October 17, 2011 § Leave a comment
One thing that our church has begun is mentoring. I am currently mentoring another woman in our community who is a younger Christian than myself. God has given me tons of grace in this endeavor, and has enabled me to grow leaps and bounds as she grows to know and love Him more; it is an amazing process to be a part of. This has proven helpful for others in our community as well in the endeavor of better discipling our body. In lieu of this positive impact on our church, I can continue my mentor relationship and pour greater effort into it while also advocating that others be involved in such relationships of mentoring.
Directly addressing one of the areas of less purity mentioned above—that of unity with other churches—my husband and I and our community group can intentionally get involved with some of the smaller Baptist churches in our area. Those that immediately come to mind have congregations made up mostly of immigrants. Within a couple miles of our home there is an African church, a Vietnamese church and a multi-ethnic Spanish-speaking church plant. We could aid them in their evangelistic efforts and ideally could meet en masse on perhaps a quarterly basis for worship.
Our church is also less pure in the area of evangelism and missions. Although we have begun to be involved more in international missions—and are sending a family this next year (via the IMB)—we are not intentionally involved in evangelism on a local level. Some things we could do include having an evangelism class/instruction and time to practice sharing our faith with one another as a sort of practice. Also, as we are partnering with people groups in Ethiopia and Bangladesh overseas, we can seek to reach those people here in Louisville, as I know there are some 200 Ethiopians living in the metro area and certainly some Bangladeshis.
This is not conclusive, and I will continue to be pensive on how our church is more and less pure and how our members—specifically my husband and myself and our particular community group—can be more intentional following the Biblical model of church and thus, become more pure to the Glory of God and Christ Jesus our Lord!
October 16, 2011 § Leave a comment
In 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul states the reality that those believers in Corinth are to be together with other believers:
“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.”
Here we see Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthian Christians that they are to be united with other believers and other groups of believers—churches. This is an area addressed by Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology. Grudem enunciates several scriptures, those of which that stand out most clearly to me being the first couple chapters of Ephesians. Here, it is clear that the local church is “one body”, but it is also affirmed that the local church is only one portion of a much greater body that we are to be in communion and in community with. This is an area where Sojourn falls short. Although we are very welcoming to the incoming visitor, we may also seem exclusive or elitist to the outsider; I find at times that we may be intimidating without even recognizing it. Also, our affiliation with other churches is basically nil. We have one partnership with a church in the Iroquois housing project area, but the majority of our membership is seldom intentional about being in community with this church. In addition, although we are a southern Baptist church—and actually a NAMB church plant—we rarely associate ourselves with the convention. All of these add up to explain that while we may be great at community with one another as a congregation, we fall short when it comes to being unified with other churches. This is most definitely a less pure area for Sojourn.
Second, our “giving” is an area of weakness. It seems that our attendance keeps increasing with a small percentage of givers each week. Our elders encourage us to give—not appealing to a simple 10% obligation—but to do so generously as the Lord blesses us. As I understand the Scriptures, we should be giving of our time, our resources, and ourselves. The area where our church body is weakest is that of financial giving. It seems very difficult for our attendees and at times even for members to truly take ownership in the church. Our age range likely has much to do with this; in seems that our generation is very non-committal and wishy-washy. The difficulty then lies partly in our young members, but also in a lack of correct understanding that God has given us all things and what we think that we ourselves own, in reality is not ours, but God’s!
October 15, 2011 § Leave a comment
In Dever’s book he says the following about one mark of a healthy church, expositional preaching:
“Generally, I do not choose series of expositional sermons because of particular topics that I think the church needs to hear about. Rather, I assume that all of the Bible is relevant to us all of the time (Dever 40).”
“Expositional Preaching is not simply producing a verbal commentary on some passage of Scripture. Rather, expositional preaching is that preaching which takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture. That’s it. The preacher opens the Word and unfolds in for the people of God (Dever, 40).”
