Learning to Follow Christ

Sitting at the feet of Christ, learning from His teaching, is of ultimate and lasting value. But it’s also the only way to pursue a life of holiness that truly honors Christ. We often think of the Great Commission as primarily about evangelism, but that’s only the first part. After we have proclaimed the gospel, and baptized those whom Christ has saved, we then are to begin the task of teaching believers to observe everything Christ has commanded.

And it’s not just a matter of head knowledge. Learning from the Scriptures isn’t merely about gaining understanding; it’s about living fruitful and holy lives. As Psalm 119 says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word… I have stored up Your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”

This one thing is necessary.

How to Be Free From Bitterness

Jim Wilson, the father of Doug Wilson, has a superb little booklet on How to Be Free From Bitterness, and it is a jewel of a find. It was encouraging and challenging to me personally, but will also be a frequent and valuable resource to use in my own counseling and discipleship of others. You can find other PDFs of Jim Wilson’s, like this one on being a responsible man, on this page.

Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 9 part 4 — on Disputes and Accountability]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.


Disputes and Accountability Between Members: We believe that the church possesses all the resources necessary to resolve personal disputes between members, and that members are prohibited from bringing civil lawsuits against the church or other members of our assembly to resolve personal disputes [1]. Disputes among members are to be dealt with personally and privately, or brought before the Council of Elders [2].

We believe that by seeking membership at this local church, the believer submits himself to the leadership and authority of the church [3], and commits [4] to pursue Christlikeness in thought, word, and conduct, seeking to faithfully love God and love others [5], to make and to be fully committed and competent disciples of Christ, joyfully and humbly seeking accountability with and for fellow members of the assembly, recognizing the potential for loving, corrective discipline in cases of unrepentant sin, as prescribed in Scripture, that the member may be restored to fellowship with both Christ and His church.

(Matthew 18:15–20; 22:37–39; 1 Corinthians 5:1–13; 6:1–8; 2 Corinthians 2:5–11; Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:31–32; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14–15; 1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 3:9–11)


Notes:

1] It may feel strange to include this in a doctrinal statement. But not only does it provide ample legal protection for your church (if a member seeks a lawsuit, all you have to do is point the judge to the member’s signature by which he agreed to this doctrinal statement, thus binding him to not pursue a lawsuit — this has happened and it does work), it is also a biblical standard (1 Cor 6:1-8) that, if understood and followed, fosters a greater depth of community.

2] We should always try to resolve disputes privately, including only the parties involved at first, and then bringing in another mature believer or two when necessary. Disputes should always be dealt with at the lowest level possible (Matthew 18:15–20).

3] Many will react to the language of submitting to the local church and it’s leadership, but in actuality, that language is more biblical than the language of voluntarily joining a church.

4] This commitment to pursue Christlikeness is not unique to those Christian’s who decide to join a church — it is the calling of every believer. The difference is simply that in the context of the local church the believer gains the resources, encouragment, training, and accountability to faithfully pursue this life of discipleship.

5] The two greatest commandments (Matt 22:37–39)

A Brief Statement on the Nature of Church Ministry

Jesus Christ, in His matchless grace, came into the world to die in our place in order to deliver us from the penalty, the power, and, one day, the presence of sin (Eph 2:1–10; Col 1:12–14), so that we now can develop in knowing Christ, in loving Him, in becoming more like Him, and in living in obedience to His Word (John 17:3; Rom 8:29–30; 2 Cor 3:18–20; Eph 2:10; 4:11–15; Col 3:5, 25). Christ, in His sovereignty, has chosen to use the local church as His primary means to evangelize the lost in order to deliver souls, and to disciple believers in order to develop them in their knowledge of, love for, and glorifying of Him (Matt 28:18–20; 2 Cor 5:18–20; Eph 4:11–15).

Thus, God’s plan for this dispensation is that the people of God regularly assemble together and associate themselves in local churches under the authority of God’s Word and for the purpose of edifying and equipping disciples of Christ to better know Him, love Him, live in obedience to Him, and disciple others toward a deeper relationship with Him (Acts 2:37–47; Heb 10:22–25). The church is governed by the teachings of God’s Word through delegated leadership (1 Thess 5:12–13; 1 Tim 3:1–7; 2 Tim 2:2; Heb 13:17), and is to obey Christ’s commission to make disciples by evangelizing the lost, and training, equipping, and developing believers to become fully committed and competent disciples of Christ (Matt 28:19–20).

