Month: September 2019

Pastor's Blog

The Right Things for the Right Reasons

In Sunday’s sermon, we looked a little deeper at Timothy’s situation in Ephesus, and specifically at the Ephesian false teachers he had been tasked with shutting down. We discovered the surprising fact that these guys weren’t necessarily heretics. At least some of them were most likely brothers in Christ whose doctrinal foundation may have been spot-on.

The problem was that they were adding to this foundation with made-up stories, an overemphasis on family ancestry, and a confused approach to the law (1 Timothy 1:4, 7). And Paul’s instruction is that they be “commanded” not to teach any different doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3).

I’ve been a part of a number of conversations throughout the years where we’ve been discussing someone who teaches one form or another of “different doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3). And it’s been very common to hear someone say, “Well, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. And they mean so well. And didn’t Paul tell the Philippians that even if someone preached Christ in the wrong way, he was ok with it?”

The passage that’s being referenced is Philippians 1:15-18: “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

In Philippi, some people were preaching Jesus in order to harm Paul. He was ok with that, as long as Christ was being proclaimed. But there is no indication that these troublemakers in Philippi were false teachers or were corrupting the gospel with “different doctrine.” From everything we can tell, they were preaching the gospel in all of its truth. Their motives were wrong—they were trying to score personal points and hurt Paul—but insofar as he was concerned, Paul rejoiced in the gospel’s advance.

In Ephesus, the situation was totally different. That group of teachers was causing trouble because their teaching itself was wrong. And so even if their motivation was spot-on—even if they were trying to serve God and were doing their best according to what they understood (1 Timothy 1:7)—they still needed to be stopped.

For ourselves, personally, we should obviously strive to speak the truth and do it for the right motives. After all, that’s why Paul wrote Philippians chapter 2. “Selfish ambition” is wrong, even if you are preaching the gospel. But in terms of evaluating others, it’s the content of someone’s teaching we should be most concerned about. Someone can be sincere and godly and still cause a lot of damage to the church through false teaching. And in Timothy’s case, the most loving thing for him to do was to command them to stop.1“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine… The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:3, 5)

Pastor's Blog

Sharing the Gospel Clearly, Correctly, and Confidently

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking to our team of Awana workers about the gospel message, and how important it is for us to be always ready with a clear, correct and confident presentation of the gospel. That night I explained that every presentation of the gospel—good or bad—always says something about:

  1. God (who He is in relation to us)
  2. Us (who we are and what our problem is)
  3. Jesus (what God did to solve our problem)
  4. Response (what our response to God’s saving work needs to be)

To share the gospel clearly, we need to have a solid understanding of these four “building blocks” and how they relate to one another. To change up the metaphor, we should understand that these four big ideas are like links in a chain: each “link” depends on what came before it, and impacts what comes after it.

For example, how we understand God is foundational to everything else. How we understand our problem depends on how we understand God, and will impact what we say about the work of Christ. And finally, what we say about the work of Christ will directly impact what we say about our response. If Jesus just came to set us a good example, then our response is to follow that example and live a good life. But if Jesus came to actually save us, then our response is to trust that He actually did this.

Sharing the gospel clearly, then, requires that we understand how these four links connect with one another to form a solid chain.

To share the gospel correctly, our understanding of these four links needs to be completely shaped and informed by Scripture. It is wise to use the actual words of Scripture as often as we can.

  1. God
    • According to Scripture, the most foundational truth about God is that He is the creator. (Genesis 1:1, Acts 17:24).
    • As the creator, He has certain rights over His creation.
    • When we see how amazing His creation is, we recognize how amazing He is and how much He deserves.
  2. Us
    • As creatures, we owe everything to our Creator.
    • We all do recognize How amazing He is (Romans 1:19-21).
    • Nevertheless, we do not give our Creator the thanks and honour that He deserves, choosing to give our affections and allegiance to the things God has made instead of to God Himself. The Bible calls this sin, and we’ve all done it (Romans 3:23).
    • God’s judgement against our sin is physical and eternal death (Romans 6:23).
  3. Jesus
    • Jesus, the perfect son of God, died as our substitute, taking God’s judgement instead of us (Romans 3:23-25, Galatians 3:13, Romans 5:6-9, Isaiah 53:4-6, 2 Corinthians 5:21).
    • He accomplished our salvation on the cross. He didn’t just die to make us save-able; He actually saved us (1 Peter 3:18, Romans 5:1,10).
    • The preceding verses show us that our salvation largely consists in being reconciled to God. He is what makes the good news good.
  4. Response
    • Because Jesus saved us, there is nothing we can add to His gift. All we can “do” is receive it. The Bible calls this “faith” (Romans 4:5-4, John 3:16).
    • Because Jesus is the king, believing in Him always results in repentance and a life of submission to Him (Romans 6:1-4, Romans 8:1-4, Colossians 3:1-17).

To share the gospel confidently, we need to be so familiar with the message that we don’t need to stop and scratch our heads when we do have the opportunity. 1 Peter 3:15 instructs us to be always “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” 

When it comes to being always prepared, there is little substitute for actual practice. Practice on your own. Practice with a good friend. Get so familiar with the gospel that someone could wake you up at 3 in the morning and you’d be able to explain the gospel to them.

