Is the Gospel Enough [for Unity]?

Pastor Tom Ascol, of Grace Baptist Church and executive director of Founders Ministries, has written a short piece giving us a great reminder on what the sole foundation for church unity is.

Listen to readout of article [5 minutes] or read it below:
[audio:http://blob.soundgecko.com/storage/0adb5d8b-d349-41dc-895c-b3abe02b0017.mp3?se=2050-01-01T00%3A00%3A00Z&sr=b&si=readonly-private&sig=enMEMeShgNYbmx3a7lJCVEY39uHOT8tBTmdeWJALt1Q%3D]

I thank God for all the talk about the gospel among evangelical churches today. Granted, some of it can degenerate into trite jingoism and anomalous platitudes, but still, at least the necessity and centrality of theevangel is once again being recognized by believers who purportedly take their identity from it and who agree that evangelism is our great work. Considering where American evangelicalism was 30 years ago, this is a huge improvement.

This does not mean that Thabiti Anybwile’s “mild rant” against all the modern talk about the gospel is completely unwarranted. Bunyan warned about the kind of groupies who only love religion when it walks in “silver slippers” and gospel-centrality certainly seems to be enjoying that kind of status in our day. When it becomes chic to talk about the gospel then watch out because much gospel-talk will contain more talk than gospel. So I tip my hat to Thabiti’s point.

But I do not think we are in any danger of obsessing over the gospel. In fact, I fear that our case is quite the opposite. Particularly, I am afraid that we have yet to begin to plumb the depths of the gospel’s sufficiency. The gospel is most certainly an exclusive message. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Peter reiterated that point when he said, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The gospel is a very narrowly defined message. It is all about Jesus–who he is, what he has done and why that matters. It is the only message that saves those who believe.

 

“The gospel is most certainly an exclusive message… but the gospel has implications that are infinitely broad”

But the gospel has implications that are infinitely broad. It applies to everything. That is why Paul can say what he does in 1 Corinthians. When he first went to Corinth he “decided to know nothing among [the Corinthians] except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:2). He preached an exclusive message: the gospel. Yet, as his letter indicates, he recognized that the gospel applies to everything. Dissension, jealousy, immaturity, injustice, slavery, sexuality, marriage, singleness, the future, the past–all of these subjects and more are addressed by Paul in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ. In that sense, no matter what the problem is, the answer is always the gospel.

One of the greatest challenges that a church faces as devotes itself to “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers” (Acts 2:42) is keeping the gospel as the sole foundation for unity. Over time, as associations and relationships grow within a body it is inevitable that church members will discover that they have other things beside the gospel in common with some of their fellow members. This is neither good nor bad. It is simply a reality.

 

One of the greatest challenges that a church faces… is keeping the gospel as the sole foundation for unity. Over time, as associations and relationships grow within a body it is inevitable that church members will discover that they have other things beside the gospel in common with some of their fellow members… The temptation that this inevitability presents, however, is making those other things more important than the main thing…

 

The temptation that this inevitability presents, however, is making those other things more important than the main thing that we share in common, that is, the gospel. It usually happens subtly and even unconsciously. Families that homeschool their children can naturally gravitate to other homeschoolers. Sports enthusiasts can do the same. Young married couples naturally enjoy spending time with others close to their age and stage of life, as do young people, single adults and senior adults. The relationships forged along such affinities are not necessarily bad and can even be very beneficial. There is nothing wrong with closer relationships developing along those kinds of lines.

Where such relationships can become problematic is at the point that they begin to take on more importance than the gospel. When your affinities start to trump the gospel in your decision making you can be sure that Christ has been supplanted as the basis for your fellowship.

Here are some indications that this may be happening in your church.

When statements like this are being heard:

“I just don’t feel at home in that church because there aren’t enough _________ (fill in the blank however you want to: homeschoolers; Republicans; young people; old people; single people; married people; Cubans; business people; bikers; surfers; professionals; blondes; left-handers, etc. etc. You get the point).

When those who are in any of the above (or other) affinity groups find it impossible to relate to believers who are not.

If you find yourself thinking that you don’t really have anything in common with an older (or younger) member or single (or married) member or an adoptive (or childless) family, it’s time to back up and reexamine what the basis of your fellowship really is.

