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Church Membership Matters

Maybe you don’t like to call it ‘membership’. Perhaps you’d prefer ‘covenant’ or ‘partnership’ or some other term. I don’t want to get tangled up on that.
The issue is: who are we, as Christians, in specific and intentional partnership with on a local basis?
Kevin DeYoung writes about ‘Why Membership Matters‘.
I thing he points out some very practical benefits of church ‘membership’. (In quotes because, as I just wrote, some folk just balk at the term, not the actions entailed.)
Here are his point headings. Go and read the full post for yourself by following the link above.
1. In joining a church you make visible your commitment to Christ and his people.
2. Making a commitment makes a powerful statement in a low-commitment culture.
3. We can be overly independent.
4. Church membership keeps us accountable.
5. Joining the church will help your pastor and elders be more faithful shepherds.
6. Joining the church gives you an opportunity to make promises.

R. Scott Clark offers a post on Heidelblog relevant to commenters who felt DeYoung’s post lacked biblical proof. I’d never thought of the points that Clark makes in quite this way. Put short, I’ll look at all those genealogies and references to books of life and numbers of those God was saving quite differently in future. It is a helpful, thought-provoking post.
The argument may be made that the New Testament is not explicit. (And Clark proves that that is really stretching things.) Why would the New Testament writers assume that anyone would ever move away from the way God’s people had related throughout Scriptural history?
While we can’t say that contemporary church membership models are identical to the New Testament church, there would be more biblical evidence for an intentional identification than there would be for a ‘everyone who feels like they’re part of the church is part of the church’ type model. Who is really imposing their cultural experiences and personal preferences on the Scriptural data?

My contribution on DeYoung’s blog lacked Clark’s biblical comprehensiveness, but tried to make the point that if affirmation of personal faith, recognition of local authority and commitment to mutual partnership and ministry are biblical (and most seem to recognise they are) how can they really be better expressed publicly than by making promises to that effect before the local church?
Various commenters continue to simple assert that DeYoungs six points above can be better achieved without membership but not making any reference how. To my experience it is sometimes achieved by having a ‘non-member membership’ of a local church in which most of the folk are committed to one another by membership.

Locally at mgpc, our membership promises are probably more basic than some. We affirm personal faith in the saving work of the triune God, recognise local leadership, and affirm our mutual partnership in Christian growth and spreading the Gospel. I like this because it allows Christians to partner with us.
Mutual affirmation of faith, recognition of leadership, commitment to particular partnership, I don’t care what it’s called, but we need it to carry out our Lord Jesus’ commission as effectively as we can.


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What Ministry Is About, Part 3 – The Solapanel

In parts one and two I considered the first seven of ten propositions which form the central theme of the soon to be published Matthias Media book ‘The Vine And The Trellis’.
Today we close out the final three.
In the interests of transparency, at mgpc the leadership are currently being challenged by our leadership training model. (Which is to say we don’t really have one.)
While I have significant differences about their theology of church meetings on Sunday, the points about intentionality in training disciples.
We’ll be buying copies and reading carefully.

Anyway on with the contentions eight, nine and ten, these comments are my responses, so don’t forget to read the explanations behind the links:
8. The disciple-making imperative of the Great Commission needs to drive fresh thinking about our Sunday meetings, and the place of training in congregational life.
As I said above, Sunday worship is for worshipping God the way God wants to be worshipped. I’ve never been convinced either by the pleading that seems to reason that our few hours together on Sunday morning (or 24 hours) represent a huge retreat from the world and a diversion from our work of sharing the Gospel.
Such thinking doesn’t seem to remember that outside those few hours there’s another 165 hours (or 144) in a week where we can train, be trained and share the Gospel. Why do we need to invade the time in which God calls us to worship Him?
But we do need to be thoughtful and intentional about training and the outcomes we are seeking when we meet.
9. Training almost always starts small, and grows by multiplying workers.
I like this one a lot. It makes sense. I’ve been telling mgpc that we’re reformers, not revolutionaries, and most of our change has been organic.
Our training process, when we put it into place will be relationship based and intentional. Our small groups will grow organically, not institutionally.
10. We need to challenge and recruit the next generation of pastors, teacher and evangelists.
Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But again, at mgpc, we’re not intentional about this. But we’ve had some folk move in recently who have been challenging us about this. Moving to a discipleship model will help us to structure the expectation that pastors, teachers and evangelists will be raised up in our church.

