Archives For The doctrine of the Church

The Theology Conference is now behind us and the resources have been posted on our EFCA website. How can these resources be used most fruitfully?

I encourage you to listen to the lectures twice. First, listen to the messages individually, using the notes and also remembering to look through the bibliographies, and allow the teaching to instruct, exhort and challenge you. Jot down things you learn and questions that are raised. Following this, listen to the messages as an elder board and discuss them. The listening could be done either together as a whole group during an elder meeting, or the messages could be listened to individually and then discussed corporately.

That is what the pastor and elders are doing at the local EFC church where I am a member. The pastor will write up some questions for discussion that get to the heart of the implications and applications of the messages to this local church. Here is what I wrote to my pastor: “I would suggest that you draft some specific questions regarding implications of the teaching in each lecture along with the possible application in the local church. As you do this, it is important to bear in mind that each lecture is part of a whole.”

As you prepare to listen to these messages, please remember that you will learn some new things, and you may also be challenged with hearing some things with which you may disagree, either in principle, in emphasis or in practice. That does not mean you will not or cannot learn. As you listen, if there is something with which you are not sure because it differs from what you presently affirm or practice, I encourage you not to dismiss it immediately. Rather, ponder and think through what you have heard. Go back to Scripture, since that is the foundation for truth, and consider and reconsider the belief and practice. And even if you end up believing and practicing in the same manner, you have thought it through and you now reaffirm it with a freshness, with a greater awareness of the issues around the belief and practice, and with increased conviction and humility.

Here is what I wrote to one of the Spiritual Heritage Committee members about the Conference.

I am grateful to hear it was thought-provoking. I think it was for many. As I noted often throughout the conference, the key is not that one agree with the applications or implications, or even biblical exegesis. Rather, the key is how this will be understood, taught and lived. No one gets a pass on these issues because these are biblical issues, and they must be thought through biblically, theologically and pastorally for the local church. If one does not like a presentation or an application, that is acceptable, and to some degree expected. However, it is still required that one work through the biblical and theological issues and come up with some understanding and application. It is not sufficient merely to disagree with the message and then dismiss it.

We do not plan our Theology Conferences to inform pastors and leaders of all they already know and all they already affirm. Much of it is reminders of what they know, some of it is dusting off biblical and theological cobwebs, some of it is new categories of settled convictions, some of it is new. What I find when some settled convictions are challenged people often immediately dismiss the messenger and message. They may do this, but they ought not to do it so quickly and prematurely without using the thought-provoking lectures as a guide to think issues through again. One may end up with the same exegesis, implication and application. But now with a much broader base of understanding and a freshness to one’s view and practice.

May you take up my encouragement to use of these resources. Let me know how the Lord uses this among your leaders in your local church setting.

Our 2016 Theology Conference focused on the important theme, The Doctrine of the Church: The Embodiment of the Gospel.

This theme was captured as follows: The heart of the doctrine of the church is the gospel. It is the gospel that creates the church. It is the church that proclaims and propagates the gospel. It is the church that embodies the gospel.

The Conference was excellent. Lectures were great. Discussion was stimulating. Worship was rich. Fellowship was sweet. This was the testimony from both the speakers and attendees. I give thanks to and praise the Lord!

We have posted recordings of all the plenary lectures, along with bibliographies and notes on our Theology Conference webpage. These messages (minus the notes and bibliographies) will also be posted on our new Theology Podcast webpage over the course of the next few weeks.

As a reminder, here are the messages:

  • Welcome and Framing the Issue, Greg Strand
  • What is a Church? A Biblical and Historical Overview, Timothy George
  • The Church: A Visible Community – Boundary Markers of the Community, Michael Lawrence
  • The Church: A New Kinship Community, Joe Hellerman
  • The Church: A Community that Transforms, Peter Cha
  • The Church: A Missional Community, Greg Waybright
  • Shepherding God’s Church: The Privilege of Being a Pastor, Bill Kynes

For those who attended, plan to listen again. For those who were unable to attend, please take the time to listen to these important and helpful messages. I would also encourage you to listen to these messages as an elder or leadership team. I will say a further word about that in my next post. Until then, being listening!

Membership in the local church is often considered optional. In fact, for most, the only benefit local church membership provides is that I can “vote” at business meetings. If that is what membership entails, one has a mutated view of membership and, if in fact that is how it functions, there is good reason why one does not desire to become a member.

However, local church membership means and provides so much more.