If we are living out the conviction that the gospel really is enough then we will not require anyone to be in our “age and stage” of life in order to enjoy genuine fellowship with them. Age, race, marital status, occupation, hobbies, etc. will all be recognized and appreciated but they will not be allowed to be attached to the gospel as a necessary basis for fellowship.

As that happens then the manifold wisdom of God will be put clearly on display before a watching world. God will be glorified. His gospel will be adorned. And His church will be strengthened.

Conduct Worthy of the Gospel in Corporate Worship

Below is an article from David Mathis (@davidcmathis) who is an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Twin Cities: (or listen to readout of article Runtime: 7:04)

Other Christians. Can’t do corporate worship without them, and yet sometimes it feels like we can’t really do corporate worship with them either.

How nice would it be if everyone would just mind their manners in weekend worship? So thinks our old self.

Let’s admit it. We’re tough on others, easy on ourselves. We assume others should give us the benefit of the doubt—which is the very thing we don’t give to others.

She’s the reason I’m distracted, the old self tells us.

 

If he weren’t singing so loud—and so off key . . . 

 

If they would just get off their iPads and smart phones. I’m sure they’re all doing emails, or social media, rather than looking at the Bible text or taking notes.

We love to blame our neighbor, or the worship leader, for our inability to engage in corporate worship. But the deeper problem usually belongs to the one who is distracted. Few things are more hypocritical than showing up to a worship gathering of the Friend of Sinners and bellyaching that other sinners showed up too.

 

Checking Our Own Souls

If there is gospel etiquette for the gathered church, it starts with evaluating my heart, not their actions. Frustration with others’ distracting behavior—whether in the pew in front of me, or on the stage—is deeper and more dangerous than the nonchalance or negligence that sidetracks others.

Of course, there are rare exceptions when someone really is totally out of line. Such as the guy who brought his own tambourine one week. But even in the occasional instance where someone’s worship conduct is seriously out of bounds, what if we started by asking ourselves some hard questions?

  • If love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8), might God be calling me to look past this distraction I perceive?
  • Am I really applying John 13:34-35 (“love one another”) to fellow Christians in weekly corporate worship? If we can’t apply John 13:34-35 when the church is gathered, are we really going to apply this elsewhere?

The principle of walking in line with the gospel (Galatians 2:14) in corporate worship looks like this: In grace consider others enough to refrain from distracting them, and extend grace to those who you find to be distracting. Here are a few suggestions for how to think well of and for others in corporate worship.

 

1. Arrive early.

Not only does early arrival keep you from distracting others by coming in late after the service has started, but it also enables you to greet others and extend to them a welcome as they arrive. Ain’t no shame in coming early for some social time. God’s happy when his children love each other.

Also, arriving early (rather than late) helps us remember that the whole service is worship, not just the sermon. Even though we’d never say it, sadly we sometimes function as if everything before the sermon is some added extra or just the warm up for the preaching. The worship really begins when the preacher ascends to his pulpit. It’s fine if we miss the first few minutes of singing. No big loss.

 

2. Park far, sit close.

This is one practical way to count others more significant than yourselves, and look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4). Parking far leaves the better spots in the lot for those arriving after you, and sitting close leaves the seats near the doors easily accessible.

 

3. Participate heartily.

“Heartily” is an attempt to communicate a balanced kind of engaged participation—not being a mere spectator and not being that guy singing with the out-of-control volume. The problem of over-participating speaks for itself (quite literally), but in regard to under-participating, note that you are actually robbing others of the value of corporate worship when you don’t engage. Your presence is a part, and your voice is a part as well. The experience of corporate worship is enriched when all the attendees participate.

 

4. Smile.

I’m not counseling you to fake it or put on airs. Corporate worship is a time for gladness and excitement, not dourness and mere duty. Try to make the most of your morning before attending corporate worship, and let your gladness be contagious. Like George Mueller, seek to get your soul happy in Jesus, and ask God for help to spill over some of your soul satisfaction on others.