This is exactly the preaching/teaching that we receive at Sojourn. This is definitely one of our ‘purity points’. We are strong in this area precisely because that mentioned in the above quotes is the spiritual food that is delivered every Sunday evening when we gather together. It is our teaching pastor’s conviction that he teach and instruct us in the work of God through expositional preaching and this ministry of God’s Word is food to the souls of our membership. In addition, it is our pastor’s conviction that the cross must be the center of all teaching and thinking and living, etc. For this reason, it seems that whether believer or seeker, each person cannot walk away the same and without having been ministered to by the Truth of the Word of God Almighty!
A second area in which we are more pure is that of community. A strong focus of Sojourn is what we call “community groups” that are essentially small groups that meet in homes throughout the week, led by lay leaders. In these times, we discuss the sermon of the previous Sunday and seek to better understand and apply the teaching to our lives. We pray for each other and with each other. We listen to each other’s ups and downs. We share meals together. It is in these times that we enjoy a genuine fellowship. We are meant to sojourn together in our Christian walk in order to encourage, admonish, love, counsel and care for one another; this is what our church terms “soul care”. Also, our congregation is challenged in general by our elders to open our homes in hospitality, to share meals together with others in our congregation and to get to know people we don’t, to meet together with other men or women or couples and pray for those in the church, community and those in one’s specific community group. Each week after our gathering (Sunday service) we have what we call “hospitality” which involves snacks of some sort while we all mingle and talk, and simply know one another more deeply over time. There is also—especially visible in community groups—a deep concern and care for our sisters and brothers in Christ. For example, two other women and I get together regularly and pray for the women in our group and then we choose to be intentional that week in connecting with certain women in our group and praying for them. My husband and the leader of our community group also meet regularly to go over the sermon notes and the plan for our community group meeting for the week as well as pray for all of our members and for our elders, etc. It is this sort of intentionality that has enabled our community group—by the grace of God—to grow and to really be involved in one another’s lives. It has blessed us tremendously.
October 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
In the preface of his book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever refers to his church with these words: “And I think that I’m seeing something of the health that God intends us to experience in a congregation (Dever, 16).” I can only agree with this statement in our church, Sojourn Community Church. Actually a bit skeptical at first, now as members, my husband and I are certain that not only is this where God wants us, but this is a place where he is regularly being glorified and lifted up! It is very exciting and exhilarating to feel like you are a part of a church that you really do believe is following the New Testament as a church model! Recently celebrating 5 years as a congregation, we are a fairly new church.
Our congregation is also a very young in another sense: we consist mainly of singles and young-married couples with children, the average age ranging from 18 years—30-something. But God is blessing us as our elders strive to keep the cross of Christ and the gospel central to our life as a church—this is realized in the teaching as we meet each week as a congregation, throughout the weeks in community groups, in monthly leadership meetings, in discipleship and in mentoring within the church. In regards to the purity of Sojourn, we will now delve deeper with the following questions: 1) In what areas is Sojourn more pure? 2) In what areas is Sojourn less pure? 3) What can I as a member do in order to work for greater purity within Sojourn?
September 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
To Explore For Preparing Bible Storying Lessons
(Not all questions may pertain to your people. Some overlapping is intentional to verify consistency of information.)
- Are there observable beliefs or practices which have obviously been borrowed from Christianity which if left unaddressed could lead to syncretism or new believers?
- Are there any parallel beliefs or practices which will need transforming when a person becomes a believer?
- Are there any elements of sacred objects, amulets, charms, or religious furnishings likely to be carried over which can encourage syncretism if not renounced, put away or destroyed?
- Have there been any known instances or practice of demons being cast out of persons? By whom—believers or nonbelievers?
- Is demon possession or manifestation a common occurrence? What is people’s attitude toward this? Is it an accepted part of the religion or culture?
- Are miraculous healings known or common? By whom? Are these attributed to Jesus?