Ray Ortlund gives us an excellent reminder of the importance of Church membership, the corporate which gives meaning and expression to the individual. Most of the time we look at this in reverse. It is the individual that brings meaning to the corporate. There is, of course, some truth to that. But there is something else that is just as, if not more, important. It is the corporate that gives meaning and significance to the individual.

To support his point, Ortlund quotes C. S. Lewis, “Membership,” in The Weight of Glory (Grand Rapids, 1974), pages 41-42:

We have in our day started by getting the whole picture upside down.  Starting with the doctrine that every individual is ‘of infinite value,’ we then picture God as a kind of employment committee whose business it is to find suitable careers for souls, square holes for square pegs.  In fact, however, the value of the individual does not lie in him.  He is capable of receiving value.  He receives it by union with Christ.  There is no question of finding for the individual a place in the living temple which will do justice to his inherent value and give scope to his natural idiosyncrasy.  The place was there first.  The individual was created for it.  He will not be himself until he is there.

Of course, all have dignity because we are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). However, at another level and in another realm, we receive value and worth as adopted sons and daughters through our union and communion with Christ. But that is not the end. That new creation is not an end in and of him or herself, but, rather, the fulfilment comes when that person becomes a part of the living temple. The meaning is not found in the individual alone. Rather, it is found as the individual fits into the temple of the living God, the corporate. This is why we have focused on the corporate aspect of God’s purpose in Article 1 of our Statement of Faith: “God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory.” A people, not only person. This is, as Lewis notes, upside down from how most understand this. But in reality, this is the kingdom Jesus inaugurated.

Ortlund spells this out in relation to the local church. He writes,

No wonder, then, that when we join a healthy church, we feel refreshed, reinvigorated, more alive.  We may have looked for our church as if we were shopping, like consumers.  But God is better than that and was up to something deeper.  He was fitting us into his temple as living stones.  It is in discovering the larger reality for which we were created that we come alive.  Not by getting our own way, but by fitting into something sacred, ancient and massive.

Church membership is glorious.

Do we sense the importance of the corporate as that which fulfills and gives meaning to the individual?

Do we see church membership as glorious?

There are aspects of the church we will address at our upcoming Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Church. We pray that through this Conference we will love more deeply and sacrificially Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, and his Bride, the people of God. And we will see membership as glorious. Please register here.

As we ponder the doctrine of the church, our next year’s Theology Conference theme, it is vital that we know who and whose we are. Apart from this truth, we will become nothing more than another dying organization or institution. Like in the days of Samuel (1 Sam. 4), it will result in the church being referred to as Ichabod, the glory of the Lord has departed.  

Here is how John G. Stackhouse, Jr., ed. Evangelical Ecclesiology: Reality or Illusion? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 9, powerfully makes this point:

When we, the church, are confused about who we are and whose we are, we can become anything and anyone’s. We can become a goose-stepping, Hitler-saluting abomination, as we were in the middle of the last century in Germany. We can become a self-righteous, self-centered, and racist boot on the neck of our neighbors, as we were in South Africa until the end of apartheid. We can become a machete-wielding, genocidal horror, as we were in Rwanda just a few years ago. We can become a corpulent, self-important irrelevance, as we are in so much of America today. And we can become a sad, shrunken ghost pining for past glory and influence, as we are in Canada, Britain, and most of Europe. When the church is confused about who it is and whose it is, it can become just another institution, just another collective, just another voluntary society. So we need ecclesiology – the doctrine of the church – to clarify our minds, motivate our hearts, and direct our hands.  We need ecclesiology so that we can be who and whose we truly are.

In our day of tsunami-like moral and cultural changes, we need to be reminded of the doctrine of the church. And although this is a doctrinal truth, it is necessary not for the sake of doctrine alone. This doctrinal truth has practical implications. When we forget this doctrine, we, as the church of Jesus Christ, follow the cultural winds, or we follow after the spirits of the age, or we are coopted by someone else for the propagation of their own agenda. History is replete with examples, a number of them mentioned in the Stackhouse’s quote.  

In contrast, and positively, we need this doctrine so that we can “clarify our minds, motivate our hearts, and direct our hands. . . . so that we can be who and whose we truly are.” As the church, we are the transformed people of God who influence and impact culture, not follow the mores of culture, we follow the Spirit of the ages, not the spirit of the age, and we are preeminently given to living under the Lordship of Christ in His kingdom and making His name great, not fitting in someone else’s agenda.

The heart of the doctrine of the church is the gospel. It is the gospel that creates the church. It is the church that proclaims and propagates the gospel. It is the church that manifests the gospel.  

This will be our theme and focus of next year’s Theology Conference. Please plan to join us!