With the rise of the belief in a universal church or a universal body, the importance of membership within a New Testament church has dropped substantially. It is sad to watch as many believers convince themselves that they never need to attend a church service or that occasional attendance at one or several churches is sufficient for their spiritual health.
There is also a great deal of misunderstanding about how and when an individual becomes a member of a church, and how that membership is moved from one New Testament church to another. There are ideas that seem restrictive and there are other ideas that seem nonsensical.
The answer to these questions cannot be based upon a church constitution or the opinions of any particular individual or church. As Bible-believing Baptists, we know that we are supposed to base our faith and practice on the written Word of God. The Bible must be the only source of appeal for answers to honest questions about church membership. Since that is the case, let us do a little searching to find Bible answers to our questions regarding church membership.
The Account of Church Membership
Just how important is church membership? Today, there is a tremendous trend away from church membership and toward "casual" Christianity. With the entrance of the internet, finding a "pastor" to which to listen is no longer a problem. The real question is which one to listen to first! This availability of teaching and preaching has given people the false assurance that they no longer need to be a faithful member of one particular church because their spiritual needs can be 1met elsewhere.
There are three basic Bible principles that teach us the importance of church membership. We need to understand these truths so that we can properly apply God's Word to our own lives.
First, we want to consider what the Lord tells us in Ephesians 4:8, 11-12: "Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men...And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:"
The Lord Jesus has given gifts to men, according to these verses. A careful study of the Scripture leads us to the understanding that there is no longer an office of apostle or prophet in these last days. However, the office of an evangelist (missionary) and the office of a pastor and teacher (Pastor, bishop, elder) are still active offices today. The question is this: where do we find these offices in practice? The obvious answer is that these offices are found working within a New Testament church!
There is further clarity about this when Paul states that these gifts (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher) were given for the edifying of the body of Christ (Eph 4:12). When we recognize that the body of Christ is a local, New Testament church (Eph 1:22-23; Col 1:24), the importance of church membership is once again reinforced! Jesus' plan for you, as a born-again believer in Christ, is that you become a member of one of His churches so that you may enjoy the gifts that He has given for your spiritual growth and benefit!
Second, we should consider what the Lord tells us in Hebrews 10:25: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."
The Lord tells us that there were those who had a problem with faithful church attendance, even in the first century. The Lord does not dwell on these folks, except to warn us not to follow their example of unfaithfulness to the house of God.
This verse tells us that it is at the church where we find the exhortation to keep on persevering in the Lord's work. The word "exhort" means "to push." Many people do not want church membership because they do not want to feel pushed or pressured to obligate themselves in anything, but their usefulness to the Lord requires obligation and commitment on their part.
Consider a car that has a dead battery. It will not be a self-starter, because it has lost its power to do so. However, if that car is pushed, it can be started and used for the purpose intended. In the same way, many Christians have lost their love and zeal for the Lord, and as a result, have no desire to involve themselves in the work of the Lord. However, if that Christian will avail himself of church membership, coupled with faithful attendance, that believer will find himself being pushed to the point of renewed zeal and power. This kind of pushing may come from the Spirit of God, from the pulpit, or from a fellow church member. That isn't really the point here. The point is that a believer who feels that they do not need church membership will never feel the push to continue to be faithful to the Lord in good times and bad.
Third, we should consider what we read in Matthew 28:19-20: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen."
The philosophy of ignoring church membership and faithful attendance in that church has done great harm to the work of God! The Lord Jesus never intended people to be satisfied as independent disciples, doing their own thing without organization and direction. In fact, the Lord Jesus gave the Great Commission to the church He established during His earthly ministry.
The truth is that a believer who has failed to become a church member has nothing to do! There is no task that the Lord gives this believer except to become a part of one of His churches. From that point, there may be any number of things that the Lord will ask of the believer, but that is the first thing with which the Lord will deal.
So, being a church member is important for every believer in Jesus Christ. It is not really left to us whether or not we "feel led" to join a church.
The Arrangement of Church Membership
Understanding that it is an important thing to be a church member clears only a small part of the confusion that surrounds so many Christians today. The confusion goes on to blur the concept of how an individual becomes a church member.
Various churches that perform infant baptism (christening, sprinkling, etc.), have stated that membership within the "church (denomination)" comes at baptism. However, the Protestant denominations who follow this practice will often go on to state that the infant must profess their faith in Christ at a later point in life. In this way, an individual becomes a church member and is considered a Christian before they ever profess faith in Christ. This is patently unbiblical.
To get to the truth of this matter, we must appeal to the Bible again! Acts 2:41 tells us exactly how an individual becomes a church member. "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." We find three things going on in this verse. These things, in their proper order, result in church membership. First, these people heard the message of salvation. An individual who has never heard the message of salvation could never be a member of the body of Christ! Second, these people gladly received the message they had heard. They were not forced to go through some ritual or ceremony. They gladly received the message of salvation because of their repentance and faith in Christ. An individual who has never willingly (gladly) placed their faith in Christ could never be a member of the body of Christ! Third, these people who had heard and received the Gospel message were baptized. We have dealt with the points of Scriptural baptism at other times, so we will not belabour the point here. This verse ends by telling us that these newly-saved, Scripturally baptized individuals were placed into the membership of the church at Jerusalem. Nothing else was required of them to become a church member.
The Assignment of Church Membership
It is a great thing to understand the importance of church membership and to be clear about how an individual can become a member of one of the Lord's churches. However, what if an individual church member moves to a new area and desires to become a member of one of the Lord's churches in that place? How can he go about becoming a member of another New Testament church?
This is a confusing question because many have failed to study the Scripture to learn what is God's will. They formulate some plan and proclaim that to be the proper way of transferring church membership, without one thought as to what God really says. When several plans are promoted, it is no wonder that confusion ensues!
