The Role of the Church in Society

Society is rife with many issues that are given heed to at differing levels of interest by the church today. There are varying degrees of success – or failures. No matter the cause, opponents of the church will seek to undermine any positive influences and accentuate the negatives. In view of the current trend of secularism seemingly in control of popular opinion, what then is the role of the church in society?

In speaking of and about the church it is important to note that herein “the church” means the local church body made of regenerate members and not that of the universal church. The local church body is the point of contact of, and representative for the universal church. Local church bodies should be seen acting in concert with other local church bodies collectively and cooperatively. This is seen throughout Acts and in much of the other books of the New Testament as Paul sought the support of churches for each other and for the church in Jerusalem.

Luke’s account of the activity of the early church in Jerusalem gives the most succinct picture of the role of the church in society. Acts 4:32-37 shows 1) “the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own…2) with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus…3) there was not a needy person among them, for as…it was distributed to each as any had need.

First, the members of the church were as Acts 2:1 says “they were all with one accord” (KJV). As they gathered together they celebrated. As they celebrated they prayed. As they prayed they worshiped. They gave freely of what they had out of love for each other as they epitomized the greatest commandment according to Jesus (Matthew 22:37-39), “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and carried through with the second, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Secondly, the preaching of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) was important for the public proclamation all Christians are responsible for giving. The early church had the privilege of hearing first-hand from the people that were with Jesus every hour of every day for three years. Today, we are blessed with the Bible that tells the same stories and expounds upon the same doctrines (the main purpose for much of Paul’s writings). Strong exegetical and doctrinally sound proclamation of the gospel is paramount for the church today if wishes to regain a positive role in society.

Thirdly, none in the early church of Jerusalem had any need. This is not so in most churches today. Despite increasing financial burdens and lingering illnesses necessitating being home-bound the members of today’s local churches do not seek to meet the needs of its own membership. Yet, those same non-internally reaching members will lay out literally thousands of dollars to go half-way around the world to do the very thing they neglect in their own church. The hypocrisy of our missions shouts volumes to society today and causes loss of credibility.

The role of the church in society has been in large part abdicated and can only be viewed as a hollow facade of what used to be a respected and sought after leader in our culture. As a whole, forfeiture of an active role has become the norm from community to community though some corners do seem to be able to grab some form of media attention and point to that as proof of an active role. The local church as become less important due to its lack of love and compassion for its own membership (assuming regenerate membership). Instead of the gathering place to celebrate God’s work in their lives, it has become the social club for conscious-salving “mission projects” at best and dark-room-meeting places for the ego-driven power mongers at worst. Church has become more about what-someone-else-does-for-me rather than the assembly of God-worshiping, blood-bought, born again, Christians.

The church must revisit the oft repeated Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 and its corollary of Acts 1:8. Matthew records that the church (implied) should teach all that Jesus had commanded. This carries the overt implication that the teachers would be obeying those very commands. Obeying Jesus’ words will strengthen the church in the rest of the commission to go and make disciples. The role of the church in society starts closest to home and moved outward (Acts 1:8).

Is there concern that the church’s voice is being drowned out by alternate influences? We can change that by hearing the voice of the needy in our own congregations. Is there concern that poor preaching and teaching is corrupting our congregations’ view of God? That can be changed by giving heed to those that only preach the gospel and teach the doctrines found there. Does the church’s lack of influence diminish its presence? Taking care of each other will strengthen the right to be heard in our society.

The role of the church is to start being the church again.

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Ooo! Aahh!

Christmas Fireworks at the Summit2007-11-16, originally uploaded by Through the Veil.

A local shopping center recently had a Christmas lights party where they invited the community to celebrate the official lighting of its Christmas decorations. They had fireworks (as seen above), free hot chocolate & apple cider, and a local church to come and “do the show.”

In fact, this local church was the centerpiece of the program. Their talented musicians provided ambiance (despite poor mike work and lousy sound set-ups) to the occasion playing and singing many magical Santa songs and one set of three or four Christmas carols. The “youth” group got in on the act as well.

When we arrived at the event we were expecting a secular presentation, free hot chocolate (as advertised), and a chance to be out and about after a week of work and school. Noticing the prominence of the church involvement, we thought that this might be a good outreach in which Jesus would be presented to many.

