Do not hear any anti-Semitism here. And do not hear me condemning any form of what is called Dispensational theology as heretical. With that, I had an interesting experience preaching at a friend’s church. I was treated extremely well as a guest speaker, convictingly so. I realize how our church needs to be much more intentional to care for guest speakers. And there were tons of evidences of grace at my friend’s church. Clearly God is moving that church in a good direction.
My interesting experience was with one gentleman after the first service. I preached on Deuteronomy 9, showing the congregation the gospel in the OT. Moses has nothing but condemnation for Israel in this chapter, and Moses foreshadows the work of Christ by working on behalf of Israel. It is a glorious chapter highlighting God’s grace and love and patience in the OT, and highlighting His gracious work through a mediator. It is the gospel on display in the OT.
This one gentleman came up to me and said, “pastor thank you for the message,” (and he was genuinely thanking me) “but can I ask you one question? Do you have anything good to say about the Jews?” He then went on to tell me how he prays for the Jews daily, how he was concerned about all that is happening in the Middle East, and how Obama is anti-Semitist. So I thanked him for saying that and I did all I could in the second service to not sound anti-Semitist.
I am still trying to work through what wires some Christians to automatically think that way. But my initial reflections are as follows:
- I really was just preaching the text. So the real question in that chapter was “did God have anything good to say about the Jews?”
- All Christians should not think the OT is mainly about the Jews. The Apostles preached the gospel from the OT (that was their Bible!)
- An ultra-dispensational approach to Scripture can easily lead to an Israeli-centric reading of the Bible. (this is not a reason to reject Dispensationalism, but I was struck by the biggest thing on this brother’s mind throughout a sermon on “justification by faith alone”)
- I still have a long ways to go in preaching. That brother is a sheep who could have benefitted from me thinking about him before the sermon, thinking about how I might be perceived by some, and working to speak to a broader audience.
- Understanding the grace of God in saving Israel out of Egypt and giving them the Promised Land should help all Christians to understand God’s bigger plan of graciously saving all His elect people by grace alone, grace alone, grace alone. There is nothing any of us contribute to salvation but our sin.
One of the great distinctives of Baptist churches is that we are a group of autonomous churches, meaning every church has the authority and responsibility to govern themselves. I hold to local church autonomy because I think it is taught in Scripture. No one should be a part of a Baptist church if they do not hold to local church autonomy. And no one should hold to local church autonomy if they do not think it is in the Bible. I cannot tell you how many Baptists I have met, including pastors, who like local church autonomy but are not Scripturally convicted about it. I can tell you what that amounts to: many Baptists just do not want anyone outside their local church telling them what to do or what to believe. I think that is a terrible reason to be Baptist.
One place I see local church autonomy taught in the Bible is Matthew 18.15-20. Jesus commands his disciples to carry out church discipline in matters of sin. If a professing believer sins, and then does not listen to you, or to you and one or two others, then you take the matter before the church. If that person refuses to listen to the whole church, then you treat them like an unbeliever. Now there are debates about how to interpret and apply that, but one sensible interpretation is that the “church” in that passage is the local church. And it is the whole church that has the final authority in church discipline matters. In other words, no outside body has any say in your church’s discipline issues. It is the local church’s autonomy that is in view in Matthew 18.
I would say local church autonomy is an implication of that text. But depending on how you understand it, it is a necessary implication. And the necessary implications of the text are as authoritative as the explicit statements. So in studying Scripture, look for the explicit theology, commands, and prohibitions, but also the implicit teachings as well. And do know why you believe what you believe from the Bible.
We do not need anything from creation to understand life and godliness. God has given us everything we need in the Word for that. But just thought I might try to “redeem” what is happening with the Los Angeles Lakers. Dwight Howard, probably the best player at his position in the NBA, is going to be traded to the Lakers (Lord willing? Don’t want to sound blasphemous, but everything is under His hand) this weekend. No one knows if he will stay with the team beyond this next season. But Kobe Bryant, the Lakers’ star player over the last 15 years, is excited because of the possibility of a championship this season, and because now there could be another superstar to carry the Lakers after he retires. He knows what is best for the team is that there always be someone to “pass the baton” to.
Pastors should have that same mentality. I am not a superstar at our church by any means, but you get the point. All Christians should always be growing and discipling others. If you’re not doing that, you are living in disobedience to the Lord. All pastors should always be growing and discipling others. And all pastors should work, by God’s grace, to raise up at least one other in the church who could take their place. You do not know what tomorrow holds! Any of us could die tomorrow, and if that happens to a pastor, is there a man in the church who could step right in?