As a preface to what we will see from Scripture, we must be clear that there is no such thing as "denominational" church membership. When someone was baptized into the membership of the church at Jerusalem, it did not automatically make that individual a member of the churches at Samaria, Antioch, and Corinth also. If you are a member of an independent Baptist church, that does not make you a member of all independent Baptist churches. Without doubt, you can freely attend another independent Baptist church, but that does not make you a member of that church, free to vote on that church’s business, or participate in the Lord’s Table with that church.
We must also be clear that mere attendance at a particular church does NOT make one a member of that church.
What we are talking about is transferring membership from one New Testament church to another. There are two facets to a transfer of membership: testimony and recommendation.
Saul of Tarsus (later the Apostle Paul) was saved on the road to Damascus. He was baptized in the city of Damascus by Ananias, a faithful brother. That would make him a member of the church at Damascus. Later, when he moved back to Jerusalem, he had a desire to become a member of the church at Jerusalem. Here he had problems. No one believed his testimony of salvation. As a result, the church at Jerusalem would not accept him into their membership. Act 9:26 says, "And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple."
To transfer membership from one New Testament church to another requires a clear, believable testimony of salvation and Scriptural baptism. For this reason, each time someone talks about joining our church, I always ask for their salvation testimony and where they were baptized. If I cannot believe the testimony I have heard, I cannot recommend that the church accept them into church membership.
Communication between churches was often difficult, especially during the dark days of persecution. As the Gospel spread over the Roman Empire, some churches did not know about other churches that had been established in the far corners of the Empire. Also, with spies entering into many churches to betray them to the authorities, great care had to be exercised before allowing anyone into their membership. For these, and other reasons, we find letters of recommendation being written by churches and given to individual members who were heading out to other areas. These letters of recommendation would let the reader know that the bearer of that recommendation was indeed saved and Scripturally baptized. This aided the movement of membership from one New Testament church to another. Acts 18:27 describes this for us: "And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace:"
Of course, before a church member moves to a new area, he should discuss that move with his Pastor, so that he can receive a recommendation of a good New Testament church in the area to which he is moving. This helps the church member to quickly find a New Testament church of like faith to which to join himself so that his spiritual growth is not hindered.
In these days, we do not generally send a letter of recommendation with a church member. Instead, when a believer decides to join another New Testament church, he presents himself to that church for membership. At that time, the church in which he is seeking membership will write for a letter of recommendation from the church where his membership is held. The church where his membership is held will then write a letter of recommendation to the church wherein he is seeking membership unless there is some reason why a recommendation cannot be sent (such as, the member in question has been placed under church membership). In this way, both churches recognize one another as equals and recognize that no one can be the member of two different New Testament churches at the same time.
In light of these two aspects regarding the transfer of church membership (testimony and recommendation), here is how we (True Life Baptist Church) receive members.
1. Baptism.When an individual is born again and follows the Lord in Scriptural baptism here at True Life Baptist Church, we accept that individual into our membership. Also, when someone has been born again, yet he has been baptised into a church that is not of like faith and practice (not a New Testament church), we will require that individual to submit to Scriptural baptism before we can accept that individual into our membership.
2. Letter.When an individual has been born again and scripturally baptised into a church of like faith and practice, that individual can present himself to the church for membership. At that point, our church will request a letter of recommendation from the sister church.
3. Statement.When an individual has been born again and followed the Lord in Scriptural baptism, but the church where the individual's membership was held no longer exists, or the church in question has turned away from practicing a like faith, our church may choose to receive that individual on their statement of salvation and Scriptural baptism. Also, when an individual has been born again and followed the Lord in Scriptural baptism, but later becomes a member within a church that is not of like faith and practice (not a New Testament church), that individual may also be received by statement.
The confusion in these last days extends to every aspect of church and daily life, including church membership. It is extremely important for us to faithfully study the Scripture so that we understand what is truth and what is error in regards to church membership!
One of the major enterprises that we, as True Life Baptist Church, want to emphasize during the year 2018 is reading all the way through the Bible in one year. This may seem overwhelming to you, as you sit down for the first time to read your Bible. You may flip through the many pages of your Bible, and wonder how it is possible to read through the whole Bible in a year. but, let me assure you, reading through your Bible is a blessing which you do not want to miss!
It is easy to take God's Word for granted in these days. Many Christians have more than one Bible. As I sit at my desk, there are three Bibles on my desk. I have six more Bibles on my shelves and several more in my filing cabinet. The problem today really isn't a lack of Bibles. The real problem today is that people (sadly, even God's people) aren't interested in what God has to say. They think about the Bible when they come to a church service, and sometimes when things are difficult in their lives, but the Bible isn't the "go-to" book for every day that it ought to be.
To be honest, we are privileged to have a copy of the Bible in our possession. This has not always been the case. Down through the years, there have been times when very few people had a copy of God's Word in their language. This does not mean that the Word of God did not exist, but that there were very few who had the privilege to read and understand it.
There are two basic reasons why others have not had the privilege of God's Word that we have today.
First, there is the problem of translation. In times gone by the Greek language changed from the Koine Greek that was spoken in the Roman Empire during the days of Christ and His apostles. Only those who were studied in ancient Greek could understand what God had said. No one had taken the pains to translate the Word of God into the various languages of the world.
This is a problem even today. There are places in the world where the Bible has never been translated into the local language of the people. In our ministry in Papua New Guinea, there was not a copy of the Word of God in the tribal language of the people. I can even remember the day when there was not a copy of God's Word in the trade language of the country. This makes it very difficult for people to minister the Word of God to others, but it also makes it impossible for people to search out for themselves what God really said, as did the Bereans (Acts 17:11).
