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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Lines in the Sand: Church

In our currrent era, it is considered impolite to expose differences. Instead, "true love" is expressed by seeking common ground. However, the church (and individual believers) have lost their relevance as they have sacrificed the truths that make distinction. The following is a series devoted to drawing the line between genuine Biblical faith and not.

What if the church did not have lines?

I've often heard people say that the church should be the most accepting place on earth. Is that really true? Should we accept heresy? Should we accept insubordination toward God? Should we accept sinful indulgence? Should we accept those who wish to teach that Jesus is neither human or divine? Due to the exclusive nature of the gospel, the church should probably be the least accepting place on the planet.

Before you choke on your bagel, assuming I want to start a commune, allow me to explain. Acceptance is being aware of the facts and willing to live with them. I accept that my Rangers will never actually field a competitive team, therefore I do not get upset when John Hart continues to ignore pitching. Is that how the church has been called to act? No believer will see a complete eradication of sin until glorification. Should we then, as a corporate Body just accept sin or should we fight against it? Should we throw our hands in the air, acknowledging that we will all make interpretive mistakes with the Word, therefore deciding not to even try? It seems that God has called us to strive for holiness (1 Peter 1:13-23) though the world whispers in our ear to just live with it.

Instead, the Church should be the most acknowledging place on earth. Nothing should surprise us. When heresy creeps in, there should be an active humility, knowing that we could all easily fall into a similar error, followed with action to remedy the situation. When an unbeliever brings all of their sin with them into our church, we should acknowledge that they are a slave to sin, and therefore seek to show them the freedom from sin offered by Jesus Christ. When those who are in the Body fall into a regular pattern of sin, again there should be a humble recognition that it can (and probably will) happen to all of us, and that's why the church is to work together to sharpen one another. Acceptance learns to live with it. Acknowledgement is not surprised, but graciously works to resolve the issue.

To return to my illustration. If John Hart (and other members of the Rangers front office) were to acknowledge their lack of pitching, they could then do something about it. It does not mean they immediately fire every pitcher we have, but rather they consider all issues, from their draft process, to the coaching/training their players receive. Then they begin a process to resolve the situation.

I thank God that the church has always had those who were willing to draw the line in the sand. God has used men like Augustine to expose the error of Pelagius, or Irenaeus to refute the gnostics. What kind of oppression would the church still find itself under if the Reformers hadn't been willing to stake their liveson the claims of the Word of God. In fact, the Reformers typically drew three lines in the sand, regarding the church. A genuine church:
    1. Preached the Gospel.
    2. Practiced Church Discipline.
    3. Properly Administered the Ordinances.
Not surprisingly, those three criteria all protect one thing: the gospel. By clearly preaching the gospel, it both allowed the unrepentant to hear the message of Truth, the saved to glorify God in His work on their behalf, and reminded the church of the message they had been entrusted. Church displine not only helps us see the need to pursue purity, but it also allows the church to distance herself from those who choose to dilute or distort the gospel. (Did you realize church displine is to be our response to false teaching as well.) Biblically, it is not the picture of immediate excommunication, but rather a slow, deliberate process with restoration always as the goal. But the gospel witness must be maintained in our church. Lastly, the ordinances of baptism and communion should not be seen as outside of the gospel witness either. Both are beautiful visual displays of the person and work of Christ. The church must guard that the ordinances do not become a participation in salvation, nor should they be eliminated, and therefore diminish the church's witness.
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves (2 Corinthians 4:1-7).
In the gospel, the glory of Christ is seen. In light of this message, we see the glory of God in the face of Christ. We should accept no substitutes. Because God has removed the veil from our eyes, we should not return to our own ways so that people know that we accept them. The church should acknowledge how the veiled will act, and boldly declare the gospel (in word and action) to display the light of the glory of God as revealed in His Son.

Drawing the line is not an act of condemnation, for the world stands condemned already (John 3:18). Drawing a line is an act of love and hope, making sure the message is not compromised.

(Also, if you are interested, Mark Dever offers a wonderful list of the 9 marks of a healthy church.)

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