This of course is the beauty of having a plurality of elders, but it is also why it is necessary to always have preachers being trained, always. If you are young like me, it does not hurt to raise up another preacher because you do not know what tomorrow holds. But if nothing else, he could be raised up to possibly pastor at another church. If the preacher that is raised up finds a job somewhere else or plants a church out of your church in another city, praise God! And no sweat, just raise up another preacher by God’s grace. Is this not God’s design for the church?
Honestly, do you think pastor search committees were the hope of the Apostle Paul? Even if a pastor had to step down for unexpected reasons, that’s ok, because you should always have another preacher waiting in the wings. Certainly, no pastor should retire and hand the church over to a pastor search committee! (God bless all those who have ever served on search committees; that is faithfulness on your part in the situation God allowed at your church) Could we not pray, brothers and sisters, for more intentional discipleship in our churches so that we will always have men who are being raised up, and so that we will never need another pastor search committee ever again? Is it not God’s will that we always have sheep with under-shepherds?
Don’t you see that’s already the wrong to ask the question? Don’t you see that is already looking for some type of “bare minimum” Christianity? Don’t you see that’s already asking a question that the Bible would never ask? Don’t you see that’s like asking “how far is too far when it comes to pre-marital sexual relations?” Don’t you see that’s like asking “how much can I drink before I get drunk?” Don’t you see that’s like asking “what’s the least amount of money I can give to the church and still be considered obedient?” Don’t you see that’s like asking “how little of my life can I give to God and still go to heaven?”
By asking the question, it reveals such a man-centered approach to all of life that you need to re-evaluate the rest of your theology. By God’s grace, Jesus can rescue you from yourself and your theology. If you find yourself asking any of these questions, my encouragement to you is to go back to the Scriptures, praying as you read, and look for some good helps to understanding the Bible (elders, Bible teachers, parents, best friends, good books on biblical and systematic theology). Seek to be obedient to Christ, not just in what you do, but also in what you believe. And if you find yourself thinking that I am questioning your salvation…well…there it is again.
Our church has a very successful preschool. Kailua Baptist Preschool has a great reputation and God has blessed us with incredibly skilled teachers. The only negative part of our school is that it has been difficult to keep it as a true ministry of the church. Any true Christian ministry should always have the glory of God in saving sinners as its highest goal (I am pretty sure everyone who has ever worked at our school would agree with that statement). But it is always tricky to run faithful parachurch ministries, and this is no exception. No one would dispute that over the years the school became “successful” because of its ability to educate pre-K children (and we praise God for that aspect), and not necessarily for its intentionality in proclaiming the gospel to children and families. At no point did it ever become un-Christian. But there is no doubt the focus shifted from being an intentional evangelistic arm of the local church to an excellent academic institution run by gospel-believing followers of Christ.
Again, parachurch is always tricky, so I do not doubt the genuineness of anyone who has ever worked for the school. But God has been very gracious over the last couple years. God has allowed me to personally become more and more involved with the teachers, children and parents. God has given me more and more courage to push for more gospel-centered intentionality. One of our aides has started attending our services because she seems to benefit from the teaching. I was able to have a beginning-of-school-year “retreat” with the ladies on staff where I was able to remind them of the vision of the school and encourage them in a more God-centered approach to ministry. I was even able to exhort them to more faithful evangelism, encouraging them to communicate even hard truths to little children. And the response has been very affirming. The teachers have talked a lot since that time and they have all been inspired to think harder about how to communicate the gospel with kids. They have encouraged our new preschool director to give guidance on how to make sure all the Bible stories are being taught correctly. Our director allowed me to make a recommendation to get all the students the Jesus Storybook Bible.
Besides all that, the church which I serve loves the Word. The congregation seems to be growing in unity, maturity and even in number. A couple that I told I could not marry has still stuck with our church after being married by someone else. A fellow that I said we needed to wait to baptize has still kept coming. A young couple just started coming because they noticed their church was not sticking to the Bible. Our Wednesday night group is studying Romans 9-11! The members of KBC are lavishing each other and all newcomers with Christ-like love. I have a growing relationship with the PCA church up the road. We are both a part of a growing Gospel Coalition network here on Oahu. Above all, Jesus is Lord, and the steadfast love of Christ endures forever. Oh, there are a ton of hardships and frustrations as well, but the Triune God who created all things seems to be preparing the soil in Kailua for revival.