We have the privilege of holding in our hands the preserved Word of God in the English language! Of course, I am referring to the King James Bible. The King James Bible is superior to any other "bible" due to the superiority of its text, the superiority of its language, as well as the superiority of its translators. I will not delve into these reasons at this time, but, suffice it to say, we have a great privilege that many people from all parts of the earth do not enjoy! We have the Bible, and the opportunity to read it on a daily basis!
Second, the reason why others have not had the privilege of God's Word is that of the law. Way back in ad 1229, the Roman Catholic church, through its Council at Toulouse, decreed that the Bible should be denied to all laymen. Down through the ages, one government after another has banned the Bible, confiscated them and burned them. This has left many people without a copy of the Word of God.
God has given us grace by allowing us to live in a country that does not outlaw the possession of the Bible. This is a privilege that we did nothing to obtain! There are independent Baptist churches in North America who have made it their purpose to print and distribute the Word of God, in part or in whole, to all parts of the planet. They realize that it is a privilege to possess the Bible, and they dearly desire to make it available to every individual on the face of the earth.
If you are in possession of a Bible, you have been privileged beyond your ability to understand! If you have the ability to read your Bible, you have a great privilege. But, if you will willingly read the Bible, and allow the Holy Spirit of God to speak to your heart, you have received a privilege that few have realized!
Let's not take our Bibles for granted. Instead, let's faithfully read and apply it each day!
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18
When I was attending Bible school up in Michigan, I worked for the Sturgis Lumber Company. I remember that every October we would close our doors for business for one day and spend about 12 hours taking inventory. It was amazing how far off the computer would be on some things, while it was 100% correct on other things.
Spiritually, all believers in Christ should occasionally take time out to inventory their spiritual lives. Of course, there are also times that a church body should do the same. Once we have ascertained where we are spiritually, we can then map out the direction in which we are headed, and make any necessary changes in our direction.
One very simple way by which we may gauge where we stand and where we are headed is through our focus: that with which we are most concerned and that upon which we are most concentrated. That on which we focus is the direction in which we are headed. Paul said in Philippians 3:19, “Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” Here Paul gives us the direction of this enemy of the cross (destruction), two characteristics of this person, and finally where this person’s focus has been placed (earthly things). In this light, let us consider our own focus, so that we might discern our direction.
Looking to the Temporary
In 2 Corinthians 4:18, Paul talks about the “things which are seen,” and tells us that “the things which are seen are temporal (temporary).” Because we live in the flesh, it is a simple thing for a Christian or a church to focus on fleshly, temporary things, sometimes even counting these things as spiritual. While there are, I am sure, many things that could be mentioned as a focus on the temporary, we will confine ourselves to the consideration of three things.
The first thing on which many churches and believers focus is their popularity. In fact, many churches, pastors, and Christians are guilty of doing anything (and I do mean any thing) they can to make themselves and their churches more popular with the community at large. Paul told Timothy that the last days would be this way, and he sure was right! “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables (2 Timothy 4:3-4).” We have surely come to the point where “Christians” will not put up with sound doctrine. We are constantly bombarded with the philosophy of “breaking down the walls of division” and simply loving everyone and accepting everyone as they are. To do anything other than this is to be unpopular, and the modern religious leaders tell us that this would be bad.
On the other hand, we are not to seek out unpopularity! We are simply to live a godly life before the lost, no matter the situation. “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also (Luke 6:27-29).” When we are faithful to live a godly life before a lost world, we will doubtless put an end to the criticism, or at least, we will give the lost no grounds on which to criticize. “For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men (1 Peter 2:15):” Also, when we live a faithful, godly life we will cause others to give glory to God. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).” Please do not misunderstand. When we live a godly life before the lost, the world may respect us and our stand, but we will never be popular with the world.
We cannot be popular with the world, because the world will never like or love a Christian or a church that truly stands for Christ! “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you (John 15:18-19).” Since we have been called out of the world, and made new creatures in Christ, we will never truly be able to blend in with the world. Therefore, because we are different, we will never be acceptable to the world.
Churches that focus on popularity use church attendance as a gauge of spiritual blessing and spiritual growth in the church, but this is nothing more than focusing on the temporary! There are times in which churches would be better off with small crowds, because there is less potential for trouble in the church. “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith (Proverbs 15:17).” Another thing to consider is that Jesus never promised any church a large crowd. In fact, His promised presence was for the small group of people. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20).”
The only real way by which a church can gain and retain popularity in the community is through compromise of God’s message. “I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them (John 17:14a)…” If churches will just ignore the Word a little, the world could stomach them a whole lot better. If churches will just focus on the social issues, and leave off preaching against sin, they might be more popular with the world. If churches will just focus on believing in Jesus, and leave off preaching about true repentance, they might be more popular. If churches will just focus on the deeper life, and leave off preaching for holy living in every believer’s life, they might be more popular. But, our desire should be to be popular with God, rather than popular with the world!
Still, to focus on a lack of popularity can also be dangerous. “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).” Paul, in this context, is talking about the physical suffering that he and his co-workers were enduring for the cause of Christ. If we focus in on how unpopular we are with the world, discouragement is given an opportunity to spring up. With the discouragement comes a desire to quit or compromise. This focus upon our unpopularity can even breed contempt for the very lost souls we have been commanded to reach with the Gospel. We cannot afford to focus on popularity from any angle!
Churches and believers also focus on their property. The common philosophy on church growth is “If we build it, they will come.” Churches compete one with another to see which church can have the bigger and better facilities. However, I do not see that facilities, of themselves, achieve any greater outreach in the community.
Paul told Timothy, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content (1 Timothy 6:6-8).” If this is true for the individual believer, surely it is true for the church body! When we begin to equate large property and beautiful facilities with great spirituality or the blessing of God, we are allowing our focus to wander into something that is temporary. Here’s a little secret: today’s edifices will one day meet tomorrow’s bulldozers! Buildings decay and fall apart; they do not last because they are only temporary, and our focus is not to be upon the temporary.