So, there you go. Ian’ll be ordering these so that we can get them fresh off the press, apparently demand will be strong, so if you want it get in early.
That’s ‘The Trellis And The Vine’, by Tony Payne and Col Marshall, published by Matthias Media.


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Social Media Revolution

I am still relatively young (in some ways).
I can remember when every home did not have a telephone. Now if a home does not have a telephone, it is because everyone already has a mobile phone or they use their internet connection to provide telephony.
I can remember when cassette tapes where a new technology and vinyl long playing (33 1/3rpm) albums and (45rpm) singles were the way to listen to music. In the space of thirty years the CD made vinyl obsolete.
I can remember that Beta really was the better video tape system. I was personally happy when DVDs made VHS obsolete. (Yeah, I can carry a grudge). Bluray now threatens DVD.
I can remember when you hand wrote or typed a letter. (Liquid Paper fumes, anyone?) Then computers enabled us to use dot matrix printers with traction feeders and strips that tore off the side of the pages. Laser printers and plain paper look so much better.
The facsimile machine sent images of our correspondence through the internet. Then emails and scanners made fax machines redundant. (They really should be, anyway.)
I could go on and on. Remember spirit duplicators? Pagers? Technology has rapidly produced innovations that have become redundant just a rapidly as new technology passes them by.

So I’m not surprised about the theme which is explored in the youtube below, which is titled Social Media Revolution. (Thanks to Damian Carson, pastor of Para Hills Presbyterian for pointing me to it.)
It is a promotional piece for a media company of some sort. Apparently some of the statistics produced can be challenged. But you do get the feeling that the direction that is being promoted is a correct one. Another consideration is that, with the rapid change we see in technology, today’s means of communicating will be superceded in a very short time. My daughter spent most of her time sending SMS messages eighteen months ago. Today she uses Facebook.
Though this youtube video is not religious or Christian in origin or focus, as people who are commissioned to communicate we need to think carefully about where people are seeking information and how they exchange information with each other. This past week I’ve been able to use social media to communicate information about a sick friend with others. It is something that I’d like to be able to develop.
So watch and muse at some of the details that will flash before your eyes. (One in eight couples married in the US last year met by social media? What the?? I’d like that one to be wrong.) Then think about the message we have been given, how we communicate it, and how we live in community with those who have received it, all in a world that is going digital.


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What A Friend We Have In Jesus – Sunday Songs

I recently read Mark Dever stating that Christians on their deathbed would not be recalling songs they learned last week, or words to that effect.
This week a man with a loving wife and four young sons has been gravely ill. The news about his health in the last couple of days has been encouraging and an answer to prayer.
We’ve been gathering evening by evening to pray for his recovery. Tonight our evening fellowship time at church spent an extended time giving thanks to God for His mercy and His grace.
What better song to reflect on this week than ‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus’.
The first line is a little misleading in that, while the Lord Jesus is the Christian’s best friend, it is really a song about prayer.
There is much friendship, support, encouragement and consolation that the Lord provides to His people, but we do not seek it. Our testimony as a church this week has been one of thanksgiving for healing, but also deep appreciation by the way our mutual fellowship, tears and prayers have served to strengthen us and draw us closer together.
Oh to live more continuously in the knowledge and earnestness of that helpless dependence upon God’s grace. When all we can do is plead our hopelessness and powerlessness and turn to the one who is powerful above all things.

The lyrics:
1.
What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.
2.
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged:
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our ev’ry weakness,
take it to the Lord in prayer.
3.
Are we weak and heavy-laden,
burdened with a load of care?
Jesus is our mighty Saviour:
He will listen to our prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you?
Take it to the Lord in prayer,
in His arms He will enfold you
and His love will shield you there.

