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“The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together30

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“When a person becomes alienated from a Christian community in which he has been placed and begins to raise complaints about it, he had better examine himself first to see whether the trouble is not due to his wish dream that be shattered by God; and if this be the case, let him thank God for leading him into this predicament. But if not, let him nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of the congregation before God.” 

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together29-30

“A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men” 

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together29.

“If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.” 

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together29.

By Joe McKeever

When The Church Bully Happens To Be The Pastor

Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion but voluntarily, according to the will of God; not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:2-3).

We have written extensively on this website about church members who take the reins of the church and call the shots, who bully parishioners and pastors alike. But a friend wrote, “What are we to do when the bully is the pastor?”

“What does your pastor do?” I asked him.

His bullying pastor demands his way in everything, tolerates no dissent and ousts anyone not obeying him. He intimidates church members and dominates the other ministers. His opinion is the only one that counts.

We could wish it were a rare phenomenon. It isn’t.

The definitive bully found in Scripture is Diotrephes. In III John, we read, “I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves the preeminence (“loves to be first among them” (NASB), does not accept what we say….unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and he forbids those who desire to do so, and puts them out of the church.”

That’s the bully: loving preeminence, rejecting outside interference, bringing accusation against the opposition, and putting people out of the church when they oppose him.

 We’re thankful the New Testament churches had these problems

There’s a certain degree of comfort from knowing that the problems churches experience today are not new, not signs the church is going to the devil or evidence we’re being swamped by the world. The problems of division and strife (see I Corinthians), heresies (see Galatians) and petty egotism (III John) have been with us from the beginning.

This forever prevents us from piously withdrawing from today’s churches experiencing the same internal strife while claiming that they no longer do God’s will. There are more churches at this moment in time doing great work for the Savior than at any time in history. And likewise, more experiencing the cancers of worldliness, division, jealousies and egotis

There is nothing new about this.

It’s not even new or unheard of that pastors would be the bullies. After all, there must have been a reason why Peter wrote what he did in I Peter 5. For him to have cautioned pastors not to lead in such a way indicates he had seen it happen.

In a similar fashion, we have seen husbands lord it over their wives. “God made me the head of the home,” the bully says, “so that means you are to take orders from me.” It means no such thing, of course. In fact, Scripture says the husband is to love the wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Ephesians 5). So, there’s a dichotomy here: The husband is the head, but he is to sacrifice himself for his wife and family. A faithful husband does just that.

Wrong ways to lead the Lord’s church

The great apostle spoke to “the elders among you as your fellow elder” (I Peter 5:1). These are pastors. Peter considers himself a pastor/shepherd also.

As “a witness of the sufferings of Christ and a partaker of the glory that is to be revealed,” Peter’s credentials are impeccable. He was with the Lord when He walked on earth and is in line to share His heavenly glories in the future.

Elders/pastors are to exercise oversight of the Lord’s church (5:2). The word episcopos (root of episcopountes, the word used here) refers to the overseeing assignment of the pastors (see Acts 20:28). A shepherd watches over the sheep, leads them to green pastures, is ever alert for dangers and threats, and has the welfare of the flock uppermost in mind at all times.

Do not lead the flock in the wrong way or for impure motives, Peter advises…

Not under compulsion but voluntarily. The KJV says “by constraint,” meaning the pastor is doing this “because he must.” There’s no joy but total drudgery, no inspiration but a harshness. Instead, the faithful overseer is glad to be preaching the word and tending the flock. He loves the people, loves the Lord and loves his calling.

Not for sordid gain, but with eagerness. He doesn’t do this for the pay. This is not just a job, not a vocation, and not a work he entered because it paid well. He is serving the Lord Jesus Christ and is thrilled at the privilege. Asked what he missed most about the pastoral ministry, a man said, “I miss the trumpets in the morning.” Ask any God-called and Heaven-anointed pastor. He knows what that means.

Not lording it over the flock, but being an example. And here we have the key passage for our subject today. The pastor is not to “lord it over” the flock. Jesus is the Lord and he isn’t.

Pastors are not allowed to lord it over the Lord’s church. 

Jesus said, “I will build MY church” (Matthew 16:18). It’s His church, His body, His bride. No pastor in his right mind (with his heart right!) would dare to insert himself between the Lord and His bride!

It is true that Hebrews 13:17 calls on God’s people to “obey your leaders and submit to them.” But that same passage says pastors “keep watch over” (overseeing!) “your souls” and will “give account.” Pastors will stand before the Lord and account for their stewardship and care for each sheep. A scary thought if there ever was one.

A pastor lords it over the church when he…

–makes decisions unilaterally for the church. He considers no one else’s counsel, believes God speaks only through him, and rules like a potentate.

–micromanages his co-workers and colleagues. He alone knows what is best and allows them no room for individual expression.