We were wrong. Jesus was only mentioned as a character in a few songs. He was not talked about as the nice people gave my children their hot chocolate. He was not there. We were even told to wish each other “Happy Holidays” thereby taking His name out of the celebration entirely.

This “church” thinks it did a “community outreach.” They provided mediocre entertainment, hot chocolate, and a hot air balloon. They conducted a membership drive for a social club. When given the opportunity to “preach Christ crucified” they gave free photo opportunities with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The free travel mug was nice though. My wife scraped the name off it and decorated it.

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8 (ESV)

Why I am not a “Calvinist”

Building on a Building

The ideals embodied by Calvinism in general are well and good. The rebuttal to the 5-points of Jacob Arminus given by the Synod of Dort provides a good starting point in framing a Biblically founded personal theology. This has been conveniently turned into an acronym to summarize its tenants: Total Depravity of Man, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance. TULIP is more correctly known as the Doctrines of Grace. Were it enough to characterize Calvinism by the Doctrines of Grace alone there would be no problem in being identified as a Calvinist. The following short list contains views typically held by Calvinists with explanations. These views are “why I am not a Calvinist.”

  • Paedobaptism: This view of baptism holds that infants can be baptized and be considered Christians.

This is bad doctrine. Correct doctrine is the foundation for healthy assemblies of believers. Anything that promulgates bad doctrine should not be considered as valid. Paedobaptism actually becomes a non-issue when viewed in its correct setting as “bad doctrine” and “credo-baptism” (Believer’s Baptism”) is taught and practiced.When even a cursory review of the New Testament (NT) is taken the reader cannot help but to notice what causes divisions in the NT churches, particularly at Corinth. The one repeated ground for divisions in the NT is when someone is regarded as unregenerate.Believer’s Baptism is the only outward presentation a believer is commanded to make. If we cannot expect a potential member to do this one simple thing (or provide some kind of proof he has done so as a believer) then why build a “church” membership base on it? Modes of baptism not withstanding, the “whens and whys” have to becarefully observed. If someone refuses believer’s baptism, then what are we to conclude? We are to conclude they are unregenerate and hence SHOULD be excluded from the Lord’s Table and “church” membership.

  • Covenant theology view of salvation: This assumes that the covenants of God from the Old Testament (OT) are still in force and allow the covenanters to receive salvation in Christ and hence are part of Jesus’ church.

This view is the primary reason there is not a Puritan church alive and well today. It is actually quite ironic that many leading Calvinists push Puritan beliefs even though those beliefs led to the downfall of that belief system. Legacy church membership became a norm for the Puritan church and stagnation led to the downward spiral that would eventually become Unitarian/Universalism.This view holds that anyone in a home is granted salvation by the salvation granted to the head of that home. The Passover story in Exodus 12 is often used to substantiate such a position.With the initiation of the New Covenant (Luke 22:14-20; Matthew 26:26-28) Jesus showed the salvation that is only possible by His blood. It was made at a specific point in time and applied to a specific group of people – the church (Matthew 16:18) which Christ said He will build.

    Eschatology: Generally speaking, Calvinists often believe an amillennial position. Some even go as far as to declare a preterist view point. Rarely will a Calvinist hold any form of a dispensational view.

Most typical Calvinist eschatology again comes from the Covenant theology view of salvation that believes the church embodies saints from the Old Testament as well as the New Covenant (word choice made on purpose). This is often wrapped up in the inclusive term of Kingdom of God to be understood synonymously with the Church.While a dispensational view of eschatology is far-fetched at times and often stretched to some unbiblical substantiated conclusions, the idea itself of dispensations is quite Biblical unless Paul is wrong (Ephesians 3:2 KJV and others). Some translations have stewardship, others have administration but the idea that there is some kind of division in God’s plan is evident.The Kingdom of God is simply the whole of God’s plan. It is comprised of three dispensations (or stewardships, administrations): OT saints, the Church, and Jews brought to salvation during the Great Tribulation (Revelation 7).John the Baptist typifies the OT saints (John 3:28-30) as being separate from the bridegroom and yet friends of the bridegroom. Paul understands the church to be the wife of the bridegroom (Ephesians 5:22-33) while John provides apocalyptic imagery of the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:6-9). Therefore the Kingdom of God is composed of the three: OT saints, the Church, tribulation Jews and saints.

