This is the first post in what will be a weekly study guide for personal study, family devotions, EPC small groups and whoever else desires to grow more in understanding and prayerfully applying God's word...Read More
We were privileged to hear Dr. Ligon Duncan expound on the theme of the Church and the World in the 21st Century the weekend of March 1st-2nd. His topics and message titles are below. Thanks to Dr. Ligon Duncan and the many helping hands who made this weekend such a blessing to our congregation and community. Saturday Evening
1662 and all that: Where we are today and how Christians should respond
Know who you are 1 Timothy 3:15
Sunday School (9:30AM)
Conversion and Culture: The most important thing the church can do in the world
Know what people need John 3:1-8
Sunday Morning Worship (10:45AM)
Between Hopelessness and Idolatry: A love that will not let you go
Knowing something that can’t be known Ephesians 3:14-19
Sunday Evening Worship (6:00PM)
Knowing the saving purposes of God Daniel 9
This article is by Pastor James (Jay) Harvey, reprinted from TableTalk magazine January 2014 If you ask a Christian how to grow as a disciple, you may hear a wide range of suggestions: personal Bible study, one-on-one discipleship, small-group discipleship, men’s and women’s groups, attending conferences, campus ministries, community Bible studies, and so on. Within the past two decades, the Internet has grown to offer an abundance of additional resources. Audio and video presentations of sermons, seminary courses, and entire worship services are at our fingertips. We can all be grateful to God for these resources. To the degree that faithful, doctrinally sound study of God’s Word is taking place, all these endeavors will bear spiritual fruit. We are able to share in the gifts and graces of the church universal like never before.
A word of caution is in order, however. While God’s providence affords us unprecedented access to the teaching of the church universal, God intends our discipleship as Christians to be expressed in the church particular. When Jesus told His disciples that baptism was integral to the Great Commission, He was establishing the priority of the local church and Lord’s Day ministry in discipleship. Baptism signifies entrance into the visible church, and the most fundamental activity of the visible church is worship on the Lord’s Day. If we are not committed to a particular church, we cannot receive ministry nor give ministry as the New Testament envisions.
Consider some of the unique discipleship blessings that we find in committing to worshiping on the Lord’s Day with the local church:
A Foretaste of Heaven
It is wonderful to stream your favorite teaching with a cup of coffee in the comfort of your own home. It is sweet to meet at a friend’s home and study the Bible together. But neither private listening nor small-group study give the foretaste of the world to come as corporate worship does.
The corporate worship of the church is a foretaste of the future glory that awaits us in Christ. We hear God’s Word read, sing His praises, confess our sins, receive His grace, join our hearts in prayer, receive the Lord’s Supper, and place ourselves under the proclamation of His Word. And we do this together. What is happening spiritually when we gather like this? “[We] come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God” (Heb. 12:22). In this corporate worship, the church is like a mother, providing weekly shelter and refreshment from the wilderness of the world until the Lord Jesus Christ returns and makes all things new. Without this weekly gathering, we shrivel and die in the wilderness.
A Context for Love
An abundance of solid food does not ensure that any of it will be digested and used for nourishment. We need commitment to the local church to grow spiritually.
The goal of Christian discipleship is love (Mark 12:29–31; 1 Cor. 13:1–13; 2 Peter 2:5–7). The local church is the place where we grow in love over the long haul. Being a faithful church member is difficult. The people are not all like you. But, you grow to accept one another in love. If you spend any time among the same group of people, they will eventually disappoint you in some ways, or perhaps positively harm you. But you grow to forgive one another in love.
If you leave a church because the people are not like you or because you have been wounded, you have cut short the discipleship process before it has begun. The only legitimate lure that Jesus says we have for the world is the love that we manifest in our corporate life as a church: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). This visible expression of love is rooted in gathering on the Lord’s Day as one body.
A Place to Give and Receive
God puts us in a local body of believers to share in the gifts and graces of that body, and this sharing (communion) is essential to discipleship. The local church is your spiritual family; you share mutually in burdens and blessings with one another. The local pastor is your pastor-teacher. He is God’s gift to you, and God will use him uniquely in your life when you receive his ministry regularly with faith and prayer. The elders and deacons are your elders and deacons. They are God’s gift to you to care for your body and soul. All these gifts are from God. How dare we say to any, “I have no need of you”? (1 Cor. 12:21).
I don’t think many Christians actually intend to neglect Lord’s Day worship. It just happens as we let other things draw us away from God’s people and God’s worship on Sunday. Before we know it, we are missing half of the corporate services of worship, waning in our love for Christ, and feeling disconnected from the church.
Pastors can be reticent to speak about the Lord’s Day, fearing perceptions of legalism or self-aggrandizement. But we need to be reminded through teaching and the example of church officers of the importance of the Lord’s Day for Christian discipleship. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27). The Lord’s Day is designed by God to bless us. It is foundational to our Christian discipleship.