 

5. Stay late and engage others.

Come on the look for people, transition Godward in the worship gathering, and leave on the look for others. Some of the most significant conversations in the life of the church happen immediately after worship gatherings. Relationally, this is one of the most strategic times during the week to be available and on the lookout for

  • new faces you can make feel welcomed
  • old faces you can connect with
  • hurting people you can comfort
  • happy people you can be encouraged by.

Sometimes you just gotta go after a service. We get it. That’s okay. There are special events, or unusual demands, or seasons of life with small, antsy children. But if you’re bouncing out the doors every week as soon as possible after the services ends (or even before it’s over), you’re at least not making the most of corporate worship.

 

6. Come to receive from God and give to others.

This is the banner over all the other charges. Come to corporate worship on the lookout for feeding on God and his grace, and on the lookout for giving grace to others. Come to be blessed by God, and to bless others. Receive from him, give to them.

We’re prone to get this backwards. We come to worship thinking that we’re somehow giving to God, and we subtly expect we’ll be receiving from others. We desperately need to turn that pattern on its head.

The God we worship is one not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). And when he came in the flesh, he did so “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Beware coming to corporate worship to serve God. But by all means, come on the lookout to serve others. Worshiping God and building up others aren’t mutually exclusive but come to their fullness together.

We give to one another as we together come to receive from God our soul’s satisfaction. We kill both the vertical and horizontal of corporate worship when we come looking to give to God and receive from others.

Calvinism & Enjoyable Christian Experience

Calvinistic theology has always placed great emphasis on biblical and doctrinal knowledge, and rightly so. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). This transformation is a prerequisite for our worship, since it is by the Spirit’s illumination of our minds through Scripture that we gain understanding of God and His ways. But Calvinism—at least in its consistent forms—has never been merely cerebral. The history of Reformed Christianity is also the story of the highest order of spiritual experience. Calvinistic doctrine expressed in God-exalting words of praise leads to a distinctive Christian experience. The melody that is composed intellectually in Calvinistic theology and sung enthusiastically in Reformed worship also can be heard in the lifestyle and experience of Reformed Christians.

Calvinism—at least in its consistent forms—has never been merely cerebral. —Sinclair Ferguson

The seriousness of the Reformed world and life view means that, even when the melody is played in a minor key, it remains a melody. Indeed, to use a metaphor of Calvin, as this melody is played in the church, it becomes a glorious symphony blending the following motifs:

  • Trust in the sovereignty of God.
  • The experience of the power of God’s grace to save hopeless and helpless sinners.
  • An overwhelming sense of being loved by a Savior who has died specifically and successfully for one’s sins.
  • The discovery of a grace that has set one free to trust, serve, and love Christ while yet not destroying one’s will.
  • The quiet confidence and poise engendered by knowing that God has pledged Himself to persevere with His people “till all the ransomed church of God is saved to sin no more.”

These motifs all conspire to give God alone the glory.

The glory of God and the enjoyment of man are not antithetical. —Sinclair Ferguson

The essence of the Calvinistic life is living in such a way as to glorify God. This, after all, is the burden of the answer to the opening question of the Shorter Catechism written by the Westminster Assembly of Divines: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” Here is the ultimate surprise in Calvinism for many people: the glory of God and the enjoyment of man are not antithetical, but are correlated in the purposes of God.

The view that God’s glory diminishes man and robs him of pleasure is, in the light (or should one say “darkness”?) of Genesis 3, the lie about God that was exchanged for the truth (Rom. 1:25). It is satanic theology that plays God against man.

In sharp contrast, biblical theology that exalts God in His sovereign grace and glory opens the door for man to enter into a quite different order of reality. Here is offered the experience of, and delight in, the rich pleasures of restoration to fellowship with God, transformation into the likeness of Christ, and anticipation of being with Christ where He is in order to see Him in His glory (John 17:24).


Adapted from Sinclair Ferguson‘s contribution to Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism [or get the Kindle Edition] (This was a book we went through at men’s study).