God has made Himself and His plans well known.  While we will never know nor understand everything about God and what He does, He involves us in His salvific purposes. God and God alone should hold our allegiance since we are members of His church and hence His kingdom. Therefore a better term for characterization is “sovereigntist” to show our fealty to our Sovereign.

That is “why I am not a Calvinist.”

What’s in a Name?

blue ladder

blue ladder, originally uploaded by Through the Veil.

 

Matthew 16:19-23 (Mark 8:27-33)

Peter had arguably the most prestigious vantage point in history as he walked among the disciples as they accompanied Jesus on His journeys throughout first-century Palestine (modern Israel). After Jesus showed Peter and the others a lesson in faith (Walk to Faith) the disciples saw more wondrous things. They saw the sick healed. They heard Jesus teach rather forcefully to the Pharisees about traditions. They saw four thousand more miraculously fed. All this forms the background to the next step in Peter’s process.

Jesus removes Himself and the disciples out of Palestine to Caesarea Philippi (modern Syria) and engages in what we may term today as a debriefing. Many people had seen and heard Jesus along with the disciples. Jesus used this opportunity to teach them more about who He is by asking them what the people were saying about Him, “who do people say the Son of Man is?” In answer, several possibilities were brought out – John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. All the answers given in Matthew 16:14 were dead people. None of the answers satisfied Jesus so, He asks another question, “But who do you say that I am?”

This question may have seemed odd to the disciples. After all, they have spent practically all their time with Him after being called BY Him to follow Him. Perhaps some possible answers to the question that ran through their mind might include master, teacher, prophet, or healer. They may have had agreement with the names put forth by the general populous. To the disciples then it must have seemed strange to hear the fisherman Simon Peter blurt out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). How did he come up with an answer like that?

In response to Peter’s answer Jesus blessed him and explained how Peter would know that answer. “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). God revealed Himself to Peter to illustrate Who He is as a record for us to read, study, and meditate upon. This truth Peter blurted out was not a human thought but the result of the Sovereign God. Even in clarity, we still misunderstand even the simplest to comprehend revelations.

Jesus commends Simon Peter and reminds him of his nickname – Peter. “You are Peter.” Much has been written on about this phrase. In summation and review, Peter means “stone or pebble,” it is Petros in Greek; it is a male gendered noun. Jesus means to remind Peter to remain humble by reiterating the meaning of that auspicious nickname. Jesus then says that the answer Peter gave, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” is the rock Jesus will build his church. Rock here is petra in Greek, it means “bedrock”; it is a female gendered noun – in short, it is very different than Petros though it sounds alike. It is this foundation and revelation of the deity of Jesus Christ that Jesus says He will build His church and not the fisherman Peter. Peter echoes this in his first letter when he says to the readers that they are being used as living stones in the building of a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:4-6).

Peter must have been feeling good about giving the right answer. In fact, this might have been precipitous in his upcoming conversation with Jesus. Jesus started teaching them about His upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection (Matthew 16:21). For whatever reason, whether a personal connection akin to “teacher’s pet”, a need to schmooze after showing off, or just plain concern for Jesus’ well being, Peter thought it necessary to take Jesus aside from the rest of the group for a private conversation.

Remember that in Matthew 16:16 Peter identified Jesus as “the Son of the living God” thereby recognizing Jesus as sovereign deity. How odd then to read in verse 22, “Peter…began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’” Peter, in essence, just told God His plan must not be carried out. He first affirms Jesus in His sovereign deity and now he denies Jesus in His sovereign deity.

Jesus’ response was quick and revealing. He said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” (Matthew 16:23). The contrast in nicknames for Simon leaps off the page. He is called Peter the stone (by inference from Peter’s letter, a building stone) and then a short time later identified with Satan (Job 1-2), which means “adversary.” The feelings of euphoria turning to despair must have been nearly crushing to Peter.

Jesus identified an action in Peter that is all too common in us today. We come to a newly understood revelation of who God is and how we interconnect with His plan in a way that could only be supernaturally revealed by Him. Instead of seeking to remain at His side for further instruction we then use our own ambitions to define and execute God’s designs and plans. Instead of then being a valuable building material chosen by Jesus Himself, we become like Satan and seek to thwart that which we most want to be a part of.