I am not opposed to nice or beautiful facilities, but we should be grateful for whatever type of facilities God has provided for us. “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:18).” If we have a 150,000 square foot facility, we should be thankful, even if we have to clean it ourselves! If we have a small storefront building, we should be thankful that God has provided us a place to meet!
Let me stop here to chase a small rabbit. You might even call this a small hobby horse. While there are some who focus on having the biggest and best facilities, there are also others who focus on having the smallest and worst facilities. To some, it is a badge of spirituality to have a building that has not been painted in the past fifty years, with dilapidation and disrepair all around. This is not spiritual at all, it is a disgrace! God’s house ought to be taken care of to the best of our abilities, no matter how old or new, no matter how large or small! Haggai said this about taking care of the Temple, “Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the LORD'S house should be built. Then came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste (Haggai 1:2-4)?” We ought always to do our best for God and for His House. Our best may not be as nice as another church’s best, but we aren’t comparing to another church, just seeking to do our best before God!
When we are focusing on our property, we are guilty of ignoring our commission. Jesus said, “Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you (John 20:21).” How was Jesus sent? “And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head (Matthew 8:20).” Jesus wasn’t sent on a glorious building project, except that of building a church. When He left this church in Jerusalem, they held no property at all, and were meeting in the place where several of the apostles lived. Yet, they were so used and blessed of God because their focus was in the right place.
One final thing on which many churches and believers focus is their prosperity. This focus has been popularized by the modern charismatic philosophy, which says that Jesus wants us all to be healthy and wealthy. Sadly, good churches have fallen into this very pit. You hear them say things like, “God is really blessing our church! We just had $X in this Sunday’s offering!”
There are two truths about money, in relation to a church. First, churches need money to operate. Somehow, the light company feels that even churches ought to pay for their lights! The same is true for the telephone, water, sewer, and garbage companies. The second truth about money, in relation to a church, is that God has ordained tithes and offerings as the manner through which the needs of the church are to be met. God doesn’t authorize garage sales, bake sales, or other fundraisers to raise money for the work of the church. No, God expects each member to faithfully tithe and give offerings above their tithe, and in this way the needs of the church will be met. God talks about the tithe in Malachi 3:10: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it (Malachi 3:10).”
When a church has prosperity as its focus, compromise is right around the corner. Pastors must be very careful what they preach, so as not to offend the “money people” in the church, when their focus is on prosperity. There is a need to “tiptoe through the tithers.” There are also churches that change their stand to please givers in the church. I know of one church that took a stand for the King James Bible, until objections were raised by some big givers in the church. Now the church refuses to take any stand for or against the Bible, leaving the decision to each member, Sunday School teacher, etc. This is the kind of thing that happens when prosperity is the focus of a church.
We need to look beyond these temporary things and focus on that which is truly important.
Looking to the Timeless
Again, in 2 Corinthians 4:18, the Apostle Paul talks about “things which are not seen,” and tells us that “the things which are not seen are eternal.” There are some unseen, eternal things on which we can and should focus. And when we focus on these things, we can be assured that we are headed in the right direction.
The Apostle John tells us about our walk. “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ … If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin (1 John 1:3, 6-7).” There are three things that John mentions about our walk with God: 1) The Word of God makes our walk with God sweeter. In fact, without the Word of God, there would be no possibility of a real walk with God. 2) Our manner of life will affect our walk with God. The idea that we can live as we please and still have a close relationship with God is just not based upon Scripture. 3) Our walk with God increases our fellowship with other believers who also walk with God. We can have fellowship with carnal Christians, but there is nothing sweeter than having fellowship with someone who has a definite and real walk with God.
When our focus is on our walk with God, we do not have time to focus on popularity with the world, our personal or church property, or our personal or church prosperity. Our walk with God consumes us, fills us with true, full joy, and heads us in the right direction.
James tells us about having our witness as our focus. “Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins (James 5:20).” True, it is our responsibility to be a witness for the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 16:15), but it is also a privilege to be used to God to convert the sinner, save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins! Those who have never had the opportunity to lead a precious soul to Christ have no conception of the excitement, joy, privilege, and pleasure that overloads the heart of the soul-winner. Words could never describe what goes through the mind and heart as we witness a new birth into the family of God.
Sometimes we can become discouraged when our witness seems futile, but we must keep in mind that God blesses faithfulness. “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him (Psalm 126:5-6).” The harvest may not come when we think it should, and it may not come in the way that we believe it should, but God will always bless faithfulness.
When our focus is on our witness, we are focusing on that which is eternal. It is so needful for each church member to understand that this is the focus that God desires for every one of us. This is not to be the focus of the Pastor, or a select group. No, every church member is to focus upon his own witness for the Lord.
In focusing upon the timeless, we must also focus upon our welcome. We will be welcomed into a new city prepared by Christ for us (Hebrews 11:10; John 14:1-3). But, our focus should be upon what kind of welcome we will receive. Will we be received into heaven by the back door, just slipping in without any recognition? Or will we be received into the Lord’s presence with great fanfare, as He says those words every believer should long to hear: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21)…”
When our focus is upon the welcome we will receive before the Lord in Heaven, it will make a difference in how we conduct ourselves in this life. It will make a difference in the places we allow ourselves to go, and the things we allow ourselves to see. When we focus on our welcome before the Lord, it will make a difference in the friends we make and keep, and every other aspect of our lives.
Where is your focus today? Are you focusing on the temporary or on the timeless? The one focus promises judgment, while the other promises eternal blessing!
The following is a portion of a long email that Pastor Bob & Gail Jackson received on April 18, 2004 from Jerry Jackson. We are making it available because we thought it might be interesting for folks to read a little of what goes on in the life of a missionary. These are some of the things that never make it to the prayer letter.