Hymn from the Rejoice! Hymn Book, Presbyterian Church of Australia

Hard to believe that anyone may not be familiar with it, but here’s the song on youtube. It features the incomparable Miss Loretta Lynn. (Have I ever mentioned that I’d love to pastor a country and western church?)


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Romans 12:3-8 – Week Fifteen – Life In The Body

Life In The Body

The outline:
1) The Body and ourselves.
a) No Lone Rangers.
b) Compared with the best.
c) Humility.
2) The Body and others.
a) Unity.
b) Diversity.
c) Mutuality.
3) The Body and our gifts.
a) We all have gifts.
b) They are not for ourselves.
c) They meet needs in the body.

Some comments:
Firstly, want to see what it looks like when someone offers themselves up as a living sacrifice to God? Go to your local church.
Paul moves seamlessly to addressing how Christians will conduct themselves in relationship with other Christians.
The idea of a churchless Christian is alien to the Bible.
The humility which Paul exhorts is not based on any comparison of ourselves with Christians around us. This is not a matter of measuring how much faith you have been given and being humble in the presence of those who have more. Rather, the measure, or standard, against which we measure ourselves is the one that God has given, the Lord Jesus. Compare yourself to Him. Plenty to be humble about there.
Secondly, Paul again confirms that the churchless Christian is an unbiblical notion. He describes us being gathered in the body.
The analogy of a body allows us to see that Christians are united to one another. We can also see that their is a diversity in our unity. Just as the organs and members of a body all serve differing but vital functions, so do Christians. Mutuality recognises that we serve each other.
Thirdly, each of us has a gift. These gifts vary, but we each have them. The existence of our gifting again confirms our mutuality. The gifts cannot be expressed in singularity. They exist for our relationship with other Christians. We can even understand that our calling and giftedness means that our local church has a need for service that they are being denied if we are with-holding our presence and service.
The various gifts themselves are not the focus here, so I won’t comment on them much, except to say that they call us to rationally, humbly and sacrificially offer ourselves to one another.
So our church needs our presence, humilty and service.
The emphasis is not so much on us having gifts as it is on the fact that needs are met in the body.

There were some other comments about mutuality, service and consideration that involved chairs, but these were particularly for mgpc, so I won’t go into them here.

It’s been a very demanding week, so that’s all for comments on this message, except to say that I’ve personally been overwhelmed to see the way people have been serving each other and instructing and exhorting one another in prayer. As for me, I am provided with encouragement which is the visible experience of God’s love and presence as I carry out the privelege of ministering among the folk at mgpc.


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Romans 12:1-2 – Friday Bible Study

Living Sacrifices

Read Romans 12: 1-2.

Chapters one to eleven explain God’s great mercy in His saving us by justification by grace through faith. Paul now goes on to explain how the saved should respond.

• What is our motivation for Christian living? (Verse 1)
• What is the force of Paul’s instruction in verse one?
• What does ‘offering’ or ‘presenting’ our bodies involve?
• Why are we to think of ourselves as a ‘holy’ and ‘pleasing’ sacrifice? (Verse 1)
• Which Christians are to be totally given over in this way?
• The word translated spiritual or rational in various translations implies that this is a logical action. Why does it make sense to do this?
• Our worship of God is not confined to the time we spend together on Sundays. What does that mean for our lives and sense of vocation? (Verse 1)
• How are we to understand Paul’s instruction not to conform to the pattern of this world or age? (Verse 2)
• The word for ‘transformed’ (Verse 2) should remind us of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Where does the seat of our transformation take place?
• What do you think is necessary to cultivate this transformation?
• How does this help us not to become too frustrated when we stumble?
• Verse 2 speaks of ‘knowing the will of God’. What will of God can we come to know? Will we know every intention God has for us?
• What fruit do you think knowing and carrying out God’s will would bear in our lives?

