In the previous post (Welcome to the Latest Movement in Church Ministry: The SeekErgent Movement) we examined two fundamental problems that the seeker and emergent movements have in common:
1. There is a failure to correctly understand the nature and doctrine of the church which leads to…
2. A corruption of doctrine concerning the church’s relationship with and ministry to the world.
There we looked at the very nature of the church, considering the important fact that the bride of Jesus Christ should be seen in view of His shed blood; thus, we represented the church with the color red; the dark ways of the world with the color black (Ephesians 5:1-14) and the compromised church of Laodicea as a repugnant mixture of the two – I referred to it as “skubala” brown (Phil 3:8):
In this post I will offer some brief thoughts about the church’s relationship with, and ministry to the world. The main focus here will be concerning the biblical model for Gospel outreach.
But before I begin here, allow me to offer a few preliminary thoughts, especially in view of the last post: I am amazed to see the kinds of reactions that came about as a result of the first post. It would seem as though the new, enlightened, and “modern” approach to things would be to refrain from reproving error and engage in a friendly “conversation” in order to gain better understanding – of course, this approach isn’t a new idea either (2 Corinthians 11:1-4). But rather than having such conversational chit-chats, I am convinced that there is a need for godly and measured rebukes, much like what we see in the strong language used by Christ and the Apostles when they dealt with error. For example, to the compromised church at Laodicea, the Lord said that He wanted to spew (literally, vomit) them out because of the detestable nature of their courtship with the world. To the Philippians, who were in danger of infusing the error that was being advanced in their midst, Paul said: “beware of the dogs, beware of the evil-doers, beware of the false circumcision” (Phil 3:2). And as if these labels weren’t enough to grab their attention, Paul then likened fleshly wisdom and works to that of skubala – that is, fecal material (Phil 3:8).
I just wonder how Christ and the Apostles would be treated in this modern era that so often exalts gentility over truth. Let me say immediately that no preacher should ever be cruel or wreckless when rendering a rebuke; but with this it must also be said that no genuine preacher should ever shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God which clearly upholds truth while rejecting error; that reveals the glory of Christ versus the world’s shame; that discloses the church’s true mission versus the ways of the world and clearly teaches the uniqueness of Christian fellowship versus the world’s rebellious confederacy against the Lord and His anointed (Psalm 2). I am personally grieved over the phone calls and e-mails that I receive from people who are starving for the biblical preaching and fellowship that they should have in a church – my heart aches for them. Many of these saints are being offered the emaciating mechanisms of manmade wisdom along with the veritable dog & pony show of many progressive churches today, and yet there will be those who will say: “Oh, just leave these movements and their leaders alone!” Writing in a confrontational manner is no mere hobby here at The Armoury. When I do it, it is because I am compelled to do so for the glory of the Savior who shed His precious blood for the church. This is no game – this is a very serious matter. The bride of Christ, and her mission, are essential matters to explore and understand – thus, let us being with the subject of the church’s relationship with, and ministry to the world:
When considering the Savior’s prayer for His disciples, it is evident that He desired that we would go out into the world in order to preach the Gospel of peace, after His own example:
John 17:15-18: 15 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
Literally, Christ’s disciples are to go out into the world just as [kathos] Christ did. This comparative particle [kathos] establishes an important correspondence between Christ’s pattern of outreach and our outreach. This is a crucial and oftentimes lost challenge concerning the church’s genuine mission: as Christ went out into the communities at large, He did so with His disciples while taking the message of reconciliation to a lost and dying world. The pattern of His life and conversation is our model: With a woman steeped in sin, Christ transformed a common conversation about physical water into the message of living water (John 4:1-29) and remained for two days with the dejected Samaritans in order to preach the word to them; the Savior turned the people’s selfish pursuit for bread into an opportunity to speak of the Bread of Life that alone gives eternal life (John 5-6); and like Christ, we see Paul ascending Mars Hill in order to teach the philosophers concerning that which they did not understand about the unknown God (Acts 17). This principle of going out into the world in order to engage it with the Gospel is crucial, for it reminds us that we have been created for good works (Ephesians 2:10) in order to manifest Christ’s glory in every aspect of our lives – in the workplace, the marketplace, in the public assembly, with our relatives, in our neighborhoods – even when we are grabbing a bite to eat at a restaurant. This is the outreach ministry of the church: ego apesteila autous eis ton kosmon to be sent out [apo + stello] into the world. An emphasis such as this highlights our need to take the Gospel to the world, rather than emphasizing this matter of taking the world into the church.