- Are there reported instances of the dead being restored to life? Revived by whom?
How does the group relate to their neighboring peoples?
- Would they be likely to share new information or beliefs with them?
- How would changes in one group affect another? Would persecution result?
- Is their religion a matter of national identity? (see #23 also)
- Is a people’s religion choice registered by the government or noted on identity cards?
- Are marriage partners restricted to only members of the prevailing religion? Will finding marriage partners for those leaving the religion be a problem?
- What other restrictions relate to marriage partners? Within family or clan? Outside family of clan?
- Is the group socially isolated by geography, language or religion? Is the group considered a minority people? How do they view themselves in relation to others?
- Could another group of similar people or those related in some way serve as a gateway, bellwether, or influential model for the target group?
- Has a person of peace been identified?
- Are Christian radio programs in either the trade language or heart language being heard among the target group?
- Have any in the group seen or heard of the JESUS Film when traveling outside their area?
- Are there any “Christian” artifacts seen in homes such as “sacred heart of Jesus” posters, Scripture calendars or crosses? Crosses marked or painted on houses?
- Is Christian music in either the heart language or trade language available?
- Is television being viewed among the group? What kinds of programs are viewed?
July 29, 2011 § Leave a comment
- Entitled “Associations, Creeds, and Calvinism”, this chapter speaks of just those things. Wills discusses the development of associations between churches that held similar creeds which were, much of the time based on Calvinist views.
- As stated above, Wills develops his discussion of associations first and foremost and then goes on to discuss the autonomy of the local church. Associations, it seems, were very strict when it came to a fellow church’s creed. Calvinism or the lack thereof (i.e. Arianism) were very important; these views and doctrinal principles allowed or disallowed churches to be in association with one another. There was a sort of interchurch discipline going on; although everyone stood for the autonomy of the local church, they seemingly chastised a congregation by disallowing them to be part of their association if they held differing views on election and the perseverance of the saints, etc. Explaining further the importance of creeds, Wills explains that they were seen as a means of unanimity. The Baptists, said by many to be a ‘creedless’ denomination, did indeed have creeds/confessions, but held that Scripture had the only true authority.
- I was actually quite pleasantly surprised to find that I was in agreement with the Baptists this time! Throughout the book I have found myself huffing and puffing at the mindless and heartless actions executed and beliefs held by my Baptist predecessors; however, I found it nice to hear that the Bible has long since been held as the only authority.
- A lesson learned in the heretofore chapter concerns creeds and the mere setting forth of what one believes. The Baptists of the past were very ardent in stating that they had no creed other than the Bible (although Wills goes on to say that Baptists endorsed creeds later on and saw them as necessary to provision of purity). This caused warring amongst fellow Christians that could have verily been avoided. Thus, in future ministry, I hope to lay aside all pride and stubbornness and to simply explain why I believe what I believe, to be honest in so doing, and to respect others (of Christian denominations in particular) for doing as they see fit in similar respect.
- In discussion of the transformation of the way that Baptists ‘did’ religion, Wills mentions at length the decline of discipline and other noteworthy changes that took place thus.
- It seems that the clearest identifying factor of change in the churches was the decline of discipline. Wills explains this briefly and goes on to discuss the drawbacks and obvious disadvantages to church discipline; he explains how it was never a practice that was loved by the congregation, but was simply kept up out of necessity in maintaining purity and the cause of Christ. He then relates a lengthy discourse on dancing and other worldly amusements. It seems that the laxity of disciplining dancers was a main indicator in that discipline was falling by the wayside. This lack of discipline was spurred on by the growth of the church attributed to youth and younger members while those very members were the ones involved in the violation of dancing. Churches feared losing their young membership, and would rather allow a few offenses here and there than to do so. Wills develops his discussion of the transformation of democratic religion even further with an incorporation of urban religion. He then brings the reader to a point of resolve as he discusses the coming efficiency and progress and the new democratic religion.