(HT: Ligonier Blog)

The 4th Commandment [Sermons & Article by Pastor Jay]

 

Here is a collection of the sermons and an article by Pastor Jay on the fourth commandment that he mentioned yesterday [April 29, 2012]:

[Archived] Obedience: Possible, Prescribed, & Precious

In relation to one point, from Friday’s sermon [04/20/2012] on “Blessings We have in Christ”, that  we have a renewed ability to please and serve God because of our union with Christ and regeneration, this article from last June may be helpful:

Here is a helpful article from Kevin DeYoung on obedience in the Christian life:

 

I believe with all my heart that we can do nothing to merit eternal life. We are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. God accepts and declares us righteous not because of our good deeds, but because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We cannot earn God’s favor. We depend entirely on his gospel grace.

 

Full stop. Period. New paragraph.

 

We can also be obedient.

 

Not flawlessly. Not without continuing repentance. Not without facing temptation. Not without needing forgiveness. But we can be obedient.

 

Obedience is not a dirty word for the gospel-centered Christian. We are saved from the wrath of God by sovereign grace, and that sovereign grace saves us unto holiness. Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ has redeemed us from all lawlessness to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).

 

More Spiritual than the Bible

 

Sometimes in a genuine effort to be honest about our persistent imperfections we make it sound like holiness, of any sort, is out of reach for the Christian. But this doesn’t do justice to the way the Bible speaks about people like Zechariah and Elizabeth who “were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). Likewise, Jesus teaches that the wise person hears his words and does them (Matt. 7:24). There’s no hint that this was only a hypothetical category. Quite the contrary, we are told to disciple the nations that they might obey everything Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:19-20).

 

God expects the Christian to be marked by virtues like love, joy, and peace (Gal. 5:22-23) instead of being known for sexual immorality, idolatry, theft, and greed (1 Cor. 6:9-11). No Christian will ever be free from indwelling sin, but we should no longer be trapped in habitual lawlessness (1 John 3:4). “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10).

 

Filthy Rags?

 

That’s true, you may say, but in the end all our righteous deeds are nothing but filthy rags. There’s nothing we work we can do that truly pleases God or can be considered righteous in his sight. I’ve probably explained Isaiah 64:6 with similar words, but I don’t think it’s quite right. The “righteous deeds” Isaiah has in mind are most likely perfunctory rituals offered by Israel without sincere faith and without wholehearted obedience. In Isaiah 65:1-7 the Lord rejects Israel’s sinful sacrifices. There is nothing really righteous about these deeds. They are an insult to the Lord, smoke in his nostrils, just like the ritual “obedience” of Isaiah 58 that did not impress the Lord because his people were oppressing the poor. All that to say, we should not think every kind of “righteous deed” is like a filthy rag before God. In fact, Isaiah 64:5 says “You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.” It is not impossible for God’s people to commit righteous acts that please God.

 

John Piper explains:

 

Sometimes people are careless and speak disparagingly of all human righteousness, as if there were no such thing that pleased God. They often cited Isaiah 64:6 which says our righteousness is as filthy rags. It is true–gloriously true–that none of God’s people, before or after the cross, would be accepted by an immaculately holy God if the prefect righteousness of Christ were not imputed to us (Romans 5:19; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21). But that does not mean that God does not produce in those “justified” people (before and after the cross) an experiential righteousness that is not “filthy rags.” In fact, he does; and this righteousness is precious to God and is required, not as the ground of our justification (which is the righteousness of Christ only), but as an evidence of our being truly justified children of God. (Future Grace, 151)

 

A Double Danger and a Triple Testimony

 

It is a dangerous thing to ignore the Bible’s presumption, and expectation, that (a certain kind of ) righteousness is possible. On the one hand, some professing Christians may be deceived, thinking that personal holiness isn’t really necessary and therefore it doesn’t matter how they (or anyone else) lives. On the other hand, some Christians may be too reticent to recognize that they actually do good things. We can think it’s a mark of spiritual sensitivity to consider everything we do as morally suspect. But this is not the way the Bible thinks about righteousness. As Piper puts is, “our Father in heaven is not impossible to please. In fact, like every person with a very big heart and very high standards, he is easy to please and hard to satisfy” (152)

 

There is no righteousness that makes us right with God except for the righteousness of Christ. But for those who have been made right with God through faith alone, many of our righteous deeds are not only not filthy in God’s eyes, they are exceedingly sweet.

 

Obedience is possible, prescribed, and precious.

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