Monday, February 29, 2016

Committed to developing a full-orbed ecclesiology

At our recent elder’s retreat, I was greatly encouraged by our collective unity and passion for maintaining a faithful “Word and Sacrament” ministry.  My January article took a cue from James Rogers’ First Things post as I proposed churches like Redeemer will play an increasingly important role in our nation’s strength and vibrancy because of our Word and Sacrament commitment. In a time when so many churches seem to have been distracted and ecclesiastically weakened by waging a mis-focused morality war in wider culture a simple Word and Sacrament ministry will become more critical. James Rogers also wrote-

Recovering a full-orbed ecclesiology for the Church—not for the Church in the abstract, but for the practical lives of Christian layfolk and leaders in the churches—must be in initial imperative for the Church today.”

By “ecclesiology” Rogers is referring to a biblical understanding about who and what the Church is.  A Word and Sacrament Church is intentional about making God’s means of grace readily available to God’s people for their sanctification.  By staying simple about this focus, sinners are saved and discipled (justified and sanctified). A Word and Sacrament church exudes Biblical ecclesiology. This isn’t an exercise in seclusion with no care for the world around us, on the contrary it is the actual means for reaching the world for Christ. As I wrote in January, the Church must keep the priority of the Word and Sacraments which will serve to multiply our numbers and strengthen us for the opportunities God gives to be salt and light in a morally digressed culture. 

So what does the Word and Sacrament ministry of Redeemer look like in light of these things?  A full orbed ecclesiology requires intentional discipleship by the Word of God, in all aspects of life.  The central feature of our church is Worship based on the Bible.  Our main venue for the Word of God preached and the sacraments administered is the weekly service of worship each Lord’s Day morning. Certainly no one would think a church could be duly equipped as disciples based on one 80-minute service each week. Before recent times, daily bible learning was the practice of families, churches, and schools. Redeemer’s leadership intentionally oversees several regular ministries that nurture development of a full orbed ecclesiology in our members.  

Each Sunday morning there is a specially designed bible/doctrine education session (Sunday School) for all ages between worship services. Sunday night there is an additional bible teaching time for adults, a bible application discussion time for teens, and elementary students participate in catechism learning. In addition to these Sunday opportunities, there are bible studies specific to men and women during the weekdays.  For young people we have a time of fun, fellowship and biblical encouragement on Wednesday nights during the school year.  We are a Word and Sacrament ministry passionate and intentional about providing as much bible learning and application opportunities as reasonably possible- so our members will have a “full orbed ecclesiology”.  

Even with the several aforementioned opportunities, only a few hours in biblical instruction are available weekly. For mature believers these opportunities are probably enough to nurture already developed spiritual disciplines and practices, but not for our younger members who are still developing an ecclesiology. A Christian school, especially when church-run (parochial), can be a very effective way to disciple young people about the world through the lens of the Word.

I have read studies critical of local church youth ministry and Christian schools that argue these kinds of ministries aren't really that effective in grounding young people in the Christian faith.  Youth ministries that fail to incorporate young people in the life of the church and Christian schools independent of a local church oversight often have serious flaws (a subject for a future post). We are not trying to do either at Redeemer.  Our youth ministry has the same simple focus as the whole of our church- biblical and doctrinal training coupled with ways to apply the truth of Scripture in life and service (ministry of the Word).  Fellowship (a.k.a. fun times for the youth to be together), by the way, is a big part of learning to apply Scripture (a subject for a future post).  Our Christian school is parochial and therefore under the church's supervision and oversight.  In a time when many Christian schools tend to be independent and not very focused on their purpose, our school has clear church oversight and a definite part to play in the catechizing of young believers.  Redeemer’s Christian School (Heritage Christian Academy) exists to assist families in developing a full-orbed ecclesiology, not as a distraction from the church's central mission. The thousands of day time hours spent by students in a classroom contain the prime learning hours in a critical episode of their lives, and so the church attempts to offer the Word in those hours through the provision a school.  Families have all sorts of discipleship resources at their disposal, providing a day school is a very solid tool offered to RPC families and the wider Christian community.  The biggest challenge with providing a school is cost.  It's not cheap. Personally, I'm bent on finding a way to bring the cost of our school down for RPC members. Whatever the cost in the mean time, it is a worthy sacrifice. 

The times are desperate and concerning, but our mission remains the same.  I pray regularly for God to keep us committed to a Word and Sacrament ministry that helps the people of God develop a full orbed ecclesiology.

Blind Preachers in Powerless Pulpits

Why is church attendance up in the U.S. but Christianity seems to be on the decline? 

As in Isaiah's day, largely because there are blind preachers in powerless pulpits scratching the itching ears of people who want comfort over conviction and acceptance in the culture over the carrying of Christ’s cross. 

That's my take.

Isaiah 29:10-12

10] For the LORD has poured out upon you
a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
and covered your heads (the seers).
[11] And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” [12] And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Ferociously Awesome- The Great Horned Owl

We have a "Great Horned Owl" living in a big tree behind my office.  She is ferociously awesome.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A "smudge of death" is not Good News

I am by no means telling other ministers what to do with their Christian liberty (I know that will be the appeal), but for this former Roman Catholic turned Presbyterian minister, the words of a wise Lutheran pastor capture my sentiments about applying ashes to the heads of Christians (who are adopted sons and daughters of God through Christ) on "Ash Wednesday":

"It isn’t my office to put soot on your foreheads, but to wash you clean of sin and death with the bloodied words of Jesus. It isn’t my office as a representative of Jesus Christ to put the mark of death on you. I’m an 'evangelist,' a proclaimer of 'good news,' Gospel, and a smudge of death is not good news."

-William Cwirla

Peace, whatever your practice may be.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

You are Worthy of My Affections

To my beloved Redeemer congregation:

I give regular thought about my role in your life.  I really do.  It is a contemplation that never stops for me.  With so many pastoral models out there, it’s easy to become distracted about what I should be doing.  

So, I read Paul’s epistles quite a bit.  They keep me focused on you and my calling. 

Scripturally speaking and simply put, my role alongside the other elders (shepherds) of the church is to lead in Worship, preach and teach the bible (gospel) and administer the sacraments. I am to intercede for you daily through prayer. Indeed, the Bible tells me to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).  There are many joys in this work, but Paul’s description prepares me for a struggle-  

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.   - Colossians 1:24-29 (emphasis mine)

My role in the pulpit is not to perform, but to exhort and encourage the Church with God’s Word.  I’m am tasked with telling the you what the Bible says and to offer ways we can live accordingly.  The text of Scripture never changes. It’s meaning is timeless.  What is necessary afresh in every age is pastoral direction for applying the text.  If simply expounding the meaning of the Bible was the sole work of the pastor, I would opt for playing recordings of James Boice in place of my preaching a sermon.  Your pastors’ role is to give the meaning of the text, and offer direction to apply the truth in daily thinking and living.  I regularly pray for God to grant me humble, careful, accuracy with the text and if I should err that you would be protected.  For my part, I should study diligently every week and do my best to give you a faithful exposition of God’s Word. For your part, come with a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17) asking God to teach you and mold you according to His Word.  

Thank you for allowing me this role in your life. It is a sacred trust that I am grateful to devote my life too.  You are the sheep for whom Christ died and worthy of my affections.