Dear Dad & Mom,
Today has been a strange day for us. Becky needed to do laundry, so we started up the generator around 10:00. It is now 7:30 and it is still running! Just about the time Becky was getting done with the laundry, it was getting dark outside.
Before I start on anything else, I want to tell you about our trip home on Tuesday. I was concerned about bringing the Hilux [the Jackson’s 4x4 Toyota pickup] home due to the 15-inch tires. It seems to drag on everything it can, which holds up the truck, or stops it completely. I had wanted to start home pretty early, but was help up at the workshop when I went to pick up the truck. I think that it was about 4:45 when we finally were able to leave town. That made me even more concerned about the trip home, because it had been pretty muddy when we had come into town that morning. Well, we started out just fine. We got out to where the worst part of the road begins, and that is where we got stuck. We started down the hill, and I stopped to look the road over to see which way would be the best for me to go down. I did this because the ruts were deep enough to catch the diff [differential] , if I didn’t choose correctly. It had apparently been dry most of the day, so there was one spot that looked really dry, and I went that way. As I came down the hill and around the corner, I saw that there was a large hole in front of me, and I would have to get over into the ruts to avoid the holes.
Well, somehow I never got over and went face first into this huge hole in the road. We went in and stuck. I tried to back out of it, but there was just no way that that was going to happen. A few young guys started to help push the truck, but it was firmly stuck in the ground. Finally, someone showed up with a spade, and they began to dig out under the front diff. That would probably have worked out fine if it hadn’t started raining right then. It just poured for about 30 minutes, and most of these guys stayed right there to help dig us out. They finally borrowed a rope from a passing PMV [Public Motor Vehicle - a private vehicle used as public transportation], and tried to get us out with that. Nothing seemed to work. Then, they looked at the back of the truck and saw that the back end was buried in the mud from working to get the front end out of the hole. So, we were pretty much stuck, without any possibility of getting out before the morning. We got stuck at about 5:45 [pm], and at about 9:45 [pm] they told me that there just wasn't anything else they could do until morning. I didn’t know what we were going to do, until one guy offered to let us stay at his house. He is a FFC [an interdenominational, charismatic group] pastor at Hairo, and was walking home from where the PMV had dropped him off when he came across us. He worked as hard as anyone else to get us out, and was good to let us know what was happening with the work being done. We were a ways from Hairo, so we
would have to walk in the dark from where the pickup was buried. I was hoping that something would happen to prevent us from having to spend the night somewhere besides our own home, and that is when the Lufa ambulance came by. Everyone ran over to ask if they would help to pull us out, since they already had a rope, or if they could drive us up to Hairo. Well, they just wouldn’t hear of either option. They said that they were low on fuel and just couldn’t afford to pull us out, and all their other vehicles were broken down (whatever that had to do with it). So, they just pulled off and left us sitting there. It was at least 3 kilometres to get to Hairo, but we really didn’t have any choice. We had help with the Boys, until Jason got scared or something, and I had to carry him the rest of the way, on my shoulders (my neck still hurts from that). Most everything we just had to leave with the truck. This FFC (Faith Fellowship Church) pastor, whose name is Martin Jonah, along with a LGC (Local Government Council) member appointed two young guys to watch the
truck for us during the night, so that nothing would be taken. I put as much stuff as I could into our white box [a large, locking plywood box that was always used with this truck] , and we took the diaper bag and Becky’s bilum [woven string bag] with us.We borrowed a kerosene lantern for K2 (approximately 70 cents) and started off. It was overcast that night, so we had no moon to help us walk, and since it had rained, the road was very slippery and muddy. It was after 11:00 when we finally arrived at Martin’s house. He lives at the Hairo FFC station, in one of the missionary homes there. So, it was a nice house we stayed in, with indoor toilet and running water. We sat down and talked with his wife and five daughters for a little bit, and then they took us back to where we would sleep. Martin and his wife let us stay in their room, and they laid a double [foam rubber] mattress on the floor for the Boys to sleep on. There were pillows for us and blankets. Becky froze all night long, and I couldn’t get comfortable, so neither one of us slept much. The Boys were worn out from the walk, so they slept pretty good. I got up at 7:00 the next morning, and Martin and I walked back to the pickup. I thought that I was going to die before I got the where it was stuck, and I had sweat dripping off my face, even though it was a cool morning. I did make it though finally. I climbed up on the back of the Hill and sat on the white box while they worked to free up both the front and back diff. They worked for over an hour to get everything dug out like they needed to. While they were working to dig us out, the Lufa ambulance came by on their way to town. The driver wouldn’t even look over my way, which is probably just as well, since I wasn't very happy with him. But, just as the ambulance got even with our truck, they got stuck!! I almost busted out laughing when that happened. I wanted to tell them that the Lord was judging them for not helping us the night before, but I just kept my mouth shut. No one that was helping to dig us out went over to help them, although they were saying all sorts of things to them in tok ples (the local tribal language). They worked for about 15 minutes and then were able to get on through. They hadn’t been gone too long when I was told that we could try to get the pickup out. There were folks pulling on the rope in front as well as pushing from the back, so we were able to get out of that hole on the first try. I was thrilled about that.
But, as soon as we got out of the hole, we had to change the front passenger side tire, which had gone flat during the night. My big concern was for the weld job that they had done on the frame. I was afraid that the stress of being in that hole, as well as the effort to get out would be too much for the plating. I checked it out while the tire was being changed, and it was just fine. It didn’t look any different than it had when I picked it up at the workshop. I was really relieved about that.