Of all the great events in Human Civilization, none surpasses the Exodus in significance for the formation of civil society. One could argue for the significance of the Exodus along a number of lines. One obviously fruitful line of exposition would emphasize that the Exodus initiates the formation of Israel as a nation--a formation that was essential to bringing forth the Messiah so that all nations would be blessed as God had promised to Abraham. Here I want to mention another aspect of the Exodus that is more subtle and often overlooked. In the Exodus God defeated Pharaoh through a series of plagues. As many theologians have observed, the plagues of the Exodus were not chosen at random. Each plague of the Exodus can be shown to correspond to an aspect of Egyptian cosmology. God was making the point that He alone was sovereign, and that the Egyptian deities had no power. The plagues culminate with judgment upon the firstborn, including the firstborn of Pharaoh. Pharaoh was considered a deity. There was no law governing his actions. His will determined the law of the people and he was subject to no one. The Exodus demonstrated the folly of this ancient Egyptian cosmology and the impotency of the tyrant Pharaoh to stand against the one true God of Israel.
Following the miraculous deliverance from Egypt, the Hebrews were brought to a mountain where God delivered his law to them audibly. These ten commandments were then written down, expanded upon in case law, and given to them the people to inform every aspect of their lives. The contrast with Egypt could not have been more profound. The people of God were no longer subject to the whims of a self-deified human tyrant. Human beings are equal in the sight of God, and God himself is the only one who has absolute authority over the human race. Israel would continue to be unique among its Ancient Near Eastern neighbors in this respect: the King of Israel was to be subject to the law himself and subject to the challenges of the prophets of God who proclaimed that law. The ideal of human political leadership was transformed in Israel from absolute power over inferiors to the stewardship of an authority derived by God and accountable to God.
In a civil society the freedom of religion, which in the context of this post entails the freedom to call to account all forms of human tyranny on the basis of divine revelation, is the only guarantee of civil liberty. Foolish Christian religious wars have slain their thousands, but atheistic states that limited the freedom of religion have slain their millions. Secularists must heed this somber lesson of history. Christians need to see the important link between freedom of religion and the work of gospel ministry. In the seventeenth century John Locke argued for religious toleration (as opposed to coercing faith through legislation) because anything less would lead to hypocrisy--unbelievers feigning a faith they do not truly possess. (Locke observed that Jesus was not shy to call out the sin of hypocrisy.) Free from state coercion to feign faith, individuals are able to confront the claims of Christ from the heart.
The Exodus demonstrates that only God is sovereign over human beings and that no tyrant has the right to govern according to his own whims. Moreover, the law given at Sinai doesn't merely humble political leaders, it is humbles us all. For none of us keep the law. Therefore, none of us can be delivered by the law. Ultimately we are all law breakers and all subject to the same judgment that came to Ancient Egypt. And, just as it was the case in Egypt, if we are not covered by the Blood of the Lamb the wrath of God will smite us all. Thanks be to God for Christ, our Passover lamb.
Provocative tranquility--that is the term that Russell Moore used to describe the church's witness in a crisis filled world. Moore was recently named the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. A complete interview can be found here. At the close of this interview Moore says this about the church's disposition toward the culture:
A gloomy “slouching toward Gomorrah” view of culture leads, I think, to meanness. If we think we are on the losing end of the arc of history, we slide into outrage. If we see ourselves, though, as part of a kingdom that is triumphant in Christ, we ought to display a kind of provocative tranquility. We see those who disagree with us not as threatening to us or to our gospel, but those who, like all of us were, are held captive to an accusing power. We speak with convictional kindness because we love our neighbors, and because we are confident in our gospel. If the gates of hell won’t prevail against Jesus’ onward march, then why are we terrified by Hollywood or Capitol Hill?
These words are a great reminder for us one Sunday after Easter. The King who was raised is still raised, and is advancing his reign. His kingdom is dynamic in its expression, which is most evident in the church but also evident anywhere where Christians are making a difference in the name of Christ. When we have become too comfortable in this world it is very unsettling to us when things around us appear to be shifting rapidly. Everyone needs and anchor, and if culture is our anchor then we run adrift when it shifts. But if Christ is our anchor than we remain focused on him. We draw on his power--power from above--to do his will here below. We are so heavenly minded that we are of heavenly use.
To live in provocative tranquility means that we are neither anxious about the future nor indulgent in the present. We live as pilgrims who, because our destination is secure, both sacrifice to reach that destination and never despair when it seems to be far off in the distance. As a body at EP, this means that we never sit back with a complacent or indulgent spirit when it comes to our own church. The question for us is never, "Is the current trajectory of the church enough to keep going?" The question is always what do we need to do to be faithful to Christ as His church to advance his kingdom.
Elders, deacons, staff and myself are constantly engaged in this question of faithfulness. Currently the deacons are working on whether our church is sending the "right message" when people meet us for the first time, or even consider attending us. People of all backgrounds are loved and welcomed at EP. The goal is to make sure that the projection of the church fits the reality within the church. Needed updates will soon be underway for the Fellowship Hall. Updates to the Narthex are currently under consideration.
Our diaconate is also developing a proposal for how to administer funds gifted by Lillian Watkins for the education of young people, including future full ministry workers. What a blessing from God--He has given us means not only to reach youth for Christ, but to see them through the sending stage to serve Christ.
Given the provisions that we have been given to equip youth, I have asked our youth and mission's committees to think how we can maximize our church's impact on young people in our area. We need to take a long term view in this regard. Increasing our partnership with local ministries like Young Life (whom we already support) is one tangible step to take. Developing more creative ways of integrating youth into the lives of adult members is another. Building more continuity between our current outreach efforts and the ministries of the church is yet another area to consider.
Regardless of where God leads our church in terms of particulars, let us model provocative tranquility in our worship and our work, with our family and our friends. For we know that "in the Lord our labor is not in vain" (1 Cor 15:58).