and note of praising was highly attractive to "all the people" (v. 47). This cannot mean that every non-Christian loved the early church because there was certainly plenty of persecution. But it meant that overall the early church demonstrated the gospel in its community in such a way that was irresistible to outside observers.
Mercy & Social Concern

The ministry of mercy integrated both word and deed. Verse 44 seems to indicate that the economic sharing was mainly practiced within and among Christians. But we know the early church did not confine its deed ministry only to Christians. Paul says in Galatians 6:10 that Christians "do good to all, especially the household of faith." Their sharing was heavier inside the community, but their generosity went outside the church as well.

We can't read v.44 as forbidding private property to individuals. The Bible elsewhere makes it clear that private property is valid. This is therefore a voluntary, informal, but powerful sharing fueled by love not rules. (cf. Peter's rebuke to Ananias in Acts 5:4). Different Christian communities have voluntarily practiced this in different creative ways, some much more structured than others. Their social concern was very church-centered. When a person was saved, he or she was "added to their number" (v. 47) and incorporated into the church. Today many people are converted through ministries that have little relationship to local churches and the converts also have little relationship to a congregation. That was not the case in the early church.

Please let me know your thoughts

© 1998 Tim Keller's (Acts Curriculum, Evangelism: Equipping Believers in Mission and Outreach, Version 2.)