I had to pay these guys for helping me out, which I was happy to do considering all the work they put into it. The only trouble was that I didn’t have any money with me, to speak of. I think that everything Becky and I had was less than K20 (approximately $7), which would be near enough. But, before we left the house that morning, Martin had mentioned that we would have to pay these guys, and did I have the cash for that. I told him what I had, and he agreed that it wouldn’t be enough. He then offered to loan me K60 (approximately $21) that he had so that we could take care of these guys. I agreed to that since I knew that we had at least that much in our little bucket at the house. Well, I gave them everything we had, plus what Martin loaned me. They were thrilled with that, and everyone was so happy. I ran back up to Hairo this morning to take the money back to Martin, as he needed it for his two daughters who go to school in town. They are out on holiday, but return to school on Monday. Almost as soon as I had given the money to everyone, the FFC missionary pulled up. He had come down to help pull me out. He doesn’t live at Hairo full-time, but goes back and forth between Hairo, Gouno, and some place beyond the end of the road. It just so happens that he had just come back from furlough a couple of weeks ago, and had been staying there while he waited for the roads to dry out and he could get further down the road. They were already in bed by the time we got up to the station [the night before], but he was not happy with Martin for not letting him know that we were there, so that we could have stayed with them. As soon as he heard that Becky and the Boys were there, he went over and brought them over to his house, where Becky was able to wash out the Boys’ clothes and hang them up.
When he got the whole story about our situation, he took off to come pull me out. So, we went back to his house, where Becky and his wife were talking. They are both in their mid-to-late 50’s, and were very nice to us. We sat and talked with them for a long time, and even ate lunch with them, while we waited for the Boys’ clothes to dry…
We were able to leave Hairo at about 1:30, and were finally able to make our way home. We got back home a
little over an hour later, since I was taking it very slowly, not wanting a repeat performance. I filled up the generator and started it, filled up the Hilux with diesel, got all our church things in the truck, came in and gave the Boys a haircut, shaved and took a bath myself, and left for church just a little after 5:00. I was pretty happy that we were able to get all that done in such a short time. Of course, Becky was busy at the same time ironing clothes, bathing the Boys and herself and getting everything and everyone ready for church. Not to
mention that she also got supper on in her Aircore pans (I do not know what we would do without them).
I already wrote an email and told you about church last night, but I didn't mention that we got stuck on the way home! I don’t go all the way down to the school anymore, because they need a little bridge thingy, and what they have there isn’t wide enough for either truck. So, we park halfway down the school driveway, under a tree. Well, last night, I pulled out into the driveway, going back up after service, and I dropped into this huge hole. I knew there was a hole there, but I didn’t realize that it was that big. We worked for a good thirty minutes to get it out of that hole and on the road again. Becky and I just kept looking at each other, not saying anything. I told her that at least we could walk to our house, if we couldn’t get the Hilux out! Well, we finally got it out and had no other troubles on the way home. I tell you, I was so exhausted when I got home that I never knew that it rained all night long!
Like I said, I had to go back to Hairo today, to repay the money I had borrowed. I had just gotten up to the junction (about 2 kilometres from our house) on my way there, when the diffs got stuck on the ground between the ruts. I was not very happy about that. There were about four guys walking along the road who pushed me through that spot, and I just plowed my way for another 20 yards to get through that area. I ended
up giving those guys a ride to Hairo as a result of there help, but I figured that would help me out, if I got stuck again. I wondered what would happen on the way home, but I had no trouble at all…
October 31, 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the night that Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Whittenburg. This act is seen as the spark that ignited the fires of the Reformation, during which many people left the Catholic church to become a part of the Lutheran, Anglican (Episcopal), Presbyterian, and Reformed churches. Most people see the Reformation as a great event wherein “the church” was turned back to the truth. But, is that really what was going on?
First, was Luther’s plan to detach himself from the Catholic church, or did he have other ideas? The official title of his 95 theses was “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” It was written in Latin, rather than German, because it was a call for debate about how the use and sale of indulgences should be carried out. It was not until these 95 theses were translated into German and dispersed across the countryside that an uproar came about among the common people. Once the uproar started, there was no turning back. Luther didn’t foresee or plan a break from the Catholic church, but once it started, he was the natural choice to head this group of disgruntled Germans who became the Lutheran church.
Did Luther have a plan to eradicate all the false teaching of the Catholic church? When writing about baptism, he said, “For to baptize in Greek is to dip, and baptizing is immersion. Being moved by this reason, I would have those who are to be baptized to be altogether dipped in water, as the word doth express, and as the mystery doth signify (The Works of Martin Luther, Wittem. Edition, vol. 2, p. 79).” So, did Luther require all his followers, who had been baptized by sprinkling as infants, to submit themselves to the obviously Scriptural pattern of immersion in water? No. In fact, Lutherans never have used immersion as a mode of baptism, and today they commonly sprinkle infants.
Luther had no plans for wholesale change; he merely wanted to tweak a few items with which he had trouble. As you consider Lutheran doctrine, you can see that Luther was really trying to stay as close to Catholicism without actually teaching Catholic doctrine. You can see this with both the doctrines of the church (invisible, universal church as opposed to a visible, universal church) and communion (consubstantiation as opposed to transubstantiation). In both of these instances, Luther tried to remain as close to what he had grown up with in the Catholic church, regardless of the teaching of Scripture.
Luther never got away from the sacraments. Lutherans today believe in the following sacraments: baptism, eucharist (communion), penance, holy orders, matrimony, and anointing of the sick. According to wikipedia.com, these sacraments are substantive in that they produce forgiveness and everlasting life: “They [Lutherans] teach that God earnestly offers to all who receive the sacrament forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation.” For all the praise that people heap upon Luther for his realization that “the just shall live by faith,” he never got to the point where that faith was in Christ alone, totally separate from the sacraments. This is not the Gospel that the Bible teaches (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), nor will anyone find eternal life by following these sacraments (John 14:6).