It’s true that there are times when it’s best to help someone understand the gospel one piece at a time, in the context of a relationship. In those cases, really understanding the four building blocks is so important. We’ll know where to begin, and how to help someone really grasp the gospel as we work our way through the building blocks over the course of what might be several conversations.

But on the other hand, it’s also important to be ready to share the gospel all at once, in a condensed way, with little notice.

I remember a co-worker (who knew I was a Christian) once asking me, “So, what does God need to forgive us for?” Without realizing it, I had been disobeying the command to be “always ready,” and so I blundered my way through several minutes of disconnected ideas before the conversation fell apart.

I wish I had been ready. I wish I had been able to say to him, “I believe in the God who made you and me and everything we see. This God deserves our honour and thanks and worship, but we’ve all chosen to rebel against Him and worship the things He’s made instead of He Himself. And because of that we deserve His judgement, and we can see His judgement on display in the pain and misery of our world today.

“But in His great mercy this same God sent His son Jesus who came and lived a perfect life and then died on the cross for my sins. He took my place and paid the penalty for my sins instead of me. And after three days He rose again as King of the universe. And God has forgiven my sin and made me a part of His family and kingdom all because of what Jesus has done. And that can be true for you, too. If you believe in the Lord Jesus you will be saved.”

That’s one example of what it can look like. Now why not try it yourself?

Pastor's Blog

Why Membership?

At our church business meeting on Sunday evening, the issue of church membership will be brought to our attention once again. Perhaps you’ve wondered, “Why does EBC practice membership? Is membership a human tradition we’ve added to the Bible? Or just a piece of red tape the government requires? Why should anyone become a formal member? Isn’t it enough to just attend a church?”

Membership in the Bible

The language of “membership” itself comes from the Scriptures. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4–5). As the people of God, we are members of one another, as connected and inter-dependant as the limbs and organs of our own bodies.

In the book of Acts, we see that becoming a Christian—becoming a member of the body of Christ—was an act of significance and public commitment. “…and they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem” (Acts 5:12–13). Many people respected the Christians, but actually joining that gathered body wasn’t something you did casually. Joining the church had a public aspect to it, formally associating you with the assembly.

And yet, this did happen every time someone came to faith in Jesus. “…and the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Becoming a Christian meant that you were “added to” the church. You were count-able. You had become a part of the body of Christ, the group which publicly represents Jesus here on earth.

As we read further in the New Testament, we discover that while the church was instructed to be welcoming towards outsiders (1 Corinthians 14:23), they were also taught to maintain a very clear distinction of who was, and who was not, a part of their fellowship.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 5, we read about a man who was living in public and unrepentant sin. Paul instructed them to remove this man from the church: “…Let him who has done this be removed from among you….When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus…you are to deliver this man to Satan…” (1 Corinthians 5:2, 4–5).

If the church is the body of Christ, it is vitally important that it represent Jesus well. This requires identifying and removing those who persist in grossly misrepresenting Jesus.

But what did it practically mean for that man to be “removed from among” them? How would other people have known this had happened? How would the Corinthians have known who was and who was not supposed to be a part of their “assembling” together to formalize this removal? As we think about these questions, it becomes clear that the Corinthian church must have had a clear understanding—matched with a public recognition—of who was and who was not a part of their assembly. (See 1 John 2:19 for a similar dynamic.)

But Why Make It Formal?

So, did the early church have a formal membership process? It’s uncertain. In the early days, simply standing with the assembly in Solomon’s Portico would have expressed a high level of public commitment. The same is true in much of the world today. Many of the churches in China, for example, do not need a formal membership process; the risks of simply showing up mean that only the committed are present.

However, the same is not true for us here in North America. Most of our towns are home to multiple churches, and we have a high level of freedom to come and go from these churches as we desire. This makes it difficult, even impossible, for any one church to know who is (and who is not) a committed member of their body apart from a formal membership process.

A comparison can be made to marriage. In Genesis 24:67, Isaac began his marriage with Rebekah by simply bringing her into his tent. In that culture, this was all he needed to do in order to express the commitment of a public marriage. Today, things have changed: people come and go from each other’s bedrooms with no implied commitment whatsoever. This is why Christians recognize the importance of beginning a marriage with a formal, public ceremony known as a wedding.

An identical line of reasoning applies to membership. Given the culture here in North America, it is impossible for us to know with clarity who is (and who is not) a committed part of the body without a formal membership process.

Formal membership, therefore, is not a practice we have added to the Bible’s teaching on the life of the church. Instead, it is something we practice in order to recover an important aspect of the Bible’s teaching on the life of the church: the joyful privilege of a public, committed identification with the body of Christ.

Are you a follower of Jesus Christ, a member of His body? Do you attend Emmanuel Baptist Church? If you are not a member here, would you accept our invitation to express your participation in the body of Christ through membership at EBC?

If you have questions or feedback about this article or the process of membership at EBC, I would invite your response! Please get in touch with me at this link.