The one, supreme authority for the church is Christ — the head of the church (Eph 5:23; Col 1:18). Church leadership, order, discipline, and worship are all appointed through His sovereignty as found in the Scriptures. I hold, somewhat cautiously, to a version of the regulative principle (oddly enough, perhaps, considering my background). This basically means that we are not at liberty to ‘do church’ in any way we see fit. We have only the authority to do that which Christ has authorized us to do. Jesus has authorized the local assembly (the church) to exercise the authority of the keys of the kingdom (1) (Matt 16:15–19).  The assembly exercises the keys of the kingdom by declaring, upholding, and proclaiming the Word of God, by officially affirming one another’s citizenship in Christ’s kingdom by the ordinance of baptism (Christ’s ordained means of public identification with Him, and the distinguishing line between the church and the world), and by overseeing one another’s discipleship through the teaching of God’s Word, and admission to and exclusion from the Lord’s Table (Matt 16:15–19; 18:15–20; 28:19–20; Acts 2:41; 8:12; 1 Cor 5:4–11; 11:17–34).

The local church exercises this authority of the keys under the oversight and leadership of biblically qualified elders, whose qualifications and duties are defined in the New Testament. The congregation is to be led by these elders, who are commissioned by Christ to bear the responsibility of teaching, leading, protecting, and caring for the spiritual well-being of the local church (Acts 20:28–31; 1 Thess 5:14; 1 Tim 3:2, 4–5; 4:13; 5:17; 2 Tim 4:1-2; Heb 13:17; James 5:14; 1 Pet 5:2). These leaders are to model the servant-leadership of Jesus Christ, and should always remember that they too are sheep, and are accountable to God for the manner in which they lead (Matt 20:25–26; 1 Pet 5:2–3; James 3:1). The office of deacon can also be filled to minister to the financial, physical, and practical needs of the church, so as to allow the elders to devote themselves fully to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:1–4; 1 Tim 3:8–13). Although the church utilizes these two offices, all believers have equal access to God and are gifted and called to serve Him as ministers (Matt 27:51; 1 Cor 12:12–27; Eph 4:12; 1 Tim 2:5; Heb 4:14-16; 10:11–25).

The church, then, is to commit to regularly assemble in Christ’s name for the purpose of discipleship, corporate worship, the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, and the observance of the ordinances. The church is to commit to pursue Christlikeness in thought, word, and conduct, seeking to faithfully love God and love others, joyfully and humbly seeking accountability with and for fellow members of the assembly, thereby developing one another to better know Christ, love Him and love others, and live in obedience to His Word and for His glory.


Footnotes

(1) For a full explanation and discussion of the keys of the Kingdom, see:

– Chapter 5 of “Going Public,” by Bobby Jamieson
– Chapter 4 of “The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love,” by Jonathan Leeman
– Chapter 6, part 2, of “Political Church,” by Jonathan Leeman
Church Discipline: The Missing Mark by Al Mohler, in “Polity,” edited by Mark Dever
The Glory of a True Church, and its Discipline Display’d (1697), by Benjamin Keach, in “Polity”
A Short Treatise Concerning a True and Orderly Gospel Church (1743), by Benjamin Griffith, in “Polity”
Summary of Church Discipline (1774), by the Charleston Association, in “Polity”

A Definition of the Local Church

I recently sought to develop a carefully worded definition of the local church in fulfillment of a requirement for an apprenticeship I had over the summer. I consulted and leaned on a number of definitions already in existence, especially from the folks at 9Marks; but, ultimately, I wanted to pull the best from each definition and end up with my own wording. Here’s what I’ve landed on for now:

A church is a local congregation of Christians who, by mutual commitment, regularly assemble together in Christ’s name to declare, uphold, and proclaim the Word of God and to officially affirm and oversee one another’s membership in Christ and His kingdom through discipleship, corporate worship, the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, and the observance of the ordinances.

It will perhaps be noticed immediately that I have left out a few elements that may seem essential, or at least expected, in a “baptistic” definition of a church. For example, I do not say that a church is a congregation of baptized Christians. I also have left out any statement regarding the autonomy of the local congregation, or the two offices of elder and deacon. All three of these are intentional omissions. The reason is that I have sought to include in my definition only those elements without which a church is no longer a church.

A Presbyterian church may not have a single member who was immersed as a believer, and while that church may be unhealthy in that regard, it does not cease to be a church. A Methodist or Anglican church may not have any semblance of real congregational autonomy, yet it can still be a church. A church may experience a season in which there is no pastor or elders. Again, while I believe this makes for an unhealthy church, I am not convinced it ceases to be a church. Thus, I have sought to include in my definition those elements which are essential to the existence of a church: (1) believers in a local community, (2) intentionally committing to (3) regularly assemble together, (4) in Christ’s name, for the purpose of (5) interpreting, teaching, and proclaiming the Word of God, (6) affirming one another’s profession of faith in Christ, (7) overseeing one another’s discipleship, (8) worshiping God corporately together, and (9) observing the ordinances.

So, what do you think? Do you have any questions or need any clarifications? Did I miss any essentials? Is this definition a new way of thinking about it for you? Have you found a better definition you could share?