Jesus follows up by teaching the disciples further (this would include Peter as well). “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). May we learn Peter’s lesson through the Word of God.

We will find Peter next in the upper room on the night of Jesus betrayal.

Definitions

When defining terms in theology sometimes you need a program to figure out “who” is on first base. The following is a classic commentary on emergent church, word of faith, mormonism, and just about anything else contrary to orthodox Christianity.

(disclaimer:   not responsible for spewed beverages on computer screens.  Viewer assumes all responsibility for any perceived humor arising from viewing of following clip.)

Peter’s Process: Walk to Faith

 

 

(Matthew 14:22-33)

 

After Peter was called by Jesus the scriptures remain general in its treatment of the disciples, usually referring to them as a group rather than singling any one out. In fact, Matthew only mentions Peter by name (other than in a list) as a means of referencing a miracle of Jesus that occurred in Peter’s mother-in-law’s house (Matthew 8:14). Mark and Luke show him observing Jesus in the crowd on the way to Jairus’ home (Luke 8:45; Mark 5:37). John does not present Peter again until after the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:68).

 

Since the calling of the disciples Jesus spent much time teaching, healing, and answering questions. Jesus was becoming known throughout the land. In fact, so many people gathered to hear Him teach at one point that He performed the now famous “feeding of the five thousand” (Matthew 14:13-21). Keep in mind that Peter heard the teaching, heard the answered questions, and saw the miracles.

 

After the feeding of the five thousand Jesus sent the disciples to Bethsaida via boat (Mark 6:46) while he dismissed the crowds and went off to pray (Matthew 14:23). When He finished praying the boat was being driven out to sea by one of the frequent wind storms on the Sea of Galilee. By normal human observable abilities Jesus did something remarkable – He walked on the water over to the boat. The disciples were terrified. Being the fourth watch (Matthew 14:25) it was dark (3am to sunrise probably) thereby making it difficult to see features in the early morning. To the disciples, He seemed as if He were a ghost (Matthew 14:26).

 

Jesus spoke comfort to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27). Here Jesus gives a glimpse of the second person of the Trinity. He has the appearance of a ghost and offers comfort (John 14-16). In fact, Luke refers to the “Spirit of Jesus” in recording the dream of Paul’s which led to Paul’s trip to Macedonia (Acts 16:7).

 

Peter will not be deterred. We hear Peter’s request as he tests this apparition (1John 4:1), “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28). Peter recognizes his separation from his Lord. At the stirring of the heart by the voice of the spirit (indeed, the Holy Spirit) Peter is singular in his intent – “Command me” he cries. And so, Jesus said simply, “Come” (Matthew 14:29). (Reader, if you were looking for Biblical illustrations of general calling, this is it)

 

Obedience now becomes the watch word for Peter. After responding to the general call he obeys by climbing out of the boat in the stormy weather. It must be well noted that the water was not smooth. What Peter did next is indeed one of the overlooked miracles – he “walked on the water and came to Jesus” (Matthew 14:29b). Walking by its very nature involves taking more than one step. It is moving from one point to another by putting two or more steps together. Peter got out of the boat, taking at least two steps (I assume more) to get to Jesus. There he was, next to Jesus.

 

We must now carefully observe Peter here as it is particularly illustrative of those calling themselves Christians. The effort exerted in walking is what many believe all it takes to get to Jesus. There is more than just getting to Jesus. All will get there to Him, at which point Jesus will judge the living and the dead, and separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15). Answering and obeying the general call is not enough for Peter.

 

Peter in obedience to the general call, stepped out in his own effort to get to Jesus. When the elements of his circumstances overwhelmed him Peter began to sink. Being a fisherman, Peter might have had some swimming ability but instead of relying on himself (as many people would in difficult situations in their own lives) Peter called out, “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30). Peter in effect has been moved through obedience and circumstance to repent and call out for salvation to the only One who could save him (John 14:6; Romans 10:11, 13).