So, if we look history straight in the face, we must realize that the Protestant Reformation was nothing more than a reworking of the corrupt and unscriptural doctrine and practices of the Catholic church. While I do hope that there were some who came to Christ by faith during this era, it is almost in spite of the work of the reformers, as they talked of faith out of one side of their mouths, yet continued to teach sacramental practices out of the other side of their mouths.
Fast forward 500 years. What would be our expectation of the churches of the Reformation? Would they stand for truth and against error? Or would they slide back into the error they were a part of before the Reformation began?
I was interested, but not totally surprised, to read an article about the celebration of this auspicious anniversary on the Vatican’s website (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/lutheran-fed-docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_2013_dal-conflitto-alla-comunione_en.html#The_first_ecumenical_commemoration_) According to this article, the Catholic and Lutheran denominations will celebrate the commemoration of the Reformation together. This is the first time that this commemoration will be officially celebrated together since Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door all those years ago.
Does this mean that the Catholic church has changed its doctrine and practice so much that it is now in tune with the Lutheran church? Or, could it be that the Lutheran church has been so close to Catholicism all these years, that they have decided that it doesn’t make any difference anymore? Many would praise this ecumenical spirit, and say that the “body of Christ” should rejoice that such peace and harmony could exist between these two denominations. After all, aren’t we supposed to work toward unity within the “body of Christ”?
Looking at what is going on in these days of ecumenical fervour, we have to wonder if it was worth it. If, after 500 years of “protesting” the errors of the Roman Catholic church, the Lutherans would just walk back into fellowship with the Pope, then we must ask ourselves what was the point? The only thing that was achieved was a period of disunity. Now there is nothing but a laying aside of any truth that might have been held for the purposes of peace and love.
How should we look at the Reformation? Should we praise it as a wonderful time in “church” history? Again, if we are honest with history, we will see the Reformation as a time of trying to purify something that was already rotten. Rotten milk cannot be unspoilt. In the same way, there is no way to take doctrinal error and heresy and make something sound in doctrine and practice. So, the Reformation was not a great time for true believers, but merely a confusion for the lost. It was a way to keep lost people lost, bound by tradition, either old or new. It had just enough Bible to sound good but held on to just enough heresy to be damning to a lost soul.
This is really the legacy of the Reformation: the confusion of the lost. I hear people lamenting the fact that they do not know which “church” teaches the truth, and wondering if they aren’t all the same. It is not God who has brought about this confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). It is the devil who will do his best to confuse the lost soul, so as to keep every lost soul away from faith in Christ. The devil does not care if an individual attends a “Christian” church, and talks about believing in Jesus, as long as he is confused enough to never place his full faith in the finished work of Christ. He will produce his own “preachers” to talk about Jesus and lead people, like a pied piper, straight into hell (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Thank God that the truth was never lost to the world, as is taught by many of the reformers. There were faithful churches already in existence before the Reformation began! These churches never identified with Rome, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, or any of the other reformers. They relied totally upon the authority of Scripture, believing that salvation was through Christ alone (Romans 10:1-4), by repentance and faith alone (Acts 20:21), and that there could be assurance of that salvation (1 John 5:13). They did not hold to any sort of sacrament, for the purpose of finding forgiveness and eternal life. Instead, they clung to Jesus!
I am glad to say that these pure churches are still in existence today! We call them “Baptist” today (though, not all churches that carry the name “Baptist” are a pure church), although they have been known by many different names down through the centuries. They still teach the same truth that salvation is in Christ alone, through repentance and faith alone, and call all believers to come out of the world so that they might live a life that is separated unto God! That is much better than reformation, for that is the transformation that God brings into the heart and life of every true believer!
The Reformation isn’t anything to brag about since all the protesting churches are now gladly returning to their mother church. Instead, our eyes should be placed on our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and His Word, neither of which will ever change (Hebrews 13:8; Matthew 24:35)!
We are living in times much like the days of the Judges when everyone did that which is right in his own eyes. If any God-called preacher should touch on anyone’s particular habit, they are given to understand that the preacher is preaching nothing but “preference,” because “life just isn't black and white, with clear-cut choices and boundaries, and we just have to do the best we can to choose one of the ‘gray areas!’”
A “gray area” is defined as “an undefined situation or subject that does not seem to conform to known categories or rules (dictionary.com)."
“Gray areas” cover so many topics today, and it seems that there are more areas that are claimed to be gray than there were just a few years ago. There are “gray areas” in the realm of personal habits, like smoking or drinking. There “gray areas” in the realm of personal tastes, such as music, entertainment, and dress. There are “gray areas” in the realm of personal acceptance, such as our lifestyle, sexual orientation, or trans-status.
Why is it that there are so many “gray areas” today? Have our problems and circumstances so changed in the past 4-5 decades that the absolutes of the past no longer fit the problems of today? Have we come to such a place of enlightenment that the conclusions of the past can now be cast off for the confusion of the present?
Here is something else to consider: Did God not realize that there would be so many “gray areas?” Did He fail to include in His Word the answers we need for today? In other words, is the Bible really relevant to the problems of today, or does God not really care what we do?
The Brilliance of God
To fully understand the issue, we have to begin with God Himself. 1 John 1:5 says this: “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” When we begin to study the character of God, we find that in God is no darkness. God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. What is a “gray area,” but some place where there is a lack of light? If God is light, then there are no “gray areas” with Him! God is light because He is not a sinner. In fact, He is of purer eyes than to behold the wickedness of man. He is so pure that Paul tells us that no man can approach Him. 1 Timothy 6:16 says that God is “...dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto…"
Of course, the fact that man is incapable of approaching God because of the brilliance of His light makes the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ so essential! Without Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, we would have no hope to overcome our own enmity with God so that we might have real fellowship with God. We cannot thank God enough for sending Christ to die in our place.