–feels threatened when someone disagrees with him. Usually reacts angrily and with harshness.

–forces those taking contrary positions out of office. “My way or the highway” is his mantra.

You get the picture.

Final question: What if you are a member of the bully’s staff (as a worship leader, student minister, etc.)? What are you to do?

I’m tempted to ask how this happened, how you ended up on a church staff with someone so difficult to work with. But I’m aware the answer is often: “I was here first.” The bully pastor came later, and might even be new. The church leadership—knowingly or cluelessly—brought in a pastor who would rule over the church with a heavy hand. And you are left to deal with it.

So, what should you do?

–Pray, pray, pray. Ask the Father all the questions bugging you. How to respond to the pastor today, what to do when the pastor asks you to do something you cannot or would rather not do, how to make your thoughts known to the preacher, and so forth.

–Get two or three or four friends in other areas to pray for you constantly. These could be members of previous churches or classmates from school. They should be able to keep a confidence.

–Don’t get territorial—as in “I was here first, and God called me to be minister of music and this is my job.” That attitude will get you a quick exit and a bad recommendation for the next church. Keep your eyes on the Lord and look to Him.

–Ask the Father about making this situation known to a key church leader, someone of great integrity and trust. If you do this in the flesh or if it’s handled wrongly, it could be interpreted by the pastor as you making an end-run around him and be considered disloyalty. A pastor who is a bully would see this as grounds for dismissal.

–If things are really bad—to the point that you are considering leaving, but would rather not—then try something bold. Go in to the pastor’s office and tell him kindly, gently, forcibly, assertively what he is doing and how it feels to you, and why it is wrong. You do this only when you have come to the point that “if worse comes to worse, all he can do is fire me.” I’d rehearse again and again, with my wife but mostly with the Lord, what I wanted to say to him. Then, go for it.

–If nothing changes and the bully continues to tyrannize the staff, get your resume up to date and share with your most trusted friends. Ask the Father who called you into this work in the first place to open up the next assignment for you.

For the rest of the post…

“It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together17.

Matthew Levering—a Roman Catholic theologian who teaches at the University of Saint Mary on the Lake in Illinois—has a number of books to his credit. His newest book, Was the Reformation a Mistake? Why Catholic Doctrine Is Not Unbiblical, was written at the invitation of Zondervan. Levering offers an introduction then nine chapters on the following doctrines: Scripture, Mary, the Eucharist, the seven sacraments, monasticism, justification and merit, purgatory, saints, and the papacy. Each chapter consists of two parts, “Luther’s Concern” and “Biblical Reflection.” A lengthy response by Kevin Vanhoozer, titled “A Mere Protestant Response,” closes out the book.

On the first page of the introduction, Levering gives his answer to the book title’s question: “I do not call the Reformation a mistake,” (15, all page references to advanced reading copy). He adds that he’s grateful for many of the Reformation’s theological emphases. He contends, however, that “the [r]eformers made some doctrinal mistakes” (15).

In his rebuttal of the reformers, with Luther as the main focus, Levering seeks to show Roman Catholic doctrine is “not unbiblical.” It’s worth noting that isn’t the same as being biblical. It’s also worth noting Levering’s theological method or, as he puts it, his “mode of biblical reasoning.” He writes, “Rather than presenting his twelve disciples with a list of doctrinal truths, the Lord Jesus made clear that his disciples would need to learn the truth about him in a communal and liturgical way, by living with him over a period of time and by being intimately related to him” (21).

He further speaks of a “liturgically situated mode of reasoning about the realities described in the Bible” (25), adding that “the Holy Spirit may guide the church in Spirit-guided modes of biblical reasoning” (27).

Reasoning on Doctrine

This mode of reasoning is immediately pursued in chapter one on Scripture. Levering posits that “the church is the faithful interpreter of Scripture” (35), adding that if the church fails in being faithful, then “Scripture itself would fail in its truth” (35). Of course, for Levering the Bible can’t fail so, therefore, it must be true that the church can’t fail as interpreter. Levering does admit that church leaders err, but he maintains they are “preserved . . . from an error that would negate the church’s mediation of the true gospel to each generation.”

Now the reader can decide. Was Luther making a mistake at the Diet of Worms in 1521 when he claimed popes and councils may err and that his conscience was captive to the Word of God? Levering needs to reconcile his pronouncement of de facto gospel fidelity on behalf of Rome against the data of the 16th century (and other centuries for that matter).

Would Levering endorse the systemic abuse of indulgences as practiced in the church at the time of the Reformation? The fact that Levering doesn’t address this challenge to his thesis in a book on the Reformation is a serious gap, if not a death blow to his argument. At the very least, this chapter demonstrates clearly the distinction between sola scriptura and the Roman Catholic view.