Some notes:
The logic applied is that the explanation of God’s mercy in chapters 1-11 demands this response.
Offering ourselves is not a suggestion or an option, it’s really the only action that someone who has been saved by God takes.
There is a concious desire to have God first in life that is spoken of. Being a holy sacrifice does not simply speak of purity, but being set apart. Being an acceptable offering is astounding, because the only acceptable offerings to God are those which He indicates He is pleased to receive. That’s us. Each and every one of us.
The word often translated ‘spiritual’ is translated ‘rational’ in the King James. It has a root related to logic or logical and helps us see the point made above, this is a supremely smart and sensible response to God’s love.
All of our lives and activities are part of this offering, this worship. Each action, every day is part of this, in addition to what God commands we do when we gather as the church on Sundays.
This transformation is driven by our minds, learning from Scripture, with the Holy Spirit enabling and encouraging us to put to practive that which we have learned.
We should study God’s Word as part of this offering of ourselves. When we stumble and do the wrong thing we can be encouraged to know this is a process that is continuous.
We can know God’s revealed will from the Scriptures. This is in contrast to God’s unrevealed will, which we only come to know as we live it out. Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
We will see the fruit this bears out in our lives in the verses to follow.
It enables us to live in relationships of wisdom and love with other Christians.


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Worship at Mount Gambier Presbyterian Church

The following is published in the October edition of our Church magazine Connexions.
I’ve been meaning to put something into print explaining the logic and structure of our worship services. This is my starting point, I’ll think about it and revise it a bit in the future.
I have found the brief books ‘Reformed Worship: Worship that Is According to Scripture’ and ‘The Pastor’s Public Ministry’ by Terry L. Johnson very helpful. I’m also looking forward to receiving my recently ordered copy of Bryan Chapell’s new book ‘Christ Centered Worship’.

Worship at mgpc
It is helpful to remember that when we gather Sunday by Sunday for worship that our Services are carefully structured and ordered.
This is not done out of an unthinking adherence to tradition, but through careful consideration of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Bible. We gather in obedience to the Scriptures, but we also recall the covenantal nature of our relationship with God. He calls and we respond.
Because we gather at God’s initiative, when we assemble for corporate worship we seek to include those actions which God in His Word has told us to do. Where the Word gives us freedom about how to do things we use that freedom wisely and constructively.
For instance, the Bible is silent about whether we read from book or screen. (The Bible writers knew of neither.) The Bible is silent about organ, piano, guitar or drums; pulpits or lecterns; pews or chairs; who takes up the offering. (Or whether it is collected as a formal part of the Service.)
God is the initiator and we are the respondents. This pattern is repeated throughout our worship.
God’s presence is recognized as we hear the call to worship. We respond in praise. We are also led by what can be called a ‘Gospel Logic’, which is to say that we are only able to gather acceptably before God because of the merit of the Lord Jesus.
Acknowledging the purity of His presence, we make a confession of sin in our prayers. We read from the Bible verses which grant us explicit assurance that we are forgiven and accepted because of Christ’s atoning work. Each of our services affirms the Gospel, even as it commences.
Because we are saved as His people, we have opportunity to nurture and encourage one another as His household, His family. We do this in the common affirmation of a creed and in our songs. On occasion baptisms remind us of our being united with Christ by grace through faith.
We seek to nurture the covenant people, children and adults, not with ‘special times’ set apart for them, but with expressions that are appropriate for differing levels of maturity. A significant prayer is offered which gives thanks and brings our needs before God’s throne of grace.
Each of our songs has been chosen with careful thought about its content. We seek to use songs with tunes that can be learnt and sung with enthusiasm, but not so simple as to become trite and distracting. Not every song will be everyone’s favourite, but every song is a fit praise for God.
Each week our songs are rehearsed before the service, anyone who wants to grow in their familiarity with our praise would be welcome. To assist us in tunefulness and tempo our singing is led by people who lead singing under the authority of the elder who is leading the Service.
Remembering week by week God’s nature, His triune presence amongst us and His saving work, we turn to His Word.
Significant portions of it are read, that we may honor it in its wholeness and not pick and choose through various small sections.
The Bible is preached. One of the passages that is read is carefully explained, so that people may understand the sense of it, and have some idea of how to respond with their heart, soul, mind and strength.
We then respond to God’s grace in prayer, by giving our offerings and by the observance of the Lord’s Table before going on our way.
We do this week by week, because God calls us to do, He knows our needs and provides the merciful blessing of corporate worship to help us grow in our appreciation of the Gospel and in our knowledge of His Word.