 

Jesus’ response is remarkable. As a Shepherd, He called to His sheep and His sheep heard His voice (John 10:3). He came to the boat and brought safety in the storm (Matthew 1:21; Luke 19:10). Jesus’ response was one that He fully intended to carry out before Peter cried out (Ephesians 1:4-6; 2:1-10). Jesus “took hold of him” (Matthew 14:30). It was not “Peter clawed and grappled to cling to Jesus.” Please note well that Jesus “TOOK HOLD OF HIM [Peter].” Jesus saved Peter. Peter had moved from the general call to the effectual call.

 

It is here that Peter begins his discipleship journey. We often see people get to this point and want to stop in their new saved lives thinking that is all they need. We wonder why we still have all the hard times even though Jesus has saved us. Jesus gave pointed instruction to Peter in the form of a question that should strike deep for all of us. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt” (Matthew 14:31)? Up to the moment Peter cried out for salvation he had been relying on himself. Jesus wanted Peter to realize he need to have total reliance in Him alone (Galatians 2:16). The King James Version renders this better saying “a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ.” With the faith of Christ (nowhere do we see Jesus falter or doubt) we are saved by His plan, His work, and His sacrifice.

 

And yet, the storm still raged. The wind still blew. The waves still moved. Together, Jesus and His now speechless rescued lamb climbed into the boat. Then the wind ceased (Matthew 14:32). When all is done Jesus will bring us into a place of peace (John 14:3; Revelation 21:1-4).

 

“And those in the boat [Peter too!] worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’”(Matthew 14:33). (Revelation 4:11; 5:9)

 

 

 

Coming next: Peter comes to terms with his nickname.

Peter’s Process: A Whole New World

I have a picture of Peter, the disciple of Jesus and author of 1 & 2 Peter, in my mind. It is that of a fiery out-spoken, burly individual. The closest representation that I can relate to you the reader is that of Peter as portrayed in The Jesus Movie. He acted on his emotions, never failed to question, and seemed to be wherever the action was happening – or maybe getting in the way. Here therein is the blog version of Peter’s life as a follower of Jesus Christ.

 

We first meet Peter through his brother Andrew. Jesus was publicly identified as the “Lamb of God” by John the Baptist (John 1:35-36). Two of John’s disciples started following Jesus after Jesus invited them to see where He was staying (John 1:38-40). Andrew was one of these two disciples. It seems he discovered something so important that he felt he must share his new-found knowledge. It also seems what he discovered was something he and his brother had discussed before. What was Andrew’s discovery? It was the coming of the Messiah.

 

When Andrew brings his brother Simon to meet Jesus, our Lord and Savior gives us a remarkable glimpse into His own nature in what He says and how He says it: “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas.” By this statement, Jesus show us His deity in exhibiting His omnipotence by identifying Simon, sight unseen, and his lineage. We also see the claim on a life that only God could make – He gave Simon the new name Cephas “(which means Peter)” (John 1:42). Giving a name denotes a sense of ownership (Romans 6:18-22; 8:15). In effect, Jesus put a seal on Simon that bestowed a sense of shared sonship with the Father (Ephesians 4:30). Finally, the manner in which Jesus greets Simon was one of expectations realized. It was as if Jesus had set up the meeting – even before time (Ephesians 1:11-12).

Simon Peter now had many things to consider before him. He just met the Messiah who apparently already knew him, claimed authority over him, and declared Simon a joint-heir by naming him Peter. Despite having a fishing business (Matthew 4:18), having a wife (Luke 4:38), homes in Capernaum (Mark 1:21, 29), and Bethsaida (John 1:44) Peter immediately left his nets and followed Jesus (Matthew 4:20) upon hearing the command from Jesus “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). This memory must have been a melancholy one three years later when Jesus, after His resurrection told Peter to once again “Follow me” (John 21:19) – signifying the type of death Peter would suffer.

Indeed, a whole new world was now before Peter. We can only imagine the fears and the expectations Peter had racing through his mind. In the coming installments of this series we will attempt to understand some of those fears and expectations. We will look at Peter’s first-hand introduction to faith; We will see how Jesus used Peter’s new name to drive home a point; We will see Peter learn humility in the upper room; We will see Peter falter in his loyalty; We will see him restored; And finally we will see and hear Peter walk and preach in the way Jesus had been preparing him.

Until then, “peace to all of you who are in Christ.” (1 Peter 5:14)