Levering then turns to eight Catholic doctrines. He makes the point that Mary’s suffering was “uniquely united with her Son’s suffering,” and from there asks, “Did Mary receive a unique share in his exaltation?” (71). He then employs “typological reasoning” to see Mary in many exalted roles and places—including as the “Queen Mother” in Jeremiah 13:18.

On the saints, Levering acknowledges that Paul uses saints to refer to all Christians, but then notes how Rome identifies certain individuals as “saints in a particular sense” (157). Levering ends the chapter by declaring, “To love the saints and to ask regularly for their prayers is to love Christ and the Father who sent him” (171).

On the papacy, he offers no attempt to show the evidence of apostolic succession from Peter onward. He simply states, “The form that this Petrine ministry takes in the church develops over the centuries under the guidance of the Spirit” (186). That’s not an argument; it’s a supposition. Given the role of the papacy in the Roman curia, Levering is going to have to do better.

Shared Gospel?

As important as these doctrinal differences are, the central issue is the gospel. At various points Levering speaks of Catholic and Protestant communion around the gospel, but such communion doesn’t exist. Regarding purgatory, Levering says, “Christ has paid the penalty of sin and has perfectly forgiven us, but we nonetheless must go through the penitential experience of suffering and death so as to be fully configured to him in love” (154). The “but” there is damning. The gospel is Christ’s finished work plus nothing, yet Levering here holds to Christ’s finished work plus something: extra suffering after death if life’s sufferings didn’t fully purify you.

But Luther’s fear wasn’t purgatory; he feared the final judgment on the last day. Purgatory is actually a distraction from the real threat to humanity: eternity in hell under the just wrath of God. Either Christ removed the curse from us and we’re reconciled to a holy God and will be with him at the moment of our death, or the curse isn’t removed and we’ll be separated from God in this life and forever. Purgatory isn’t only unbiblical; it’s an affront to the gospel.

In chapter six on justification and merit, Levering rejects imputation. He asks if it’s possible that “we are made truly just and not merely imputed to be just?” (133). This is a crucial distinction. If we’re made just, then we work with the grace God gives us, and our justification is a result of both God’s grace and our works. There could be no more crucial place for a distinction than between justification and sanctifciation. The doctrine of imputation is key to that distinction. Justification is apart from works, apart from merit—and apart from penitential suffering in purgatory.

Necessary Reformation

Was the Reformation a mistake? No, it wasn’t, for there are clear and crucial differences between Rome and the reformers on Scripture and the gospel, not to mention the other seven doctrines in this book.

For the rest of the post…

Houston, along with its connected neighborhoods, communities, and suburbs, is being pummeled by historic rain and unprecedented flooding. It’s a disaster here.

My neighbors—all 6.5 million—are feeling the effects of Hurricane Harvey’s 500-year flooding event.

So far 370 billion gallons of rain have hit our greater Houston area—and it has just started. The pictures are nothing short of stunning. Nearly every bayou and creek in the Bayou City has gone over its banks. Meteorologists expect the storm to linger, dragging its rain across our city throughout the coming week. First-responders are working nonstop, risking their lives to rescue others. More than 2,000 rescues have been performed, and with days of rain to come, countless more are in store.

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) anticipates years of relief work, the church of the risen Lord Jesus is ready for her work, too.

Christlike in Crisis

As Hurricane Harvey continues to dump rain in the billions of gallons, I see Christlike instincts cresting and rising in our city.

Civilians are assembling their kayaks and big ol’ Texas-style trucks to save their neighbors. Sacrifice in a time of severe weather.

Church buildings—like that of Houston Northwest Church led by my friend, pastor Steve Bezner—are becoming staging-areas for relief. The body of Christ is opening her arms to help her neighbors.

Southern Baptists are uniting together, along with other organizations, to wash the feet of those hit by Harvey:

SBTC Disaster Relief has joined Texas emergency response teams including the Texas Baptist Men, the North American Mission Board (NAMB)’s Disaster Relief teams, the American Red Cross, state police and fire departments, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) teams and more. Southern Baptists in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mississippi are readying volunteers and equipment as well.

We’ve assembled a Redeemer Church response team, brothers and sisters eager to help. They have their boats, trucks, chainsaws, trailers, cookies, muscles, time, and prayers ready for those hit hard by Harvey.

Like many churches across the city, our members are checking in with each other, opening their homes, offering to help however they can. They are serving each other, sacrificing for each other; they are ready to love their neighbors. These are the kinds of instincts you hope to see. Apathy and disinterest are demonic in a time of disaster.

My friends and family—my Aunt Pilar and Uncle Jeff in West Houston—have water sliding up their driveways, heading toward their doors. I’m constantly—and nervously—texting church members for updates. Many are trapped in their neighborhoods and won’t be able to leave for days. One family at our church had to evacuate early because the wife may go into labor any minute.

Christians, we should be at our best when affliction does its worst.