I am constantly challenged by the precious examples of the Savior (in the Gospels) and the Apostles (in Acts). Such an emphasis on outreach in no way eliminates the fact that evangelism takes place within the local church (1 Corinthians 14:23-24), but what it does emphasize is that which is often de-emphasized in the modern church: believers need to get off their pews and go out to the people of this world with the Gospel message, rather than re-inventing church in order to better suit the world, as in the case of Laodicea:
The study of the church at Laodicea is an important one. At some point, the spiritual walls of Laodicea came tumbling down, such that there became little to no discernable distinction between those in the church versus those outside of the church – contrary to the standard of God’s word (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). Thus, whatever Gospel witness that this church had to begin with became buried beneath the worldliness that crept in over time. But in direct opposition to this dreadful example, the church is to be that unique place in the world where Christ’s sheep are discipled (1 Peter 5:1-4), fed (John 21:12-17), nurtured (Ephesians 4:1-14) and lovingly disciplined for their restoration (Matthew 18 & 1 Corinthians 5). Truly, the church must never be a place where an unbeliever is turned away from hearing the word of God simply because he is an unbeliever, however, the church must never change her God-ordained priorities of ministry in order to accommodate the people or the philosophies of this world. Christ firmly commanded Peter to feed and tend His sheep (John 21:12-17, 1 Peter 5:1-4) – and such a command as this must not be trifled with. If shepherds are to love Christ, then they must feed Christ’s sheep with His word and nothing else. By this shepherding ministry, the Savior’s sheep are to be built up in the word in order to do the work of service (Ephesians 4:12) which includes this important matter of going out to this lost and dying world with the Gospel of Peace (Ephesians 6:15). But when the church’s ministry of discipleship is cooled in order to accommodate the world, then Christ’s sheep become weakened, and the Gospel’s radiance is diminished.
The precious examples of Christ and the Apostles render a continual reminder to my own soul concerning my own need to go out and engage the world for Christ, remembering that the outreach of all believers is to occur whenever we engage the lost at work; at school; on the ball field; at the gym; in the grocery store; at a restaurant and especially – especially – in our own neighborhoods. For myself, it has been through a recent Bible study for several of my neighbors; and just the other day, it was the opportunity that I had to talk to the gentleman who gave me a shuttle ride while my car was being repaired. I truly believe that we all need to consider how we can do more in terms of going out into the world with the Gospel of peace for the glory of Christ. What the people of this world truly need, more than attending a church service, is to hear the glorious message of redemption and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ! And they need to see Christianity displayed in real time, where they live – not just on a stage in a church building. Clearly, Christ didn’t setup a tent in Judea for several years, inviting unbelievers to become a part of His “community” rather He and the disciples went out into the world and called unbelievers to follow Him.
Sadly, many of the movements found in modern “Evangelicalism” have actually weakened Gospel evangelism through a model of ministry that is eerily similar to the defections found at Laodicea. As a pastor, I am continually warned in my own heart by these things. As a friend of many brethren who are scattered abroad, I am saddened by their struggle to find a church that is committed to feeding Christ’s sheep and sending them out with the Gospel. As a child of God, I petition the Lord for renewal in our land, by the revival of His church and the spiritual awakening of the lost. Living now in the “Bible belt” I see many churches capitulating to the popular methodologies of our day. Many of these ministries have adopted a very loose concept of the church, thereby producing a breeding ground for those who are willing to believe that they need only have a positive interest in Christ in order to be a part of the “church community.” As I talk with people who are in such “ministries” they speak much about what activities they do, their baptism, their membership, their “potlucks,” their knowledge, their books or their discussion groups – but how sad it is to hear them say nothing about Christ. Unfortunately, too many of these people will someday discover that Christ demands so much more than a token partnership with the true church (Psalm 2:12), especially when He will declare to them: “I never knew you; depart from Me…” (Matt. 7:21-23). What the lost really need to understand is that they are not a part of this unique community called the church and they will never be, unless they repent of their sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who laid down His life in sinner’s stead.
Finally, let us remember that salvation is the work of God alone, and not man. As well, the Lord will call His people using the imperfect men, women and ministries throughout the world. As an imperfect vessel myself, I can affirm, with Paul, the reality of this truth (Phil. 3:12-13). However, the reality of our frailty should never become an excuse for the corruption of sound doctrine in the church – our sin will never change His standards. Therefore, may the Lord grant us His grace to do His will for His glory alone. And may the church return to the simplicity of devotion that we find so clearly displayed amidst that newly born church at Jerusalem, where the brethren were together continually, being regularly devoted to the Apostles’ doctrine, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to corporate prayer. The holiness, purity, and beauty of that Spirit filled community of Christians had such an impact on the neighborhood around it that the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.