We have to understand that there is no darkness in God. We also have to understand that there is no variableness with God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (James 1:17).” When we say that there is no variableness with God, we are saying that He is not fickle, or given to change His mind from one direction to another. This means that if God has set His mind that one thing is right or wrong, that decision does not change because men's minds have changed. The changes in our society and culture have no effect upon God. What was black and white 2,000 years ago is still black and white today, even if everyone around us tells us otherwise. When we say that there is no shadow of turning in God, we are saying that God has no shading which changes with the view of the onlooker. Having a close relationship with God does not mean that He allows us to get away with things that He would condemn in someone else. He is always the same, without one “gray area!”
It is clear that the character of God is brilliant, not allowing for any sort of “gray area.” But, God has not left the choices of our lives up to us to handle to the best of our ability. God has given to us His brilliant communication (His Word) to give illumination to every decision we face in life. From a young child in Sunday School, we are taught to recite Psalm 119:105, which states, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Just as God Himself is light, so the very words He has given to us are light, so that we might follow after Him in the light, and not walk in darkness! The only reason a particular situation or decision looks gray to us is that we have not properly illuminated that decision or situation with the light of God's Word!
God does not believe in “gray areas!” There is either light or darkness. God gave to us His Word so that we would not have to walk in darkness, but follow Him in the light!
The Blundering Choices of Man
Why then does everyone seem to talk about “gray areas” today? Very simply put, because man naturally chooses darkness, and has no desire for the light. Man can also be a hypocrite, and try to make you believe he is a very spiritual person by claiming his actions and choices of darkness are only “gray areas!” Jesus told Nicodemus that men love darkness rather than light (John 3:19), and refuse to come to the light of God's character and communication because they do not want the “gray areas” they have carved out for themselves to be exposed to be darkness (John 3:20)! No one chooses darkness by accident but makes that choice out of love for darkness. This is just as true for the believer as it is for the unbeliever.
But, what is the source or reasoning behind these so-called “gray areas?” I believe that there are three main sources that contribute to the claim of some attitude or action being a “gray area.”
First, there is the source of disarray. “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints (1 Corinthians 14:33).” Mankind likes to confuse the issue, making it seem as if there is no “right” decision. This confusion is not from God, and should not be blamed on our Lord!
Second, there is the source of doubt. We know the account of Satan in the Garden of Eden. He twisted Eve around his little finger by casting doubt on the Word of God. Satan is not above opening the conversation with the Word of God, but he quickly makes the Word of God of no consequence to the decision to be made. The Bible in the hands of Satan merely becomes a pretext for spreading doubt.
Third, there is the source of distance from God. If we do not walk in the light with the Lord (1 John 1:6-7), we will be walking in darkness. We may try to call our lifestyle choices “gray areas,” but it is really nothing more than a sign that we are not walking as close to the Lord as we ought!
The Balance of the Light
When we tie all of these things together, we begin to understand that there is only light and darkness. There are NO “gray areas!” There have been some who call it a “cop out” when we state that there are no “gray areas,” but we do not have to explain ourselves to others. We must explain all our choices, actions, and attitudes to the very God that is light and has no variableness. That is a much greater concern to the believer who has a real heart for God.
When we realize that there are no “gray areas,” we must come to the understanding that anything which is not of the light must be of darkness. Paul asked, “what communion hath light with darkness (1 Corinthians 6:14)?” The two simply do not go together.
The only way by which to come up with a gray colour is to attempt to mix light and darkness. Yet, God clearly leads us to the conclusion that there can be no mixture of light and darkness.
It is clear that God expects His children to walk in the light, which means that we cannot entertain anything that would be considered “gray.” We must separate ourselves from anything that is not light, no matter what “shading” people might put upon that attitude or activity.
When we realize that there are no “gray areas,” we must also come to the understanding that when we follow the light, we will find the blessing of God! There will be the blessing of fellowship with God. When we walk in the light as our heavenly Father is in the light, we can enjoy fellowship with Him. To be able to freely fellowship with our Creator and Saviour is a wonderful blessing that we ought never take for granted!
There is also the blessing of fellowship with God's people. Many people cannot stand to be around God's people, but that is usually because they are not walking in the light, and they do not want their deeds to be exposed as darkness. But, when we walk in the light, we have the ability and the desire to walk with like-minded believers. Others may call us "legalistic" or "hypocritical," but we enjoy one another’s company because we have the same desire to walk in the light with the Father.
There is also the blessing of forgiveness from God. We cannot expect continual forgiveness from God while we willfully dabble in all the “gray areas” that are really nothing more than darkness. This smacks of rebellion rather than repentance, and the Father will not be moved to forgive that for which we have no remorse.
Not only that but where there is a lack of forgiveness in the life of a believer, there will be the need for the chastening of God. The chastening of God is really for the purpose of teaching His children to walk in the light, and not in darkness (Hebrews 12:10-11).
A simple reading of the Scripture makes it very clear that there are no such things as “gray areas.” In reality, the claim of a “gray area” is nothing more than an excuse to do that which we want to do.
But, how can we tell if an attitude or activity is of the light or of darkness? There are six points that will help in any decision about a “gray area.”
1. Recognize that the Bible has the answer! Psalm 119:105
2. Make sure that our affections and motivations are spiritual rather than carnal! Colossians 3:1-2
3. Ask ourselves whether or not our proposed attitude or activity would be acceptable to the Lord! Ephesians 5:10
4. Ask ourselves whether or not this attitude or activity would align us or associate us with those who walk in darkness. Ephesians 5:11
5. Ask ourselves whether or not this attitude or activity would hinder anyone’s salvation or spiritual growth. Romans 14:21
6. If there is any doubt, don't! Romans 14:23
We cannot afford to play with our relationship with God! We must allow God and His Word to set boundaries for our lives, even if everyone else in the world calls our boundaries a “gray area!”