Disaster has the potential to knit our hearts together in love. When the apostle Paul tells us to weep with those weeping, and to rejoice with those rejoicing, he doesn’t mean these are the only two emotions we should share. We should grieve with the grieving, and ache with the affected.

When I hear more rain on my back patio, my heart aches. Our city is sinking. I shake my head in disbelief as rain and sirens blare around us. As I tell my kids to wear their helmets during a tornado warning, I must look to heaven, past Harvey, for help.

Join the Relief

So what can you do? God has a ministry for you: “He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

How can you comfort those in this affliction? Here are three ways.

1. Pray

I can’t tell you how many tweets and texts I’ve received from brothers and sisters around the world today. Missionaries from Thailand told us they are praying for our church and our city.

In times like this, “I’m praying!” can feel like a Christianized “I’m thinking of you.” But the best way to avoid that hypocrisy is to actually pray. Take a few moments and specifically pray for our area, espeically any people or churches you know here.

Let the pictures you see online serve as kindling for your prayers. The Father is listening. The Son is mediating. The Spirit is helping. When you see a picture, stop and cry out to heaven. Father, help them. You said faith can move mountains, so, Father, move this storm.

Pray for the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner. Pray for the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott. Pray for first-responders and all involved in rescue efforts. Pray for the afflicted. Pray for the churches and our efforts to be Good Samaritans and good witnesses.

We desperately need the prayers of the saints (2 Cor. 1:11).

2. Give

A few churches in the area have set up flood relief funds. I trust these churches to do what’s right and godly with the funds.

You can also give to the North American Mission Board’s relief fund here.

Finally, Apple and the Red Cross have made it possible for you to give to a relief fund through iTunes.

3. Serve

As I said earlier, FEMA anticipates years of relief work.

For the rest of the post…

Our Brothers and Sisters Need Our Help

When Jesus said, “In this world you’ll have tribulation,” He might have had Africa in mind.

Imagine, if you can, that you hear rumors of Muslim terrorists coming to take over your hometown. You can’t sleep. You can’t eat. You don’t even know whether to stay or flee. Finally, someone you trust tells you they have started burning down churches. Frantically, you gather up your family and a few meager possessions and run as fast as you can in the other direction—praying they won’t catch you.

After days of exhausting, harrowing effort, you and your children finally arrive at a relief camp for the displaced and you get in a food line. But when you come to the front, the man in charge says coldly, “This relief is not for Christians.” To the Muslims running this camp, you’re a mere pagan. To add insult to injury, you find out that Christians here are not even allowed to gather for worship.

Christians in Nigeria’s Borno state have been living this scenario since 2009, when Boko Haram began wreaking havoc.

Africa’s tribulation seems never-ending. From the Ethiopian famine decades ago to the more recent chaos in Sudan, the headlines we receive here in the West are nearly always grim. In fact, Africa is facing yet another seemingly unprecedented crisis—a famine stretching from Somalia, to South Sudan, to Nigeria, in which 20 million people are at risk of starvation. That’s right, 20 million.

According to our friends over at Open Doors USA, an average of 184 children die each day in Nigeria from malnutrition. The saddest fact of all is that this famine is caused by people, not the weather. It’s caused by instability, war, economic collapse, and discrimination.

Here’s another fact—Africa is heavily Christian. Its share of Christians has exploded from about 9 percent in 1900 to almost 50 percent today, including two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africa. These are our brothers and sisters facing this tribulation, and we owe them more than a quick shake of the head before moving on to the next news story. Whatever our differences, those who follow Jesus Christ are members of the same body. When one hurts, we all hurt—and compassion fatigue is no excuse for looking away. As Jesus said, when we serve the “least of these,” we serve Him.

For the rest of the post…

by Stanley Hauerwas

Bonhoeffer For Us?

“Yet one may wonder how Bonhoeffer should be read by those in the ministry in our time. The challenges he faced are so different from the everyday tasks incumbent on those in the ministry in our day. Bonhoeffer confronted the Nazis and Hitler – it is hard to imagine a more dramatic conflict. Dangerous though it may have been, those confronted by the Nazi’s knew what sides they needed to be on. We seldom enjoy such clarity. The result is often a stark divide between activities associated with pastoral care and the social witness of the church.

Those in the ministry today must negotiate a very different world than the world Bonhoeffer encountered. We are unsure who our enemy is, or even if we have an enemy. We lack the clarity Bonhoeffer enjoyed – which, of course, is not a bad thing. But it leaves us confused about how to discern in the world in which we live what the primary challenge facing the church may be. Bonhoeffer saw quite early who the enemy was, though he was surrounded by many who did not see what he saw in the Nazis. Indeed, one of the interesting questions for Bonhoeffer’s relevance for pastors in our time is what enabled him to see the threat Hitler represented.”

For the entire article…

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