- I found this chapter less surprising, and perhaps, in one sense, more settling to my soul. One thing that I did find surprising was the replacement of the pure church with the efficient church. This is somewhat puzzling to me as I feel that purity should come before efficiency. However, as Wills goes on to explain this notion, efficiency was seen in light of purity.
- At one point in this chapter, Wills relays that ‘fiddling and dancing had become so commonplace and popular in southern society that some members of the church believe them to be harmless’. That is a scary statement, don’t you think?!! I think it scary simply because it is essentially saying “if it is popular culture and an accepted part of our society, it should be condoned and tolerated of our membership. I find this appalling! What would this mean for us today?! Thoughts such as this one entirely changed the way that our Baptist predecessors executed discipline; they began to allow things to go undisciplined because modernity called them okay. Now, what I am not saying is that I think dancing and fiddling sinful. However, what I am saying is that I hope in future ministries and those I am currently a part of, that we never fail to evaluate everything on Biblical terms. Our society is not to be the ‘rule’ by which we live; Christ is!
July 28, 2011 § Leave a comment
- Wills’ thesis in this chapter is that of the African-American Baptist churches.
- Discussing how African-American Baptists viewed church authority and discipline, Wills explains that the African-American Baptists upheld ecclesiastical authority perhaps with even more rigor than did white Baptists. He also discusses the separation of blacks and whites into different congregations and churches and black responsiveness to whites and vice versa.
- Most surprising to be in this chapter was the prideful stubbornness on the part of white church leaders in their dealings with black church members and leaders. Just the way in which they continued to view themselves seemingly as ‘patron saints’ to black churches is ludicrous! Whites continued to view themselves superior, even in religion. Why this is surprising to me, I am not so certain; I mean it is infantile and overtly presumptuous on the part of the white church leaders and members.
- I have to be thankful to God that we have come very far since these times and now we do not believe that one race worships more fervently than another or is superior to another in religious matters, or any other matter. However, I think it is something that we still have to be careful to avoid in our ministries today: the race of superiority, I mean. I hope to one day see multiple races truly worshiping God together in unabashed, full-out praise to the one God of all…who created us all equal!
- The main stream of thought in chapter 6 is that of Baptist exclusivism. Entitled “Freedom, Authority, and Doctrine”, this chapter hits on each area in order to illustrate and accentuate exclusivism.
- Wills develops his theme of exclusivism by discussion of popular theology and much talk about orthodoxy, which Baptist felt compelled to maintain at all cost. Discipline, as a means to exclusiveness is also mentioned at length to allow the reader to understand exactly what is involved in maintenance of orthodoxy (i.e. traditional and Biblical doctrine). Exclusivity may not have been sought outright, but it was definitely an effect caused by allegiance to Calvinist doctrine, purity within the church, and submission to ecclesiastical authority. This led to a discussion of heresy and defecting from Baptist theology and life to other denominations. This meant a difference in or a change in doctrine, and, in the eyes of Baptists, called for extreme measures.
- I suppose the element I found most surprising was that of the two ways to get out of a Baptist church: “excommunication and death”! To me that is so harsh and seemingly preposterous. Why? Well, I suppose that I think it okay for someone to be part of a Baptist church growing up and be a member there and then perhaps relocate and find a church that is perhaps a Christian church by denomination and desire to join there. However, I must agree with something said in the chapter that served to validate Baptists’ rigor in this matter. Something was said to the effect of changing one’s doctrine and beliefs; in essence, forfeiting one’s membership in one denomination in pursuit of another membership within another denomination means changing one’s mind about beliefs that can be quite pivotal. I think that many times the doctrine of a church is not really understood by those pursuing membership which leads me to my answer to question 4.
- I hope then to make it very clear to those who wish to join, just exactly what they are joining into. To help them to fully understand the doctrinal principals and truths of the church is of great importance. How can they be in true fellowship with the others of the congregation/body if they do not know around exactly what that fellowship is built upon?